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anthropology

anthropology, classification and analysis of humans and their society, descriptively, culturally, historically, and physically. Its unique contribution to studying the bonds of human social relations has been the distinctive concept of culture. It has also differed from other sciences concerned with human social behavior (especially sociology) in its emphasis on data from nonliterate peoples and archaeological exploration. Emerging as an independent science in the mid-19th cent., anthropology was associated from the beginning with various other emergent sciences, notably biology, geology, linguistics, psychology, and archaeology. Its development is also linked with the philosophical speculations of the Enlightenment about the origins of human society and the sources of myth. A unifying science, anthropology has not lost its connections with any of these branches, but has incorporated all or part of them and often employs their techniques.

Anthropology is divided primarily into physical anthropology and cultural anthropology. Physical anthropology focuses basically on the problems of human evolution, including human paleontology and the study of race and of body build or constitution (somatology). It uses the methods of anthropometry, as well as those of genetics, physiology, and ecology. Cultural anthropology includes archaeology, which studies the material remains of prehistoric and extinct cultures; ethnography, the descriptive study of living cultures; ethnology, which utilizes the data furnished by ethnography, the recording of living cultures, and archaeology, to analyze and compare the various cultures of humanity; social anthropology, which evolves broader generalizations based partly on the findings of the other social sciences; and linguistics, the science of language. Applied anthropology is the practical application of anthropological techniques to areas such as industrial relations and minority-group problems. In Europe the term anthropology usually refers to physical anthropology alone.

See A. L. Kroeber, Anthropology (1948; repr. in 2 vol., 1963); C. Kluckhohn, Mirror for Man (1949, repr. 1963); M. J. Herskovits, Cultural Anthropology (1955, repr. 1963); M. Mead and R. L. Bunzel, ed., The Golden Age of American Anthropology (1960); M. Harris, The Rise of Anthropological Theory (1968); G. M. Foster, Applied Anthropology (1969); Culture, Man, and Nature (1971); M. J. Leaf, Man, Mind, and Science: A History of Anthropology (1979); A. Kuper, The Invention of Primitive Society: Transformations of an Illusion (1988); P. Rosenau, Post-modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions (1992).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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