What does Anthropology mean?

What is Anthropology

Anthropology is a science dedicated to the in-depth study of the human being . It is a term of Greek origin, formed by “ anthropos ” (man, human being) and “ logos ” (knowledge).

The reflection on societies , man and his social behavior has been known since classical antiquity by the thought of the great philosophers.

Herodotus stands out, considered the father of history and anthropology .

However, it was not until the Enlightenment movement of the 18th century that anthropology developed as a social science through the refinement of human methods and classifications.

During this period, the accounts of travelers, missionaries and merchants about the habits of the natives of the new discovered lands and the debates about the human condition were very important for the development of anthropological studies.

Studying the human being and cultural diversity implies the integration of various disciplines that seek to reflect all human dimensions. Historically, these dimensions


History of Anthropology

The vast majority of authors agree that anthropology was defined as a discipline only after the Enlightenment revolution.

Starting from a clearer debate on object and method, the origins of anthropological knowledge can be traced back to classical antiquity, spanning centuries.

While the human being thought of himself and his relationship with the “ other ”, he thought anthropologically . Anthropology is the study of man as a biological, social and cultural being.

Since each of these dimensions is itself very broad, anthropological knowledge is generally organized into areas that indicate a prior choice of certain aspects.

As the “ physical or biological anthropology ” (genetic and biological aspects of man) “ social anthropology ”. ”(social and political organization, kinship, social institutions),“ cultural anthropology ”(symbolic systems, religion, behavior) and“ archeology ”(existence conditions of disappeared human groups).

Furthermore, we can use terms such as anthropology, ethnology, and ethnography to distinguish different levels of analysis or academic traditions.

Types of Anthropology


Marked by the evolutionary discussion, 19th-century anthropology privileged social Darwinism , which at the time viewed European society as the apogee of an evolutionary process , in which aboriginal societies were regarded as “more primitive” examples.

This view used the concept of ” civilization ” to classify, judge, and then justify domination by other peoples.

This way of seeing the world from the concept of superior civilization , ignoring the differences in relation to peoples considered inferior, is called ethnocentrism .

What does ethnocentrism mean?

It is the ethnocentric vision , the European concept of man, to whom the value of ” civilized ” is attributed, believing that other peoples such as those of the islands of Oceania were ” situated outside of history and culture “.

This statement is very present in the writings of Pauw and Hegel .


Diffusionist anthropology reacted to evolutionism and was contemporary with it. He valued the natural understanding of culture, in terms of origin and extension, from one society to another.

For diffusionists , cultural loans would be a fundamental mechanism of cultural evolution.

Diffusionism believed that cultural differences and similarities were a consequence of the human tendency to imitate and absorb cultural traits, as if humanity possessed a ” psychic unity “, as Adolf Bastian argued.


Functionalist anthropology was inspired by the work of Durkheim .
He advocated a close parallelism between human societies and biological organisms (in the form of evolution and conservation) because in both cases harmony would depend on the functional interdependence of the parts.

The functions were analyzed as obligations in social relationships . The function would support the social structure, allowing a fundamental cohesion within a system of social relations.


Structural anthropology was born in the 1940s. Its great theorist is Claude Lévi-Strauss .
He centers the debate on the idea that there are structuring rules of cultures in the human mind and assumes that these rules create pairs of opposition to organize meaning.

For structural anthropologycultures are defined as shared sign systems structured by principles that establish the functioning of the intellect.

In 1949, Lévi-Strauss publishes ” The Elementary Structures of Kinship “, which analyzes the Australian aborigines and, in particular, their marriage and kinship systems.

In this analysis, Lévi-Strauss shows that alliances are more important for the social structure than blood ties.

Historical Particularism

Also known as culturalism , this American school, championed by Franz Boas, strikingly rejects the evolutionism that dominated anthropology during the first half of the twentieth century.

The discussion of this current revolves around the idea that each culture has a particular history and that cultural diffusion takes place in various directions .
The concept of cultural relativism is created , and evolution is also seen as a phenomenon that can flow from the simplest to the most complex state.


Interpretive anthropology analyzes culture as a hierarchy of meanings.
He asserts that ethnography is a ” thick description ” of written interpretation and whose analysis is possible through hermeneutical inspiration .

Of art

The anthropology of art is the study of the characteristics of the objects and artistic productions considered that man produces in society in each era.
Bearing in mind that anthropology can be understood as the study of man , his activities, his culture at a given historical moment.

It began with the study of peoples considered primitive and supposedly prehistoric by the evolutionary theories of the time inspired by the work of Morgan (1818-1881).

The anthropology of art is an interface of anthropology with other scientific disciplines.
It generally covers a range of resources and topics, physical (material and technical), physiological, psychological, aesthetic, cultural, among others.


Visual anthropology ( sometimes called image anthropology or visual and image anthropology ) is a branch of cultural anthropology .

It applies to the study and production of images in the fields of photography, cinema or, since the mid-1990s, in the new ” medium ” used in ethnography.

of the emotions

The anthropology of emotions is a theoretical-methodological line of anthropology that addresses the analytical category of emotions as an object of analysis.

Studies of emotion since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been the subject of analysis in psychology and physiology.

The first studies on the anthropological character of emotions include several works by Sigmund Freud and Marcel Mauss.


Forensic anthropology is a branch of forensic medicine , social anthropology, and law.
Its main objective is the identity and identification of the human being through a systematic scientific-technical process.

It uses the knowledge of general anthropology , with clear importance in the criminal field.

Of the health

The anthropology of health can be understood as the application of anthropology to the study of health recovery and maintenance practices in different cultures or ethnic groups.

It is practically a consensus among researchers in the field that the phenomenon of health/disease should not be understood in a reductionist way and is limited to the biomedical model.

According to Minayo,  it is necessary to adopt an anthropological reflection in health studies and practices as a way to broaden their vision of the phenomenon under study and the great contribution of anthropology is its tradition of understanding culture.

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