Cultural anthropology

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Cultural anthropology is one of four or five fields of anthropology, the holistic study of humanity. It is the branch of anthropology that examines culture as a scientifically meaningful concept.

Cultural anthropologists study cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation, interviews and surveys. Their research is often called fieldwork because it involves the anthropologist spending an extended period of time at the research location, called a field site. These stays usually last one year during graduate studies, but can be as short as a few weeks, or as long as a lifetime.

Contents

Origins

One of the earliest articulations of the anthropological meaning of the term "culture" came from Sir Edward Tylor who writes on the first page of his 1897 book: “Culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”[1] The term "civilization" later gave way to definitions by V. Gordon Childe, with culture forming an umbrella term and civilization becoming a particular kind of culture.[2]

The anthropological concept of "culture" reflects in part a reaction against earlier Western discourses based on an opposition between "culture" and "nature", according to which some human beings lived in a "state of nature".[citation needed] Anthropologists have argued that culture is "human nature," and that all people have a capacity to classify experiences, encode classifications symbolically (i.e. in language), and teach such abstractions to others.

Since humans acquire culture through the learning processes of enculturation and socialization, people living in different places or different circumstances develop different cultures. Anthropologists have also pointed out that through culture people can adapt to their environment in non-genetic ways, so people living in different environments will often have different cultures. Much of anthropological theory has originated in an appreciation of and interest in the tension between the local (particular cultures) and the global (a universal human nature, or the web of connections between people in distinct places/circumstances).[citation needed]

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