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What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the systematic study of people, their evolutionary history as a biological species, how they think, behave, interact with one another, and adapt to varied environments. Etymologically, the term ‘anthropology’ comes from two Greek words, ‘anthrōpos’ (human being) and logos (knowledge or study), which means anthropology is the study of mankind. Drawing upon these things, anthropology always seeks the answers to this great question of humanity: What makes us ‘human’?

Thus, anthropology studies human being in all its aspects; ranging from its biological evolution (physiological traits, genetic makeup and history) to its relations with socio-cultural practices and materials (culture, language, economic system, family, ritual, technology, etc.), that we call holism.

Anthropology is also concerned about human diversity; thus, it seeks explanations for why we are different to each other and what makes us unique. Anthropologist does not only study small-scale societies in remote areas but also the complexity of human migration that happen nowadays, capitalism in rural societies, urban development and social class, public space use, ethnic politics, new religion movement, media and technology, identity and consumptions, etc.

Further explanation regarding the diversity of human beings and their cultures are studied in a holistic perspective within several disciplines, that is physical/biological anthropology, socio-cultural anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology (in US, archaeology considered as a branch of anthropology). Each discipline has its own focuses that completes one another for understanding human beings thoroughly from a broad comparative and historical perspective.

Anthropology gives us tools to understand why we are diverse, why our culture differ from others. For example, one society gives respect to income, but it may not be necessary to others. This is known as cultural relativism, an approach to understand how one society interpret their world-views and how its impact to their behavior.

To conclude, anthropology can be seen as an adaptive tool of analysis to comprehend recent issues that humans deal with or perceive to be significant for their existence. As a subject of study, anthropology has been and will always be relevant for rethinking and solving the problems of humanity, since its presence goes along with human existence.

“The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” 

Ruth Benedict

American Anthropologist