In the words of Frederica De Laguna,. Anthropology is the only discipline that offers a conceptual schema for the whole context of human experience.. It is like the carrying frame onto which may be fitted all the several subjects of a liberal education, and by organizing the load, making it more wieldy and capable of being carried. I believe that the importance of general anthropology is that It is panhuman, evolutionary, and comparative. The previously mentioned disciplines are concerned with only a particular segment of human experience or a particular time or phase of our cultural or biological development.
But general anthropology is systematically and uncompromisingly comparative. Its findings are never based upon the study of a single population, race, "tribe," class, or nation.
General anthropology insists first and foremost that conclusions based upon the study of one particular human group or civilization be checked against the evidence of other groups or civilizations under both similar and different conditions. In this way the relevance of general anthropology transcends the interests of any particular "tribe," race, nation, or culture.
In anthropological perspective, all peoples and civilizations are fundamentally local and evanescent. Thus general anthropology is implacably opposed to the insularity and mental constriction of those who would have themselves and none other represent humanity, stand at the pinnacle of progress, or be chosen by God or history to fashion the world in their own Image.
Therefore general anthropology is "relevant" even when It deals with fragments of fossils, extinct civilizations, remote villages, or exotic customs. The proper study of humankind requires a knowledge of distant as well as near lands and of remote as well as present times. Only in this way can we humans hope to tear off the blinders of our local life-styles to look upon the human condition without prejudice.
Because of Its multidisciplinary, comparative, and diachronic perspective, anthropology holds the key to many fundamental questions of recurrent and contemporary relevance. It lies peculiarly within the competence of general anthropology to explicate our species' animal heritage, to define what is distinctively human about human nature, and to differentiate the natural and the cultural conditions responsible for competition, conflict, and war.
General anthropology is also strategically equipped to probe the significance of racial factors in the evolution of culture and in the conduct of contemporary human affairs. General anthropology holds the key to an understanding of the origins of social inequality - of racism, exploitation, poverty, and underdevelopment.
Overarching all of general anthropology's contributions is the search for the causes of social and cultural differences and similarities.
What is the nature of the determinism that operates in human history, and what are the consequences of this determinism for individual freedom of thought and action? To answer these questions is to begin to understand the extent to which we can increase humanity's freedom and well-being by conscious intervention in the processes of cultural evolution.
In the early twentieth century, some argued that residence rules determined group formation in an evolutionary sense [e. At the very least, there are logical relations between rules of residence and the structure of descent groups.
In a patrilineal society, repeated virilocality postmarital residence with the husband serves to keep men of group together. They bring their wives into the group, and subsequently their sons remain in the same place. The Tiv of West Africa are an example. In a matrilineal society, repeated uxorilocality postmarital residence with the wife similarly keeps women together while dispersing the men.
A well-known example is the Bemba of Central Africa, among whom women cultivate the soil. The Trobrianders of Melanesia are an example: men rather than women maintain power in within the village, and particularly so when a man succeeds in violating this rule and keeping his sons with him in spite of the norm [ Barnard and Good ]. In all of these cases, political relations are bound to property relations. They are also embedded in symbolic relations: everything humans do has a symbolic dimension. For this reason, we as a species cannot live through biology alone.
The most common forms of kinship structures on earth are not ones like ours, based on genealogical proximity and distance, but ones based on things like alternating generation equivalences and rules that assume that to be related through a same-sex sibling link implies a closeness that being related through an opposite-sex sibling link does not.
In the majority of human societies, on virtually every continent apart from Europe and in societies closely related to European ones , the incest taboo is usually defined to allow marriage between cross-cousins children of a brother and a sister , but not between parallel ones children of two brothers or two sisters [ Barnard ]. As I have already hinted, in theory anthropology is made up of four branches, in no particular order: 1 biological or physical anthropology, 2 social or cultural anthropology, 3 anthropological linguistics or linguistic anthropology, and 4 prehistoric archaeology.
It is worth some reflection as to why this should be the case. The fact is that theoretical perspectives within social anthropology are more diverse than in other branches of the wider anthropology. In my view, this is unfortunate, since it suggests that the differences within social anthropology are fabrications and those in other areas of anthropology represent testable hypotheses in a search for scientific truth. In realty, the differences between the branches of the subject are more nuanced.
It is true that an avowed postmodernist may pretend to reject all objectivity, but it is not true that differences of opinion cannot be accommodated within larger theoretical frameworks. Thus the search for objective truth in such a paradigm is not nonsense. Take, for example, as Lawrence Kuznar [ ] has argued, the fact that a hundred years of research in hunter-gatherer studies has not resulted in no progress at all.
On the contrary, the Hobbesian image of forager life was overturned several times over as anthropologists accumulated knowledge of actual foraging practices, and debated these in successive conferences and scientific papers. Early twentieth-century notions of foragers or hunter-gatherers as male-dominated and living in patrilineal bands were overthrown when empirical data showed they were not.
Numerous studies have shown that high-protein diets, including especially meat, are common among hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherer diets are more varied than those of non-hunter-gatherers, and except in times of drought, nutrition is good. Exchange networks function to redistribute property, accumulation is devalued, and as Sahlins reminds us property is sacrificed in favour of free time. Sharing has been shown to be a strategy for avoiding risk, and meat is valued rather than sought as a dietary necessity.
These findings are largely social anthropological ones, but the data gathered reflects input from many areas, including human biology in studies of nutrition , linguistics in the form of data on knowledge and classification of plants , and even in consideration of time depth of these practices archaeology.
This suggests that there are grounds for optimism: anthropologists working together, with a diversity of perspectives and interests. Nor indeed are related disciplines excluded: the impact of human genetics in evolutionary studies is obvious. Among the great contributor to such studies, for example, has been Stephen Oppenheimer whose training and expertise [ e. It is difficult to see how exactly genetics and social anthropology could be united under a single theoretical perspective, but it is by no means beyond the realms of plausibility that they should agree to the same larger framework.
By this I mean, agree that the genetic domain is genetics and the symbolic domain lies clearly within a social and cultural domain beyond that. This latter domain is, of course, social anthropology, and a mutual recognition of this is necessary for both disciplines.
I hope that time is not too far off. In Social Anthropology and Human Origins, I suggested that there are several ways in which to envisage a social anthropology of human origins: 1 as a specialization within social anthropology itself, 2 with social anthropology being brought within related disciplines such as primatology, evolutionary psychology, and a broadly-conceived prehistory, 3 as a method within a unified interdisciplinary field of human origins studies, and 4 as a separate subject in its own right.
The last two are unlikely, not least because they might require a reorganization of university departments. The second already happens to some extent. The first, though, is most likely, but for one serious problem: social anthropology is utterly dependent on ethnography and also on comparison. This is no bad thing at all, but it does require some thought as to how it might be achieved.
Obviously, an ethnographic focus on hunter-gatherers is desirable, but taking into account other perspectives, such as broadly evolutionary ones within psychology, may reveal insight as well. It is also worth some reflection that little over twenty years ago evolutionary linguistics did not exist. Today it is thriving: there may be a lesson here for social anthropology. If this does not lend itself to evolutionary treatment, then what does?
Symbolic thought is a significant force within virtually every branch and theoretical perspective within archaeology, as well as within social anthropology. Virtually every theoretical perspective in the history of social anthropology has considered it too, though because of postmodern approaches since the s it has fallen into relative obscurity. In my view, all is not lost: social anthropology has everything to gain by recalling this interest.
Thus there is no reason for social anthropology not to be a core part of the subject, and to re-establish itself, possibly at the very centre, of a newly invigorated but broad-based discipline. And this should not be seen as a threat to any other field, for all are needed in what I would like to see if I can risk the phrase as a new anthropology.
Alan Barnard. Universidad de Edimburgo , Escocia. Cuicuilco , vol. Fox ed. School of American Research Press. Santa Fe, NM: Barham, Lawrence S. A profession that is stimulating and satisfying can make an individual's life an extremely enriching experience. Several things make the lives of professional biological anthropologists very exciting.
There is the enjoyment of scientific research, with endless questions to be answered and discoveries to be made. Second, there is the opportunity to write and communicate the findings of your research to audiences of all kinds and all ages.
However, this is not the same thing as favouring the complete assimilation of one field into the other: a view that I was once accused of fostering. Beaumont, H. Current Anthropology 43 : It is the study of how our species evolved from more primitive organisms; it is also the study of how our species developed a mode of communication known as language and a mode of social life known as culture. Alan Barnard March 17,
Third, teaching, while hard work, is very rewarding, students provide a constant source of stimulation. Finally, most biological anthropologists do research in what is called "the field," outside of the conventional laboratory. Field research can take place in relatively exotic places such as Latin America, Africa, and the Pacific, or in hospitals and zoological parks, for example--anywhere an interesting biological problem has been identified. The "field" is really worldwide and wide open! There are many opportunities for individuals who wish to become biological anthropologists.
While few high schools offer courses specifically in biological anthropology, many have courses in anthropology or cover anthropology in social studies classes. Programs in anthropology are available at hundreds of colleges and universities around the country, and most have courses in biological anthropology.
If you wish to try a course or two before you begin college, try your local community college. If you wish to do some reading in biological anthropology, try some of the sources listed below. Toggle navigation AAPA. Often there are articles related to biological anthropology in the magazines Natural History, Discover, and Scientific American.