What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the systematic study of humanity, with the goal of understanding the origins and distinctiveness of our species and the great diversity in our forms of social existence through space and time. Toward this goal, anthropologists explore such topics as evolutionary biology, linguistics, cultural studies, history, economics, and political organization, to name but a few. Anthropology’s subject matter can include that which is commonplace (like the anatomy of the foot) to that which is completely unfamiliar to most of us (like the star lore of the Australian aborigines). Its focus is both sweeping (e.g. the evolution of skin color) and intimately focused (e.g. the use-wear of pottery in the Andean highlands of Peru). The diverse areas of research may include everything from ancient Mayan hieroglyphics, to the music of African Pygmies, to the corporate culture of a U.S. car manufacturer. Although traditionally associated with the study of small-scale societies, Anthropologists today have increasingly turned their attention to the problems of complex industrial societies and the processes of globalization.

Anthropology is divided into 4 sub-fields:

Archaeology: Archaeologists study human culture by analyzing the objects people have made and left behind. They carefully remove from the ground such things as pottery and tools, and they map the locations of houses, trash pits, and burials in order to learn about the daily lives of a people. They also analyze human bones and teeth to gain information on a people’s diet and the diseases they suffered. The time range for archaeological research begins with the earliest human ancestors millions of years ago and extends to the present day.

Biological Anthropology: Biological anthropologists seek to understand how humans adapt to different environments, what causes disease and early death, and how humans evolved from other animals, among other things. They are particularly interested in how biology and culture work together to shape our lives.

Socio-cultural Anthropology: Socio-cultural anthropologists explore how people in different places live and understand the world around them. They seek to explain what people think is important and the rules they make about how they should interact with one another. Even within one country or society, people may disagree about how they should speak, dress, eat, or treat others. Socio-cultural anthropologists listen to all voices and viewpoints to better explain how societies vary and what they have in common.

Linguistic Anthropology: Linguistic anthropologists study the many ways people communicate across the globe. They are interested in how language is linked to how we see the world and how we relate to each other. This can mean looking at how language works in all its different forms and how it changes over time. This includes the ways we use language to build and share meaning, to form or change identities, and to make or change relations of power.

Anthropology courses at MCC offer you the opportunity to study the human condition in all of its diversity through space and time, from our pre-human ancestors to contemporary global culture.