Social and Cultural anthropology: What defines and justifies the study of the discipline.

Essay by heliotropeUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, November 2005

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For many thousands of years, travel, trade and exploration have brought people of different languages and cultures into contact with each other, generating tales of strange and exotic peoples and their customs. What is a universal human trait, curiosity, evolved through the centuries into intellectual speculation and philosophical theories about "the other" and later still, became the scientific study of mankind. Although the roots of anthropology can be traced to antiquity, it only emerged as a scientific discipline in the 19th Century. Two distinctive fields are Biological Anthropology, which studies man as an organism and his physical evolution, and Social and Cultural Anthropology, the comparative study of cultural variation through the myths, ritual, kinship patterns, political and economic systems in particular societies or social groups. In this paper I will attempt to define what is anthropology in general but mainly look at the background and development of Social and Cultural Anthropology and its relevance to the modern world, in addition to considering how students of anthropology develop such varied skills as critical thinking, writing and communicating, decision-making, all well suited to the 21st Century job market.

History and background.

The etymology of the word derives from the Greek, anthropos: human and logos: reason, thus it would mean knowledge about humans. Levi-Strauss (1983, p.49), the prominent 20th Century anthropologist said that "Anthropology has humanity as its object of research, but unlike other human sciences, it tries to grasp its object through its most diverse manifestations" Or as expressed by Eriksen (2001) anthropology studies the differences between people while at the same time trying to find out in what sense all humans have something in common. The main aim of anthropology is to understand the common constraints within which human beings operate as well as the differences that are evident...