Anthropology is the study of how humans have existed throughout time and the accomplishments they have achieved. The study of anthropology examines human cultures from the beginning of human history to the present as well as their social or community interactions. According to the University of Idaho, the five main characteristics of anthropology are culture, holistic approach, field work, multiply theories and purposes of anthropology.


Anthropologists study the cultures of many societies in man's history. According to the University of Idaho, culture is the primary component of the study of anthropology. Defined as a group of people and the organizational structure of its society, culture involves a system of symbols that help to organize values for this group. It is also defined as the primary influence on how people in a society act.

Holistic Approach

Anthropology studies the human experience throughout history from four primary perspectives: history, biology, linguistics and culture. Students of anthropology study people all over the world and past as well as contemporary societies. It incorporates the study of related fields: archeology, physical anthropology, linguistics, cultural anthropology and ethnography. The holistic approach of anthropology integrates knowledge from each of these fields.

Field Work

Anthropology involves direct contact with the people being studied whether it is a culture from the past or a contemporary society. It is important for an anthropologist to ask questions and to be concerned about a society's ethical issues. During field work of a contemporary society, anthropologists ideally should get the permission and cooperation of the people being studied.

Participant observation is a key component of field work in a modern society. Participant observation involves actively taking part in the events and daily lives of the people. Interviews help the anthropologist gain an understanding of the culture.

Multiply Theories

There are as many ways to study cultures as there are cultures to study. Anthropological theory helps an anthropologist study a culture by providing a framework to ask questions. Anthropological theories include evolutionist, diffusionist, psychoanalytic, historical-particularism, societal functionalist, individual functionist, structuralist, interpretivist and constructionist.

Purposes of Anthropology

Anthropology's main purpose is to understand human conditions from the past to the present and to use that knowledge to improve conditions. Anthropology seeks to help people understand cultural diversity, cultural values and improve critical, interpretative and reflective thinking. Applied anthropology takes the lessons learned from anthropology and uses those lessons to assist people. Forensic anthropology and epidemiology are examples of applied anthropology.

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