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What Anthropology is All About


Essentially, Anthropology is the empirical and comparative study of human societies (people) and their cultures (understandings), with special emphasis upon the processes of evolution of the human condition.

Anthropologists have traditionally been interested in how human societies adapted not just to their natural environments but also to each other and to themselves.

Disciplinary Organization:

Traditional subdivisions of the field have included

Traditionally socio-cultural anthropologists have used ethnography (first-hand, participant field observation) as their principal data source and have been particularly concerned with societies having little documentation of a traditional historical kind, hence particularly with tribal and peasant societies. Today interest has expanded to larger-scale societies, but still making use of the methods of participant observation honed in the study of small-scale societies.

Anthropology has always had broad areas of overlap with other disciplines, such as folklore, cognitive science, biology, medicine, and especially history. The anthropological contribution to all these fields is inevitably a strong comparative perspective, field observations, and data from understudied societies. Although some anthropologists describe their interest as "theory," it is hard to see that anthropology has contributed very much to of strictly theoretical interest to most of these other disciplines.

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Anthropology at UCSD:

The Department of Anthropology at UCSD originally included only cultural, social, linguistic, and psychological anthropology, and became known especially for its concentration of faculty with interests in psychological issues. (It is absurd to speak of human behavior without considering motivation, which is inherently psychological, but non-psychological departments somehow try to do it. I have never understood that.)

We later expanded the department's focus with the appointment of faculty in biological anthropology and archaeology. Undergraduate and graduate concentrations are available in each of these subfields in addition to our degrees in general anthropology. Faculty strength in linguistic anthropology has also been somewhat expanded. (Originally it was only me.)

Because of the intensive nature and high linguistic demands of its techniques, most anthropologists devote most of their professional careers to one or occasionally two (or very rarely three) societies. As a result, no department can maintain faculty expertise in all parts of the world, although its faculty, interested in comparison, is normally widely knowledgeable about many societies. In the case of UCSD, we have no faculty members working principally in India or Africa, for example, although we do have graduate students engaged in field research in these areas.

There is a slick Department Web Page, complete with wee print and drop-down menus, containing general informational material. (Its slickness makes it expensive to update, so it tends towards obsolescence. If you are actually interested, telephone. The main number is +1-858-534-4145.)

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