What is anthropology?

What is anthropology?

Anthropologists generally obtain their understanding through participating in and observing the lives of the people they work among. Through this method, known as 'fieldwork', anthropologists gain a detailed knowledge of the cultural world of other peoples by living and working beside them.

The people anthropologists study may include workers on the shop-floor of a factory, people who live by hunting and gathering in the Amazon, corporate managers in the 'flexible workplace', indigenous Australian artists, farmers in Western Queensland, fans of Harry Potter books, opium-growers in the highlands of Southeast Asia, members of a religious group, migrants or refugees, tourists, or any people following a distinct way of life.

Although the social contexts in which they work are extremely diverse, anthropologists share a commitment to exploring and understanding different ways of life and cultural perspectives, and illuminating these for others.

Anthropology not only allows us to develop a sensitivity for cultural difference but it also allows us to reflect on our own cultural world with an altered perspective. Anthropology endeavours not only to "make the strange familiar, but to make the familiar strange", thereby encouraging us to challenge our taken for granted assumptions about the world.

It is also important to realise that anthropology is not only a subject of theoretical interest; rather, it has numerous practical applications. 'Applied anthropology' refers to the application of anthropological knowledge, theories, concepts and methods to concrete problems (e.g. development issues, including Social Impact Assessment, understanding of poverty, livelihoods or externally driven processes of change and their social and cultural impacts). Anthropologists doing applied work contribute to policy development and shaping interventions. They are increasingly employed in the development world, by government, non-government and multilateral aid agencies, as consultants and evaluators. They are also employed in the corporate world, for example in market research and consumer behaviour studies.

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