What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the exploration of humankind in all its cultural and biological diversity. Since the origins of modern humans all peoples have faced similar fundamental challenges: how to clothe, feed, and shelter themselves; how to live with others and overcome differences; and how to find meaning in life. Anthropologists study the entire range of human responses to these challenges across the full array of human cultures, past and present. Anthropology is intrinsically cross cultural and comparative. Moreover, it is not just concerned with understanding other people: anthropology also acts as a mirror with which we can reflect back on ourselves.

A central goal of anthropology is to learn to look at the world differently. An anthropological perspective aims to make the “exotic” and unusual look familiar while making the familiar seem exotic. For example, how should we address the question, what is “human nature”? Anthropology can teach us that assumptions about what is “natural” are quite different to different peoples. We all tend to interpret other cultures’ behaviors based on preconceived ideas derived from our cultural background. Anthropology makes sense of practices that we at first glance may find bizarre or nonsensical – such as body modification or alternative family structures – by uncovering the internal logic of each particular culture.

Anthropology, in its broadest sense, epitomizes a “liberal arts” education, combining the natural and social sciences with the humanistic study of past and present peoples. To cover such a broad scope the discipline is traditionally divided into four sub-disciplines. Archaeologists excavate and explore past peoples and civilizations. Physical or biological anthropologists examine human biological diversity, including human origins and forensic anthropology. Learning about the range of languages spoken historically and actually is the domain of linguistic anthropologists. Framingham State College currently focuses primarily on cultural anthropology, which is the study of contemporary and historically recent cultures and peoples.

In the cultural anthropology classes at Framingham State College you can explore the fascinating and incredible range of behaviors and beliefs across cultures. Why don’t Westerners eat insects? Why don’t Hindus eat beef? Is food ever just food? When is a gift just a gift and when does it come with strings attached? Do all societies have marriage customs? Why don’t people always marry for love? Is the prohibition against incest a universal rule? Are women universally subordinate to men? Which cultures incorporate “third genders”? Introductory and specialized courses enable students to attain a basic understanding of the discipline, as well as develop in-depth knowledge of gender, language, Native American cultures, and psychological anthropology.

"Anthropology is philosophy with the people in."

Tim Ingold, Anthropologist

100 State Street

PO Box 9101

Framingham, MA 01701-9101


Phone: 508-620-1220

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