What does Anthropology Mean?

Anthropology is a social science that is dedicated to the study of all aspects of human nature. It is a term of Greek origin composed of the words anthropos, which means ‘man’ or ‘human’, and logos , which means ‘knowledge’ or ‘science’.

Anthropology studies human phenomena, so it takes into account both original and ancient societies as well as present ones. This science takes into account the evolution of the human species, ethnic diversity, cultural diversity, social customs, beliefs, transformation processes, etc.

Anthropological studies show the cultural diversity that exists and has existed throughout history, which has contributed to fostering respect and tolerance towards divergent beliefs and cultures.

As a social science, anthropology is open to the integration of several disciplines that try to reflect on biological, social and cultural dimensions. Its main areas are:

  • Physical or biological anthropology: study the genetic and biological aspects of man taking into account the evolutionary perspective and adaptation of the species to the environment. Within this discipline you can distinguish specialties such as genetic anthropology, forensic anthropology, paleoanthropology, etc.
  • Social anthropology, cultural anthropology or ethnology: analyzes the behavior of man in society, social and political organization, social relations and social institutions. It also investigates cultures in time and space, customs, myths, values, beliefs, rituals, religion and language. From this, areas such as urban anthropology, kinship, philosophical or religion emerge. Also, some authors include archeology in this category.
  • Linguistic anthropology: the study and understanding of human languages ​​as systems of symbolic representation.

Origin of anthropology

The reflection on society, man and his behavior has its antecedents since Classical Antiquity through the thinking of the great philosophers, especially the Greek Herodotus, considered the father of history and anthropology.

The stories of travelers, missionaries and merchants about the habits of the natives of the lands discovered after the voyages of Columbus and other navigators around the globe can also be noted as background.

From the 18th century, thanks to the concerns of the Enlightenment movement, the study of both the sciences and the humanities is promoted, and in them, research in the social and cultural sphere begins to gain space. In that context, debates about the human condition were very important for the development of anthropological studies.

However, anthropology as a specific field of study has its origin in the second half of the nineteenth century as well as sociology. It differed from this and other areas of humanistic study in the fact that, by then, anthropology focused on the investigation of remote societies, culturally alien to Western society, which were considered “simple” or “primitive.”

Throughout its first stage, anthropology was strongly influenced by social evolutionism, related to Darwin’s theories about the evolution of the human species. This idea also tried to be applied as a general law to study sociocultural phenomena. In addition, the nineteenth century was marked by the development of colonialism and imperialism. No wonder, therefore, that in its early years anthropology had an “ethnocentric” look.

However, as of the second half of the twentieth century, when modernization processes also reach distant societies, anthropology begins to study all kinds of cultures, including modern ones.

Indeed, as of the 20th century, anthropology begins a process of change in which its approaches, methods and purposes are transformed until a “modern” anthropology is consolidated. In this sense, Claude Lévi-Strauss is considered to be, par excellence, was one of the main drivers of that change.

Lévi-Strauss was the father of structuralism in the social sciences. In addition, he exerted a remarkable influence thanks to the development of his theory of the alliance, the study of the mental processes of the knowledge of the human being and the structural analysis of the myths.