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The Unique Contribution Of Anthropology Essay

865 words - 4 pages

Anthropology as a discipline is grossly misunderstood by those who have never taken an anthropology course or picked up an ethnographic account. Preconceived assumptions range greatly, with some viewing anthropologists as Indiana Jones-like heroes with extensive knowledge of ancient civilizations and languages. Others may visualize a group of old, white, prejudiced men who condescendingly analyze peoples they've never met, and are considerably less appealing than Harrison Ford. Neither of these are accurate portrayals. There is a common notion that anthropology is the study of past cultures and the “primitive” man, and that it has little to contribute to modern understanding of humans, their cultures, and the societies they are part of. However, anthropology is very much relevant today, and is distinguishable from its fellow social sciences in its unique approach, method, and goals.
Anthropology shares with the disciplines of psychology and sociology a deep interest in humanity's intricacies. The biggest difference is the focal point. Psychology places emphasis primarily on the individual, and sociology on the structure and functioning of society. Sociocultural anthropology differs in its concentration on culture, examining both similarities and contrasts in the way it is locally experienced by different peoples. (Eriken 2004:9) As a field of study it offers a view of the world that is comparative, leery of generalizations, and both microscopic and macroscopic. (Eriksen 2004:6) Theory is the first of two major resources an anthropologist has at his disposal. Though subject to both internal changes from shifting beliefs and ideas of individual researchers and external changes from within the field of anthropology, theory plays an essential role in the anthropological production of knowledge. (Dyck 23 Sept)
The second aspect of knowledge creation is the collection of data, predominantly through conducting fieldwork. Fieldwork, for the most part, is a method unique to anthropology, and is strongly connected to theory. Theory validates reason to pursue a particular topic and establishes the benefit for the discipline in researching it. Fieldwork entails direct communication with those being studied, as well as observation of and participation in their daily lives. This process is what substantiates and gives credibility to theoretical analysis. (Dyck 2012:8-9) The natural sciences favour a research method that is more strictly structured, involving a hypothesis, the testing of said hypothesis, and the conclusions reached based on this experimentation. Anthropologists are more inductive in their reasoning, allowing theory to emerge from evidence provided through fieldwork. (Dyck 23 Sept) In this way, theory and fieldwork are codependent. Without theory guiding it, research is...

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