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What is Anthropology?
Terese Gagnon
Recitation, ANT 121
Week 2
• Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. To
understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of
human history, anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the
social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. A
central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the
solution of human problems. (American Anthropological Association)
What makes anthropology distinct?
• Holistic
• Comparative
What do ‘real’ anthropologists do?
Many things!
For example…
My research explores historical trajectories
of socio-political change among
precontact Native societies of Eastern
North America. I am particularly
interested in the historical development of
Northern Iroquoian societies of the
Lower Great Lakes and the Late
Woodland-Mississippian transition in the
Southeast. Conceptually, my work is
underpinned by a desire to explore the
relationship between long-term processes
of cultural change and the lived
experience of individuals and
I am at heart a problem solver. Convinced of the crucial
importance of research and theory in informing policy and
practice, I am also aware of the political, institutional and
methodological challenges associated with making this a
reality. I have past experience and a profound interest in
working to address some of the more intractable conservation
and development challenges: reconciling the rural
development imperative with customary land rights and social
justice; enabling communities and societies to reconcile their
economic development aspirations with social and
environmental sustainability; grappling with the inevitable
trade-offs of alternative land uses and governance
• I am interested in the dynamic interactions
between human behavior, biological
variation and patterns of health and disease.
In my research and teaching, I rely on a
biocultural perspective to consider
behavioral, economic, and biological
correlates of human adaptability. I am
interested in examining the multiple
pathways through which culture change may
affect health. I have focused my research of
these questions in lowland Bolivia.
I am interested in economic, ecological, and
evolutionary aspects of subsistence decision-making and
behavior among rural populations of foragers and
farmers. I have explored these issues through
ethnographic fieldwork among Mikea, Masikoro, and Vezo
of southwestern Madagascar since 1996. I teach these
topics in such courses as economic anthropology, African
ethnography, and evolution and human behavior.
What is culture?
• ‘Culture ... is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals,
law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member
of society.’ Tyler (British anthropologist) 1870: 1; cited by Avruch 1998: 6
What do cultural anthropologist do?
a.k.a ‘tools of the trade’
Participant Observation
Ethnology/ Comparison
Humans of New York:
as Metaphor for Cultural Anthropology
“These portraits — poignant, poetic,
playful, heartbreaking, heartening —
dance across the entire spectrum of the
human condition not with the mockingly
complacent lens of a freak-show gawker
but with the affectionate admiration and
profound respect that one human holds
for another.”