What are the 5 branches of anthropology?

The study of the human being has been developed millennia ago and, nowadays, there are specialised sciences in the field. So, if you want to know which are the most important branches of anthropology and the importance of knowing them, keep reading this article!

What are the 5 branches of anthropology?

The 5 branches of anthropology are:

  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Biological anthropology
  • Social anthropology
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Archaeology

The word anthropology comes from the Greek “ánthrōpos” which means “human” and “logos” which means knowledge.

Anthropology is a biological science that studies human beings as a whole, in their physical characteristics as animals and in their culture, which is the only non-biological feature. This science is based on the knowledge and tools provided by the natural and social sciences.

The aim of anthropology is to produce knowledge about human beings in various fields, such as their social structures, their biological evolution, their current way of life as well as their evolution over time, their cultural and linguistic expression and many other aspects that characterise human beings. 

To do that, it uses a historical perspective, studying not only the present but also the evolution of human beings through time.

The history of anthropology dates back to the second half of the 19th century. As a consequence of the spread of the theory of evolution (Charles Darwin), a similar theory originated in the social sciences, called social evolutionism, which proposes that just as species evolve from simple organisms to more complex ones, in the same way human societies and cultures followed the same process to produce more complex structures.

As in many sciences, anthropology has had to create specialisations to focus its studies on particular aspects of specific fields. These specialisations gave rise to disciplines that today are considered independent sciences, although very close and in constant relation to anthropology.

This article mentions the main branches of archaeological science, as well as their sub-branches, with a brief overview of the areas of study they cover, as well as some details of each discipline in general.

Anthropology is divided into several branches that deal with different aspects of human development. Below are five branches of anthropology with their different sub-branches.

5 branches of anthropology

Anthropology is divided into multiple disciplines in order to explain its science in detail. Do you want to know the most relevant branches of anthropology? Find out below!

1. Linguistic anthropology

This field refers to the way in which people communicate with each other. It is also a way in which new and diverse knowledge is acquired.

Language gives us a sense of belonging to the world and specifically to a community, so it also defines part of a person’s identity. It awakens in the person a link of how we perceive the environment and how we relate to what surrounds us.

Linguistic anthropology tries to explain from the earliest forms of human communication how man has managed to develop this ability. Its importance lies in the fact that communication is not a thing of the past, but that we are constantly looking for ways to improve this part of the person.

Understanding the origins of language is what allows us to advance in knowledge and even to coexist between different groups. The study of this branch has also allowed us to interpret various writings, and discoveries and to take advantage of what our ancestors have already learnt.

2. Biological anthropology

Also known as physical anthropology, it is in charge of analysing and explaining the biological part of man, compared between different groups of individuals.

It studies a person’s capacity for physical adaptation to different environments, evolutionary differences with other species and the physical appearance that characterises each population group.

On the one hand, it examines the human body from its genetics, bone growth for the composition of the skeleton and its dimensions and measurements to define the physical changes it undergoes.

On the other hand, the emotional, mental and spiritual causes that arise with every situation the body experiences.

This branch is important because it provides the opportunity to improve people’s lives, for example, its study analyses the field of diseases, both physical and mental, how they affect the human being and therefore how to protect or prevent them.

3. Social anthropology

Although social anthropology can be considered synonymous with cultural anthropology, there is a difference between the two concepts. Social anthropology focuses on how human beings associate and form groups, while cultural anthropology is concerned with the habits and customs of those groups.

While both aim to determine issues of man in relation to society, it is important to make the distinction, although the study of these branches should always go hand in hand.

It explores what life is like for people in different parts of the world and what their viewpoint is in relation to life. In this way, it is possible to understand perspective, practices, values and social organisation.

The knowledge of this branch of anthropology is quite interesting and in fact its study is indispensable for the human being. This is because it analyses the whole social structure and therefore how the world works.

For example, how we are defined by our beliefs or customs, to such an extent that religious systems have developed. Also in the economic sphere, as society is defined in part by its trade, market and exchange from commodities to the latest services.

Politics is also seen in social anthropology, from the processes of nation building, to the creation of states, the distribution of power and the role of law and justice.

4. Cultural anthropology

It is worth making the distinction of what this discipline analyses, even though social anthropology will necessarily lead you to the study of these aspects.

Specifically, when we talk about culture, it does not only refer to customs and traditions, as this concept can be understood as ceremonies, beliefs and behaviour. It is also about characteristics that define culture as such, for example:

  • music;
  • art;
  • codes of conduct
  • cuisine;
  • dress;
  • festivities;
  • language;
  • architecture;
  • handicrafts.

The following disciplines are derived from this branch of anthropology:

  • Urban anthropology: specialises in the study of the material past of towns and cities in which the long-term permanence of human beings has left a rich record of the past.
  • Kinship anthropology: this branch of archaeology focuses on kinship relations as a social phenomenon and from a purely biological aspect.
  • Anthropology of religion: the study of religious systems and their beliefs.
  • Economic anthropology: production, consumption distribution and exchange are the basic structures of economic transactions and processes. Economic anthropologists concentrate on these activities mainly in illiterate and peasant societies. 

They focus on modes of exchange, including ceremonial exchanges. The concept of reciprocity and redistribution is crucial here. It also studies the nature of trade and market systems.

  • Political anthropology: Concentrates on the ubiquity of the political process and the functions of legitimate authority, law, justice and sanctions in simpleï societies; focus on power and leadership. 

It focuses on the anthropological point of view in formulating the typology of political structures based on the observed differences and similarities between the world’s societies and the political processes that emerge between nations and complex societies. In addition, it also studies political culture and nation-building processes.

5. Archaeology

There are many opinions as to whether this is a branch of anthropology. Although in some places it is taken as a science in its own right, its object of study is derived from other branches of anthropology, such as social anthropology.

Its main objective is to analyse objects, tools and buildings that have been made throughout human history. This is not just a matter of comparing one culture with another, at one time or another, but of understanding how society has been transformed. It is from this understanding that progress and improvement have been possible.

It is commonly believed that the study of anthropology is not as important today as many other subjects of analysis and learning. But in reality, it is just as important as the evolution of human beings and their permanence in the world depends on this insight.

This area of knowledge is current, useful and necessary. That is why learning and researching anthropology can be of great social value, especially in a society that is undergoing so much rapid change.

Conclusion

Anthropology, defined in a general way, is the science of the knowledge of man. In other words, it studies man, understood as a human being, in all his facets or features, both physical and social.

It seeks to explain what makes us human and what defines us, according to the time or epoch, geographical space and both internal and external circumstances with which we interact.

In order to know the person in an integral way, it is necessary to divide the study of the person into parts.

Did you find this article interesting? If you want to share your point of view about the importance of anthropology and its branches, write to us in the comments section! We want to know your opinion!

References

American Anthropological Association. (S/A). What is Anthropology?. Recuperado 23 de mayo de 2018. Disponible en http://www.americananthro.org/AdvanceYourCareer/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2150&navItemNumber=740

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