Anthropology takes a broad approach to understanding the many different aspects of the human experience. Some anthropologists consider what makes up our biological bodies and genetics, as well as our bones, diet, and health. Others look to the past to see how human groups lived hundreds or thousands of years ago and what was important to them. Around the world, they observe communities as they exist today, to understand the practices of different groups of people from an insider’s perspective. And they study how people use language, make meaning, and organize social action in all social groups and contexts.
In the community of anthropologists in the United States, these four fields—human biology, archaeology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics—are understood to be the pillars on which the whole discipline rests. Any individual anthropologist will probably specialize in one or two of these areas but have general familiarity with them all.
We understand these varied approaches to complement one another and give a well-rounded picture not only of what we all share as humans, but also of our rich diversity across time, space, and social settings. For example, everyone needs to eat, but people eat different foods and get food in different ways, so anthropologists look at how different groups of people get food, prepare it, and share it. They look at the meaning of different food traditions, such as what makes a dish appropriate for a special occasion. They focus on the intersection of culture and biology to understand what food is available in a community, why people make the choices they do, and how these choices relate to health and well-being. They compare these practices with others around the world, as well as what they can learn from the ancient archaeological record. And they use these insights to work toward a world where everyone has enough to eat and traditional foodways are celebrated and maintained.
The video below highlights a few anthropologists who have done very different kinds of things with their anthropological knowledge and approach. We highlight the diverse fields of technology innovation, urban planning, historic preservation, communications strategy, and forensic investigation to illustrate how, whatever people are doing, it’s all anthropology.