What is Anthropology?

Anthropology explores the diversity of human societies across space and time through fields such as Archaeology and Social Anthropology. Students engage in a diverse range of research in the classroom and independent projects. Recent senior thesis projects have studied jellyfish populations in Ibiza and Malta, mosaic skulls in Mexico, bluegrass music in Nashville, youth activism in Bosnia-Herzegovina, cultural heritage in South Korea, urbanism in El Brujo Archaeological Complex in Peru, mathematicians in Greece, and television viewing in Shanghai.


What draws people to Anthropology?

In the following videos students and faculty share their experiences and entry points into Anthropology.

"Step out of the book" & "into the world"

Professor Ajantha Subramanian discusses why she was drawn to Anthropology after having studied religion and theology as an undergraduate. 

Perspectives on reading Karl Marx

Cengiz Cemaloglu '18, a joint concentrator in Anthropology and Government, discusses the unique perspective he gained reading Marx in the Sophomore Tutorial.

Anthropology at the intersection of many disciplines

Sarah Martini '16 describes how Archaeology gave her the opportunity to study interests at the intersection of many disciplines.

What makes research anthropological?


One of the orienting questions in anthropology asks what humans share and where humans differ. Words such as culture, norms, ideology, hegemony, discourse, and symbols describe how humans share ideas and practices and create social groups and differentiation. 

Anthropological questions tend to be about how individuals craft their lives, dreams, beliefs, and actions in relation to a shared “social” context. 

Since there is consistency but also variation and contradictions in what people do and what they believe, anthropologists conduct careful historical and cultural research rather than assume an easy, overarching "worldview" or logic. 


Anthropologists are constantly moving back and forth between different “scales” of human life— whether individual, communal, regional, national, or even international— to gain new insights and understandings of the complexity of human life.

This approach is visible in a research process that moves between concrete descriptions of conversations, events, objects, and discussions of larger phenomenon (whether historical, regional, political, aesthetic, material), and back again.

Guiding anthropological questions

Anthropologists have long found that the social world is complicated and always shifting. The work of anthropologists have tended to coalesce around two sets of related questions: 

❶  What shared meanings or conventions or practices are in place in any given context or field site? To what extent are there patterns or norms that impact the way people see and act in their world?

❷  How are these social norms, cultures, ideologies, or shared symbolic systems made possible? And how are they challenged, reproduced or enforced across time and space? 

Questions ❶ and ❷ correspond to stances that anthropologists have about how to ask anthropological questions and how to collect data and evidence to answer these questions.