Cultural Anthropology Studies the Human Society

The “ambiguities” of Cultural Anthropology

It is not easy to define the disciplinary scope of cultural anthropology, simply because its borders seem endless. C. Geerz, a great specialist of the matter, said that, however, even the experts don’t quite know what it is. We observe, however, that some American scholars are trying to simplify and to clear the definition of the scope of cultural anthropology. Among these we may mention the Harris’ manual, which offers this definition: “[…] The Anthropology is the study of man, of ancient and modern peoples with their systems of life […].”  In the end, F. Boas, in his manual “General Anthropology” (1938), identified three major areas related to discipline: the reconstruction of human history, the identification of certain “types” of historical events, and the dynamics of change. In this sense, all scholars recognize that, for better or worse, each of them is concerned at least one of these broad topic areas.

Since the cultural anthropology discusses about the “culture”, we must define what we mean by the term “culture” in the anthropological sense. In general, some accepted the definition of “culture” as a typically human phenomenon that is transmitted through the teaching, and also relates to the traditions, practices and customs that govern the behaviour and beliefs of a society. However, among the scholars, there are many nuances, which may confuse the non-specialist reader. In this sense, perhaps it would have to go back to the ‘classics’ of the Anthropology. Margaret Mead, in her book “Male and Female” (1949), very clearly delineated the boundaries of the discipline.

She pointed out that the Cultural Anthropology aims to study  the uses and customs of some primitive societies, which remained outside the main historical peoples of the world, and preserve their ancient traditions, which are often at odds with those of modern societies. However, according to M. Mead, anthropology does not study these social groups to find out the origins of our current customs and traditions, but to collect materials about the human behaviour. In addition, the cultural anthropology studies the human society as a whole, and therefore also the art, folklore, marriage, and many other aspects of daily life. Finally, M. Mead pointed out the cultural anthropology does not attempt to “change” certain primitive societies and the environment where they live, but only to “observe,” to deepen the knowledge of men. We must say that the definition proposed by M. Mead was and remains very simple and, finally, convincing.