Cultural anthropology is an academic subfield of anthropology, a social science dedicated to the study of man. Literally translated, anthropology means the study of (-ology) humanity (anthropos).
Many people are under the false notion that anthropologists simply study old bones and relate them to the theory of evolution. However, this is only one sub-field of anthropology called physical anthropology. While some anthropologists make it their career to scour the earth for eons-old human remains, cultural anthropologists study social structures and living habits of peoples and cultures around the world.
What Do Cultural Anthropologists Do?
Particularly during the years leading up to the Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, cultural anthropologists live with indigenous groups for a period of time to study their entire way of life. They study how people within the culture dress, how they maintain oral hygiene, what they eat, how they dispose of solid waste, their religious rituals, interrelations between families and those of the opposite sex, how they obtain their food, and their indigenous land rights.
Cultural anthropologists often specialize even further into various sub-subfields of anthropology. These include ethnolinguists who study a culture’s language, and ethnomusicologists who study a culture’s musical traditions. Indeed, much diversity exists in the field of cultural anthropology.
What Does It Take to Become a Cultural Anthropologist?
First and foremost, the person must be analytically-oriented to study various cultures and compare how they live with other cultures. The person must also be willing to spend a year or more in another culture with the expectation of returning at a later date. Lastly, the person must be willing to put forth years of intensive academic work in graduate, post-graduate, and doctorate-level anthropological studies. A Ph.D. is necessary for academic jobs in cultural anthropology with the exception of some government or corporate jobs.
Where Do Cultural Anthropologists Work?
Cultural anthropology is mainly an academic endeavor. Although some corporate and government jobs exist for cultural anthropologists, a degree in cultural anthropology will typically land the cultural anthropologist a teaching or research position at a college or university.
What’s the Difference Between Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology?
Cultural anthropology and archaeology are often confused. While cultural anthropology is generally defined as the study of living cultures and social systems, archaeology deals with ancient peoples and cultures through their physical remains. That is to say, their pottery, art, dwelling structures, religious artifacts, cooking utensils, ceremonial buildings, and jewelry among other things. So while archeology studies societies of the past, anthropology studies present cultures and the challenges they face in our modern world.
Anthropology is a broad-spectrum social science that offers various opportunities to study cultures around the world. For more information, visit the University of Texas Department of Anthropology.