Anthropologist, one of the highest-paying social science careers, revolves around the systematic study of humanity. These social scientists study everything from the cultural practices of ancient civilizations to the physical evolution of human beings and from the changes in words to the cultural impact of modern public policies. Three of the biggest subfields within the field of anthropology are biological anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology.
Learning About Beliefs and Customs in Cultural Anthropology
In both modern and ancient times, culture has played a crucial role in human societies. Cultural anthropologists are anthropologists who study humanity through the lens of culture. This perspective encompasses the learned beliefs and ideas that guide the behaviors of a society and the individuals within it, as well as the practices and customs that form those behaviors, according to the National Park Service.
When you’re seeking a degree in cultural anthropology, you should expect to take introductory courses in culture and social life and in language, culture and society. To develop the skills you need to pursue this field of inquiry, you will take courses in the methods of research and analysis used in the study of cultural anthropology. Beyond these core courses, students often have the opportunity to choose which geographic areas they wish to study as well as the many different perspectives that exist on topics like justice and inequality.
Students of an undergraduate cultural anthropology program usually get to choose from several electives to build out an area of knowledge within their field. Those electives can range from the intersection between food and culture to the anthropology of artificial intelligence and include topics like political anthropology, medical anthropology, the anthropology of religion and anthropology of gender.
Biological, cultural and linguistic anthropology are only three of the four major subfields of anthropology, according to the American Anthropological Association. The other subfield, archeology, is often offered as a standalone college major and confers a different job title.
Understanding the Genetic Inheritance of Humans in Biological Anthropology
Anthropology is often linked, with good reason, with the cultural practices of a civilization. However, if you study biological anthropology – as a college major and then as your area of career focus – you’re going to be looking, instead, at biological characteristics. This social science is not the same as studying biology, the natural science of living organisms, or of anatomy and physiology, the structure and function of the body. Instead, you may look at the ways human characteristics have evolved since ancient times.
Students majoring in biological anthropology complement their general anthropology coursework with classes such as the principles of biological anthropology and courses in human ecology, human evolution, nutrition and growth and evolutionary ecology and social behavior. In these different areas within the subfield of biological anthropology, you may take courses in a wide variety of topics, from human fossils to primate socioecology.
The subfield of biological anthropology concerns itself with the biological facets of genetics, health, reproduction, nutrition, and evolution across the lifecycle, from infancy to old age and among modern humans, early humans and primates.
Examining Language and How It Has Changed Through Linguistic Anthropology
Language – how it’s used in different situations, how it varies and how it changes over time – is a big part of human society and behavior. Linguistic anthropology focuses on the study of language as a representation of humanity. This subfield of anthropology looks at language in all different contexts, from how it is used in socialization and education to how it is used in medicine.
As a student of linguistic anthropology, you’ll take courses in language structure and language change. You may learn about linguistic elements such as phonetics, syntax, phonology and morphology. Coursework in the evolution of languages and in the intersection between language and globalization is common when preparing for a career in linguistic anthropology. Students often study the languages of the world as well as specific kinds of languages, such as American Indian languages, Mesoamerican languages, Eurasian languages and African languages, along with coursework in the anthropology of different areas all over the globe.
Although recognized as a distinct subfield within anthropology, degree programs in linguistic anthropology aren’t always dedicated exclusively to this area of emphasis. Many colleges combine the study of linguistic anthropology and sociocultural anthropology.