What is anthropology?

In simple terms, anthropology is the study of human behavior in all times and all places. Unlike many of the other social sciences, one of the primary goals of anthropology is to undertake a cross-cultural comparison of human culture. This includes both western and non-western cultures, their values, and their cultural practices. Likewise anthropology adopts a holistic view of culture, meaning it looks at all aspects of human culture instead of one particular area. Holism means that anthropology is interested in everything from day-to-day economic decisions, family patterns, political organization and more abstract concepts such as ideology and world views.

As a result of this holistic perspective, anthropology in North America is commonly taught as involving four sub-fields: archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. AN 201 here at GRCC embraces this four-subfield approach to anthropology and serves as the primary course to introduce our students to each of the four subfields.

In addition to academic careers, one of the emerging trends in the discipline is for most anthropologists to be employed in various capacities as applied anthropologists. Applied anthropology involves the application of anthropological techniques and knowledge to solve contemporary problems.


The Subfields

Anthropological Archaeology

Anthropological archaeologists focus on reconstructing past human culture through the archaeological record. Archaeologists typically focus on “big” questions in the human past such as: When and how did agriculture come about? What conditions led to the rise of social inequality? How do human societies respond to rapid environmental change?

  • Academic careers in archaeology include museum studies and university research positions.
  • Applied careers in archaeology include cultural resource management (CRM) jobs that conduct archaeological investigation prior to construction projects in compliance with federal laws.

Anthropological Archaeology: AN 205 (Introduction to Archaeology); AN 285 (The Archaeology of Ireland); AN 201* (Introduction to Anthropology); AN 280* (The Culture and History of Native Americans)

*These courses have some content that includes anthropological archaeology.

 Where can I get more information?

Society for American Archaeology

Society for Historical Archaeology


Biological Anthropology

Biological Anthropologists study humans as a biological organism and focuses on both past and present biological variation in humans a species. Some people in this field study the origins of humans and their relationship with primates, while others use our understanding of human physical and genetic variability to emphasize that human "races" are a social rather than biological construct.

  • Academic careers in biological anthropology include Paleoanthropology and Primatology, both which teach and conduct research in their respective fields.
  • Applied careers in anthropology include forensic anthropologists that assist in identifying the victims of violent crime and mass disasters.

Biological Anthropology at GRCC: AN 201* (Introduction to Anthropology) and AN 205* (Introduction to Archaeology)

*These courses have some content that includes biological anthropology

  Where can I get more information?

American Association of Physical Anthropologists


Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology focuses on the investigation of contemporary human cultures worldwide. To accomplish this research, cultural anthropologists often partake in long-term, participatory fieldwork known as ethnography. Other cultural anthropologists focus on addressing contemporary global problems such as the threat of globalization on cultural diversity or improving the general status of women throughout the world.

  • Academic careers in cultural anthropology often focus in area specializations (Latin America, the Middle East) and/or topically (medical anthropology, psychological Anthropology)
  • Applied careers in cultural anthropology involve working for non-government organizations (NGOs) that apply anthropological practices and knowledge to help devise culturally appropriate development or health based programs. Some corporations today even employ cultural anthropologists to construct more efficient corporate cultures.

Cultural Anthropology at GRCC: AN 210 (Introduction to Cultural Anthropology); AN 280 (The Culture and History of Native Americans); AN 201* (Introduction to Anthropology)

*These courses have some content that includes cultural anthropology

  Where can I get more information?

American Anthropological Association


Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistic anthropology investigates the role of language in culture. The importance of language to human culture cannot be understated and is reflected by the fact that it has its own subfield. During the early 20th century linguistic anthropologists concentrated on preserving indigenous languages world wide by recording native speakers and documenting the structure of those languages. Language loss remains one of the critical barriers to cultural survival today. In recent years linguistic anthropologists have also been investigating the social context of language use.

Academic careers in linguistic anthropology focus either on structural linguistics (the study of languages themselves) or socio-linguistics (the use of language in cultural contexts). There is considerable overlap between linguistic anthropology and communications departments.

Applied careers in linguistic anthropology can include work as translators and communications positions.

Linguistic Anthropology at GRCC: AN201*(Introduction to Anthropology); AN210* (Introduction to Cultural Anthropology); AN 280* (The Culture and History of Native Americans)

*These courses have some content that overlaps with Linguistic Anthropology

  Where can I get more information?

Society for Linguistic Anthropology