Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans and is in contrast to social anthropology which perceives cultural variation as a subset of the anthropological constant. A variety of methods are part of anthropological methodology, including participant observation (often called fieldwork because it involves the anthropologist spending an extended period of time at the research location), interviews, and surveys. One of the earliest articulations of the anthropological meaning of the term “culture” came from Sir Edward Tylor who writes on the first page of his 1897 book: “Culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” The term “civilization” later gave way to definitions by V. Gordon Childe, with culture forming an umbrella term and civilization becoming a particular kind of culture. The anthropological concept of “culture” reflects in part a reaction against earlier Western discourses based on an opposition between “culture” and “nature”, according to which some human beings lived in a “state of nature”. Anthropologists have argued that culture is “human nature”, and that all people have a capacity to classify experiences, encode classifications symbolically (i.e. in language), and teach such abstractions to others. Since humans acquire culture through the learning processes of enculturation and socialization, people living in different places or different circumstances develop different cultures. Anthropologists have also pointed out that through culture people can adapt to their environment in non-genetic ways, so people living in different environments will often have different cultures. Much of anthropological theory has originated in an appreciation of and interest in the tension between the local (particular cultures) and the global (a universal human nature, or the web of connections between people in distinct places/circumstances). The rise of cultural anthropology occurred within the context of the late 19th century, when questions regarding which cultures were “primitive” and which were “civilized” occupied the minds of not only Marx and Freud, but many others. Colonialism and its processes increasingly brought European thinkers in contact, directly or indirectly with “primitive others.” The relative status of various humans, some of whom had modern advanced technologies that included engines and telegraphs, while others lacked anything but face-to-face communication techniques and still lived a Paleolithic lifestyle, was of interest to the first generation of cultural anthropologists. Parallel with the rise of cultural anthropology in the United States, social anthropology, in which sociality is the central concept and which focuses on the study of social statuses and roles, groups, institutions, and the relations among them—developed as an academic discipline in Britain and in France. An umbrella term socio-cultural anthropology makes reference to both cultural and social anthropology traditions.
About the Author: Matt Artz
Matt Artz is a business and design anthropologist, consultant, author, speaker, and creator. He writes, speaks, and consults in user experience, product management, and business strategy. He creates products, podcasts, music, and visual art. Matt is the Head of Product and Experience for Cloudshadow Consulting and Artmatcher. He is also the Founder of Anthro to UX, Azimuth Labs, and Biomega Technologies. He earned a Masters of Science in Applied Anthropology from the University of North Texas in 2018, an MBA in Finance and Management Information Systems from Marywood University in 2008, a BS in Biotechnology from Marywood University in 2008, and a BBA in Computer Information Systems from Marywood University in 2006. As an anthropologist and consultant, he is known for his research interests and work in business anthropology, design anthropology, consumer genetics, user experience, product management, big data, sensemaking, and algorithmic bias. Matt is also the creator of the Anthropology in Business podcast and Anthro to UX podcast where he discusses the application of anthropology to business and UX. He has been featured by TEDx, SXSW, Anthropology News, MedPage Today, Kevin MD Technically, UX Planet, Towards Data Science, Product Coalition, and the University of North Texas. You can follow Matt on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, and Google Scholar.