Anthropology is a science, and is therefore a rational enterprise. Just like other sciences, anthropology stands on two separate pillars – concepts and methods. In terms of its concepts, it shares them (with the exception of a few specialized fields) with other social-scientific disciplines. On the other hand, its methodological arsenal separates it greatly from other disciplines. Regarding methods of data collection, a patent tool of anthropology is (long-term) field research, consisting predominantly of participant observation; in this way anthropology differs from its sister discipline – sociology, which puts an emphasis during data collection on mainly quantitative methods (using questionnaires).
Written anthropological texts (and films) based on field research are always of an interpretative character; this means that 1) their perspectives are always different from the perspective of informants/natives and that 2) description is never an aim of anthropology. To put this into different terms, anthropology unveils that which hides behind the apparent, its goal therefore is to express the hidden; in doing so anthropology differs from another of its fellow sciences – ethnology (ethnography), but also the study of history.
Anthropology has long been known for its interest in other (exotic) cultures and societies different from the society and culture of Europe. In modern times, as the world’s diversity is slowly disappearing thanks to globalization, anthropologists have also turned their focus to the research of their own societies, but at the same time have not abandoned their methods and perspectives. In this respect, anthropology is one of the most progressive social sciences, and explores current phenomena such as ethnicity, (trans)nationalism, multiculturalism, and more. Research which is focused in such a way helps to show us that there are no specific anthropological topics; there is only an anthropological approach to a given topic.
Author: Marek Jakoubek