Anthropologists study people and society, from our beginnings right through
to the current day. They examine all aspects of humanity, from physical characteristics
to languages to social behavior to cultures.
"There's a myth that anthropologists are only concerned with ancients,
apes or savages and that all anthropologists are bearded old men," says Michael
Whisson. He is a social and cultural anthropologist. In fact, anthropologists
are interested in everyone.
"I have friends who've worked with the elderly in California and with neighborhoods
in Tokyo. Anthropology is as much about us as it is about them," says Juliana
Flinn. She is a cultural anthropologist and anthropology professor.
Anthropology has four main branches. The type of work an anthropologist
does will depend on their specialty.
- Cultural anthropologists study human behavior and culture, looking
at art, religion, music, politics, language, social structure, traditions
and myths. Most anthropologists work in this area.
- Physical anthropologists study biological aspects of human evolution.
They study genetics and anatomy to uncover why people evolve differently than
others in different geographical areas. They also study primates such as apes
- Archeology is the study of past civilizations. Archeologists dig
up remains and artifacts to help us learn more about ancient cultures.
- Linguistic anthropologists study how languages relate to behavior.
They study the way languages develop, how they're used and how different languages
make people unique.
Most anthropologists conduct applied and basic research. Applied research
is used to solve specific problems like helping the government deal with native
issues. Basic research is used to solve fundamental questions about a society.
Most basic research takes the form of fieldwork. For cultural anthropologists,
this means living and working among the population they study and includes
speaking their native language.
Fieldwork can take place anywhere: excavation sites in China, the homes
of people living in the rainforests of South America, the jungles of Africa
and urban shopping malls.
"I like the travel and the constant learning involved, and I have a certain
pride in knowing things and participating in things that few people outside
anthropology can ever experience," says Anthony Stocks. He is an anthropologist
and professor of anthropology whose work has taken him to 25 countries.
Fieldwork can be stressful and physically demanding. Anthropologists must
be in good physical shape to work under rugged conditions in remote locations
for long periods of time. Being away from family and friends can be tough,
but most accept it as part of the job. Some even find ways around it.
"My wife and I, and our baby daughter, lived with some remote folks in
the Amazon for a year. It was fascinating and challenging," says Stocks.
Job duties can vary from lecturing in university and marking papers to
observing cultures in person and participating in rituals and the everyday
lives of the culture they visit. Anthropologists often write about their findings
from fieldwork in books or journal articles.
Anthropologists work for universities, museums and governments. The private
sector also employs anthropologists.
"It's not a huge trend, but anthropologists can work in the private sector,"
says Ellen Badone. She is president of a national association that represents
"Some work for private archeology firms. A construction company will come
to them because they have found some remains and ask the archeologist to excavate
the site. Native groups might employ an anthropologist to help define problems
and help in negotiations."
In universities, most anthropologists have regular hours. They work about
40 hours a week. But this is not so when they are doing fieldwork. Hours can
be long and irregular.
Competition for academic positions is stiff. But the growing popularity
of the social sciences in high schools may mean a greater demand for anthropologists
who can teach.