What Is Anthropology? The AAA Statement

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The American Anthropological Association has just released a new document, What Is Anthropology? This document was also approved by the Executive Board of the AAA during the New Orleans meeting. It goes a long way to answering questions about the role of science in anthropology, the balance among fields, and the role of anthropological knowledge in helping solve human problems.

Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. A central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems. Historically, anthropologists in the United States have been trained in one of four areas: sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics. Anthropologists often integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their research, teaching, and professional lives.

Given the controversy over the AAA dropping science from its long-range plan, and subsequent media coverage that painted the controversy as due to warring tribes of anthropologist split along scientist/post-modern lines, this newly released document is an excellent step in the right direction. People have been clamoring for information on what the AAA thinks anthropology is. Here is the direct statement. Now let’s add some emphasis.

Anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. A central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems.

Moreover, there is clear recognition of anthropology’s interdisciplinary approach:

Addressing complex questions, such as human origins, the past and contemporary spread and treatment of infectious disease, or globalization, requires synthesizing information from all four subfields.

Finally, there is recognition that anthropologists work in diverse sectors, not just the academy, and that we use the breadth of anthropology to do so.

Outside the university, anthropologists work in government agencies, private businesses, community organizations, museums, independent research institutes, service organizations, the media; and others work as independent consultants and research staff for agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, UNESCO, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank.

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