Anthropology Definition & Introduction
This page was an outline for an Introduction to Anthropology 2018 course, providing an anthropology definition by demonstrating contemporary anthropological findings. This definition of anthropology was based on the 4th edition of Anthropology: What Does it Mean to be Human? by Robert H. Lavenda and Emily A. Schultz, published in 2018 by Oxford University Press.
The course outline consists of three sections of 12 classes. I divided each of the 16 chapters of Lavenda and Schultz into two parts. I left the four modules as standalone. The course outline is ideal for a 14-15 week course that meets three times each week, leaving room for exams and other activities. The outline can be easily adjusted for other formats or structured for independent reading. The links in [brackets] point to related material on Living Anthropologically and notes from my Hartwick Intro-to-Anthro 2018 course.
Lavenda and Schultz in 2021 came out with a 5th edition, which I use in my current Intro to Anthro 2021.
A. Evolution & Biological Anthropology
[For these sections, see also the content pages for Biological Anthropology]
1. What is the definition of anthropology?
- Chapter 1, “What is anthropology?” (3-7). [Blog-post: What is Anthropology?]
- Beckett, Greg. 2017. “The abolition of all privilege: Race, equality, and freedom in the work of Anténor Firmin.” Critique of Anthropology 37(2):160-178. See also Durba Chattaraj, “A Prescient Discipline in the Past, a Capacious Discipline for the Future” in Teaching Anthropology (May 2018).
2. What are the fields of anthropology?
- Chapter 1, “What is anthropology?” (8-20). [2018 class: What is Intro to Anthropology?]
- Two Bears, Davina. 2006. “Navajo Archaeologist Is Not an Oxymoron: A Tribal Archaeologist’s Experience.” The American Indian Quarterly 30(3):381-387.
- Amuyunzu-Nyamongo, Mary. 2006. “Challenges and Prospects for Applied Anthropology in Kenya. In African Anthropologies: History, Critique and Practice, edited by M. Ntarangwi, D. Mills, and M. Babiker, 237-249. Dakar: CODESRIA.
3. Is anthropology scientific?
- Module 1, “Anthropology, Science, and Storytelling” (21-29). [2018 class: Science and Storytelling]
- M’Charek, Amade. 2013. “Beyond Fact or Fiction: On the Materiality of Race in Practice.” Cultural Anthropology 28(3):420-442. See also the 2013 interview with Amade M’charek for Cultural Anthropology.
- Rodseth, Lars. 2015. “Back to Boas, Forth to Latour: An Anthropological Model for the Ontological Turn.” Current Anthropology 56(6):865-882.
4. How do anthropologists study evolution?
- Chapter 2, “Why is evolution important to anthropologists?” (31-41). [2018 class: Evolution, Anthropologically]
- Marks, Jonathan. 2012. “The Biological Myth of Human Evolution.” Contemporary Social Science 7(2):139-157. See The Evolutionary Enigma of the Human Eyebrow by Penny Spikins on Sapiens.
- Downey, Greg, and Daniel H. Lende, 2012. “Evolution and the Brain.” In The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology, edited by Daniel H. Lende and Greg Downey. Cambridge: MIT Press.
5. How is evolutionary theory evolving?
- Chapter 2, “Why is evolution important to anthropologists?” (41-59). [Blog-section: Evolution & Natural Selection, Anthropologically]
- Fuentes, Agustín. 2017. “Human niche, human behaviour, human nature.” Interface Focus 7(2) or also by Fuentes, The Human Niche in Orbiter (September 2018). See additionally The Biologists Who Want to Overhaul Evolution by Carl Zimmer in The Atlantic (November 2016).
- Jantz, Richard L. 2018. “Amelia Earhart and the Nikumaroro Bones: A 1941 Analysis versus Modern Quantitative Techniques.” Forensic Anthropology 1(2):1-16. But see Have we really found Amelia Earhart’s bones? by Jennifer Raff in The Guardian (March 2018).
6. Are humans primates?
- Chapter 3, “What can the study of primates tell us about human beings?” (61-72). [2018 class: Primates]
- Smuts, Barbara. 1987. “What are Friends For?” Natural History Magazine 96(2). For updated research on baboon friendships, see Nga Nguyen’s work reported in BBC Earth News (2009).
- Fruth, Barbara, and Gottfried Hohmann. 2018. “Food Sharing across Borders.” Human Nature. See Bonobos Spied Sharing a Feast by Nicola Jones in Sapiens (April 2018).
- Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko, 2016. “Primates as Metaphors/Symbols.” In The International Encyclopedia of Primatology, 1-7.
7. Why is primatology important to anthropology?
- Chapter 3, “What can the study of primates tell us about human beings?” (73-81). [Blog-section: So Many Primates for Primatology]
- Malone, Nicholas, et al. 2014. “Ethnoprimatology: Critical interdisciplinarity and multispecies approaches in anthropology.” Critique of Anthropology 34(1):8-29. See also co-author Erin P. Riley’s work on ethnoprimatology.
- Pruetz, Jill D., and Nicole M. Herzog. 2017. “Savanna Chimpanzees at Fongoli, Senegal, Navigate a Fire Landscape.” Current Anthropology 58(S16):S337-S350. See also “Hints of Human Evolution in Chimpanzees That Endure a Savanna’s Heat” by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times (April 2018) for more on Pruetz’s work.
8. What type of dating method is the most accurate?
- Module 2, “Dating Methods in Paleoanthropology and Archaeology” (82-93)
- Cave, Christine. 2018. “Did Ancient People Die Young?” Sapiens August 17.
- Clarkson, Chris, et al. 2017. “Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago.” Nature 547:306. And see the discussion in The Conversation Buried tools and pigments tell a new history of humans in Australia for 65,000 years (July 2017).
9. How did apes evolve?
- Chapter 4, “What can the fossil record tell us about human origins?” (95-116)
- Kuhn, Steven L., David A. Raichlen, and Amy E. Clark. 2016. “What moves us? How mobility and movement are at the center of human evolution.” Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 25(3):86-97.
- Haile-Selassie, Yohannes, et al. 2015. “New species from Ethiopia further expands Middle Pliocene hominin diversity.” Nature 521:483. See The Human Family Tree Bristles With New Branches by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times (May 2015).
10. How did Homo sapiens evolve?
- Chapter 4, “What can the fossil record tell us about human origins?” (117-141)
- Antón, Susan C., and Christopher W. Kuzawa. 2017. “Early Homo, Plasticity and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.” Interface Focus 7(5).
- Bae, Christopher J., Katerina Douka, and Michael D. Petraglia. 2017. “On the origin of modern humans: Asian perspectives.” Science 358(6368). For a well-written summary, see Humanity’s Story Has No End of Surprising Twists by Michelle Langley in Sapiens (March 2018).
11. Can DNA tell us about race?
- Chapter 5, “What can evolutionary theory tell us about human variation?” (143-156)
- Gravlee, Clarence C. 2009. “How race becomes biology: embodiment of social inequality.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 139(1):47-57. See Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis by Linda Villarosa in The New York Times (April 2018).
- Outram, Simon, et al. 2018. “Genes, Race, and Causation: US Public Perspectives About Racial Difference.” Race and Social Problems. See the March 2018 statement by Agustín Fuentes signed by 68 scientists and researchers, “How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics” or listen to the August 2018 podcast Is Your DNA You? on Sapiens.
12. Are humans still evolving?
- Chapter 5, “What can evolutionary theory tell us about human variation?” (156-167)
- Thayer, Zaneta M., and Amy L. Non. 2015. “Anthropology Meets Epigenetics: Current and Future Directions.” American Anthropologist 117(4):722-735.
- For a good discussion of plasticity (in Lavenda & Schultz:158-59) see How War Gets “Under the Skin” by Patrick Clarkin (February 2013). See also What the Archaeology of Night Reveals by Nancy Gonlin and April Nowell in Sapiens (April 2018).
B. Archaeology, History & Culture
13. What is archaeology?
- Chapter 6, “How do we know about the human past?” (169-183)
- Nowell, April and Melanie L. Chang 2014. “Science, the Media, and Interpretations of Upper Paleolithic Figurines.” American Anthropologist 116(3):562-577. Or, also by Nowell and Chang, see How to make stone soup: Is the “Paleo diet” a missed opportunity for anthropologists? in Evolutionary Anthropology (2016).
- Honeychurch, William, and Cheryl A. Makarewicz. 2016. “The Archaeology of Pastoral Nomadism.” Annual Review of Anthropology 45(1):341-359.
- Pollard, Helen Pearlstein, 2012. “The Tarascan Empire: Postclassic Social Complexity in Western Mexico.” In The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, edited by Deborah L. Nichols and Christopher A. Pool, 434-448. New York: Oxford University Press. See also Kenneth Feder’s brief “Help! I’m Being Followed by Ancient Aliens!” in the Skeptical Inquirer 37(2):March/April 2013.
14. What role do ethics play in archaeology?
- Chapter 6, “How do we know about the human past?” (183-199)
- Geismar, Haidy. 2015. “Anthropology and Heritage Regimes.” Annual Review of Anthropology 44(1):71-85. Check out two Engaged Anthropology Grants: Beth Scaffidi’s “Pathways to Preservation: Understanding Archaeological Looting in Arequipa, Peru Through a Cloud-based Collaborative Database and Public Outreach Film” and Asmeret Mehari’s “Decolonizing the Pedagogy of Archaeology in East Africa.”
- Barrett, Autumn R., and Michael L. Blakey, 2011. “Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in Colonial New York.” In Social Bioarchaeology, edited by Sabrina C. Agarwal and Bonnie A. Glencross, 212-251. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
15. What is domestication (anthropology definition)?
- Chapter 7, “Why did humans settle down, build cities, and establish states?” (201-218)
- Zeder, Melinda A. 2016. “Domestication as a model system for niche construction theory.” Evolutionary Ecology 30(2):325-348. See also Following a New Trail of Crumbs to Agriculture’s Origins by Tobias Richter and Amaia Arranz-Otaegui in Sapiens (July 2018).
- Wengrow, David, and David Graeber. 2015. “Farewell to the ‘childhood of man’: ritual, seasonality, and the origins of inequality.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(3):597-619. See also Graeber and Wengrow’s popular restatement as How to change the course of human history in Eurozine (March 2018) and a video-lecture response by Camilla Power, Did Gender Egalitarianism Make Us Human? Or, If Graeber And Wengrow Won’t Talk About Sex…
16. What is the archaeological evidence for social complexity?
- Chapter 7, “Why did humans settle down, build cities, and establish states?” (218-235)
- Falk, Dean and Charles Hildebolt. 2017. “Annual War Deaths in Small-Scale versus State Societies Scale with Population Size Rather than Violence.” Current Anthropology 58(6):805-813. For a summary by Dean Falk, see Is the Clock Ticking Toward Doomsday? in Sapiens (January 2018). Another possibility: Oka, Rahul C., et al. 2017. “Population is the main driver of war group size and conflict casualties.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(52):E11101-E11110. A summary of the argument is Why human society isn’t more–or less–violent than in the past by Michael Price in Science (December 2017).
- Kohler, Timothy A., et al. 2017. “Greater post-Neolithic wealth disparities in Eurasia than in North America and Mesoamerica.” Nature 551:619.
- Wilcox, Michael. 2010. “Marketing conquest and the vanishing Indian: An Indigenous response to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse.” Journal of Social Archaeology 10(1):92-117.
17. Why is it important to study culture?
- Chapter 8, “Why is the concept of culture important?” (237-246)
- Small, Meredith F. 1997. “Our Babies, Ourselves.” Natural History 106(8):41-51.
- Naveh, Danny, 2016. “Social and Epistemological Dimensions of Learning Among Nayaka Hunter-Gatherers.” In Social Learning and Innovation in Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers: Evolutionary and Ethnographic Perspectives, edited by Hideaki Terashima and Barry S. Hewlett, 125-133. Tokyo: Springer Japan. See What If Machines Could Learn the Way Children Do? by Matthew Gwynfryn Thomas and Djuke Veldhuis on Sapiens (March 2018).
18. Why does anthropology care about cultural relativism?
- Chapter 8, “Why is the concept of culture important?” (246-256)
- Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 2003. “Anthropology and the Savage Slot.” In Global Transformations (7-28). [Class notes: What Anthropology Inherited: The Savage Slot.]
- Latham, Susie. 2016. “The campaign against Female Genital Cutting: empowering women or reinforcing global inequity?” Ethics and Social Welfare 10(2):108-121.
19. What does ethnographic mean?
- Module 3, “On Ethnographic Methods” (257-271)
- Lassiter, Luke Eric, and Elizabeth Campbell. 2010. “What Will We Have Ethnography Do?” Qualitative Inquiry 16(9):757-767.
- Marte, Lidia. 2018. “‘Rich Points’ and ‘Deep-hanging Out.’” Anthropology News website, April 5, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.815.
20. What is language (anthropology definition)?
- Chapter 9, “Why is understanding human language important?” (273-284)
- Cerrone, Mirko. 2018. “Umwelt and Ape Language Experiments: on the Role of Iconicity in the Human-Ape Pidgin Language.” Biosemiotics.
- Boroditsky, Lera. 2011. “How Language Shapes Thought.” Scientific American. February. See Boroditsky’s TED Talk, How language shapes the way we think.
21. What is language ideology?
- Chapter 9, “Why is understanding human language important?” (284-297)
- Rosa, Jonathan. 2016. “Standardization, Racialization, Languagelessness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies across Communicative Contexts.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 26(2):162-183.
- Alim, H. Samy, 2016. “Who’s Afraid of the Transracial Subject?: Raciolinguistics and the Political Project of Transracialization.” In Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race, edited by H. Samy Alim, John R. Rickford, and Arnetha F. Ball, 33-50. New York: Oxford University Press.
22. Is there meaning without context?
- Module 4, “Components of Language” (298-301)
- Chávez, Alex E. 2015. “So ¿te fuiste a Dallas? (So you went to Dallas?/So you got screwed?): Language, Migration, and the Poetics of Transgression.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 25(2):150-172.
23. Why do we play?
- Chapter 10, “How do we make meaning?” (303-321) [2017 class on Rites of Passage]
- Condry, Ian, 2017. “Japanese Rappers, 9/11, and Soft Power: Anti-American Sentiments in ‘American’ Popular Culture.” In Global Perspectives on the United States: Pro-Americanism, Anti-Americanism, and the Discourses Between, edited by Virginia R. Dominguez and Jane C. Desmond, 239-250. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- Thommasen, Bjørn. 2012. “Notes towards an Anthropology of Political Revolutions.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 54(3):679-706.
24. Can anthropology explain religion?
- Chapter 10, “How do we make meaning?” (321-335)
- Hodder, Ian, 2010. “Probing religion at Çatalhöyük.” In Religion in the Emergence of Civilization: Çatalhöyük as a Case Study, edited by Ian Hodder, 1-31. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Howell, Brian M. 2015. “Anthropology and the Making of Billy Graham: Evangelicalism and Anthropology in the 20th-Century United States.” American Anthropologist 117(1):59-70. For a summary following Billy Graham’s passing in 2018, see Howell’s post in Sapiens How Billy Graham Married Evangelism and Anthropology.
C. Understanding Our World
25. Why does anthropology study economics?
- Chapter 11, “Why do anthropologists study economic relations?” (337-351)
- Li, Tania Murray. 2013. “Jobless growth and relative surplus populations.” Anthropology Today 29(3):1-2.
- Materna, Georg. 2018. “‘Two tribes of capitalists’: Neoconomists and politiconomists in a Senegalese marketplace.” FocaalBlog.
26. Can economic anthropology contribute to a more just world?
- Chapter 11, “Why do anthropologists study economic relations?” (351-361)
- Kesküla, Eeva. 2018. “How capitalists think about labor dynasties and corporate ethics.” FocaalBlog.
- Weiss, Hadas. 2015. “Capitalist normativity: Value and values.” Anthropological Theory 15(2):239-253.
27. What is power in anthropology?
- Chapter 12, “How do anthropologists study political relations?” (363-375)
- Yuval-Davis, Nira, 2016. “Power, Intersectionality and the Politics of Belonging.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Gender and Development: Critical Engagements in Feminist Theory and Practice, edited by Wendy Harcourt, 367-381. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
- Pendle, Naomi R. 2018. “‘The dead are just to drink from’: Recycling ideas of revenge among the western Dinka, South Sudan.” Africa 88(1):99-121.
28. How does globalization affect nation-states?
- Chapter 12, “How do anthropologists study political relations?” (376-391)
- Leoperfido, Giacomo. 2018. “What Can Anthropology Say about Populism?” Anthropology News website. March 19, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.801.
- Patel, Ashvina. 2018. “Why Aid Remains Out of Reach for Some Rohingya Refugees.” Sapiens, 17 May 2018.
29. How does anthropology study gender?
- Chapter 13, “What can anthropology teach us about sex, gender, and sexuality?” (393-406)
- Power, Camilla, 2016. “Anthropological Perspectives on Sex.” In The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies, edited by A. Wong, M. Wickramasinghe, r. hoogland, and N.A. Naples.
- Wentzell, Emily. 2014. “‘I help her, she helps me:’ Mexican men performing masculinity through transactional sex.” Sexualities 17(7):856-871.
30. Is sexuality a social construct?
- Chapter 13, “What can anthropology teach us about sex, gender, and sexuality?” (406-419)
- Halperin, David M. 2016. “What Is Sex For?” Critical Inquiry 43(1):1-31.
- Wesp, Julie K., 2017. “Embodying Sex/Gender Systems in Bioarchaeological Research.” In Exploring Sex and Gender in Bioarchaeology, edited by Sabrina C. Agarwal and Julie K. Wesp, 99-126. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
31. What is kinship?
- Chapter 14, “Where do our relatives come from and why do they matter?” (421-441)
- Desai, Amit, 2010. “A matter of affection: Ritual friendship in Central India.” In The Ways of Friendship: Anthropological Perspectives, edited by Amit Desai and Evan Killick, 114-132. New York: Berghahn Books.
- Mariner, Kathryn A. 2017. “The Specular Un/Making of Kinship: American Adoption’s Penetrating Gaze.” Ethnos:1-17. See also When Gaming the System Is the Only Way to Parenthood by Jessaca Leinaweaver and Diana Marre in Sapiens (April 2018).
32. What is marriage?
- Chapter 14, “Where do our relatives come from and why do they matter?” (441-467)
- Álvarez Bernardo, Gloria, Nuria Romo Avilés, and Ana Belén García Berbén. 2017. “Doing gender in Spanish same-sex couples. The distribution of housework and childcare.” Journal of Gender Studies:1-11.
- Ramberg, Lucinda. 2013. “Troubling kinship: Sacred marriage and gender configuration in South India.” American Ethnologist 40(4):661-675.
33. How are naturalizing discourses used?
- Chapter 15, “What can anthropology tell us about social inequality?” (469-479)
- Shackel, Paul A. 2017. “Transgenerational Impact of Structural Violence: Epigenetics and the Legacy of Anthracite Coal.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology.
- Dean, Erin. 2013. “Contested Ecologies: Gender, Genies, and Agricultural Knowledge in Zanzibar.” Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment 35(2):102-111. See also Western Science Is Finally Catching Up to Traditional Ecological Knowledge by George Nicholas in Sapiens (April 2018).
34. If race isn’t biological then what is it?
- Chapter 15, “What can anthropology tell us about social inequality?” (479-501)
- Watkins, Rachel J. 2012. “Biohistorical Narratives of Racial Difference in the American Negro: Notes toward a Nuanced History of American Physical Anthropology.” Current Anthropology 53(S5):S196-S209. See AnthroBites: Scientific Racism in Cultural Anthropology for an interview with Rachel Watkins.
- Ifekwunigwe, Jayne O., et al. 2017. “A Qualitative Analysis of How Anthropologists Interpret the Race Construct.” American Anthropologist 119(3):422-434. See also Ten Skeletons Bury a Right-Wing Talking Point by Duncan Sayer in Sapiens (April 2018).
35. What is anthropology’s contribution to public health?
- Chapter 16, “How is anthropology applied in the field of medicine?” (503-517)
- Vega, Rosalynn Adeline. 2017. “Commodifying Indigeneity: How the Humanization of Birth Reinforces Racialized Inequality in Mexico.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 31(4):499-518. For an accessible summary, see Vega’s How Natural Birth Became Inaccessible to the Poor in Sapiens (April 2018).
- McIlvaine-Newsad, Heather, and Rob Porter. 2013. “How Does Your Garden Grow? Environmental Justice Aspects of Community Gardens.” Journal of Ecological Anthropology 16(1):69-75.
36. What is the future of medical anthropology?
- Chapter 16, “How is anthropology applied in the field of medicine?” (517-529)
- Marino, Elizabeth, and Heather Lazrus. 2015. “Migration or Forced Displacement?: The Complex Choices of Climate Change and Disaster Migrants in Shishmaref, Alaska and Nanumea, Tuvalu.” Human Organization 74(4):341-350.
- Schuller, Mark, and Julie K. Maldonado. 2016. “Disaster capitalism.” Annals of Anthropological Practice 40(1):61-72.
Anthropology Definition: Additional Resources
I used the 3rd edition of Lavenda and Schultz for an Introduction to Anthropology 2017 and Introduction to Anthropology 2016. Those course outlines may be helpful for a definition of anthropology if used books are available.
For a related approach to an anthropology definition, see the course outline for Intro to Anthro 2018 based on Anthropology: Asking Questions about Human Origins, Diversity, and Culture by Robert L. Welsch, Luis A. Vivanco, and Agustín Fuentes (Oxford University Press, 2017).
For my current approach using the 5th edition, see Intro to Anthro 2021.