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Posted at: Feb 6, 2019, 8:10 AM; last updated: Feb 6, 2019, 8:11 AM (IST)

The human touch

The human touch

Usha Albuquerque

The human species was just one of many human species, according to Yuval Noah Harari, in his book  which was a recent bestseller. In fact, the book has brought into popular space, a subject few people thought about seriously or spent time studying — the subject of anthropology, or human evolution. Although Harari is not an anthropologist his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has done for  human evolution what Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time did for physics. Many more people are now not only more aware of the subject of anthropology, but it has also become a popular college course. 

Anthropology is the study of what makes us human. As a subject, it has fascinated man for centuries, as it deals with the study of the various dimensions of man’s existence and  behaviour. It is the science concerned with the study of the evolution of man, how we have changed over the years, and how we relate to each other, within our own culture and outside, and to compile authentic scientific knowledge about the human species. 

Anthropologists are intrigued by our past, and study human cultures, religions, customs, beliefs, genetics, etc. and search for answers to so many questions. What led people to follow different cultures, customs, & religions? At what point did human communication undergo a revolution? How did biological variation take place? 

Work profile

Anthropological studies can be utilised for handling a number of social problems, particularly those concerning tribal societies and their amelioration.  Governmental  agencies utilise the services of anthropologists in the areas of  developmental planning, birth control, health programmes, for implementation  of agricultural methods and practices, tribal welfare and rehabilitation. The findings of such research are also used for solving urban problems such as industrial unrest, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, and other forms of deviant behaviour. 

Anthropology  is used in the area of medical research and the development of new drugs, to help test and develop new drugs, check genetic abnormality and other inherited traits. Anthropological studies are used in forensic science for purposes of personal identification, finger printing, identification of blood groups and so on. In the field of sports, anthropology is taken into consideration for  evaluating body physique, and physiological functions for optimal utilization of talent.

Given its wide social and cultural moorings, young people taking up the study of social sciences, development studies, even economics are beginning to find value in anthropology.  Many are taking it as a base subject for further study in law, forensic science, public health and social work. Universities such as London, Sussex, even Oxford and Cambridge are encouraging students to take up this subject.

So if anthropology has fascinated you, you don’t have to stop with just reading Sapiens. There are a number of fields which you can consider as a career.

ANTHROPOLOGY 

Getting in

Anthropology is a subject covered under humanities as well as science streams. The BSc/MSc in anthropology degree is awarded as a science degree when it gets linked with the fields of pure science and pertains to human evolution. The BA/MA degree in anthropology is concerned with the social science aspect of anthropology, concentrating more on culture, society, linguistics etc. However, in India most colleges offer BSc courses in anthropology, so the most common route is to opt for the science stream (PCB) in Class XII. However, students with humanities background with subjects like history, sociology, and psychology — subjects that provide an insight into human behaviour, culture, can take up MA in Anthropology at post-graduate level. Many of the colleges offering Liberal Arts programme include anthropology as a major subject at  under-graduate level. A master’s, MPhil or PhD in this subject is recommended for better job opportunities, or for pursuing an academic or research-based career. A strong academic background opens up avenues to work with organisations such as the Archaeological Survey of India, the Planning Commission as well as international organisations like the United Nations, UNESCO or UNICEF, etc. 

Given its wide social and cultural moorings, young people taking up the study of social sciences, development studies, even economics are beginning to find value in anthropology. Many are taking it as a base subject for further study in law, forensic science, public health and social work. Universities such as London, Sussex, even Oxford and Cambridge are encouraging students to take up this subject.

A multi-disciplinary field

Anthropology encompasses both the social sciences as well as the physical sciences, covering the origin of man, physical characteristics, systems, material possessions as well as the social, cultural and religious beliefs and practices, languages, traditions. An anthropologist is a scientist who researches and studies socio-historical, archaeological, linguistic and biological aspects of humanity, especially as they apply to the development of modern man. 

In this way, scientists are able to consider the dynamism of the evolutionary process and explain how a community is what it is today and its relationship with the past, and to other communities or groups. Therefore, anthropologists also study the differentiation of physical and cultural types in human beings, and the effects of living in different environments all over the world and over the centuries. It is for this reason too, that a study of anthropology can help you with a more learned understanding of sociology, development, economics, gender studies, criminology and psychology, the legal system and so on.

Specialisations

The study of anthropology can be divided into various branches. Of these, the principal branches are, Socio-cultural anthropology, and  physical/biological anthropology. 

  • Socio-cultural Anthropology: The domain deals with cultural variation among humans focusing on human culture, societies and their development. It deals with the study of associations, bands, tribes, communities or the manner in which people collect themselves and form social groups, their folk dances, drama and music. Social  anthropologists plan, organise and conduct investigations into the physical, social and mental characteristics of both, past and present groups of human beings and trace the cultural evolution and pattern of change over a period of time.
  • Biological /physical Anthropology: Physical  anthropology mainly deals with the study of man as a physical organism and  his place in the scheme of biological evolution. Biological or physical anthropologists deal with, the classification of early forms of man, the physical difference between the races of species, human genetics, modes of  physiological adaptation and reaction to different physical environments, how they deal with the environmental stresses over the period of years such as disease, disasters, war, population, etc and overcome them. 
  • Archeological anthropology covers earlier human civilisations and societies, based on their physical remains. Anthropologists undertake excavations or explorations of pre-historic sites to re-construct  and determine the chronological sequences  of the evolution 
  • Linguistic anthropology: This discipline focuses on how language reflects and influences our social life. Professionals in this field study the origin of language and how words were developed.
  • Applied anthropology: This subject can be applied to so many job profiles, including  management and business, that several other specialisations have also evolved such as development anthropology, medical anthropology, educational anthropology and so on
Skills required 

  • Written communication
  • Analytical and critical skills
  • Ability to gather, assess and interpret data
  • Oral communication and presentation skills
  • Time management

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