Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropology is the study of the beliefs, values, symbols, and activities that are learned and shared among members of a group and that bind them together as a distinct group. It includes all aspects of human culture, such as religion, language, family, housing, and more. Cultural anthropology, also known as social anthropology in Europe, often involves the study of cultures that are different from one’s own. However, in recent times, cultural anthropologists have also turned their attention to studying their own cultures, examining issues such as social justice, globalization, and subcultures.

Subfields of Cultural Anthropology

Some of the subfields within cultural anthropology include:

  • Ethnology (traditional cultural anthropology): Ethnologists study traditional cultures, particularly those that are remote or different from their own. They explore various aspects of culture, such as religion, politics, art, social stratification, and mental health.
  • Linguistic anthropology: Linguistic anthropologists study the relationship between language, culture, geography, history, and philosophy. They examine how language is used within a society and how it is taught and shared, in order to learn about symbolic practices and cultural values.
  • Archaeology: Archaeologists study the material remains of past cultures and societies in order to understand their history, behavior, and ways of life. They use methods such as excavation, analysis of artifacts, and interpretation of written records to reconstruct the past.
  • Applied anthropology: Applied anthropology involves the application of anthropological theories and methods to solve practical problems in the modern world. It can involve working with communities, organizations, or governments to address issues such as cultural preservation, development, and social justice.

The Importance of Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology helps us to understand the diversity of human cultures and societies, as well as the commonalities that we share as a species. By studying cultural anthropology, we can learn about different ways of life, beliefs, and values, and gain a deeper appreciation for cultural differences. Additionally, anthropological research can provide valuable insights into contemporary issues and can inform policy decisions and development efforts.


Cultural anthropology is a dynamic and broad field of study that encompasses all aspects of human culture and society. It is an important discipline that helps us to understand and appreciate the diversity of human cultures, as well as the commonalities that we share as a species. By using various methods and techniques, including fieldwork and participant observation, anthropologists gather data and insights that can inform policy decisions, development efforts, and our understanding of the human experience.

Questions for UPSC Mains

  1. How does cultural anthropology differ from physical anthropology, and what are the major subfields within cultural anthropology?
  2. In what ways does cultural anthropology help us to understand and appreciate the diversity of human cultures, and how does it inform our understanding of the human experience?

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