What is anthropology?

Anthropology seeks to understand the lives of human beings in time and space. Time basically reflects the geological time scale that involves the study of human evolution, growth, and variation. Space deals with the ecological and environmental relationship of human populations that inhabits various places on earth. Anthropology also involves the study of past cultures and how the present cultures are flourishing. It is the study of human beings in totality, unlike other subjects where only a particular aspect of a human being is taken into account like history deals with what happened in the past while psychology studies the human mind, etc. The term anthropology is derived from two Greek words “Anthropos” meaning (Hu)man and ‘Logos’ for ‘study or science.

What do we study in anthropology?

Anthropology as an academic discipline emerged at the turn of the twentieth century. With four main branches a. Physical or Biological anthropology, b. Social and Cultural anthropology, c. Archaeological anthropology and d. Linguistic anthropology, the subject matter looks at both the scientific and humanistic perspectives, it takes into account a holistic approach to studying humankind. The anthropologists aim at understanding three basic questions: 

  • Who we are? (study of the past and the present)
  • How did we come to be? (origin and evolution)? and
  • Why we are, the way we are? (variations) 
These three major questions form the basis for the study of human beings in anthropology. Be it the social, the biological, the archaeological, or the linguistic anthropologists the aim is to understand the origin, evolution, variation, diversity, and change that has marked human lives, society, and culture living in different environmental conditions.

Physical/ biological anthropologists are interested in understanding the origin, evolution, variation, and development of the human species. The curiosity to know why there are variations in skin, eye, hair color, etc., leads them to enquire about the existence of human variation and to try and find scientific explanations behind such variations. Why some people are short while others are tall? The genetic makeup of human beings is studied along with the role that the environment plays in such variations. To know more about the past, the primates are taken into consideration in anthropological studies under primatology.

The study of society and culture falls within the rubric of social and cultural anthropology. The foremost contribution of the subject has been in the understanding of the various societies and cultures across the globe both objectively and subjectively, doing away with biases and prejudices, while presenting their relative importance. Social and cultural anthropology seeks to understand the social institutions and the cultural attributes that construct human societies in a holistic manner. 

Anthropologists' interest in the past, and how people lived during the different cultural periods is the subject matter of archaeological anthropology. The aim is to reconstruct the human past through the study of the different tool types used by prehistoric (hu)man of which there are no written records. The study of cave arts, the stone tools of the different cultural periods within the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and the Neolithic period, the arts and artifacts of the Chalcolithic periods and the past civilizations, dating the past through absolute and relative dating methods are some of the ways how the life of the prehistoric human beings is recreated. Language is known as the vehicle for culture.

Yet there is no single culture nor a single language. Communication, however, has always been there between people speaking different languages. Linguistic anthropology involves the study of the languages that have been a medium of communication among people belonging to different linguistic groups. It includes not only verbal language but both body and sign language. A recent study has shown a village in Turkey where people communicate via whistling. Some of the dialects are fast disappearing in the face of modernization and globalization, preserving and documenting such dialects forms a major activity of linguistic anthropologists.

Definitions of Anthropology

American Anthropological Association defines anthropology as “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” Wolf (1964) states “anthropology is less a subject matter than a bond between subject matters. It is in part history, part literature; in part natural science, part social science; it strives to study men both from within and without; it represents both a manner of looking at man and a vision of man-the most scientific of the humanities, the most humanist of sciences.” Wolf E.R. 1964. Anthropology. Trustees of Princeton University. The USA. Herskovits “Physical anthropology is, in essence, human biology.” M.N. Srinivas described social anthropology as “it is a comparative study of human societies. Ideally, it includes all societies, primitive, civilized, and historic.

Anthropology as a subject seeks to disseminate and apply the knowledge gathered through the understanding of the biological, social/cultural, and archaeological aspects of human life for solving practical problems in the present. Applied or Practicing anthropology thus, emerged as a new subfield with the four main branches of anthropology. Anthropology strives to understand the correlation between environment and culture, and how this has an impact on the growth and development of humankind.

Defining Tourism
Tourism has a long history and is widespread in the cultures of humankind. It is an important social fact in the life of contemporary people. It is one of the major industries of the world and a developmental tool for many third-world countries (Nash and Smith 1991:12). Smith in her book, Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism (1989) in the introduction defines tourist ‘as a temporary leisured person who voluntarily visits a place for the purpose of experiencing a change.’ She explains that the motivations for individuals to travel are many and varied, but the foundation of tourism rests on three key elements, i.e.

Tourism= Leisure time+ discretionary income+ positive local sanctions

As per Smith the amount of time a person has and the discretionary income (income that is not needed for personal essentials like food, clothing, housing, health-care, transportation etc.) and the positive cultural sanctions favoring tourism allow an individual to take a break from the regular/ monotonous life. Tourism as an activity allows an individual to alternate his/her work life with small periods of relaxation. J. Jafari (1977) defined tourism ‘as a study of man away from his usual habitat, of the industry which response to his needs, and the impact that both he/ she and the industry have on the host socio-cultural, economic and physical environments.’

Mathieson and Wall (1982) in their book Tourism: Economic, Physical and Social Impacts defined tourism ‘as a multi-faceted phenomenon which involves movement to, and stay in destinations outside the normal place of residence and comprises dynamic, static and consequential elements.’While Jafari’s definition gives a holistic view, Mathieson and Wall’s describe tourism as a phenomenon. Other scholars like Greenwood (1989: 171) while discussing the anthropological perspective on tourism as cultural commoditization defined tourism as ‘the large-scale movement of goods, services, and people that humanity has perhaps ever seen. Lett (1989: 275) credited tourism with bringing about ‘the single largest peaceful movement of people across cultural boundaries in the history of the world. Anthropologists have a hard time defining tourism for the simple reason that it involves various dimensions, but as Van Hassrel in his book

Tourism: An Exploration (1994) opined that there are four primary elements of tourism. 

These are 
  • Travel demand 
  • Tourism intermediaries
  • Destination influences and 
  • Range of impacts.
Later during the 1990s, a postmodern and humanistic perspective outlined the description of tourism. Ryan (1991) defined tourism ‘as an experience of place’. It was argued that tourism is not about the tourist destination but it is about the experience of that place and what happens there which includes a series of internal and external interactions.

The humanistic and experiential paradigm allows covering the experiences of both the ‘host’ and the ‘guest’ population. Another altogether different view was provided by Middleton (1998) with a focus on tourism as a business and the tourist as a ‘customer’. He opines that although travel and tourism are invariably identified as an ‘industry’, it is best understood as a total market that reflects the cumulative demand and consumption patterns of visitors for a wide range of travel-related products. There are many other ways in which tourism can be studied, however, it must never be isolated from its political, natural, economic or social environments.

While discussing tourism and post-modernism, Urry (1990: 2) explained tourism ‘as a leisure activity which is opposite to the regulated and organized work; tourism relationships arise from a movement of people to, and their stay in various destinations (sites which are outside the normal places of residence and work) and a substantial proportion of the population of modern societies engages in the such touristic activity. The site/destination is chosen with anticipation of pleasure-seeking and site gazing. In his book The Tourist Gaze, Urry also outlined how globalization that has transformed countless aspects of our social lives and has resulted in time-space compression, people have been brought closer and there is a rapid flow of travelers and tourists moving across national borders.

Because of the magnitude of the tourism industry, the great complexity of tourist motivations and expectations, and the diversity of cultural responses to tourist travels, it has been difficult to provide a comprehensive view/definition of tourism. But social scientists and particularly anthropologists have covered various aspects on tourism. In the coming section, we would discuss about the development of the Anthropology of Tourism and understand various anthropological perspectives on tourism. 

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