Social Anthropology explores and compares the ways in which different people live. Today anthropologists are as likely to study in a Western urban context as they are to work amongst Inuit or on the Amazon. Wherever they undertake research, by being sensitive to different social and cultural contexts, anthropologists seek to gain insights into the different ways of being human. Anthropologists try to understand how humans live and think by looking at all aspects of their experience; thus you find specialists in economic, political and cognitive anthropology as well as theorists who are concerned with kinship, art and aesthetics, cosmological notions or ideas of individual consciousness.
“What is Anthropology?” A film made by St Andrews students and staff.
Anthropologists use a specialised methodology called participant observation. This involves long periods of intensive field research during which the anthropologist tries to gain a deep understanding of the daily experiences of the people with whom he or she is living.
Anthropologists have distinct theoretical viewpoints and they work in very diverse settings, yet they all stress the importance of understanding other people’s, as well as their own, ways of life. It is this increased understanding that is the invaluable gift that anthropology has to offer.