Cultural anthropology is the study of human culture, society, and behavior around the world. Typically, cultural anthropologists work with living populations but may also use data from the recent and distant past. Like anthropology more broadly, many cultural anthropologists employ a “four-field” holistic approach to understanding human culture.
The interests of cultural anthropologists are broad, encompassing anything and everything that humans say, make, and do as well as the influence that humans have on their environment. Cultural anthropologist focus on topics including (but not limited to) family systems, food ways and subsistence strategies, political systems, colonialism, traditions, folklore, race and ethnicity, religion, science, illness, medicine and ethnobotany, music and ethnomusicology, art, gender and sexuality, conflict and warfare, peace-making, technology and new media — if humans do it, cultural anthropologists are interested in it!
Cultural anthropologists employ a unique set of methods to observe, describe, and explain human culture. Specifically, cultural anthropologists use an approach called participant observation whereby the anthropologists is completely immersed in a society, attempting to live as the members of that society live. An anthropologist often learns the language of the society in which they are immersed, will live in a typical home, sometimes with a local family, and will eat, sleep, bathe, dress, and socialize as those around them do.
By living as others live, often for extended periods of time, cultural anthropologists develop a deep understanding of the perspective and knowledge of those with whom they work. Through this process of participant observation, those aspects of culture that at first seemed very foreign become like second nature. The extent of this acculturation often becomes most obvious upon return home after extended field research! This method truly makes that which is foreign familiar and that which is familiar foreign.
Cultural anthropology students at Lindenwood learn to understand human behaviors and institutions in societies around the world by using the holistic approach of anthropology. This perspective allows students to approach questions and problems in new and creative ways — a skill that is important on a job or in graduate school.
Check out our degree requirements page to see what classes you will need for this emphasis.
Faculty Research Example From Dr. Christina Dames
Dr. Christina Dames
“My own research interests are varied but center on topics of trust, cooperation, exchange and punishment. I carried out extended field work in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. My most recent research focused on the spread of formal financial institutions such as banks and credit unions in the region as well as the persistence of local, traditional, and informal financial institutions such as the rotating savings and credit association locally known as arisan.
I investigated participation in these financial institutions in relation to several main variables—gender, ethnicity and religion (in this region these are practically synonymous), geographic proximity to formal financial institutions, and the degree and quality of the development of the physical infrastructure. I also considered variables such as level of education, age, land ownership, and family size. This research is ongoing and I welcome students to cooperate with me in developing new research using these data.
Aside from participant observation, interviews, and focus groups, I was also involved in the local community in Kalimantan Barat. Specifically, I took up playing the sape’, a traditional Dayak string instrument (similar to a guitar). I performed with my sape’ teacher, Pak Mara, at several venues, was in a music video featuring traditional Dayak music, and I became an“Icon” for the Borneo Culture Institute! You never know what surprises await when in the field.”