Anthropology is the holistic, global, comparative study of humans. It is the comprehensive study of human beings and of their interactions with each other and the environment. The term "anthropology", pronounced /ænθrɵˈpɒlədʒi/, is from the Greek ἄνθρωπος, anthrōpos, "human", and -λογία, -logia, "discourse" and was first used in English in 1593.
Anthropology has its intellectual origins in both the natural sciences and the humanities. Its basic questions concern, "What defines Homo sapiens?" "Who are the ancestors of modern Homo sapiens?" "What are humans' physical traits?" "How do humans behave?" "Why are there variations and differences among different groups of humans?" "How has the evolutionary past of Homo sapiens influenced its social organization and culture?" and so forth.
In the United States, contemporary anthropology is typically divided into four subfields: social/cultural anthropology, archaeology, linguistic anthropology and biological anthropology, and this division is reflected in many undergraduate textbooks as well as anthropology programs (e.g. Michigan, Berkeley, UPenn, etc.). Unlike the American system, however, at universities in the United Kingdom, and much of Europe, the subfields are frequently housed in separate departments.
The social/cultural subfield has been heavily influenced by post-modern theories. During the 1970s and 1980s there was an epistemological shift away from the positivist traditions that had largely informed the discipline. During this shift, enduring questions about the nature and production of knowledge came to occupy a central place in Cultural and Social Anthropology. As this is by far the most populous of the subfields, and as archaeology, biological anthropology, and, in many cases, linguistic anthropology remained positivist, anthropology as a discipline has lacked cohesion over the last several decades. This difference in epistemology has even led to departments diverging, perhaps most...