History of Anthropology

The Anthropology is a science that is in charge of the study of cultural diversity found among humans and studies the relationship between individuals and the relationship of individuals with their surrounding media, focusing on the concept of culture.

Anthropology has recently been recognized (in historical terms) as an autonomous science. However, before that, it was identified as a branch of natural history and narrated the evolution of man according to the civilizational concept.

Furthermore, we can say that this knowledge was an instrument of domination (mainly European, at the time), since it legitimized the domination of colonialist metropolises over the conquered peoples.

This phenomenon, we call “Eurocentric Ethnocentrism”, because it had European civilization as a measure for all civilized aspects. Thus, this was how the classification “primitive, barbaric and civilized” emerged to determine the evolutionary stages of civilizations.


In historiographic terms, we can assume the birth of anthropology itself with the advent of the ” Rules of the Sociological Method ” in 1895, by Émile Durkheim , which defines the “Social Fact” and the methods for its apprehension.

It is curious to note that it was with the rise of sociology that we had defined the anthropological field. When defining the field of sociological action, Durkheim also outlines, by methodological exclusion, what would be the objects of research in anthropology.

That is, while in sociology the “Social Fact” would be studied as an attribute of the great collectivity, other methods would have to emerge to study man in a more subjective and less collective position.

That is how Durkheim’s nephew Marcel Mauss searched the primitive representations for ” Some primitive forms of classification “, a work published in 1901 together with his uncle.

However, it will be in 1903, with the work “ Outline of a general theory of magic ”, that we will have, perhaps for the first time, ethnological work and the emergence of the concept of “Total Social Fact” with a more cultural bias.

Another anthropological landmark worth mentioning are the actions of Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) in the Tobriand Islands. By valuing fieldwork and detailed description, he breaks the cycle of office work, a practice then usual in anthropology, and becomes a landmark for ethnographic work, founding Functionalism.

Likewise, in the United States, Franz Boas will further emphasize the importance of fieldwork and the historical formation of each people, as well as the possibilities of spreading cultural traits throughout the world.

In 1940, we will have a new turn, when Claude Lévi-Strauss creates Structural Anthropology, where he affirms that there are structural rules of cultures in the human mind.

Some years later, another anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, will found, through texts written essentially in the form of an essay, one of the aspects of contemporary anthropology: Hermeneutic or Interpretative Anthropology. In this view, the important thing is to determine what people in a given culture think about what they do.


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