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作者: 发布日期: 2014-05-28


Social or cultural anthropology is traditionally the study of other societies and cultures, or the study of small-scale communities. Anthropological research is based on fieldwork, which requires a long period, often of one year, living in a particular community, getting to know its ways and learning the local language. The distinctive method employed during fieldwork is participant observation, which means that the researcher participates in the local life at the same time as observing events directly and collecting data by various means including structured and semi-structured interviews, photographic and tape recording. Anthropology as a broad field emerged from earlier studies of comparative mythology and folklore, history and sociology at the turn of the twentieth century. The four main fields of anthropology include linguistics, archaeology, physical anthropology (or the study of human evolution), and social-cultural anthropology which is a separate field, often known just as ‘anthropology’. Anthropology is distinguished from history in that traditionally it has emphasized synchronic studies of society rather than ideas of evolution or historical accounts. The anthropologist studies societies and cultures in a cross-section of the present time, rather than their changes over time. So anthropology is ‘synchronic’, while history is ‘diachronic’, to use the linguistic terms invented by Saussure. Anthropology is distinguished from sociology in that its methods and techniques are small-scale and best suited for the intensive study of small-scale communities, rather than the questionnaires and statistical analysis across large populations often used by sociologists. Anthropologists may conduct household censuses and use statistical methods but this is not a distinctive feature of anthropology.

Anthropology first emerged during the colonial period when researchers from colonial powers were interested to find out more about the people they ruled in order to administer them better. Originally anthropologists specialized in the study of tribal and far-away societies. Today society has changed and the signs of modernization are everywhere. With rapid social change since 1945 anthropologists today cannot ignore historical processes and often include accounts of social change in their reports while remaining faithful to synchronic studies of communities at a particular point in time. There are few tribal or isolated communities left whose habits and customs and ways of life need recording. However anthropology has a sympathy with the marginalised and impoverished, and its traditional techniques of study have been found useful in researching small-scale communities in many modern settings such as hospitals, schools, prisons, streets, even Wall Street and the Shanghai Stock Market.

Anthropologists find many jobs today, as documentary film-makers for TV and movies, in museums, in schools and at universities, working for NGOs or large development organizations like the World Bank who often have a need for social development or social impact studies of the local communities which may be affected by proposed developments. Anthropology is specialised into various sub-disciplines such as anthropological linguistics, medical anthropology, visual anthropology, the anthropology of development, and environmental anthropology.

Anthropology has had a long history in China. From 1928 Cai Yuanpei at the Central Research Institute in Beijing, who had studied in Germany, directed anthropological studies of Northern ethnic groups, the Miao and Yao, and Taiwanese native groups, by anthropologists such as Fei Xiaotong, Tao Yunkui, Rui Yifu and others who had studied at Anthropology Departments in London, Harvard, Columbia, Chicago and Paris. Famous researchers under Wu Wenzao in Yunnan in the 1940s included Fei Xiaotong, Lin Yaohua, Tien Rukang, Francis Hsu (who all studied at the department of Anthropology in the London School of Economics) and Martin Yang. There were schools influenced by Chicago, Paris and London and diffusionist influences were dominant at the Catholic Furen University of Beijing. After Liberation many famous anthropologists like Fei Xiaotong and Lin Yaohua took part in the minzu shibie project of ethnic classification and the sihui lishi diaojia project in the 1950s. In 1979 the Chinese Anthropological Association was established based at Xiamen University and the journal Minzu Yanjiu started to be published. Today anthropology is flourishing in China through many journals, institutes and associations.

Anthropologists have always been interested in kinship and religious belief, but have also dealt with economic and political life. While anthropology was for a long time described as the study of ‘simple societies’, it is commonly applied today to small communities within ‘complex societies’ as well. Fei Xiaotong argued that for China a combination of anthropology with sociology was needed. ‘Anthropology at home’ has also become popular, so that today many anthropologists study their own societies. But before studying one’s own society, it is important to get rid of cultural preconceptions and prejudices, so one should learn as much about other societies as possible through reading and studying anthropological reports on them before undertaking fieldwork in a society one is a member of. Anthropology has a lot to contribute to the understanding of Chinese society, and to the Chinese understanding of other societies. In today’s world, an understanding of other societies and an appreciation of different ways of life is vital. Only through anthropological techniques of long-term immersion in a particular community can a real understanding of local customs and points of view be attained, so that anthropology can be thought of as a kind of cultural translation.






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