Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Smart Skills
Evolve in the field of ANTHROPOLOGY
Usha Albuquerque

Suddenly an old science finds a new interest. Young people today looking at studies in social sciences, development studies, even economics are beginning to find value in anthropology. Many are taking it as a base subject for further study in law, forensic science, public health and social work, and universities such as London, Sussex, even Oxford and Cambridge are encouraging students to take up this subject.

What is anthropology, and why is it so fascinating? Anthropology is the science concerned with the study of the evolution of man. It encompasses both the social sciences as well as the physical sciences, covering the origin of man, physical characteristics, systems, languages, traditions, material possessions as well as the social, cultural and religious beliefs and practices. This is undertaken to study different aspects of manís behaviour over the centuries so as to compile authentic scientific knowledge about the human species.

In this way, scientists are able to consider the dynamism of the evolutionary process and explain how a community is what it is today and its relationship with the past, and to other communities or groups. Therefore, anthropologists also study the differentiation of physical and cultural types in human beings, and the effects of living in different environments all over the world and over the centuries. It is for this reason, too, that a study of anthropology can help you with a more learned understanding of sociology, development, economics, gender studies, criminology and psychology, the legal system and so on.

Work areas

As a subject, anthropology has fascinated man for centuries, as it deals with the study of the various dimensions of man's existence and behaviour. The study of anthropology can be divided into various branches. Of these, the principal branches are socio-cultural anthropology, and physical/ biological anthropology. Other sub-branches can include archaeological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, economic anthropology and so on. Applied anthropology utilises the findings of the other branches for dealing with modern day-to-day problems.

Socio-Cultural Anthropology deals with the study of people, their behaviour and their ways of life. It deals with the study of associations, bands, tribes, communities or the manner in which people collect themselves and form social groups, their folk dances, drama and music. Social anthropologists plan, organise and conduct investigations into the physical, social and mental characteristics of both, past and present groups of human beings and trace the cultural evolution and pattern of change over a period of time.

Biological/Physical Anthropology: Physical anthropology mainly deals with the study of man as a physical organism and his place in the scheme of biological evolution, through observation and measurements of bodily variations and physical attributes of existing and pre-historic human types. They deal with the classification of early forms of man, the physical difference between the races of species, human genetics, modes of physiological adaptation and reaction to different physical environments.

For the scientific study of socio-cultural and physical/biological anthropology, research studies also includes:

Archaeological Anthropology involves the investigation and analysis of the remnants of early human activity. Anthropologists identify cultural periods by studying the remains of cultural records on stones, pottery, bones and other such remnants of the period. They undertake excavations or explorations of pre-historic sites to reconstruct and determine the chronological sequences of evolution.

Linguistic Anthropology is that branch which deals with the study of the origin and evolution of language, thus further extending the knowledge of early man and his socio-cultural evolution. Linguistic anthropology deals with the study of unwritten as well as written languages, their structures and construction and the evolution during different periods of time.

Applied Anthropology: Anthropological studies can be utilised for handling a number of social problems, particularly those concerning tribal societies and their amelioration. Governmental agencies utilise the services of anthropologists in the areas of developmental planning, birth control, health programmes, for implementation of agricultural methods and practices, tribal welfare and rehabilitation. The findings of such research are also used for solving urban problems such as industrial unrest, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, and other forms of deviant behaviour.

In the area of medical research and the development of new drugs, anthropology is used to help test and develop new drugs, check genetic abnormality and other inherited traits.

Anthropological studies are used in forensic science for purposes of personal identification, finger printing, identification of blood groups and so on.

In the field of sports, anthropology is taken into consideration for evaluating body physique, and physiological functions for optimal utilisation of talent.


You can get into this field by doing a B.Sc in anthropology followed by an M.Sc in anthropology, or in any of the specialised fields, such as forensic science, criminology, social work, development studies, gender studies and so on. Most courses in anthropology in India are offered as a B.Sc course for which you require science in plus two. However, there are many courses abroad where you can take up a BA in social anthropology for which science may not be a requirement.

Study options

Around 30 colleges and universities, spread all over the country, offer graduate and postgraduate level courses in anthropology.

Prominent among these are Delhi University, University of Calcutta and Manipur University in Imphal. Karnataka University in Dharwad, and the Kurukshetra University in Haryana offer only B.Sc. courses in Anthropology.

Panjab University in Chandigarh, University of Allahabad, and Dr Hari Singh Gour Vishwavidyalaya in Madhya Pradesh offer M.Sc courses in anthropology.

The Department of Anthropology, Delhi University and Panjab University also provides a one year certificate course in Forensic Science, and Criminal Science, after a B.Sc. in Anthropology.

Career prospects

Anthropologists usually work in three major areas, teaching in colleges and universities, research and working in museums. Research is an important aspect of Anthropology. Various anthropological or archeological Research organisations, including the Anthropological Survey of India, Public Health Organisations and Planning Commissions, as well as commissions for women issues, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and other government departments also offer opportunities for research and field work in the various aspects of Anthropology.

Anthropologists who are employed in museums are usually involved in carrying out various field work projects, including excavations and exploration of pre-historic sites, and for the preservation, reconstruction and research on the anthropological collections that have been gathered for display in museums.

Anthropologists also work in the Community Health Sectors, where they work as Social Scientists, dealing with the problems of Public Health, nutrition and diseases. They also offer advice to medical institutions on the various new medicines for checking epidemics and other important disease preventive actions. Medical Organisations, including the `Indian Council for Medical Research' (I.C.M.R.), the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) and the Institutes for Immunology and Health and Family Welfare and other such Medical Institutions, also employ anthropologists.

Those possessing expertise in Forensic Science, are absorbed by the police department and various investigative organisations for purposes of crime detection.

Because of their expertise in the understanding of relations between industry and society, anthropologists with socio-cultural specialisations, can also join various Non-Governmental Organisations (N.G.O.'s) as well as International organisations.

So although a specialisation in anthropology is not a strictly a professional course, career prospects for postgraduates in anthropology, and allied fields with sufficient research experience can cover a wide range of choices. With the increased awareness of human rights, social and cultural awareness and the crying need for development, if you are looking for a career in any of these areas, a degree in anthropology may be a good option.

The writer is a noted career expert