Before an explanation is made to how anthropology is applied to the analysis and solution of practical problems in the everyday world, a short review of what defines the field of anthropology should be made.
First and foremost, anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. Anthropology in itself is a diverse field, which is the only way to truly under understand the entire breadth and complexity of people across all of human history. Drawing from biological and physical sciences as well as social sciences and humanities, anthropology is broken down into four main areas: biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, socio-cultural anthropology, and linguistics. It is important to note that anthropologists will often incorporate aspects of several of these sub-fields into their work.
Biological or Physical Anthropology deal largely with human origins and evolutionary theory in order to understand how humans adapt to diverse environments. They look at how biological and cultural processes work together to shape growth, development and behavior, and what causes disease and early death. Everyone knows what archaeology is because of Indiana Jones… No? Well archaeologists study past peoples and cultures, from the deepest prehistory to the recent past, basically by looking through their trash.
Socio-cultural anthropology, which used to just be cultural anthropology, is the examination of social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organize, govern, and create meaning. In addition they look at the similarities and differences between cultures and societies. These anthropologists focus their research on participant observation, by getting out in the field and basically watching people in order to conduct ethnographies. Linguistic anthropology is actually pretty dynamic, but in the simplest terms it is the study of language and how it reflects, defines and influences social life.
A central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems, which is what applied anthropology is. Kedia and Van Willigen’s examination on applied anthropology defines the process as a, “complex of related, research-based, instrumental methods which produce change or stability in specific cultural systems through the provision of data, initiation of direct action, and/or the formulation of policy. This basically is when anthropologists become directly involved with the community they are studying.
It is easy to see how socio-cultural and linguistic anthropologists can become more involved, since they largely deal with contemporary issues. However, this applies to physical anthropologists and archaeologists as well. Their expertise can be applied to government disputes with certain social groups, along with being used for law enforcement in the field of crime scene investigation and forensics. Governments also can use physical anthropologists to answer questions about the past and contemporary spread and treatment of infectious disease. Anthropology focuses on people, so in reality it is quite easy to see how it could be applied.
For more detailed information please see:
^ Kedia, Satish, and Willigen J. Van (2005). Applied Anthropology: Domains of Application. Westport, Conn: Praeger. pp. 16, 150.
American Anthropological Association (AAA) website: