Study of humanity

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … the scope of established thought and action (of a culture or humanity)
  • Knowing is … social, linguistic, aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural activity
  • Learner is … a culture, or humanity
  • Learning is … shifts that transform the scope of possible activity (for a culture or humanity)
  • Teaching is … N/A


Early 1800s, in its modern sense


From the Greek anthrōpos “human being,” Anthropology is the disciplined study of humanity in all the biological, evolutionary, behavioral, social, linguistic, aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural diversity of the species. A sense of the scope of Anthropology might be gleaned from a sampling of its subfields:

  • Archeological Anthropology (Anthropology of the Past; Archaeology) – the study of human activity in the past through the recovery and examination of artifacts, architecture, cultural landscapes, and other traces of activity
  • Cognitive Anthropology – a domain concerned with the implicit knowledge and other non-conscious habits of association that define and distinguish the perceptions of and relations within cultural groups. In addition to Cognitive Science, Cognitive Anthropology draws on history, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, musicology, and other domains.
  • Cultural Anthropology – the study of variations among cultures, past and present, spanning such matters of norms, values, patterns of activity, privileged knowledge, and belief systems
  • Cyborg Anthropology – an area of inquiry that brings perspectives from Anthropology to bear on the interactions of biology and technology in human development at the social and cultural levels
  • Educational Anthropology (Anthropology of Education) (Margaret Mead, 1960s) – a branch of Anthropology focused on cultural aspects of formal and informal education. Topics explored by Educational Anthropology researchers often overlap with prominent themes of Activist Discourses and Critical Pedagogy, especially as they pertain to the Enculturation (see Socio-Cultural-Focused Discourses) and/or the Acculturation (see Activist Discourses) of multicultural, marginal, and disenfranchised populations.
  • Ethnology (Adam Franz Kollár, mid-1700s) – from the Greek ethnos “nation,” the comparative study of different peoples
  • Linguistic Anthropology – the study of how language influences social life and culture, both currently and historically
  • Neuroanthropology – studies the coupling of brain and culture, including how brains give rise to cultures and how cultures influence brains
  • Philosophical Anthropology (Anthropological Philosophy) (Max Scheler, 1920s) – a domain concerned with the nature, essence, and significance of humanity – that is, that seeks to understand consciousness, belief, meaning, freedom, morality, and other fundamental questions
  • Physical Anthropology (Biological Anthropology) – the study of the origins, evolution, and environmental co-adaption of humanity (and of subpopulations of humans)
  • Social Anthropology – the study of patterns of behavior within and across human societies
  • Sociocultural Anthropology – the combination (and portmanteau) of Social Anthropology and Cultural Anthropology

Archeological Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology, Physical Anthropology, and Sociocultural Anthropology are generally regarded as the four principal subfields of Anthropology.


As with most entries on our map, Anthropology is a decidedly modern and western discourse. However, unlike most entries on our map, Anthropology concerns itself with studying and interpreting other cultures … and then reporting on them in a manner that is comprehensible to principally modern and western audiences. That means that there is an ever-present risk of over-looked or over-represented colonialist or other WEIRD assumptions (see WEIRD Epistemologies, under Epistemology) – if not in the actual reporting, then in the predilections of readers and listeners. That matter is amplified by the vehement-but-unproblematized assertion within Anthropology that it is a “scientific” domain – that is, that it abides by standards of knowledge production that are far from universally understood or embraced.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Diffuse. Franz Boas is often identified as the “Father of Anthropology.”

Status as a Theory of Learning

It would be unusual to describe to Anthropology as a perspective on learning, but the suggestion is not at all far-fetched. Anthropology is a domain concerned with similarity and diversity, stability and transformation, survival and extinction. Such qualities are ubiquitous across perspectives on learning, especially Coherence Discourses. As such, Anthropology might be regarded as the study of learning on the levels of culture and species.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Insofar as Anthropology is concerned with the maintenance and transformation of society and culture from one generation to the next, the topics of “teaching” and “education” might be identified as central to the domain. However, Anthropology cannot properly be characterized as a perspective on or as directly informing teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Anthropology is often criticized as lacking cohesion, with respect to both its expansive range of interests and its embraces of diverse attitudes toward science. (Those attitudes range across Positivism, Social Science, and Human Science (under Sociology), depending on the branch of study.) That said, both the domain and its subdomains easily meet the criteria used on this site to assess scientific status.


  • Archeological Anthropology (Anthropology of the Past; Archaeology)
  • Cognitive Anthropology
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Cyborg Anthropology
  • Educational Anthropology (Anthropology of Education)
  • Ethnology
  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Neuroanthropology
  • Philosophical Anthropology (Anthropological Philosophy)
  • Physical Anthropology (Biological Anthropology)
  • Social Anthropology
  • Sociocultural Anthropology

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2024). “Anthropology” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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