Research in Anthropology
Description | Examples | Methodology | Student Resources

According to the American Anthropological Association, Anthropology (oftentimes referred to as Ethnography) is the study of humans, past and present. From the Greek anthropos (human) and logia (study), the word anthropology itself tells us it is the field that seeks to understand humankind, from the beginnings millions of years ago up to the present day. Anthropology considers how people's behaviors changes over time, and how people and seemingly dissimilar cultures are different and the same. To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, Anthropology draws upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences 

There are many areas of anthropological study....

    • Sociocultural Anthropology - Seeks to understand the internal logic of societies through ethnography
    • Archaeology - Retrieves artifacts from the past and places them in context to understand our history and its relevance for today
    • Physical Anthropology - Traces our biological origins, evolutionary development, and genetic diversity
    • Linguistic Anthropology - Seeks to explain the very nature of language and its use by humans.
    • Medical Anthropology - Seeks to better understand factors that influence peoples' health and well being
    • Forensic Anthropology - Seeks to identify skeletal, or otherwise decomposed, human remains.
    • Business Anthropology - Helps businesses gain a better understanding of their activities and customers
    • Visual Anthropology - Documents everyday life through filmmaking
    • Environmental Anthropology - Believes that the well-being of the environment goes hand in hand with the well-being of people 
    • Museum Anthropology - Interprets ethnographic and archaeological collections to the general public 
The Wenner-Gren Foundation supports worldwide research in all branches of anthropology. This map of the globe shows active and recently completed grants and research sites receiving foundation support.


Today anthropologists are helping firms gain deeper insights about their customers through the observations and story-telling methods found in ethnography.

This case study describes how one anthropologist discovered new ways of thinking about food consumption in the morning.

  Anthropological research papers presented and collated on the web by Dr. James W. Dow of Oakland University, Michigan, USA.   

A Journey from Ethnography to Design: Coastal Erosion Risk Mapping Project   

(Must see teacher to access)

UX Brighton: Simon Johnson - Bridging the Ethnography/Design Gap (May 2009) from UX Brighton on Vimeo. (Must see teacher to access)


General Steps to Follow When Conducting Research in Anthropology (Ethnography)

Step 1 Having developed a guiding question (gaining the world view of a group of people) that connects to larger anthropological questions about how culture works, addresses the ways of life of all groups are potential ethnographic topics and is answerable through ethnographic research.
Step 2 Locate and choose a field site(s)
  • Single or multiple site (including cyberspace)
  • Site(s) is relevant to guiding question
  • Negotiate entry to site
  • Inform members of the group of your purpose
Step 3

Participant observation through field notes, conduct interviews to learn how people reflect directly on behavior, circumstances, identity, events, and other thing and, if necessary, collect site documents relevant to your guiding question

Step 4

Analyze the data you have collected.  This process is ongoing and helps the fieldwork gain momentum towards useful information. After analyzing all the data, ask yourself:

  • What does our data mean?  What have we learned?
  • What can we say regarding our guiding question, or others that we may know how to ask now based on the research?
  • In short, how might we best analyze the data we have gathered? 
Step 5

Develop a conclusion that must be persuasively presented and argued and is often the answer to the guiding question.  It must be: 

  1. Clearly states the practical implications of the research
  2. substantive.
  3. contestable.
  4. specific.
  5.  Results in recommendations, appropriate solutions or outcomes. 
student resources

This document explains various research methods in anthropology from observations, interviews, and specific research methods.

Videos of Anthropologists in the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of anthropologists at work in the National Museum of Natural History and the world collections that the Anthropology Department houses, cares for, and maintains for Smithsonian and outside researchers and for the cultures represented.

Cultural Anthropology is a social science that explores how people understand - and act in - the world. With stunning photos and stories, National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the world's indigenous cultures, which are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate.

TED Talks
How to conduct general fieldwork in Anthropology 
Field Sites, Field Notes and other Data Collection Techniques

There is no absolutely right or wrong way to write field notes and there are various ways to create records of observation and casual conversations. Personal preference and practicalities can influence your decision about how you approach field notes.


Interviewing Techniques (See below.)

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer from Gabe & Kristy on Vimeo. (Must see teacher to access)

Major Anthropological
Associations and Universities  
Writing for Anthropological Research The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Permissions and Policies  The Code of Ethics from the American Anthropological Association  that provide the anthropologist with tools to engage in developing and maintaining an ethical framework for all anthropological work.