Social/cultural anthropology is an empirical and comparative science that has as its object the formation of human collectives (groups, networks) in a comprehensive sense (holistically) and whose goal is to explore the diversity of collective human ways of life, to decode 'understandings of the world' (cosmologies) and to make them understandable and explainable across cultures; in former times among foreign, distant and supposedly simple ("primitive") societies; today not only among indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, but in principle to any collectives where cultural difference, diversity resp. boundary processes with cultural justification e (Barth 1969) play a role. In this context, the anthropological gaze is "culturally relativistic, culturally informed, and directed towards the creation of meaning in the process of action" (Heidemann, 2011: 11, my translation). Accordingly, anthropology is also less a theory-testing, explanatory, and law-seeking science than a theory-generating, exploratory, and meaning-seeking science. Anthropologists are interested in the stories behind local phenomena, their location in the cultural context, and their intercultural translation.
Historically, anthropology is a child of the Enlightenment, a German "invention" (Vermeulen, 2006), and was pursued in the 18th century with a universal historical claim in the form of a historical sociology (Bierschenk, Krings, & Lentz, 2013). Edward B. Tylor, one of the founding fathers of the discipline, defined the concept of culture holistically as early as 1873,1: "Culture or civilization in the broadest ethnographic sense is that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society." The nowadays most common anthropological definition of culture, which also has an impact beyond the discipline, comes from Clifford Geertz: "The concept of culture I espouse. . . is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning." (Geertz, 1983, 9; see also Baldwin, 2006). Until the middle of the 20th century the concept of culture was still bound to the idea of habitats and cosmologies shared by members of a cultural unit and thus basically essentialist, anthropology today conceives of people as belonging to several cultural fields (e.g. nationality, organization, religion, gender, generation, family: "multiple and often conflicting identities", Agar, 1996, 11). Blending, transitions, cultural margins, the crossing and blurring of cultural boundaries (assemblages, hybridity), inter- and transculturality now characterize the field and point to the constructivist character of culture and ethnicity (Wimmer, 2008).
Methodologically, anthropology focuses on intensive micro-studies of subsections of societies ("large issues in small places," Eriksen, 2015) and cross-cultural comparative studies (Gingrich & Fox, 2002). Empirical data are collected through longer-term and direct participation in the research field in an alternation of "thin and thick description" (Geertz, 1983), of what is observable from a distance on the one hand (etic perspective), and elicited from within (emic perspective) on the other. The specificity of anthropological "participant observation" lies in the familiarization with the cultural rules (concept), the underlying structure (codes), and the prevailing cultural practices (Bauman, 1999) of a previously strange field. In this way, it differs from an ethnographically working sociology, which is concerned with the meaningful phenomena of the familiar and, conversely, must first epistemologically detach its object of research from everyday experience (the common sense), "exoticize" it, in order to be able to observe it ethnographically. To engage in anthropological cultural analysis is to develop culturally appropriate readings of lived behavior in groups. The necessary acquisition of co-playing competence via field research is time-consuming (depending on the subject matter, frome some weeks to more than a year, cf. Wolcott, 2005) and, due to role takings in the field, may also be personally demanding (Hume, Mulcock, & Mu, 2004).
As study groups today often live in dispersed territories or even form only networks beyond national boders, anthropologists are increasingly moving away from taking groups or subgroups as exclusive research units. Now, interethnic systems, multiethnic networks, global linkages, or social movements that reach across individual groups are being researched. Empirically, this means following people and problems even in multiple locations ("multisited ethnography"; Marcus, 1995; Coleman & Hellerman, 2013). With anthropological network research, as well as in cooperation with cognitive and neuroscience, approaches of an explanatory, 'analytic' anthropology (Schweizer, 1993), which was developed programmatically already 20 years ago, have recently come into focus again, working with somehow standardized and also quantitative methods.
Whether it is about material goods, gender relations, diaspora situations, or the treatment of development and environmental issues, anthropology today is increasingly becoming cross-sectional research in cultural spaces of negotiation, to which it contributes above all its "affinity to informal processes" (Bierschenk) as well as its abilities for thick description and two-way translation at system boundaries.
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