Anthropology is the study of humanity, the distinctive feature of which is culture. Culture may be thought of as a process by which humans make and re-create meaning through the deployment of symbols and symbolic practices. Since culture is constituted by everyday practices that confer meaning, cultural diversity exists because people around the world in varying environments create different social, political, economic, and religious systems, in turn imbuing them with different symbolic meanings. Cultural variation – or, deviance –exists exactly because of the unique human ability to ascribe different meanings to what could otherwise seem to be everyday humdrum activities.
Hence, it is not just that humans partake of social, political, economic, and religious activities across the world; anthropology’s concern is how they do so in their great variety and hence account for the fascinating richness of human cultural systems. Anthropologists study the similarity and diversity of these cultural systems to find out the nature of human existence.
Anthropology in Hong Kong
Many people think of anthropology as the study of “ancient traditions” and “exotic tribes”. This is an anachronistic caricature of what anthropology once was. Owing to rapid global developments, especially within the past half-century, most anthropologists today study modern industrial societies and contemporary social issues.
Anthropologists in Hong Kong study contemporary issues such as:
Even as anthropology is wide in its topical coverage, its emphasis on ground-level research allows it to produce deep understandings about the social world. Its potency as a way of knowing is a result of its commitment to methodological and theoretical rigor, as well as its comparative cross-cultural orientation.
To understand the different aspects of cultural life, anthropologists use a holistic viewpoint and systematic research methods. We use both qualitative and quantitative methods of social science. But most importantly, we try to understand the views of people themselves. We put emphasis on interaction with people: being immediately amongst them, observing and talking with them about what they do, and why. For cultures that do not exist today, we use archaeological methods.
Because of its reliance on ethnographic and archaeological evidence, anthropology may be thought of as an empirical human science, a mode of knowing that derives its credibility from the verifiable and corroborative nature of its claims. Indeed, the evidentiary basis on which anthropological knowledge proceeds highlights it as a practice infused with public and democratic potential.