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21A.00 Introduction to Anthropology: Comparing Human Cultures

Prereq: None
U (Fall)
12 Units. HASS-S

Through the comparative study of different cultures, anthropology explores fundamental questions about what it means to be human. Seeks to understand how culture shapes societies, from the smallest island in the South Pacific to the largest Asian metropolis, and affects the way institutions work, from scientific laboratories to Christian mega-churches. Provides a framework for analyzing diverse facets of human experience, such as gender, ethnicity, language, politics, economics, and art.

G. Jones

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Anthropology studies humankind from a comparative perspective that emphasizes the diversity of human behavior and the importance of culture in both describing and explaining that variety. While the discipline encompasses the biological nature of our species and the material aspects of human adaptation, it takes as fundamental the idea that humans respond to nature and natural forces in large part through culture—that is, the system of practices and signs through which people interact and communicate. Anthropology, then, is the study of human beings as cultural animals. Sociocultural anthropology, the focus of the MIT program, draws its data from the direct study of contemporary peoples living in a wide variety of circumstances, from peasant villagers to tropical forest hunters and gatherers to professionals working in technological organizations to urban populations in modern societies. Anthropology at MIT offers students a broad exposure to scholarship on human culture. The field is more generally distinguished from other humanities and social science disciplines by its insistence that understanding people's ways of life is often best accomplished by living and working among them—that is, by doing fieldwork. This immersive work—often described as ethnography—reveals the multiple positions and perspectives that constitute social worlds. Ethnographic representations in texts and films can provide excellent contextual resources for work in engineering, science, and other fields in the humanities, social sciences, and management.