Holistic Perspective in Anthropology: Definition & Approach

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  • 0:03 What Is Holism?
  • 0:37 Holism in Anthropology
  • 3:01 Holistic Perspective…
  • 4:18 An Example of Holism in Action
  • 5:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Anthropology is the study of humanity, though a major focus area is culture. This broad field benefits from a perspective in which many different factors are taken into account to generate a picture of the culture as a whole (holistic perspective).

What Is Holism?

Have you ever heard of holistic medicine? What often springs to mind when we discuss holistic medicine is a handful of alternative therapies. The use of herbs, nutrition, and exercises to treat illnesses and ensure wellness is the staple of the holistic health care industry. Well, what is holism? The idea of holism is that things are viewed as a complex web of connections and relationships. In terms of healthcare, holism encourages treating the whole person, rather than just the symptoms of the disease, resulting in improved overall health.

Holism in Anthropology

Whatever one may think about holistic healthcare, the idea of holism can be applied to other fields, including anthropology, the study of human beings. Anthropology can be divided into four sub-disciplines: cultural anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, and physical anthropology. Each of these sub-disciplines addresses a different aspect of humanity.

Cultural anthropology focuses on culture, or the study of the information, behavior, and ideas that are passed down from one generation of humans to the next. Linguistics is the study of language and how language expresses the human experience of the world. Archaeology is the study of the remains of past peoples and their cultures. And physical anthropology is the study of how the biology of human beings develops and varies.

Upon reading these definitions, most of us realize that anthropology is really quite an expansive discipline. While anthropologists focus on one sub-discipline and then specialize further into their interests, they typically draw on all four fields, along with other relevant disciplines, like psychology, politics, and environmental studies. In other words, they employ a holistic perspective to their research. Let's look at a few examples:

  • A linguist engaging in research into the development of an ancient language would probably study related languages. However, he may also dip into the field of archeology to reference ancient artifacts or to examine present-day cultures who use related languages, which would be cultural anthropology.
  • Archaeologists often participate in digs, unearthing and classifying artifacts, including old buildings, burial grounds, religious objects, and books. But they may also rely on the help of cultural anthropologists who specialize in religion or physical anthropologists who study human remains to understand their findings. Furthermore, they may draw on disciplines like geology and environmental science to interpret the field site.
  • Physical anthropologists often study how the human body decays over time. They require knowledge of the biological and physical sciences in order to understand the circumstances of decay in the environment. In addition, both cultural anthropology and archeology might come into play as they study burial practices and investigate other found artifacts in order to get an accurate picture of the physical remains.

Holistic Perspective and Research

Think about your own amazingly complex life and all the connections you've formed with other people and experiences you've had in your lifetime. Multiply that human experience by an entire society, and you can see how complicated studying people and culture can be and why a holistic perspective is necessary.

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