Cover: Introducing Anthropology by Laura Pountney Tomislav Marić


To the next generation:
Zoë, Bela, Ettie, Maeve, Otto and Gus

To Brian Morris who inspired in me a love for anthropology and teaching

‘Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.’ Rumi



2nd Edition

Laura Pountney
Tomislav Marić



It is not an understatement to suggest that there has never been a more important time for the skills and insights that anthropology provides. In the period of time that has elapsed since the first edition of this book, there have been huge shifts in people’s lives, both in the small details and at the global level. Anthropology itself has evolved, towards a more progressive, self-aware, postcolonial, engaged, forward-thinking reflexive discipline in which it is acutely aware of its (not unproblematic) past. This second edition reflects the evolution of the subject as it makes sense of increasingly salient issues, in particular, the multiple and complex effects of climate change, global flows, increasing interconnectedness as well as the emergent possibilities afforded by greater use of technology.

The key message of this second edition, however, remains one of hope. As we face climate change, social turmoil on a local and global scale, along with changing political and economic systems around the world, we strongly feel that anthropology should be used to confront some of the most pressing and challenging global issues of our time.

At a time when differences between individuals and societies have become ever more significant, this book reflects the experience of many anthropologists and shows that, by understanding ‘others’ and reflecting on one’s own cultural values, a more sensitive and compassionate view of the world can be achieved.

Anthropology continues to be a subject that encourages a non-judgemental and respectful attitude towards others. Nowhere have the effects of this been felt more than in education, where students embark on their own anthropological journey with a particular view of the world that may have been informed by all kinds of different opinions, only to leave having become aware of the complexity and value of all human cultures. Students of anthropology not only see the world differently; they also see themselves differently and begin a process of self-awareness that undoubtedly enriches their own lives and the lives of others as a result.

This second edition builds upon what readers enjoyed most about the first edition, namely reference to a wide range of classic and contemporary ethnographic research and films, a conceptual clarity and an accessible introduction to the theoretical ideas within the discipline at the present time.

Who is This Book For?

This book is an introduction to anthropology and its subfields. It is important that readers recognize that it is not intended to cover every area of the subject; rather, it contains selected topics that may be of interest and explores them in an introductory way. It was written to encourage people to begin to take an active interest in the subject, based on several successful and very enjoyable years of teaching anthropology at pre-university level. The book introduces information about what anthropologists do and how the discipline has evolved, and explores some of the subject’s subfields. It will accompany any introductory course in anthropology and support those with an interest in a particular area of anthropology, particularly newly emerging areas.

Many of the topics that have been included will chime with introductory undergraduate courses. The book will also be an excellent guide for those studying the anthropology International Baccalaureate, as well as anyone wishing to know more about the subject generally. We hope that it will provide a starting point from which readers can explore areas of interest in greater depth.

What Makes Us Human?

This question lies at the heart of this book and, indeed, the subject of anthropology. We begin by taking a look at how early humans diverged from other primates, examining some of the important physical changes that occurred as well as some of the features of human cultural evolution, including insights into new ways of understanding human evolution. As human physical evolution has helped shape human culture, the role of human biology appears in various places throughout the text.

The rest of the book explores different aspects of human culture, from how people use the body to express their identity through to different ideas about what it means to be a person. There is a focus on contemporary anthropological research, as well as acknowledgements of the contribution of classical anthropological work. It is clear, for example, that new forms of technology are playing an ever-greater role in people’s lives, and this is reflected in anthropology, where studies are now being carried out in virtual worlds. Also, since climate change and globalization affect the vast majority of human societies, there are examples of ethnographic studies relating to the complex effects of these processes.

Culture: Universality and Diversity

Given that the book is based predominantly upon cultural anthropology, it is worth thinking for a moment about what culture is. In the simplest terms, culture relates to everything that humans do that goes beyond their biological evolution. It is informed and shaped by the material world that lies beyond them. However, the degree to which biology shapes human behaviour is much disputed. It might be useful to see culture as the way of life of a particular group. Humans are social beings, and it is only through their relations with other humans, species and inanimate objects that cultural characteristics become apparent. This book is concerned with cultural universals, things that all social groups do, while at the same time exploring the different ways in which such cultural practices are manifest.

Ethnographic Research

An important difference between anthropology and other disciplines is the centrality of ethnographic methodology. This in-depth, detailed research goes beyond many of the methods found in other disciplines in that it involves so much personal involvement and commitment from the researcher. Anthropologists often spend long periods of time with the people whom they study, and this tends to be within the personal, private spaces of their lives. It is frequently through spending time with people, working, eating and laughing with them, that important anthropological findings occur – more often than not, unexpectedly. Examples of ethnographic research are central here, summarized throughout the book. These are not meant to substitute for the full ethnography; rather, they serve as an introduction to the main research.

How to Use This Book

Anthropologists need a range of skills, and this book is a starting point for these. Each chapter opens with a list of key issues and debates about the specific topic, followed by an introduction outlining the structure. Important relevant concepts, key terms, are highlighted in the text and listed with their definitions at the ends of chapters. A range of questions is included throughout the book, designed to stimulate anthropological ideas and ways of thinking. And at the end of each chapter, there are further questions as well as ideas for a personal investigation.

The importance of ethnographic research in anthropology is reflected in the structure of the book, which includes many summaries of interesting ethnographic studies, some contributed by their authors. The chapters do not (and could not) convey the sum total of studies and information on their topic; they simply provide examples and introductions to give the reader a starting point in their journey into anthropology. Interviews with anthropologists are interspersed throughout the book and there is information about anthropological activism, which should provide a sense of the engagement of the discipline in the world, as well as offering ideas for career and academic progression.


First, we would like to thank those without whom the first edition of this book (and in many cases both editions) would not have been possible: Marzia Balzani, Heather Bonney, Andrew Canessa, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Katarina Fritzsche and Brian Morris, all of whom contributed particularly generously. In addition, Nicholas Badcott, Ben Burt, Hilary Callan, Pat Caplin, Liana Chua, Robin Dunbar, Peggy Foerer, Anabella Hendry, Joy Hendry, Gary Marvin, Theresa McCarthy, Daniel Miller, Desirée Pangerc, Sarah Pink, Angela Rivière, James Staples; the British Museum, the Horniman Museum, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, and the Krapina Neanderthal Museum in Croatia. Everyone who has contributed has continued to surpass our expectations. This is testament to the subject, which produces the kind of people who have become so much more than creators of new knowledge. Anthropologists have the shared qualities of an excellent sense of humour, life experience and an awareness of the richness of life. This was simply inspiring and motivating.

The second edition is enrichened by the energy and support we received from Edward Liebow, Executive Director of the American Anthropological Association, David Shankland, Director of the Royal Anthropology Institute, special guidance by Liana Chua, and contributions from Crystal Abidin, Katherine E. Carter, Sophie Chao, Yu-Chun Chen, Simon Coleman, Miguel Diaz-Barriga, Margaret Dorsey, Alexander Edmonds, Peggy Foerer, Ruth Gomberg-Munoz, Ana P. Gutiérrez Garza, Nora Haenn, Naomi Haynes, Joy Hendry, Jim Igoe, Tim Ingold, Sabine Klocke-Daffa, Laura Korčulanin, Jonathan Lanman, Gideon Lasco, Jonah Lipton, Diego Maria Malara, Laura McAtackney, Tom McDonald, Aimee Middlemiss, Kiran Mirchandani, Mwenda Ntarangwi, Dimitrios Papadopoulos, Sarah Pink, Peter Rudiak-Gould, Jonathan Skinner, Richard Sosis, Jack Stuster, Nico Tassi and Dmitris Xygalatas.

Thanks also go to the photographers whose pictures make this book so rich and interesting. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of our work, and, last but not least, the staff at Polity, particularly Jonathan Skerrett, Karina Jákupsdóttir and Sarah Dancy for their hard work and support in the realization of this second edition.