About Us

What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. A central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems. Historically, anthropologists in the United States have been trained in one of four areas: sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics. Anthropologists often integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their research, teaching, and professional lives.

Addressing complex questions, such as human origins, the past and contemporary spread and treatment of infectious disease, or globalization, requires synthesizing information from all four subfields. Anthropologists are highly specialized in our research interests, yet we remain generalists in our observations of the human condition and we advocate for a public anthropology that is committed to bringing knowledge to broad audiences. Anthropologists collaborate closely with people whose cultural patterns and processes we seek to understand or whose living conditions require amelioration. Collaboration helps bridge social distances and gives greater voice to the people whose cultures and behaviors anthropologists study, enabling them to represent themselves in their own words. An engaged anthropology is committed to supporting social change efforts that arise from the interaction between community goals and anthropological research. Because the study of people, past and present, requires respect for the diversity of individuals, cultures, societies, and knowledge systems, anthropologists are expected to adhere to a strong code of professional ethics.

Sociocultural Anthropology

Sociocultural anthropologists examine social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organize, govern, and create meaning. A hallmark of sociocultural anthropology is its concern with similarities and differences, both within and among societies, and its attention to race, sexuality, class, gender, and nationality. Research in sociocultural anthropology is distinguished by its emphasis on participant observation, which involves placing oneself in the research context for extended periods of time to gain a first-hand sense of how local knowledge is put to work in grappling with practical problems of everyday life and with basic philosophical problems of knowledge, truth, power, and justice. Topics of concern to sociocultural anthropologists include such areas as health, work, ecology and environment, education, agriculture and development, and social change.

Biological (or Physical) Anthropology

Biological anthropologists seek to understand how humans adapt to diverse environments, how biological and cultural processes work together to shape growth, development and behavior, and what causes disease and early death. In addition, they are interested in human biological origins, evolution and variation. They give primary attention to investigating questions having to do with evolutionary theory, our place in nature, adaptation and human biological variation. To understand these processes, biological anthropologists study other primates (primatology), the fossil record (paleoanthropology), prehistoric people (bioarchaeology), and the biology (e.g., health, cognition, hormones, growth and development) and genetics of living populations.


Archaeologists study past peoples and cultures, from the deepest prehistory to the recent past, through the analysis of material remains, ranging from artifacts and evidence of past environments to architecture and landscapes. Material evidence, such as pottery, stone tools, animal bone, and remains of structures, is examined within the context of theoretical paradigms, to address such topics as the formation of social groupings, ideologies, subsistence patterns, and interaction with the environment. Like other areas of anthropology, archaeology is a comparative discipline; it assumes basic human continuities over time and place, but also recognizes that every society is the product of its own particular history and that within every society there are commonalities as well as variation.

Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistic anthropology is the comparative study of ways in which language reflects and influences social life. It explores the many ways in which language practices define patterns of communication, formulate categories of social identity and group membership, organize large-scale cultural beliefs and ideologies, and, in conjunction with other forms of meaning-making, equip people with common cultural representations of their natural and social worlds. Linguistic anthropology shares with anthropology in general a concern to understand power, inequality, and social change, particularly as these are constructed and represented through language and discourse.

Employment as an Anthropologist

Anthropologists are employed in a number of different sectors, from colleges and universities to government agencies, NGOs, businesses, and health and human services. Within the university, they teach undergraduate and graduate anthropology, and many offer anthropology courses in other departments and professional schools such as business, education, design, and public health. Anthropologists contribute significantly to interdisciplinary fields such as international studies and ethnic and gender studies, and some work in academic research centers. Outside the university, anthropologists work in government agencies, private businesses, community organizations, museums, independent research institutes, service organizations, the media; and others work as independent consultants and research staff for agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, UNESCO, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank. More than half of all anthropologists now work in organizations outside the university. Their work may involve building research partnerships, assessing economic needs, evaluating policies, developing new educational programs, recording little-known community histories, providing health services, and other socially relevant activities. You will find anthropologists addressing social and cultural consequences of natural disasters, equitable access to limited resources, and human rights at the global level.

Mission Statement

The mission of the UTRGV Department of Anthropology is to promote a broad understanding of the complexity and diversity of the human experience, past and present. The faculty are committed to excellence in our teaching, research, and service to the University and the wider community. Our primary goal is to help students develop the intellectual curiosity, practical skills, and vision needed for living and working in a culturally diverse, interconnected world. We do this by fueling interest in people and their lives, and by translating this interest into real outcomes.

The Department of Anthropology provides quality undergraduate academic programs in anthropology. Emphasis is placed on exposing students to a holistic approach to anthropology that incorporates the three major subfields -- cultural anthropology, physical/biological anthropology and archaeology. At the graduate level, the department provides opportunities for student with baccalaureate degrees to fulfill an anthropology concentration for an interdisciplinary master’s degree and to fulfill required graduate hours outside one’s field of study to earn a master’s degree in various disciplines at the University. The Department of Anthropology is committed to providing an environment of academic freedom and academic responsibility so that faculty may develop and implement successful teaching activities that ensure high standards of instruction and student performance.

The department recognizes that its faculty has a commitment to those research and creative activities indicative of scholarly excellence. The department attempts to nurture and support such activities so that faculty may maintain currency in their knowledge of subject matter, vibrancy in their teaching, dedication to their respective disciplines, and interest in extending the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding.

The Department of Anthropology is also committed to providing effective instructional opportunities for all students at the university, regardless of their major area of concentration. The department attempts to meet this goal by providing students with instruction in several areas of study that ground the liberal arts tradition. To this end, the department provides instructional opportunities for all students to develop further the following characteristics indicative of a university-educated person:

  1. Learning about anthropology fosters an inquiring attitude that acknowledges the many-sided nature of most important questions, recognizes the need to examine inherited judgments and reveals a desire for continued learning and creative expression.
  2. A holistic approach to anthropology hones a person’s ability to use words accurately and effectively and to communicate clearly in oral and written formats.
  3. Anthropological thinking nurtures the ability to analyze complex problems and to synthesize facts and ideas.
  4. Exposure to the field of anthropology encourages an appreciation for the responsibilities of the individual to family and society; skill serving as a constructive member in groups and organizations; and sensitivity to the need for informed, independent, moral and ethical decisions.
  5. Learning about anthropology increases knowledge about political and social systems in the United States and other nations, and their interrelationships; such multicultural perspectives can foster greater understanding, tolerance and respect for different lifestyles and viewpoints.
  6. Anthropology encourages an understanding of self, along with an empathy for the strengths, weaknesses, rights and needs of others, as well as the ability to relate to others with human understanding.

The Department of Anthropology is also committed to sponsoring service activities that meet the intellectual and cultural interest of the University and the community that the University serves.