Research Methods in Anthropology


Cultural anthropology is the study of the culture of living humans. It uses a variety of qualitative and quantitative methodologies to explore what it means to be human.

Participant Observation

  • A key component of any cultural anthropologist's approach is participant observation. During participant observation, the cultural anthropologist either lives or spends a significant amount of time with the people studied, participating in their daily activities and observing how they live.


  • The cultural anthropologist will interview many individuals in a culture to draw out their beliefs and ideas about their society.

Cross-Cultural Comparison

  • Cultural anthropologists compare cultures with one another to come to new insights about the culture being studied. For example, Margaret Mead focused on studying the cultures of the South Pacific, but included insights from Western culture, particularly the United States, when forming conclusions.

Historical Analysis

  • Historical documents can be studied to see how the people being studied lived in the past. This information can illuminate cultural patterns the anthropologist sees in the present.


  • Anthropologists develop questionnaires that ask questions with close-ended answers that are easily quantifiable and can be ascribed a numerical value. These questionnaires can also ask open-ended questions, which give participants the opportunity to express their opinions and beliefs.

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  • Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, 3rd edition, H. Russel Bernard, August 2001.
  • Photo Credit Ian Beatty
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