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Areas of Anthropological Study

Published on: Jan 22, 2021

Areas of Anthropological Study
Image credit: Charlotte Hollands

Where are anthropologists working?

Today's anthropologists do not just work in exotic locations. Anthropologists can be found in a surprising array of fields and careers, not least of which being the mother of President Obama. Anthropologists can be found in corporations, all levels of government, educational institutions and non-profit associations. Anthropologists work in disaster areas, including Ground Zero in New York and the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

Today there are four main career paths for anthropology graduates:

Academic Careers

On campuses, in departments of anthropology, and in research laboratories, anthropologists teach and conduct research. They spend a great deal of time preparing for classes, writing lectures, grading papers, working with individual students, composing scholarly articles, and writing books.

A number of academic anthropologists find careers in other departments or university programs, such as schools of medicine, epidemiology, public health, ethnic studies, cultural studies, community or area studies, linguistics, education, ecology, cognitive psychology and neural science.

Corporate and Business Careers

Many corporations look explicitly for anthropologists, recognizing the utility of their perspective on a corporate team. A corporate anthropologist working in market research might conduct targeted focus groups to examine consumer preference patterns not readily apparent through statistical or survey methods. These anthropologists use their research skills to talk to consumers and users of technology to find out how products and services could be improved to better meet the needs of consumers.

Government Careers

State and local governmental organizations use anthropologists in planning, research and managerial capacities. Contract archaeology is a growing occupation with state and federal legislative mandates to assess cultural resources affected by government funded projects. Forensic anthropologists, in careers glamorized by Hollywood and popular novels, not only work with police departments to help identify mysterious or unknown remains but also work in university and museum settings.

The federal government is one of the largest employers of anthropologists outside of academia. Possible career paths include: international development, cultural resource management, the legislative branch, forensic and physical anthropology, natural resource management, and defense and security sectors.

Non-profit and Community-based Careers

Non-governmental organizations, such as international health organizations and development banks employ anthropologists to help design and implement a wide variety of programs. However, these aren't the only opportunities available.

Many anthropologists work in local, community-based settings for non-profit agencies. Sometimes, they work through community-based research organizations like the Institute for Community Research. Other times, they might work for established organizations in a community like the YMCA, local schools, or environmental organizations.

In response to a survey by the American Anthropological Association's Committee on Practicing, Applied and Public Interest Anthropology (CoPAPIA)*, respondents provided the following responses to describe their post-graduate employment:

Education/Outreach Administration/Management
Archaeology Ethnography/Cultural Anthropology
Cultural Resource Management (CRM) Evaluation/Assessment
Historic Preservation Health (international/public health)
Museum/Curation/Project Design Environment and Natural Resources
Community Development Business
Advocacy (human rights/social justice) Tourism/Heritage
Human/Social Services Healthcare Management/Services/Deliver
Computers/Software Development/Information Technology Management Consulting/Organizational Development/Training
Design (products and/or services) Social Impact Assessment
International Development/Affairs Market Research
Forensics Law/Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement
Mass Communication Humanitarian Efforts


Areas of Anthropological Study

Learn more about anthropology in our special "This is Anthropology" podcast miniseries!

  • Sociocultural Anthropology - Examines social patterns and practices across cultures.
  • Archaeology - Studies past people and cultures through the analysis of material remains
  • Biological Anthropology - Studies human and non-human primates past and present from ecological and evolutionary perspectives, addressing the intersection of behavior, culture, and biology and how these systems impact health and well-being
  • Linguistic Anthropology - Studies the ways in which language reflects and influences social life
  • Medical Anthropology - Seeks to better understand factors that influence peoples' health and well being
  • Forensic Anthropology - Analyzes skeletal, decomposed, or otherwise unidentified human remains to aid in detection of crime
  • Business Anthropology - Applies anthropological theories and methods to identify and solve business problems
  • Visual Anthropology - Uses images for the description, analysis, communication and interpretation of behavior
  • Environmental Anthropology - Examines how people interact with, respond to, and bring about changes in the environment 
  • Museum Anthropology - Studies the history of museums, their role in society, and changes in this role

Check out some of the stories below and learn more about the life-altering work of anthropologists.  

There are many great reasons why studying anthropology should be considered by undergraduate and master's students. First, the material is intellectually exciting. Additionally, anthropology prepares students for excellent jobs and opens doors to various career paths. To learn more about careers in anthropology, please continue reading about Career Paths and Education.

Additional Career Resources

Career ideas

Versatile PhD - The Versatile PhD mission is to help humanities and social science (and STEM as of July 2013) graduate students identify and prepare for possible non-academic careers. We want them to be informed about academic employment realities, educated about non-academic career options, and supported towards a wide range of careers, so that in the end, they have choices. 

icould: Inspiration for your career - Use our Career Wizard to find jobs that may suit you.

Portfolio development 

Professional Development webinar with Riall Nolan - The webinar topic is professional development and career building for anthropologists outside of the academy. Program topics will include CV writing, job search tips, interviewing and more.
- View the recorded session on the AAA YouTube channel 
- Download the PowerPoint presentation

Academic & Professional Resource Documents - Centre for Comparative Literature University of Toronto

The Professor Is In  - Getting You Through Graduate School, The Job Market and Tenure…

Ask the Headhunter - Breaking Ranks & Rules: How academics can avoid 5 fatal mistakes in the job hunt

Moral support

Survival Blog for Scientists - Professional scientists write about their scientific life. Contributors are scientists in various stages of their career: from junior to senior. The aim is to supply scientists with tips on how to survive in science.

Get a Life, PhD - Succeed in Academia and Have a Life Too