Subject Headings for Theory and Methodology in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee

Question/Answer on cataloging issues – November/December 2018

Question: What subject headings are commonly applied to works about the theory and methodology of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology?

Submitted By: Tom Durkin, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Students of anthropology generally learn about the history of the development of anthropology, including the theory and methodology that guide the ethnographic study of culture. Most graduate students are required to take classes that focus on this topic. In the classic “four field” structure of the study of anthropology, ethnology is frequently referred to as “cultural anthropology.” The history of the development of cultural anthropology is complex because anthropologists have developed and applied many different philosophical theories. It is important for students to understand theory because it influences research design and the intellectual positions that are taken and supported in scholarly anthropological works. This list of subject terms below has been created to provide guidance for the subject terms related to the philosophical history of anthropology.

General Terms

This list of example LCSH terms is very general, but most works about the history and theory of cultural anthropology are found under those listed here. In particular, the terms Anthropology and Ethnology with the subdivisions History or Philosophy appear to be the most common terms applied.

Anthropologists — History

Anthropology — History — Textbooks

Anthropology — Philosophy

Culture — Philosophy

Ethnologists — History

Ethnology — Great Britain — History

Ethnology — History

Ethnology — Philosophy

Human beings — Philosophy

Interpretation (Philosophy)

Material culture — Philosophy

Philosophical anthropology — History — 20th century

Social epistemology

Social sciences — Philosophy

Social sciences — History

Specializations within Cultural Anthropology

For a student exploring the range of philosophical stances that cultural anthropologists have taken, it can be very helpful to review a list of anthropological sub-disciplines or specialties. The list below is not exhaustive, because LCSH terms do not necessarily exist for every specialty within cultural anthropology. The study of anthropology continues to develop in new directions every day.

Anthropological linguistics

Anthropology and history

Anthropology of religion

Applied anthropology

Architecture and anthropology

Art and anthropology

Buddhist anthropology

Business anthropology

Economic anthropology

Educational anthropology

Ethnological jurisprudence


Forensic anthropology

Law and anthropology

Mass media and anthropology

Mathematical anthropology

Medical anthropology

Music and anthropology


Political anthropology

Psychoanalysis and anthropology

Public anthropology

Theological anthropology

Urban anthropology

Visual anthropology

Theoretical Positions in Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropologists have taken many philosophical positions as they have worked to analyze and interpret the cultures of the world. Many of the terms below describe theoretical positions that have grown or diminished in application over time as the field of cultural anthropology has developed.


Action research

Action theory

Actor-network theory

Agent (Philosophy)

Cognition and culture

Cultural relativism

Culture diffusion

Ethics, Evolutionary


Feminist anthropology

Functionalism (Social sciences)

Holism — Philosophy

Human ecology


Marxist anthropology

Personality and culture

Phenomenological anthropology



Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

Self-knowledge, Theory of  [for works on theories of reflexivity]

Sex role — Cross-cultural studies  [for works on gender roles]

Social action

Social Evolution

Social structure

—Structural analysis  [as an LCSH subdivision]

Structural anthropology


Symbolic anthropology

Symbolic interactionism

System theory

Totemism  [important in structural anthropology]


Methodology in the Practice of Cultural Anthropology

Anthropological methodology, including research design and field techniques, is frequently directly related to the philosophical and theoretical position that an anthropologist takes during the analytical and interpretive stages of research. This list of terms represents those frequently used to describe methodological works in anthropology.

Anthropological illustration

Anthropology — Fieldwork — Technological innovations

Anthropology — Methodology — Handbooks, manuals, etc

Anthropology — Research — Methodology

Anthropology — Statistical methods

Cross-cultural studies  [this term is also frequently used as a subdivision]

Ethnohistory — Methodology

Ethnologists — Effect of technological innovations on

Ethnology — Fieldwork — Technological innovations

Ethnology — Methodology

Methodology  [a very general term used for many areas of research]

Participant observation

Photography in ethnology — History

Social sciences — Fieldwork

Social sciences — Research

Anthropologists Important to the History of Anthropological Theory and Methodology

Many anthropologists have contributed to the development of anthropological theory, and they are far too numerous to list here. Discussions of the influence of the significant researchers listed below are frequently incorporated into works about the history of anthropology. The terms listed here are taken from the LC Name Authority File (LCNAF).

Benedict, Ruth, 1887-1948  [Research in Personality and Culture]

Boas, Franz, 1858-1942  [Research in Cultural Relativism]

Douglas, Mary, 1921-2007  [Research in Anthropology of Religion, Structuralism]

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (Edward Evan), 1902-1973  [Research in Anthropology of Religion]

Geertz, Clifford  [Research in Symbolic Anthropology and Thick Description]

Harris, Marvin, 1927-2001  [Research in Cultural Materialism]

Hurston, Zora Neale  [Research in Folkloric Narrative]

Kroeber, A. L. (Alfred Louis), 1876-1960  [Research in Culture Area]

Lévi-Strauss, Claude  [Research in Structuralism]

Lowie, Robert Harry, 1883-1957  [Research in Kinship Studies]

Malinowski, Bronislaw, 1884-1942  [Research in Functionalism and Participant Observation]

Mead, Margaret, 1901-1978  [Research in Gender Identity and Sex Roles]

Morgan, Lewis Henry, 1818-1881  [Research in Social Evolution]

Parsons, Elsie Worthington Clews, 1874-1941  [Research in Feminist Anthropology, Folklore and Social Structure]

Parsons, Talcott, 1902-1979  [Research in Social Action Theory and Structural Functionalism]

Powdermaker, Hortense, 1903-1970  [Research in Institutional Anthropology]

Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (Alfred Reginald), 1881-1955  [Research in Structural Functionalism]

Sahlins, Marshall, 1930-  [Research in Historical and Economic Anthropology]

Sapir, Edward, 1884-1939  [The Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis]

Steward, Julian Haynes, 1902-1972  [Research in Cultural Ecology]

Tax, Sol, 1907-1995  [Research in Action Theory and Applied Anthropology]

Turner, Victor W. (Victor Witter), 1920-1983  [Research in Symbolic Anthropology]

White, Leslie A., 1900-1975  [Research in Cultural Evolution]


Also, do not forget the useful: Anthropologists — Biography

For further reading:

Little, Daniel E. “Ethnology.” In Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, edited by Robert Audi. 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Urry, James. “History of anthropology.” In the Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, edited by Alan Barnard, and Jonathan Spencer. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2009.