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cognitive anthropologythe study that seeks to use the formal methods of LOGIC and LINGUISTICS in characterizing fields of culture, and the minds formed in those cultures. In the 1960s, the study of cultures moved away from tracking generalized belief systems (e.g. religion) towards the everyday or mundane classifications (or taxonomies) of things, persons and actions within particular cultures. Anthropology began to attend in detail to the way in which people's cognitions, their thoughts, reasonings and judgements, are necessarily bound up in their social activities. This was in line with developments generally in the social sciences, with increasing interest in what people ‘know and think’ as central to social organization. The ETHNOSCIENCES, in looking at categorizations of nature in non-Western thought, have had as deep an influence on the development of cognitive anthropology, as has linguistics. The central proposal has been that anthropology can use formal methods, rather than either those modelled on an empiricist reading of natural science, or on the uncontrolled interpretation associated with the humanities. The outcome is formal or quasi-formal statements of the rules and systemic alternatives, normally with reference to small fields of a culture. See also COMPONENTIAL ANALYSIS, SAPIRWHORF HYPOTHESIS.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000