Definitions

The disparate names of our academic discipline, ethnology (from the Greek ethnos, or ‘nation') and anthropology (from the Greek anthropos, or ‘human') may be surprising. There are two reasons for this duality: historical (owing to different naming traditions in different countries) and content-based (owing to the statutory scope of a discipline and the numerous manners in which it can be practised). In everyday academic practice, we frequently use the two terms interchangeably. However, common usage assumes the term ethnology to have a closer connection to research on European (traditional) and non-European (tribal and archaic) folk cultures, while cultural anthropology, in addition to its ‘classical' areas of research, encompasses a wider spectrum of contemporary cultural phenomena.

Another way of defining anthropology is not through considering it as a specific area of research (distinguished based on certain criteria such as geographical, national, class or other groupings), but through a particular way of looking at a cultural reality. To put is briefly, this way of looking involves exoticising what is familiar and tame; in other words, being ‘constructively surprised' by what a given culture considers to be usual, natural and granted. Through this approach to the essence of anthropology, every phenomenon incorporated into a culture becomes a potential subject of reflection, at which point it is not the subject that will determine the essence of our discipline, but rather our particular attitude towards the subject.

Regardless of how we define the tasks and duties of our discipline, one thing seems obvious: ethnology/cultural anthropology is an empiric science. The generalisations it formulates are always founded on an empirical fact, be this a belief held in an African village, a touristic ritual observed on Krakow's Main Square, or a blog entry. Anthropology is sometimes referred to as an ‘empirical philosophy.' On the one hand, this places anthropology next to philosophy (remembering that ‘surprise,' as the source of philosophical thought, is a familiar concept in anthropology), and on the other hand, this emphasises anthropology's close and sensual relationship with its subject of interest. This ‘subject' has as many names as it has faces, but in general terms, it constitutes culture understood as lifestyle factors (customs, beliefs, values, kinship systems, myths, etc.).

It is the immense diversity and wide topical variety of research projects undertaken by anthropologists that determines the richness and strength of our discipline. One only has to consider the studies conducted by scientists from our institute, and add to these the Bachelor's and Master's theses written by our students, to realise that references to anthropology as a ‘boundless science' are not merely a cognitive fiction. Among these research projects we encounter such subjects as: religious diversity, ethnic identity, folk religiosity, urban subcultures and the ethnography of museums. There are also anthropological papers well established in familiar areas of contemporaneity, such as the role of particular objects in culture, tourist practices, advertising strategies, travel writing, the world of Facebook, zoological gardens (as the creations of culture!), deportation holding cells, photographic archives, and so on.

In our institute, we not only encourage students to tackle new intellectual challenges, but we also strive to equip them with reliable methodological tools. We offer a unique (on the national scale) course of studies in the Theory of Culture (from the point of view of phenomenology, hermeneutics, ethnomethodology, structuralism, cognitivism and postmodernism), as well as topical studies (e.g. Anthropology of Politics, Visual Anthropology and Applied Anthropology). Students' thesis projects are supervised by academic staff with experience acquired from national and international research (in Europe, America and Africa) and courses and lectures given at European and American universities. Never has there been a more opportune time to study and practise ethnology/cultural anthropology. Migration, neo-regionalism, neo-tribalism, new communication technology, Web realities, the growing world of the image—all these, and other phenomena, demand investigation and knowledge that will address their related problems.

Anthropology is not just an academic discipline; in fact, it constitutes something between a mission and a calling, as anyone who has had even a brief contact with it knows well. Anthropology is a tool that allows one to become familiar with other cultures, as well as with oneself.