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Difference Between Anthropology And Sociology

Difference between Anthropology and Sociology

We have been studying ourselves (human beings) from time immemorial although a disciplined approach has been taken only since the period of Renaissance. The study of human beings is both fascinating and never-ending. Two subjects that deal with human beings are anthropology and sociology.

While both these subjects study different aspects of human beings, the philosophical approach to the study differs. Yet, there is some amount of overlap between these subjects and hence some universities combine the two and offer a single course in anthropology and sociology.

To explain the difference between anthropology and sociology, let me begin with the definitions and some amount of history of the two subjects.

Definition and history of anthropology

Anthropology deals with the study of human culture and the social and physical characteristics that created and maintained the culture. Many times, anthropology compares the study of one culture with another and also compares human beings with animals.

Human beings have been observing and analyzing each other's traits and characteristics since the beginning of civilization. There are some people who like to credit Tacitus and Herodotus as our first anthropologists. But, a codified and documented study of this subject started only in the late eighteenth century.

Anthropology has four different branches of study including archeological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, cultural anthropology, and physical anthropology.

Archaeological anthropology involves digging up artifacts from under the earth and learning about the lives and cultures of human beings during those times. Physical anthropology is dedicated to the study of physical features of human beings including the color of hair, the color of skin, height, etc.

Cultural anthropology concerns the study of ancient tribes of Africa and Asia. Linguistic anthropology deals with the languages of human beings.

Conventionally, anthropological studies were conducted by Westerners on the origin, growth and decay of the cultures of technically less advanced people than themselves. Hence, if you notice, anthropologists would specialize in geographical areas such as Africa, Latin America, a few Asian countries etc which are seemingly less advanced than the developed Western countries.

This kind of study led to some racists theories that did the rounds explaining the reason why some races advanced more than the others.

Definition and history of sociology

Sociology, though seemingly similar to anthropology, focuses on the study of human society in terms of their origin, development, and how they were organized. These attributes are also studied with respect to other organizations and institutions.

While some believe that sociology was discussed in the works of ancient philosophers such as Confucius, Plato, and Aristotle, as a codified academic study, it is relatively new. The study of sociology started in the early 19th century driven by advanced technologies which gave people access to societies and cultures very different from their own.

These intriguing differences led to the birth of sociology wherein students tried to understand the elements that held social groups together and also how and why these social groups broke down later on.

The term "sociology" was coined by Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, in the year 1838. Auguste Comte is known as the "father of sociology." Moreover, during the 19th and 20th centuries, there were a lot of social changes and upheavals taking place all over the world which interested and intrigued the early sociologists.

The early sociologists were keenly interested in the Industrial Revolution and the sweeping political changes occurring in Europe. These subjects continue to hold the attention of today's sociologists too.

The rise of socialism and capitalism and their impact on human society was also keenly observed and studied by sociologists. The birth of new cities and the various religious transformations were creating a lot of social changes.

The pioneering sociologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries included Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, W.E.B Dubois, Max Weber, and Harriet Martineau. These pioneers were also trained in other disciplines such as economics, history, and philosophy.

The diverse educational backgrounds drove these early sociologists to employ the learning from sociology to draw attention to and solve social concerns such as inequality in the distribution of wealth, inequality in gender and race, etc.

Difference between Anthropology and Sociology

The basic philosophical difference between the study of anthropology and sociology is anthropologists study the culture of a group(s) whereas sociologists study the society of the group(s). We are looking at two cases and how the anthropologists and sociologists view the cases.

Case I – Sexism in American textbooks

We can understand this difference by taking up a simple case study mentioned in Raw thoughts. In many biology textbooks, there is an evidence of subtle sexism in the depiction of the sperm cell and the egg. There have been studies conducted which reveal the following:

  • Sperms are viewed as aggressive and competitive creatures

  • Eggs are perceived as docile and passive receptors

These perceptions do not carry much weight in the actual science. Although there is not much clarity of characteristics of either the sperm of the egg, the latter seems to have a say in the selection process too.

Let us look at how an anthropologist will view this and how a sociologist will view this study.

Anthropologist's view: The anthropologist will view this outcome being a result of increased sexism in our society; a culture in which men are seen as competing for the attention of women. These ideas, the anthropologist will say, are what get translated into our writing about conception too and hence the perception of sperms as aggressive creatures fighting for the egg.

Sociologist's view: A sociologist will dig a little deeper and find out more. He or she would ask more questions including the following:

  • Who wrote the textbooks? If the sociologist sees too many males in the group or committee that decides such things, then he or she would ask the next question.

  • Why is it that more males are there for such jobs? And through these answers, he or she will, perhaps, see that sexism is inherent in the institution concerned.

Through a series of such questions, the sociologist will find a solution that reflects the structure of society to have given way to such sexist textbooks.

Case II – Definition of marriage

The sociologist defines marriage as a union that has social sanction between two or more individuals to have a lasting and steady relationship with some parts of the relationship based on a sexual bond. Marriage is seen by a sociologist as a permanent institution and comes with mutual obligations and rights.

Marriage, as per sociologists, offers an environment that is conducive for love to be cultivated and fulfilled by two people. Marriage is also known to be the primary social arrangement for bringing up children in an environment that is socially, economically, legally, and spiritually approved by society.

The anthropologist (CSUN) defines marriage as "a union between a man and a woman such that the children born to the woman are recognized as legitimate offspring of both the partners."

Marriages are meant to serve any of the following purposes:

  • To establish legality of parenthood for children born in the marriage

  • To establish a monopoly of the two partners over each other's sexuality

  • To establish a partly monopolistic right over each other's labor services

  • To establish part or whole rights over each other's property rights

  • To set up a joint fund for the benefit of the children

So, from the above cases, it is clear that sociologists view nearly everything from the perspective of society whereas anthropologists view everything from the perspective of the culture.

Another conventional difference between anthropology and sociology that exists is that while anthropologists study the cultures and tribes of colonies whereas sociologists focus more on western urban societies.

Final Notes

The study of anthropology and sociology is important to track and monitor the origin, advancement, and decay of cultures and societies. Understanding these concepts help in making informed choices about the future of our cultures and societies so that we move forward towards development, peace, and prosperity for all the people on our planet.

I would like to reiterate here that there are many colleges that combine the study of anthropology and sociology into a single course. These degrees give you a complete and comprehensive understanding of the evolution of human beings as they interacted with each other and set up societies and civilizations for themselves.

We, at Prescott Papers, have a group of dedicated and qualified expert writers who can help you with all formats of academic writing. Do not hesitate to contact us for any kind of help.

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