Practice Question – Compare and Contrast Sociology with Anthropology.  [UPSC 2013]

Approach – Introduction, Define Sociology and Anthropology, Outline the the similarities and dissimilarities between both the subjects, Briefly mention the contemporary relations of the two subjects in conclusion. 



Sociology is the study of social life and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. In the words of C. Wright Mills, sociology looks for the “public issues” that underlie “private troubles.” Sociology differs from popular notions of human behavior in that it uses systematic, scientific methods of investigation and questions many of the common sense and taken-for-granted views of our social world. Sociological thinking involves taking a closer look at our social world and recognizing that most often things are not necessarily what they seem.

Anthropology is a broad, holistic study of human beings and includes the subfields of archaeology, physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Anthropologists study human beings from a very broad and comparative perspective. We are interested in human experience around the world, past and present. Cultural anthropologists study cultures—from our own culture to those different from our owns—by living in the culture and gaining the insiders’ point of view.



  •  Anthropology examines culture more at the micro-level of the individual, which the anthropologist generally takes as an example of the larger culture. In addition, anthropology hones in on the cultural specificities of a given group or community. Sociology, on the other hand, tends to look at the bigger picture, often studying institutions (educational, political, religious), organizations, political movements, and the power relations of different groups with each other.
  • Anthropology studies human behavior more at the individual level, while sociology focuses more on group behavior and relations with social structures and institutions.
  • Anthropologists conduct research using ethnography (a qualitative research method), while sociologists use both qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • The primary goal of anthropology is to understand human diversity and cultural difference, while sociology is more solution-oriented with the goal of fixing social problems through policy.



Anthropology is a general science like sociology. The word Anthropology is derived from two Greek words —Anthropos meaning ‘man’ and logos meaning ‘study’. Thus, the etymological meaning of ‘Anthropology’ is the study of man. Precisely, it is defined by Kroeber as ‘the science of man and his works and behaviour’. Anthropology is “concerned not with particular man but with man in groups, with races and peoples and their happenings and doings”.

It has made outstanding contributions to the study of man. Sociology, in particular, has been immensely enriched by the anthropological studies. Anthropology seems to be the broadest of all the social sciences. It studies man both as a member of the animal kingdom and as a member of the human society. It studies the biological as well as the cultural developments of man. Anthropology has a wide field of study. Kroeber mentions two broad divisions of anthropology: (i) Organic or Physical Anthropology and (ii) the Socio- cultural Anthropology.

Physical Anthropology
Physical Anthropology studies man as a biological being, that is, as a member of the animal kingdom. Here, anthropology accepts and uses the general principles of biology; the laws of heredity and the doctrines of cell development and evolution.

Sociocultural Anthropology
Sociocultural Anthropology, more often referred to as ‘Cultural Anthropology’, studies man as a social animal. This branch of anthropology which is concerned with the more-than-merely-organic aspects of human behaviour seems to be more interested in ancient and savage and exotic and extinct peoples. The main reason for this is a desire to understand better all civilisations, irrespective of time and place, in the abstract, or as generalised principles as possible.  Sociocultural Anthropology’s main concern is culture. It deals with the origin and
development of man’s culture.

According to Hoebel, “Sociology and Social Anthropology are, in their broadest sense one and the same”. Evans Pritchard considers social anthropology a branch
of sociology. Sociology is greatly benefited by anthropological studies. The studies made by famous anthropologists like Radcliffe Brown, B. Malinowski, Ralph Linton, Lowie, Raymond Firth, Margaret Mead, Evans Pritchard and others, have been proved to be valuable in sociology. Sociological topics such as the origin of family, the beginning of marriage, private property, the genesis of religion, etc., can better be understood in the light of anthropological knowledge. The anthropological studies have shown that there is no correlation between anatomical characteristics and mental superiority. The notion of racial superiority has been disproved by anthropology. Further, sociology has borrowed many concepts like cultural area, culture traits, interdependent traits, cultural lag, culture patterns, culture configuration etc., from socio-cultural anthropology. The knowledge of anthropology, physical as well as socio-cultural, is necessary for a sociologist. An understanding of society can be gained by comparing various cultures, particularly, the modern with the primitive.



  • Frazer defined “social anthropology as that branch of sociology that deals with primitive societies” .
  • According to Radcliffe-Brown (1983) social anthropology is a ‘comparative sociology’. By the term ‘comparative sociology’, he would mean “a science that applies the generalizing method of the natural sciences to the phenomena of  the social life of man and to everything that we include under the term culture or civilisation”.
  • While anthropology was formulated as a holistic study of mankind and related aspects, Auguste Comte also considered that sociology would be the overarching study of human society.
  • Both anthropology and sociology, following the model of science, combined description and generalization.



  • The first and foremost difference lies in the definition of the scope of the subjects itself. Sociology is the study (or science) of society, whereas anthropology (integrated anthropology) is the study of man and everything that concerns man, including the physical and socio-cultural aspects.
  • A notable difference between sociology and anthropology can be traced through historical roots. Anthropology is generally considered to have “no roots in philosophy” while “the former has”. While the emergence of sociology can be mainly attributed to the attempt to bring about social order in the society (in the European social context) after the great social transformation brought about by industrial revolution and French revolution, its influence on the emergence of anthropology was not as direct as with sociology or other
    social sciences; rather it was an indirect influence through the opening up of intellectual and geographical spaces to enable the European scholars to go outside the European society and study the pre-literate societies.
  • The original focus of the areas of interest between sociology and anthropology (socio-cultural) has been one of the main factors of divergences. Sociology began with the focal interest with the study of society-as a generalizing social science, particularly with a focus on a larger societal context to explain social phenomena. It focuses on the study of industrialized societies (the western societies, particularly Europe) who are considered as modern societies. On the other hand, the initial focal interest of anthropology was the study of the ‘other’ exotic communities that are non-European and/or non-western societies. Hence, their focus and practice was on the study of simple, small-scale, and pre-literate societies situated outside Europe and western societies. 
  • The other distinction between sociology and socio-cultural anthropology can be located in its methodology, particularly methods and techniques of research. Sociologists largely employ quantitative methods like questionnaires to collect data and subsequent analysis of the data with the help of statistical techniques. Anthropology began as a field-based science. Anthropologists largely use qualitative methods, particularly ‘participant observation’ along with other methods and techniques.



The relationship of sociology with social anthropology is very close indeed. The two disciplines are very close that it is difficult to differentiate, particularly in the scope, interest areas, theories, methodology, and practice. The tradition in which they were evolved also had much convergence in its thrust areas of enquiry. This is due to the fact that both sociology and social anthropology study human society and largely share their theoretical problems and interests. This is also the reason why social anthropology is considered by many scholars to be part of sociology or a branch of sociology. Despite its similarities, there are also certain differences between the two subjects which can be located from the early developmental phase to the later phases as well in terms of the areas and thrust of enquiry, preference of the use of methodology, theories, and practice.

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