Difference Between Ethnology and Anthropology

Ethnology vs Anthropology

Ethnology and Anthropology are two disciplines between which some difference can be observed. First, let us define the two words. Anthropology is a field of study that focuses on human origins, societies and culture. On the other hand, ethnology is the study of the characteristics of different peoples. The key difference between anthropology and ethnology is that while anthropology can be viewed as an overarching field of study, ethnology is only a subfield of it. Through this article let us examine the difference between anthropology and ethnology.

What is Anthropology?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Anthropology is the study of human origins, societies and cultures.” In anthropology, the attention is paid not only to the social aspects of human life, but also to the biological aspects as well. The anthropologist studies the genetic makeup of the human being, culture, religion, politics, language, and also the adaptation to different environmental settings. They also study the ceremonies, rituals and practices of people. When speaking of anthropology, there are various branches of it. They are,

  1. Biological anthropology
  2. Social and cultural anthropology
  3. Linguistic anthropology and
  4. Archaeology

As a discipline, anthropology can be considered as a fusion of social science and natural science. This is because the influence of both sciences can be viewed in anthropology. Specifically, when speaking of the genetic makeup of individuals, the approach is one of the natural sciences. However, when studying about family, kinship, culture, and politics, the approach is one of the social sciences. In anthropology, a large variety of methods can be used for data collection. However, specifically when concentrating on cultural anthropology, most anthropologists use participant observation. In this method, the anthropologist also lives within the chosen community or ethnic group as a member of the community. For example, the research conducted by Margaret Mead in the Samoa Islands can be considered as a classic example.

Difference Between Anthropology and Ethnology

What is Ethnology?

Ethnology is the study of the characteristics of different people. This can be considered as a subfield of anthropology. In ethnology, the individual pays attention to the specific characteristics of a group of people such as an ethnic group in terms of social, cultural elements. These characteristics are then studied in depth. The ethnologist attempts to study various unique features of the group such as origins, social structure, political structure, economy, religion, language and even on members. From the list of elements, it is clear that the study of ethnology is mostly focused on culture and the changes that have come about in different groups of people.

Anthropology vs Ethnology

What is the Difference Between Ethnology and Anthropology?

Definitions of Ethnology and Anthropology:

Anthropology: Anthropology is the study of human origins, societies, and cultures.

Ethnology: Ethnology is the study of the characteristics of different people.

Characteristics of Ethnology and Anthropology:

Field of Study:

Anthropology: Anthropology is an overarching discipline.

Ethnology: Ethnology is a subfield of Cultural Anthropology.


Anthropology:  In Anthropology, the focus is on both natural and socio-cultural elements concerning the human being.

Ethnology: In Ethnology, the focus is primarily on culture.


Image Courtesy:

1. Museum-anthropology-vancouver-2006-05-22 By Michel Teiten  (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

2. National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka – Crown for ceremony – Karnataka in India By Yanajin33 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


  • Martin Nesiayali