Difference Between Social and Cultural Anthropology

Key Difference – Social vs Cultural Anthropology
 

Social and Cultural Anthropology are two branches of anthropology between which some differences can be identified. This difference can mainly be understood when paying attention to the focus of each discipline. The key difference between the two discipline is that the social anthropology is a field of study that focuses on the society and the social institutions. On the other hand, in cultural anthropology, the focus is on the culture of a society. Through this article, let us comprehend the main differences between the two, the social and cultural anthropology.

What is Social Anthropology?

Social anthropology is a field of study that focuses on the society and the social institutions. A social anthropologist is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the social structure and the relationship between various social institutions. As we all know, the society is composed of various social institutions. They are the family, education, politics, religion and the economy. Each institution has a specific role in the society and contributes towards maintaining the social order in one way or the other. The social anthropologist is keenly interested in comprehending the role of these institutions, their nature, and the relationship that they have to other institutions.

Social anthropology as a discipline was mainly nurtured in Britain. It was influenced by the intellectual currents of France. In social anthropology, one of the main techniques that are being used is Participant Observation. In participant observation, the anthropologist does not merely go to the research field and gather information. On the contrary, he becomes a part of the society that is his research field. This allows him to gain a broader understanding of the society and various social ties that exist within that particular society.

Social anthropology mainly provides qualitative data to the researcher; this is because what the researcher explores in rich in-depth data, which allows him to comprehend the social structure, and the relationship among social institutions. Once the field study has been completed, the anthropologist produces ethnography. Ethnography is a lengthy in-depth account of the particular society, its structure, relationships, and social institutions.

Difference Between Social and Cultural Anthropology

What is Cultural Anthropology?

Unlike in the case of social anthropology where stress is laid on studying the society, in cultural anthropology the focus is on the culture of a society. This can include the study of behavioral patterns, language, customs, rituals, laws, ideals, arts, etc. The cultural anthropologist is eager to learn and comprehend the various cultures of people. As we know, in our world today, there are different types of societies. Within these societies, there exist different cultures. These cultures are very much different from one another, and shape the lives of people in the society.

The cultural anthropologist pays attention to these cultures. He studies the unique elements of the culture, such as specific rituals that people have and comprehend the subjective meaning that the people provide to these rituals. Then he tries to analyze this subjective interpretation in an objective and scientific manner, through the anthropological approaches.

Cultural anthropology is quite famous in the United States, unlike the social anthropology. Some of the key figures in cultural anthropology are Ruth Benedict and Franz Boas. In most cultural anthropological studies, the focus has been on isolated communities, such as in the case of Margaret Mead, who studies of the people in Samoa island. However, in the modern day, this focus has changed in order to capture the populated societies as well.

 Social vs Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict

What is the Difference Between Social and Cultural Anthropology?

Definitions of Social and Cultural Anthropology:

Social Anthropology: Social anthropology is a field of study that focuses on the society and the social institutions.

Cultural Anthropology: In cultural anthropology, the focus is on the culture of a society.

Characteristics of Social and Cultural Anthropology:

Focus:

Social Anthropology: The main focus is on social institutions, their relationship, and the society at large.

Cultural Anthropology: The focus is on rituals, customs, arts, language, beliefs and culture at large.

Technique:

Social Anthropology: When conducting research, the main technique is participant observation.

Cultural Anthropology: Even in cultural anthropology, the main technique is participant observation.

Popularity:

Social Anthropology: Social anthropology is popular in Britain.

Cultural Anthropology: Cultural Anthropology is popular in the United States.

 

Image Courtesy:

1. ‘Bronisław Malinowski among Trobriand tribe‘ By Unknown (maybe Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1885-1939) [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

2. Ruth Benedict By World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons