If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sociology and Anthropology, an Introduction

Definitions:  Anthropology is the study of humanity.
                   Sociology is the study of human societies.

As you can imagine, these two subjects are very similar and often overlap. The best way to understand their differences is by examining the questions they ask.

Anthropology (traditionally) asks, "Where did we come from? When did we become truly human? What makes us different from other animals? How do we live? How do we feel? How do we use art, religion, language, and other social constructs to form our sense of identity? What is it we really need?"

The answers to these questions require the study of humanity from its origins to the present, which is why it includes the fields of archaeology, linguistics, and biology. Anthropology also focuses on small, isolated communities of people, often in exotic locations, to examine how their cultures differ from our own. Anthropologists study the religions, stories, myths, traditions, and beliefs of these cultures.

Sociology (traditionally) asks, "How do societies behave? Which factors influence social behaviour and status? Gender? Race? Geography? And what factors influence social problems such as crime, drug abuse, poverty, health, etc? Are there solutions to these problems, and are they getting better or worse over time? And how is technology influencing all this? As a society, what do we really need?"

These are questions that sociologists typically ask of their own culture, rather than others. Sociologists tend to look less at small, isolated groups, and instead focus on large populations - entire countries, divided statistically by race, religion, gender, etc. They're a bit like doctors, examining the health of a nation. Therefore, they focus more on the present, and recent past.

Now here's the problem. Of the two subjects, sociology is more popular. In America, over 1,000 universities teach sociology, compared to only 400 for anthropology. And a big reason why is that anthropology has already answered all of its big questions. Through anthropology, we know that humans came from one point of origin in Africa, that we developed one proto-language, which was the foundation for every language we speak today. We know most of the details of our migration throughout the world, and that we had ancient ancestors, such as Neanderthals, which are now extinct. And, we know that chimpanzees, our closest surviving ancestors, also form social groups and use tools.

So, now that we know this, and all the most exotic cultures have been studied, what's there left to do? The answer has been to move anthropology and sociology closer together. The anthropologists have gone home, to study the West, while sociologists have shifted their methodology to reflect a more anthropological perspective - focusing on the personal stories of people caught up in large, social problems.

Prof. Steven Dillard said, "There is much overlap between Sociology and Anthropology. They certainly employ many similar methods. But I would say that Anthropology focuses at a more personal or community level and that the larger the groups get, the more we are talking about Sociology. However, I think this distinction is not a very good one, and I don't really know if there are any good, well-accepted definitions of the two disciplines.

The sociologist I was talking to told me that she didn't think there was that much difference between anthropology and sociology. I think that people who worry about the distinction are mostly worried about the budget for their department. I think that Liberal Arts Colleges would like nothing more than to be able to combine departments and cut budgets. And the departments themselves desperately want to maintain their viability."

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