Most people beginning their college careers are unfamiliar with the disciplines of sociology and anthropology. While everyone has heard these terms, few are able to define them or explain how the two disciplines differ from each other and from other social sciences. The following will help you better understand sociology and anthropology and how our major brings them together. Sociology and anthropology are distinct areas of study, with separate histories and different ways of looking at the world.
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.” A sociologist understands unemployment, for example, not as the problem of one person who can’t find a job, but as the interaction of economic, political, and social forces that determine the number of jobs and who has access to them.
Anthropology is concerned with how culture influences every aspect of human life and society. Regardless of the topic studied — indigenous medical practices, conflict resolution, kinship patterns — the goal of anthropology is to understand the way culture patterns life and gives meaning to people’s lives. By comparing the cultural practices of different people, anthropologists develop a general understanding of what it means to be human.
Much in Common
Notice that while sociology and anthropology have different emphases — one examines social structures, the other focuses on culture– there is much that they have in common. Both disciplines examine the “big picture,” both are interested in the way society influences people’s lives. Recognizing these similarities, our major blends the two areas of study. For those with a strong interest in one discipline or the other, it is possible to select courses with a primary focus in either, but we encourage our majors to explore and draw on the insights from both disciplines.
Having two disciplines in one department allows us to offer unique learning situations:
- Our curriculum includes a number of courses that combine sociological and anthropological thinking, including courses on social movements, health and healing, global interdependence, religion, family, and social justice.
- We provide an outstanding (and rigorous) year of research that allows students to learn and practice both quantitative and ethnographic methods.
- We provide a year of studying theory, both sociological and anthropological.
- All majors complete a senior seminar where the experiences and course work of students are brought to bear on the study of a particular topic.
- We offer an opportunity for students to study abroad in Thailand and another to compare immigration issues in Miami and Amsterdam.