Humans are inherently social creatures, and our social nature and ability to work cooperatively have helped us create the amazingly complex and interdependent global society we live in today. An entire academic discipline -- the social sciences -- has developed over the last couple of centuries to study human beings and human society. Anthropologists and sociologists represent two of the better-known branches of the social sciences. Both study human behaviors, but they differ significantly in their theoretical frameworks and research methods.
Anthropology is the study of human beings and their ancestors over time, focusing on physical characteristics, social relations and culture. Until the mid-20th century, anthropologists almost exclusively studied non-Western cultures, unlike sociologists, who focused on contemporary Western society. A related distinction between anthropology and sociology is that anthropology examines humans and human culture over time, whereas sociology studies human behaviors and social organization at a specific time.
Sociology is the study of the development, structure, interaction and behavior of groups of humans, and typically focuses on social relationships. Emile Durkheim, a 19th-century French academic, is considered the father of sociology. His research and the structural functionalism theoretical framework he developed led to the establishment of sociology as a legitimate branch of the social sciences in the early 20th century.
Anthropology is an extremely broad discipline. Physical anthropologists and archeologists use very different research techniques than cultural linguists, for example. In general, however, social or cultural anthropologists are more likely to use research methods such as participant-observation or cultural immersion, whereas sociologists are more likely to focus mainly on objective, or at least quantifiable, survey research.
While cultural anthropologists and sociologists use different theoretical frameworks and research methods, both study social institutions, including economic, educational, family, political and religious traditions, social stratification, cultural change and important social issues. Sociologists, however, approach their studies with a more positivist scientific rigor and believe their research produces facts rather than the structured descriptions produced by more ethnographically oriented cultural anthropologists.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: OOH -- Anthropologists and Archeologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: OOH -- Sociologists
- Middlebury College: Department of Sociology/Anthropology
- Elon University: Department of Anthropology & Sociology -- Frequently Asked Questions
- Bucknell University: Sociology & Anthropology
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images