Anthropology and Sociology

What Are the Fields of Anthropology and Sociology All About?

Anthropology is the study of all aspects of humankind, in various times and places. Most courses in our department focus on sociocultural anthropology, which looks at how societies are organized on the basis of shared ideas (or culture). But anthropology also includes a biological subfield (the study of what we are as a species and how we got to be that way), archaeology (the study of society through examining material products), and linguistics (the study of language).

The two fields also share many research methods (like interviews, and observations made in everyday settings). Sociologists do tend more often to favour surveys, which provide information that can be put into numerical or “quantitative” form. This is partly because sociologists also emphasize large-scale studies of large-scale industrial societies, especially our own. Sociocultural anthropologists also study our own society and others like it, but they usually focus on smaller groupings (neighbourhoods, workplaces, etc.) within the whole.

Anthropologists pay more attention than others (including sociologists) to small-scale, “exotic” societies, and to comparing a broad range of very different ones. However, both anthropology and sociology study differences between groups (by “race,” cultural background, occupation, gender, etc.) within societies.

Why Study Anthropology and Sociology?

There are two good reasons. First, Arts courses are meant to broaden our minds and help us appreciate the workings of our world. And, after all, virtually everything we do takes place in social groups, be it science, business, even breaking laws. Anthropology and Sociology raise important questions about the ways we collectively think and act. In doing so, they make us more aware of social prejudices and make us more open-minded about others.

Second, these fields are relevant to various kinds of work. In the past, most anthropologists and sociologists worked as professors, but that is changing rapidly. Now, sociologists work in many settings: in industry, government, and social services, etc. Both anthropology and sociology prepare people to do research in social settings, to design and assess social policy, to guide the implementation of programs and policies, and do various kinds of organizational and social- service work. Since they provoke social sensitivity, they provide excellent preparation for work in our increasingly multicultural world.

Like other Arts fields, anthropology and sociology programs do not offer training for specific jobs. But both are helpful in accessing and succeeding in many careers. Many Arts degree graduates these days, go on to take specific vocational training programs. Both fields are relevant to further studies in a wide variety of professional programs, such as community development and other social-work specialties, criminology, health promotion, journalism, and law. Both anthropology and sociology can be used as “teachables” for entry into education programs (though some restrictions apply, and students should check the requirements of the B.Ed. programs at the universities they are interested in attending). In short, anthropology and sociology are useful for any field that requires an understanding of social issues and social-problem solving.