Difference between Anthropology and Sociology??

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Sociology arose as the self-consciousness of the modern middle class (Germany, France and the US), anthropology as the self-consciousness of empire (Britain, France and the US) and of nationalism (most of Europe). I am not joking.

OK, as for today, there has been a move towards each other. Anthropologists rely on the same classical social theory, many sociologists use ethno-methods. They no longer divide the world between them (rich vs poor countries, West vs Others), but each works anywhere. Anthropologists have fallen back on a descriptive fieldwork-based ethnography as their tool of trade. Sociologists tend to be more formal, more conceptual, methodlogically accurate and yes quantitative. But neither is in good shape right now because they have become too specialised and self-referential, having lost the broad vision of the world that launched them.

They have always had a tense relationship, certainly. In the 90s sociologists, in particular Prof. Anthony Giddens (last seen advising Tony Blair on his 'middle way'), were predicting that anthropology had become a dead end. Since I teach in a University that doesn't even have a sociology department I might say that it is other way round. Of course you could also ask what is the difference between anthropology and cultural studies or postcolonial studies or similar new topics. Quite significantly, academic anthropology has talked through its colonial past in a way that other academic subjects have not because they simply don't recognise this as necessary.


Of course sociology is a little bit (around thirty to forty years) older than anthropology as an academic discipline (anthropology is still struggling with its disciplinary status). One interesting thing is that anthropologists have always (until the last two decades) drawn their core shared models from sociology, but with different figures holding centre stage at different times. Hence for anthropology 1920-50 the influential figure is Durkheim, from about 1950 it is Weber, from about 1970 it is Marx until about 1985 when post-modernism happened.


I would say that the most significant/relevant sociologist for present day condition of anthropology is potentially Georg Simmel, but it is unlikely that many others will share that view since Deleuze and Foucault are significantly more popular reference points. Either way, despite its debt to sociology, anthropology has produced its own distinctive figures some of whom are extreme in their differences of personality and theoretical incline - Malinowski, Mary Douglas, Evans-Pritchard, Claude Levi-Strauss, Jack Goody, Marilyn Strathern.


As I now look in from the margins at both disciplines, it seems to me that the major difference is in immediate forebearers and what students read. Once you get past the DWMS (Durkheim, Weber, Marx, Simmel) shared ancestors, we mainly don't read the same books. The West and the Rest, quantitative versus qualitative distinctions are now part of what sociologist Andrew Abbott labels in a book of the same title The Chaos of Disciplines. Quantitative versus qualitative, in particular,is now one of the fractal distinctions that run through all the social science disciplines. 

Generally, sociology is prescriptive, while anthropology is descriptive.  The former prescribes solutions to problems, while the latter just describes them.  


There's an element of arbitrariness in these sorts of boundary marking exercises, but I still feel that there's something to Levi-Strauss' claim that 'sociology seeks to advance the social science of the observer, anthropology seeks to advance that of what is observed...the stand point of the natives themselves.'

Would be interested in hearing more thoughts about this, if you or anyone feels like it...

John McCreery said:

Quantitative versus qualitative, in particular,is now one of the fractal distinctions that run through all the social science disciplines. 

Rachelle, how deeply would you like to go? I ask because I took the thought from Andrew Abbott's Chaos of Disciplines, which is, like most of the this sociologist's work, both cranky and profound in a way that I, myself, find immensely stimulating. To give you a sense of this flavor I enjoy, allow me to quote a bit.


"The mechanism I propose is in the first instance purely cultural; my account is, in that sense, internalist. by contrast, most current views of intellectual succession are externalist; knowledge is somehow wed to power and power propels chanage. But I shall treat both sociology and social science as more or less autonomous bodies of thought under their own rules. I do not challenge the foundational uncertainties of modern epistemology; there is indeed not one sociology but many. But the way those sociologies interact betrays a common pattern, a universal knowledge upon whose terrain the local knowledges interact...." [emphasis added] (p. 4)


"More broadly, this is not a book about the sociology of academic disciplines, but a book using the example of the sociology of academic disciplines to set forth an argument that is much more general. The true intellectual sources of my views on symbolic systems lie in the theory of culture as it was before it was overrun by the textual glitterati. I grew on the Cassirer-Langer-Mead philosophy of knowledge, the Kuhnian sociology of science, the Marxist theory of ideology, and the classical tradition of social and cultural anthropology from Malinowski to the early Geertz. But as the book before you will argue, these are just my personal footnotes for what are in fact generally available ideas... (footnote, p. 4)


These remarks suggest the background from which the idea was extracted. How committed are you to digging more deeply?


There is a lot of methodological crossover between sociology and anthropology, especially when it comes to ethongraphic methods, which are also favoured by other subjects such as human geography. You coud argue that both sociology and anthropology could equally draw from the same literature. I think scholars use what they personally engage with, and since most anthropology is produced in academic departments, institutional influence also matters. I tend towards philosphical literature and I see anthropology as an exercise which interprets philospohy in the real world. (A view which is largely derived from the sort of anthropology I practice which is less about some other people/place but is about demystifying everyday practice "at home")   For me, I would add to Philip Swift's quote from Levi-Strauss to say that while sociology is concerned with society- which is the representation of the relationships between people, anthropology is concerned with the people and how they perceive those relationships.

Elaine, I find myself puzzled by what both Lévi-Strauss and you have to say. Neither comment fits the way I first encountered cultural anthropology in an American four-field (physical, cultural, linguistic, archeological) context nor the way I was taught to do social anthropology by Victor Turner. In both these contexts people and how they perceive their relationships are one, but only one, vital source of data—the kind that Turner labeled "native exegesis." The anthropologist's job was to examine the native exegesis in a context in which other kinds of data, direct observation and information from other sources, were equally important. It was recognized that, like the anthropologist, the subjects of research have their own biases and blind spots. The other data is important to correct the biases and fill in the blind spots of both. Indeed, Turner argued, our task is not to turn to one type of data or another as "the" explanation of the others; but instead to construct an ethnographic image in which all would play a part. 

From this perspective, anthropology's primary difference from sociology lies in the greater salience accorded to personal observation and extended conversations with those among whom the anthropologist spends a more extended period of time than the sociologist who, in a prototypical example, makes arrangements to have a questionnaire administered to a thousand subjects, whom she neither sees nor interacts with directly. 

This difference is not, however, an absolute one. Turner himself often cited the work of the 1930s Chicago School sociologists W.I Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, whose Polish Peasant in America, was based on careful analysis of letters written by immigrants, arguably better data than field notes  jotted down by a non-native anthropologist who, even after a year or more in an ethnographic field site, is likely to have at best a shaky command of the language spoken by his subjects.

John, I don't necessarily think what I have said differs much from what you are saying, except perhaps in terms of clarity. I probably tend towards an intrepretive approach though, having studied moreof what Geertz had to say than Turner. My stated view is based on trying to understand "consumer culture" and the person/ individual, and thus my reading of Marilyn:

The whole person is held to be a
substantial and visible entity. The environment, on the other hand,
like society, is regularly construed as existing in the abstract, for it
cannot be seen as a whole. We may concretize the environment
through examples of its parts, as uterus or as trees and mountains,
as we may concretize society through referring to groups and
institutions... When Euro-Americans think of more than one person, they are
faced with the disjunction of unique individuals and overcome this
in the notion that individuals "relate" to one another. What lies
between them are relationships, so that society may be thought of
as the totality of made relationships. (Page 586)

(Strathern, M: New literary History, 22 (3) pp 581- 601)

Developing this, then, by studying a "society" consisting of made relationships there is a difference between focus on the relationships themselves, and the entities which made the relations, whether they are even finite or fluid- a matter of cultural discourse. I see Sociology, and sociologists I know, beginning from the premise that society is there, a tangible, concretised thing observable through institutions and persons are non-negotiable parts of them. In such cases, these conglomerations- which are etic- may as well be arbitrary as one will do for another depending on a scholar's particular line of enquiry. As you say anthropology accords a greater salience to personal observation, even to the point of deconstructing what the personal consists of, and we tend towards explanations which acknowledge shifting contexts (I think that's a book?). This is where I cross over to philosophical texts and the western classical tradition, which I acknowledge is a literature possibly more appropriate to my own research interests than perhaps another anthropologist who is less concerned with the occidental world-view.


I do not read a lot of sociology, which is why I can't go further than the prototypical example that you give either. However a lot of what I do read has turned lately to ethnography, and questions of positionality in the research process (which I welcome), whilst retaining a set of culturally-given ideas about what persons are.

regards, Elaine

Elaine, let me clarify a bit. To me, the classic binaries society/individual, structure/agency,emic/etic are all inherently suspect. Their binary structure reeks of attempts to reduce complexity to simple oppositions. One thing I like about Turner's approach is that it is at least trinary, both far more open and far more empirically grounded. Native exegesis is simply what people tell us. Observations are what we see, hear, taste, smell or touch for ourselves. Other information is things like hut diagrams, maps and census data, experience-near abstractions constructed by drawing, counting or taking other measurements. Our job is to transform data into knowledge, classically in analytic or narrative forms, increasingly in video, performance art, network diagrams or computer simulations. If there is one basic assumption here, it is, to paraphrase Marx, that humans make history but not under conditions of their own choosing. There are both freedom to choose and to act and constraints on choice and action. 

Thus, an example from my own research. The networks formed by advertising creatives who produce winning ads in Japan have all the predictable features of relatively large networks in which average degree is greater than 1: degree distributions, e.g., in the case where degree indicates the number of winning ads with which a creator is associated, follow power laws and produce networks with a few highly connected individuals and a great many less well connected. This pattern, predictable from simple, random network models, is found not only in human networks. Well-documented instances include the Internet, the Worldwide Web, international trade patterns, power grids, airline networks, predator-prey networks in a wide variety of ecologies, and protein cascades in cell biology. That this pattern exists appears to be, like the law of gravity, a law of nature. I am not surprised, therefore, to find that a few individuals are, in directly measurable terms, central to my networks. 

I am still curious, however, how they got there. A two-hour interview with one of these stars suggests a pattern that I have experienced on a far lower level myself. An individual gets lucky and has the talent and temperament to take advantage of the opportunities he or she encounters. Critical moments often involve assistance from people not nearly as central in my network diagrams. In this case, Sasaki Hiroshi, the winner of more creative awards than anyone else in Japanese advertising history, points to Ansai Toshio, the TV commercial planner with whom he worked on one of Japan's most durable advertising campaigns. The copy, attributed to Sasaki, is Sou da, Kyoto he ikou (Why not, let's go to Kyoto). Ansai confirms Sasaki's story of how this famous campaign was created. Sasaki and another copywriter had spent several months coming up with carefully crafted ideas that weren't quite right. In a manner I find familiar, having been a copywriter myself, they have become increasingly twisted and stuck struggling to find something clever and original. Then, one day, Ansai, the TV commercial planner who has been developing the storyboards, says, "Isn't the basic message, let's go to Kyoto?" Sasaki says, "Why not?" He notes how well the whole thing sounds in Japanese, "Why not? Let's go to Kyoto." A famous campaign is born. Later, a noted advertising critic, Amano Yukichi, suggests that Sou da, the bit translated here as "Why not?" is what Japanese say to themselves when they suddenly remember something they have forgotten—in this case that Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, is a great place to visit. I mention this to Ansai, who roles his eyes. He doesn't have a lot of use for Amano's interpretive gesture. "I just wanted to get the commercial made," he says. 

Stepping back from these conversations and looking at them in historical perspective, I realize how they capture an important moment in a tale that begins with the formation of the Tokyo Copywriters Club in an effort to win professional status for copywriters, whose role was originally very much second fiddle to the art directors, and culminates in a brief glorious moment in the early 1980s when copywriters were celebrities, regarded as geniuses who produced words with literally magical powers. Already, however, TV was becoming a more important medium than print and the the TV planners' focus was music and imagery, with copy reduced to a few words quickly spoken to drive home the point of the imagery. A few years later, complaints about the deterioration of copy would become a pervasive meme in the advertising trade press.

This image that I am trying to construct is still far from complete. But I hope I have given you an idea of where my Turnerian inspiration has led me, to what I hope will be a genuinely thick description, one thick enough to incorporate what individuals have told me as well as what I myself have observed and what I have learned from both social network models and historical archives. 

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