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Sociology and Social Anthropology

Sociology and social anthropology had quite different origins. Sociology originated from philosophy of history, political thought and positive sciences while anthropology has descended from biology. In the earlier periods of their periods of their growth the two disciplines grew up in close cooperation with each other in terms of the concepts used, areas of interest and their methods of study as can be seen in the works of founders which cannot easily be assigned exclusively to either one of the disciplines.

The early convergence was followed by a period of extreme divergence in terms of their universe of study, areas of interest, methods of study and even the concepts employed. Social anthropologists tend to closely study small societies which are relatively unchanging and lacking in historical records such as Melanesia; on the other hand, sociologists often study parts of an existing society like family or social mobility. The methods employed by sociologists are loaded with values, and hence their conclusions are tinged with ethical considerations; on the other hand, social anthropologists describe and analyze in clinically neutral terms because they can place themselves as outsiders without being involved in values. For the social anthropologists the field is a small self-contained group of community; whereas, for the sociologists the field could be large-scale and impersonal organizations and processes.

Social anthropologists generally live in the community that they study in order to observe and record what they see. Their analysis is essentially qualitative and clinical. On the other hand, sociologists often rely on statistics and questionnaires and their analysis is often formal and quantitative. In spite of the obvious differences between the two in the 19th century, as stated above, there has been a good deal of convergence in modern times. The small units of study which the social anthropologists require are fast disappearing because of the influence of Western ideologies and technology. Placed in such a situation, both the social anthropologists and sociologists are concerned with the process of economic growth and social changes. Both the disciplines are equally useful in studying the African and Asian societies which are changing under the impact of the West. It is no longer the prerogative of sociologists to study advanced societies.

There is an increasing number of anthropological studies in advanced societies, like the studies of little community, kinship groups, etc. Some basic concepts such as structure, function, status, role, conflict, change and evaluation are used by both sociologists and social anthropologists. These feature differences indicate the interdependence of sociology and social anthropology in understanding social behavior. The works of Talcott Parsons and R.K Merton are attempts towards an adaptation of functionalist approach to study industrial societies and William White has adopted participant observation for the study of modern industrial society. Thus the disciplines are increasingly merging into each other.

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