Social anthropology


Social anthropology is the dominant constituent
of anthropology throughout the United Kingdom and Commonwealth and much of Europe where
it is distinguished from cultural anthropology. In the USA, social anthropology is commonly
subsumed within cultural anthropology. In contrast to cultural anthropology, culture
and its continuity have been traditionally seen more as the dependent ‘variable’ by social
anthropology, embedded in its historical and social context, including its diversity of
positions and perspectives, ambiguities, conflicts, and contradictions of social life, rather
than the independent one. Topics of interest for social anthropologists
have included customs, economic and political organization, law and conflict resolution,
patterns of consumption and exchange, kinship and family structure, gender relations, childbearing
and socialization, religion, while present-day social anthropologists are also concerned
with issues of globalism, ethnic violence, gender studies, trans nationalism and local
experience, and the emerging cultures of cyberspace, and can also help with bringing opponents
together when environmental concerns come into conflict with economic developments.
British and American anthropologists including Gillian Tett and Karen Ho who studied Wall
Street provided an alternative explanation for the Financial crisis of 2007–2010 to
the technical explanations rooted in economic and political theory.
Differences among British, French, and American sociocultural anthropologies have diminished
with increasing dialogue and borrowing of both theory and methods. Social and cultural
anthropologists, and some who integrate the two, are found in most institutes of anthropology.
Thus the formal names of institutional units no longer necessarily reflect fully the content
of the disciplines these cover. Some, such as the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
changed their name to reflect the change in composition, others, such as Social Anthropology
at the University of Kent became simply Anthropology. Most retain the name under which they were
founded. Long-term qualitative research, including
intensive field studies has been traditionally encouraged in social anthropology rather than
quantitative analysis of surveys, questionnaires and brief field visits typically used by economists,
political scientists, and sociologists. Substantive focus and practice
Social anthropology is distinguished from subjects such as economics or political science
by its holistic range and the attention it gives to the comparative diversity of societies
and cultures across the world, and the capacity this gives the discipline to re-examine Euro-American
assumptions. It is differentiated from sociology, both in its main methods, and in its commitment
to the relevance and illumination provided by micro studies. It extends beyond strictly
social phenomena to culture, art, individuality, and cognition. Many social anthropologists
use quantitative methods, too, particularly those whose research touches on topics such
as local economies, demography, human ecology, cognition, or health and illness.
Specializations Specializations within social anthropology
shift as its objects of study are transformed and as new intellectual paradigms appear;
musicology and medical anthropology are examples of current, well-defined specialities.
More recent and currently emt|cognitive development]]; social and ethical understandings of novel
technologies; emergent forms of ‘the family’ and other new socialities modelled on kinship;
the ongoing social fall-out of the demise of state socialism; the politics of resurgent
religiosity; and analysis of audit cultures and accountability.
The subject has been enlivened by, and has contributed to, approaches from other disciplines,
such as philosophy, the history of science, psychoanalysis, and linguistics.
Ethical considerations The subject has both ethical and reflexive
dimensions. Practitioners have developed an awareness of the sense in which scholars create
their objects of study and the ways in which anthropologists themselves may contribute
to processes of change in the societies they study. An example of this is the ‘hawthorne
effect’, whereby those being studied may alter their behaviour in response to the knowledge
that they are being watched and studied. History
Social anthropology has historical roots in a number of 19th-century disciplines, including
ethnology, folklore studies, and Classics, among others. Its immediate precursor took
shape in the work of Edward Burnett Tylor and James George Frazer in the late 19th century
and underwent major changes in both method and theory during the period 1890-1920 with
a new emphasis on original fieldwork, long-term holistic study of social behavior in natural
settings, and the introduction of French and German social theory. Bronislaw Malinowski,
one of the most important influences on British social anthropology, emphasized long term
fieldwork in which anthropologists work in the vernacular and immerse themselves in the
daily practices of local people. This development was bolstered by Franz Boas’s introduction
of cultural relativism arguing that cultures are based on different ideas about the world
and can therefore only be properly understood in terms of their own standards and values. Museums such as the British Museum weren’t
the only site of anthropological studies: with the New Imperialism period, starting
in the 1870s, zoos became unattended “laboratories”, especially the so-called “ethnological exhibitions”
or “Negro villages”. Thus, “savages” from the colonies were displayed, often nudes,
in cages, in what has been called “human zoos”. For example, in 1906, Congolese pygmy Ota
Benga was put by anthropologist Madison Grant in a cage in the Bronx Zoo, labelled “the
missing link” between an orangutan and the “white race” — Grant, a renowned eugenicist,
was also the author of The Passing of the Great Race. Such exhibitions were attempts
to illustrate and prove in the same movement the validity of scientific racism, which first
formulation may be found in Arthur de Gobineau’s An Essay on the Inequality of Human Races.
In 1931, the Colonial Exhibition in Paris still displayed Kanaks from New Caledonia
in the “indigenous village”; it received 24 million visitors in six months, thus demonstrating
the popularity of such “human zoos”. Anthropology grew increasingly distinct from
natural history and by the end of the 19th century the discipline began to crystallize
into its modern form – by 1935, for example, it was possible for T.K. Penniman to write
a history of the discipline entitled A Hundred Years of Anthropology. At the time, the field
was dominated by ‘the comparative method’. It was assumed that all societies passed through
a single evolutionary process from the most primitive to most advanced. Non-European societies
were thus seen as evolutionary ‘living fossils’ that could be studied in order to understand
the European past. Scholars wrote histories of prehistoric migrations which were sometimes
valuable but often also fanciful. It was during this time that Europeans first accurately
traced Polynesian migrations across the Pacific Ocean for instance – although some of them
believed it originated in Egypt. Finally, the concept of race was actively discussed
as a way to classify – and rank – human beings based on difference.
Tylor and Frazer E.B. Tylor and James George Frazer are generally
considered the antecedents to modern social anthropology in Britain. Although Tylor undertook
a field trip to Mexico, both he and Frazer derived most of the material for their comparative
studies through extensive reading, not fieldwork, mainly the Classics, the work of the early
European folklorists, and reports from missionaries, travelers, and contemporaneous ethnologists.
Tylor advocated strongly for unilinealism and a form of “uniformity of mankind”. Tylor
in particular laid the groundwork for theories of cultural diffusionism, stating that there
are three ways that different groups can have similar cultural forms or technologies: “independent
invention, inheritance from ancestors in a distant region, transmission from one race
[sic] to another.” Tylor formulated one of the early and influential
anthropological conceptions of culture as “that complex whole, which includes knowledge,
belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by
[humans] as [members] of society.” However, as Stocking notes, Tylor mainly concerned
himself with describing and mapping the distribution of particular elements of culture, rather
than with the larger function, and he generally seemed to assume a Victorian idea of progress
rather than the idea of non-directional, multilineal cultural change proposed by later anthropologists.
Tylor also theorized about the origins of religious beliefs in human beings, proposing
a theory of animism as the earliest stage, and noting that “religion” has many components,
of which he believed the most important to be belief in supernatural beings.
Frazer, a Scottish scholar with a broad knowledge of Classics, also concerned himself with religion,
myth, and magic. His comparative studies, most influentially in the numerous editions
of The Golden Bough, analyzed similarities in religious belief and symbolism globally.
Neither Tylor nor Frazer, however, were particularly interested in fieldwork, nor were they interested
in examining how the cultural elements and institutions fit together. The Golden Bough
was abridged drastically in subsequent editions after his first.
Malinowski and the British School Toward the turn of the 20th century, a number
of anthropologists became dissatisfied with this categorization of cultural elements;
historical reconstructions also came to seem increasingly speculative to them. Under the
influence of several younger scholars, a new approach came to predominate among British
anthropologists, concerned with analyzing how societies held together in the present,
and emphasizing long-term immersion fieldwork. Cambridge University financed a multidisciplinary
expedition to the Torres Strait Islands in 1898, organized by Alfred Cort Haddon and
including a physician-anthropologist, William Rivers, as well as a linguist, a botanist,
and other specialists. The findings of the expedition set new standards for ethnographic
description. A decade and a half later, the Polish anthropology
student, Bronisław Malinowski, was beginning what he expected to be a brief period of fieldwork
in the old model, collecting lists of cultural items, when the outbreak of the First World
War stranded him in New Guinea. As a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire resident on
a British colonial possession, he was effectively confined to New Guinea for several years.
He made use of the time by undertaking far more intensive fieldwork than had been done
by British anthropologists, and his classic ethnography, Argonauts of the Western Pacific
advocated an approach to fieldwork that became standard in the field: getting “the native’s
point of view” through participant observation. Theoretically, he advocated a functionalist
interpretation, which examined how social institutions functioned to satisfy individual
needs. 1920s-1940 Modern social anthropology was founded in
Britain at the London School of Economics and Political Science following World War
I. Influences include both the methodological revolution pioneered by Bronisław Malinowski’s
process-oriented fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands of Melanesia between 1915 and 1918
and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown’s theoretical program for systematic comparison that was based on
a conception of rigorous fieldwork and the structure-functionalist conception of Durkheim’s
sociology. Other intellectual founders include W. H. R. Rivers and A. C. Haddon, whose orientation
reflected the contemporary Parapsychologies of Wilhelm Wundt and Adolf Bastian, and Sir
E. B. Tylor, who defined anthropology as a positivist science following Auguste Comte.
Edmund Leach defined social anthropology as a kind of comparative micro-sociology based
on intensive fieldwork studies. Scholars have not settled a theoretical orthodoxy on the
nature of science and society, and their tensions reflect views which are seriously opposed. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown also published a seminal
work in 1922. He had carried out his initial fieldwork in the Andaman Islands in the old
style of historical reconstruction. However, after reading the work of French sociologists
Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, Radcliffe-Brown published an account of his research that
paid close attention to the meaning and purpose of rituals and myths. Over time, he developed
an approach known as structural functionalism, which focused on how institutions in societies
worked to balance out or create an equilibrium in the social system to keep it functioning
harmoniously. Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown’s influence
stemmed from the fact that they, like Boas, actively trained students and aggressively
built up institutions that furthered their programmatic ambitions. This was particularly
the case with Radcliffe-Brown, who spread his agenda for “Social Anthropology” by teaching
at universities across the British Commonwealth. From the late 1930s until the postwar period
appeared a string of monographs and edited volumes that cemented the paradigm of British
Social Anthropology. Famous ethnographies include The Nuer, by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard,
and The Dynamics of Clanship Among the Tallensi, by Meyer Fortes; well-known edited volumes
include African Systems of Kinship and Marriage and African Political Systems.
Post WW II trends Following World War II, sociocultural anthropology
as comprised by the fields of ethnography and ethnology diverged into an American school
of cultural anthropology while social anthropology diversified in Europe by challenging the principles
of structure-functionalism, absorbing ideas from Claude Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism
and from Max Gluckman’s Manchester school, and embracing the study of conflict, change,
urban anthropology, and networks. Together with many of his colleagues at the Rhodes-Livingstone
Institute and students at Manchester University, collectively known as the Manchester School,
took BSA in new directions through their introduction of explicitly Marxist-informed theory, their
emphasis on conflicts and conflict resolution, and their attention to the ways in which individuals
negotiate and make use of the social structural possibilities. During this period Gluckman
was also involved in a dispute with American anthropologist Paul Bohannan on ethnographic
methodology within the anthropological study of law. He believed that indigenous terms
used in ethnographic data should be translated into Anglo-American legal terms for the benefit
of the reader. The Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth was founded in
1946. In Britain, anthropology had a great intellectual
impact, it “contributed to the erosion of Christianity, the growth of cultural relativism,
an awareness of the survival of the primitive in modern life, and the replacement of diachronic
modes of analysis with synchronic, all of which are central to modern culture.”
Later in the 1960s and 1970s, Edmund Leach and his students Mary Douglas and Nur Yalman,
among others, introduced French structuralism in the style of Lévi-Strauss.
In countries of the British Commonwealth, social anthropology has often been institutionally
separate from physical anthropology and primatology, which may be connected with departments of
biology or zoology; and from archaeology, which may be connected with departments of
Classics, Egyptology, and the like. In other countries, anthropologists have also found
themselves institutionally linked with scholars of folklore, museum studies, human geography,
sociology, social relations, ethnic studies, cultural studies, and social work. British
anthropology has continued to emphasize social organization and economics over purely symbolic
or literary topics. 1980s to present
A European Association of Social Anthropologists was founded in 1989 as a society of scholarship
at a meeting of founder members from fourteen European countries, supported by the Wenner-Gren
Foundation for Anthropological Research. The Association seeks to advance anthropology
in Europe by organizing biennial conferences and by editing its academic journal, Social
Anthropology/Anthropologies Social. Departments of Social Anthropology at different Universities
have tended to focus on disparate aspects of the field.
Departments of Social Anthropology exist in universities around the world. The field of
social anthropology has expanded in ways not anticipated by the founders of the field,
as for example in the subfield of structure and dynamics.
Anthropologists associated with social anthropology Famous students of social anthropology
Nick Clegg – Leader of the UK Liberal Democratic Party and Deputy Prime Minister of the United
Kingdom Hugh Laurie – Actor – Best known for role
of doctor in House Thandie Newton – Actress
Alexandra Shulman – Editor of British edition of Vogue
David Attenborough – Wildlife TV presenter Charles, Prince of Wales – Heir to the British
throne Darren Aronofsky – Film director
Amitav Ghosh – Author Mick Hucknall – Lead singer of Simply Red
Derek Acorah – Ghost Whisperer Arnab Goswami – Indian journalist who is the
Editor-in-Chief and News anchor of the Indian news channel Times Now.
See also Cultural Anthropology
Ethnology List of important publications in anthropology
Rajamandala Sociology
Notes References
Benchmark Statement Anthropology Further reading
Malinowski, Bronislaw: The Trobriand Islands Malinowski, Bronislaw: Argonauts of the Western
Pacific Malinowski, Bronislaw: The Sexual Life of
Savages in North-Western Melanesia Malinowski, Bronislaw: Coral Gardens and Their
Magic: A Study of the Methods of Tilling the Soil and of Agricultural Rites in the Trobriand
Islands Leach, Edmund: Political systems of Highland
Burma. London: G. Bell. Leach, Edmund: Social Anthropology
Eriksen, Thomas H.:, pp. 926–929 in The Social Science Encyclopedia Social Anthropology.
ISBN 0-7102-0008-0. OCLC 11623683.  Kuper, Adam: Anthropology and Anthropologists:
The Modern British School. ISBN 0-415-11895-6. OCLC 32509209. 
External links MASN- The Moving Anthropology Student Network
– website offers tutorials, information on the subject, discussion-forums and a large
link-collection for all interested scholars of social anthropology