What Is Social Anthropology?
What Is Social Anthropology?
The most common and basic definition of Anthropology is to say that Anthropology is the study of man across time and space. Anthropology deals with every aspect of human being. It not only studies human beings in present context but also studies human beings journey through the path of evolution from Pleistocene period till today’s globalised world and also tries to trace the future path. Anthropology studies man irrespective of any geographical boundary. It studies human being as a whole and also tries to study differences within it. Man is the most wonderful creature in the world with cultural, social, and habitational variation in it. Unlike any other species Homo sapiens represents a diverse population in itself in respect of culture.
Culture variation gives a diverse look to the same species Homo sapiens. Biologically defined Homo sapiens are an interbreeding population; but culturally man creates different rules for marriage. Same species does not contain interbreeding population. Cultural prohibition defines matting pattern. Likewise, biologically all the members of the same species i.e. Homo sapiens have equal potentialities in its individuals. But human being differentiates themselves on the basis of race. We can mention many such examples that convince us to define anthropology as a unique science to study man comprising all the differences and similarities within it. Anthropologists find out the differences and at the same time it tries to find out the general characteristics within the same species Homo Sapiens. Anthropology professes systematically to research all the manifestations of human being and human activity in a unified way.
Man live in society following a certain culture pattern. In different societies the culture norms differ. Generally speaking social anthropology deals with the study of this aspect of man. But, as a discipline, social anthropology has different meaning in different countries. Reflecting diversity and variation in human thought we find different thought surrounding social anthropology.
The term social anthropology is generally used in Great Britain and other commonwealth countries. With support from Prof. Claude Levi-Strauss, the term is also extensively used in France, Netherland and the Scandinavian countries. Social anthropology refers to different meaning in the countries like USA, England and the other countries of European continent. So, we often see a diverse nature referred by the term social anthropology in different countries. In Great Britain Anthropology refers to physical anthropology which studies biological aspect of man. In England social anthropology is understood as ethnology or sociology as in other countries of the European continent.
In short, in Europe itself social anthropology has two different meanings. On the other hand in USA, social anthropology is considered as a larger and comprehensive discipline. It covers up the study of man from different aspects. It not only considers man as a sociological being but also puts emphasis on the cultural aspect.
In nineteenth century, ‘ethnology’ was the term used instead of social or cultural anthropology. The Greek term ethos means race and logia means study. Thus, ethnology was referred to be the study of diverse behaviour of ethnic groups. Cultural distinction covered a major part of such study. Along with this, it also studied culture change. Sometimes, social anthropology is defined in the context of ethnology.
Ethnologists, who concentrate on social relations, such as family, and kinship, age groups, political organisation, law and economic activities (what is called social structure) is called social anthropology. Supporting the position of A.R. Radcliffe- Brown the English anthropologists denied the usefulness of historical studies in anthropology and concentrated on social structure. In this context, social anthropology is non historical in their view while ethnology is historical. Distinctly, social anthropology represents the thought following the British school which can rightly be defined as the study of social structure and social organisation.