UPSC » UPSC CSE Study Materials » Anthropology » Social-Cultural Anthropology

Social-Cultural Anthropology

Social anthropology is a subfield of cultural anthropology because of its intense interest in social behaviour and the structuring of social groupings.

Anthropology and sociology both have their roots in the nineteenth-century European quest for social science. In the continual fight between the drive for a generalising, rule-seeking science and the demand for a humanistic reflection of specific lives, sociocultural anthropology and sociology share a theoretical past.

According to sociocultural anthropology, anthropologists examine small-scale cultures, assume that those societies are self-sufficient and are usually outsiders (politically, ethnically, and economically) to the groups they study. Parts of these generalisations are correct. Because sociocultural anthropology is affiliated with archaeology and paleoanthropology, the long term and huge scale are never far from view. Ethnographies of industrialised civilisations begin with the microcosm but relate to bigger questions, spanning from ethnic minorities to corporate cultures. Let’s take a look at the study material notes on social-cultural anthropology.

What is Social Anthropology?

Social anthropology is a branch of anthropology that studies society and social institutions. A social anthropologist is interested in learning more about the social structure and the relationships that exist between different social institutions. Society, as we all know, is made up of many social institutions. Family, education, politics, religion, and the economy are the five pillars. Each institution has a certain purpose in society and helps keep the social order in one way or another. The role of these institutions, their nature, and their relationship to other institutions are all of great interest to social anthropologists.

What is Cultural Anthropology?

Unlike social anthropology, which is concerned with researching society, cultural anthropology is concerned with analysing a society’s culture. This could include research into behavioural patterns, language, customs, rituals, laws, ideals, and the arts, among other things. The cultural anthropologist is eager to learn about and grasp different cultures. As we all know, there are various types of societies in today’s world. Different cultures exist within these societies. These cultures are vastly diverse from one another, and they influence people’s lives in society.

Cultural anthropologists study these cultures. They research the culture’s unique characteristics, such as people’s specific rituals, and understands the subjective meaning that these rituals have for them. Then, using anthropological methodologies, they attempt to investigate this subjective interpretation objectively and scientifically.

Characteristics of Social and Cultural Anthropology

1. Focus

Social Anthropology: The emphasis is on social institutions, their interactions, and society as a whole.

Cultural Anthropology:  Rituals, customs, arts, language, beliefs, and culture as a whole are the focus.

2. Technique

Social Anthropology: Participant observation is the most common technique used in research.

Cultural Anthropology: Even in cultural anthropology, participant observation is the most common method.

3. Popularity

Social Anthropology: It is widespread in Britain.

Cultural Anthropology: It is general in the United States.

Current Issues

When analysing the history of anthropological theory, the strain between materialist and idealist approaches to culture is typically apparent. In today’s climate, this tension has split a few academic departments. The holistic four-fields approach that American anthropologists have long considered their signature is also hampered by research specialisation and employment market constraints. In addition, literary criticism, cultural studies, ethnic studies, and other allied subjects have pressed sociocultural anthropology within its traditional domain.

Current interests in the agency, power, the relative significance of social structures and human activity in culture development, the connections of ethnicity, gender, class and the historical construction of modern institutions and cultural representations are shared by sociocultural anthropology and sociology. Continuous input from linguistics, archaeology, and biological anthropology has prearranged anthropology with a deep perspective on the human condition in all of its interests, and its stream of theory is fed from these other sources of human condition knowledge.


The final point to make about anthropology is that it has always been a discipline with a great deal of diversity. Archaeological anthropology is a branch of anthropology that investigates ancient and historic human communities. Physical anthropology reveals mankind’s biological foundation, which enabled them to develop civilisation. Social-cultural anthropology explores the similarities and contrasts in the organisations of the world’s cultures. Linguistic anthropology examines languages cross-culturally from their inception.