What is the difference between sociology and anthropology?

Answer by Monika Kothari:

These two fields are usually considered to be quite similar, and are sometimes offered as one program at universities. While their purposes and methodology are historically a bit different, there's been more crossover between anthropology and sociology lately. So while these are widely regarded as the basic differences between them, it's entirely possible for anthropologists to quantitative methods and sociologists to use qualitative methods, etc.

Both fields are social sciences that study human beings and human behavior.


  • Driving question: What is society, and how does it shape and reflect human nature?
  • Emphasis on society and its origins and development (social classes, institutions and structures, social movements)
  • Has its historical basis in studying industrialized Western societies ("us")
  • Quantitative methodology (survey & sampling) – viewed as a harder social science
  • Macro-level focus – studies how the larger society and social trends affect individuals, families, and communities
  • More oriented towards solving problems (e.g. housing, welfare, etc.)
  • Incorporates economics and statistics to a larger degree


  • Driving questions: What does it mean to be human? How do humans behave and why?
  • Emphasis on culture and its physical and social characteristics (kinship, language, religion, gender, art, etc.)
  • Has its historical basis in studying non-Western cultures or "the other" ("them")
  • Qualitative methodology (ethnography) – viewed as a softer social science
  • Micro-level focus – studies how individuals, families, and communities engage with the larger society and social trends
  • More oriented towards human understanding and the "bigger picture"
  • Incorporates material/physical culture (archaeology, biophysical evidence)

Aspects of these two fields are remarkably similar, and growing increasingly so. In fact, modern social anthropologists are beginning to look at Western cultures, while sociologists are beginning to apply anthropological methods to their work. But this is the most basic summary I can give without getting muddied up in the theories that shape and drive critical thought and analysis in each field.

What is the difference between sociology and anthropology?


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