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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Sociology and Social Anthropology: what's the difference?

The Royal Anthropological Institute has started an interesting website to promote the discipline. I was struck by what it had to say about social and cultural anthropology. I can't detect any serious intellectual differences between the story it tells about what anthropology is and the story that a sociologist would tell about what sociology is about. Of course the division of the intellectual landscape is to some degree arbitrary, but I can't help thinking that from time to time we should do some spring cleaning and tidy things up a bit. I know this sounds ultra rationalist as well as a tad dirigiste but one of the consequences of not doing this is firstly that people ostensibly doing the same things do not talk to each other and secondly that ecological niches evolve  which - to the detriment of good science -  insulate tribal members from  cross-border criticism. 
Here is a wild speculation: it could be the case that qualitative work in sociology would be more rigorous if it was routinely subject to the scrutiny of colleagues trained in the anthropological tradition. It could likewise be the case that much of what passes for the anthroplogical study of industrialised or post-industrialised societies would benefit from the the scrutiny of people with a more quantitative turn of mind. Just a thought (and I am, of course, aware that some universities already follow the path of enlightenment by having joint sociology and anthropology departments).

1 comment:

Primula Monkey said...

The notion of some universities having joint sociology and anthropology departments on the basis of the commonalities between those disciplines(and presumably to facilitate the development of multi-disciplnary approaches with all the cross-fertilization that presumably entails) as opposed to dull stuff like rationalising back office functions and resources etc., is just too lovely to challenge.