Re: Anthro/Sociology

Greg Finnegan (finnegan@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU)
Wed, 21 Feb 1996 10:19:01 -0500

Several postings re the similarities/differences between anthropology=
sociology have focused mainly on the outcomes--what's been done--rather
than goals & methods. IMHO, as one who once taught in an unusually
harmonious joint department, the methods are what's different, not=
goals. Especially if one goes back to Durkheim & his era, he being=
a major
influence on both disciplines, the basic questions about the nature=
human beings in organized societies are not very, if at all, different.=
anthropology (as distinct from Durkheimian British social anthro.)=
interest itself in human origins and in archaeology as a means of=
collection, but, over-all, soc and anthro could pretty much agree=
on what
they wanted to know. The differences come in at the level of how=
& where
those fundamental questions get asked.

Anthropologists tended to work in non-western, small-scale communities.=
That threw our emphasis in the directions of accounting for cultural
variation (and fighting ethnocentrism is a crucially important cornerstone
of anthropology) and long-term, local research. We usually did NOT=
have to
worry about sample adequacy, because we usually studied the whole
community. (That ignores whether the community was representative=
anything but itself--a notion only worried about more recently.)=
Sociologists, for their part, mostly worked in their own, or very=
"modern," complex, industrial societies. Further, they mostly (and
especially in the origins of the field) worked in cities--the rise=
which, with what were perceived as associated "social problems",=
were what
stimulated much interest in the field. (It was no accident that=
both the
founding US dept. of soc., at U of Chicago, and Jane Addam's Hull=
were both in Chicago at the same time, one of great immigration and=
poverty.) =20

As a result of THEIR research settings, sociologists very early on=
had to
focus on the adequacy of their samples, and how one verified and=
that adequacy. If you can only study part of Chicago, you'd better=
about the relationship of that part to the whole. The consequence=
of this,
as one post put it, is that sociology nowadays does attract
number-crunching, statistically-minded sorts. Or, rather, it repells=
rest of us=8A But that difference, profound as it is, is not related=
fundamentals of 'social inquiry.' And a lot of the ferment, in various
directions, in anthropology in recent decades has resulted from some=
those same same sampling and verification, and observer-biases problems
being recognized as inherent in our field, too. Murdock & Co. aside,=
mostly have not found statistical solutions (or even recognized problems=
statistically expressed) in social anthro., but issues of intra-cultural
variation are another kind of 'sampling' problem. (if I can't dance,=
am I
still a member of a culture for which dance is a means of expression?=
smile) =20

It IS possible, tho' difficult, to teach one intro course to both=
(And try finding a textbook that covers foraging societies and industrial
ones in one overall, adequate, framework!) We do have prejudices--I=
anthro over soc when I was at the point of choice faced by the original
message in this thread in part because I could "read" anthropology,=
opposed to the turgid quality of much sociological prose. But the=
goals have more in common than most practitioners, caught up in day-to-day
'mechanical' problems of each displine, ever stop to recognize.

Gregory A. Finnegan, PhD
Associate Librarian for Public Services
and Head of Reference
Tozzer Library
Harvard University
21 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge MA 02138-2089
617-495-2253 fax 617-496-2741

"=8Ahave mercy on us all --Presbyterians and Pagans alike -- for=
we are all
somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."=
MOBY-DICK, chapter 17.