Social anthropology is also called cultural anthropology.This is the discipline that studies the diversity of ways of living and thinking in different human societies.Anthropology deals with both the biological characteristics that make us human (such as physiology, genetics, history and evolution of nutrition) and social aspects (such as language, culture, politics, family and religion .
Professor Evans-Pritchard of Oxford University has put it this way. “ Social anthropology . . . studies … social behavior, generally in institutionalized forms, such as the family, kinship systems, political organization, legal procedures. religious cults, and the like, and the relations between such institutions ; and it studies them either in contemporaneous societies or in historical societies for which there is adequate information of the kind to make such studies feasible.”
The social anthropologist uses much the same body of facts as the ethnologist, but for a different purpose. His aim is not to reconstruct the movements of peoples and the diffusion of culture but to understand any piece of social behavior as “ part of the whole social life of the people ” at the time at which he is studying them.
Primitive Peoples In Social Anthropology
What kind of society does the anthropologist study? Theoretically, he does not limit himself to any kind of society, and anthropological studies have been made in Japan, Ireland, the U.S.A., and other countries, among technically advanced peoples. Up to date, however, the great majority of anthropological works have concerned themselves with what are called “ primitive peoples.” The word “ primitive ” unfortunately carries unpleasant overtones of inferiority, but no more satisfactory word has come into common use.
When “ primitive ” is used in these Lessons it is not intended to imply inferiority;it means,simply, that the society so described is small in scale, that its numbers are relatively few, its territory small, its range of social contacts limited, and its economy and technology simple when compared with modern industrial societies.
One of the reasons for paying so much attention to this kind of society is its simplicity in social relations. This makes it easier to see the society as a whole and to understand how its different groups and institutions fit together. Where social relations are relatively simple it is easier to assess the importance of any piece of social behavior.
Then again, it is easier to be objective about societies which are very different from our own and in which we are not ourselves involved. A third reason is that at the present day most of these societies are changing very rapidly and it is desirable to record them while some of their most important features are still recognizable.
Bearing in mind Evans-Pritchard’s definition of the aims of the social anthropologist we can now go on to consider some of the topics which have attracted attention. In doing so it will be found that customs and habits which at first sight are absurd and bizarre seem not unreasonable when more is known about the social life of the people who practice them.