Studies of sociology and anthropology have been mixed as cultural anthropologists have tried to make comparisons between various societies and cultures. Identifying cultural characteristics became more difficult during the 20th century in response to two world wars. At the beginning of the 21st century, globalization had blurred even more the lines that were previously different between particular cultures, as the affairs of nations became more intertwined with those of others.
One area in which anthropology and sociology have joined forces is the study of refugees. Approximately 140 million people entered the ranks of refugees in the 20th century. Many refugees left their homes because of war and political violence. Others relocated to escape the wrath of nature as droughts, floods, tidal waves, and earthquakes ravaged their homelands. Studies have revealed that around 90% of all refugees remain in the first relocation zone. While large numbers of refugees, particularly those who leave voluntarily, will be assimilated into the cultures of their adopted lands, others will remain in refugee camps in tents or barracks,
After World War I, the newly formed League of Nations oversaw the relocation of war-displaced refugees. The end of World War II witnessed a shift in this responsibility to the Displaced Persons Branch of the Allied Expeditionary Forces of the Supreme Headquarters. The lives, rights and basic needs of refugees were protected by international law. In 1951, the responsibility for supervising refugees changed again when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created at the Geneva Convention on Refugees. In the early 21st century, UNHCR was responsible for some 17 million refugees worldwide, mostly from Africa and Asia. Many of the refugees under UNHCR protection are unaccompanied children. These children present new challenges to the cultural anthropologists who study them, as well as to the organisms responsible for their well-being.
After World War I and World War II, several scholars from various disciplines turned their attention to refugee studies in trying to develop a research framework that would affect policy decisions. In 1939, the publication of a special issue on refugees in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences served to focus attention on the legitimacy of refugee studies as an academic endeavor. In 1950, in the years after World War II, the Association for the Study of the World Refugee Problem was founded in Liechtenstein, followed by the creation of UNHCR the following year.
In 1981, the International Migration Review called for comparative and interdisciplinary studies on refugees. Seven years later, the Journal of Refugee Studies was founded to provide a comprehensive forum for academic research in this field. Since its inception, 22.5% of contributors to the Journal of Refugee Studies have been anthropologists, and 18% have been sociologists. That same year, in response to growing interest in refugee studies within anthropology, the American Archaeological Association established the Committee on Refugees and Immigrants as a subgroup of the General Division of Antiquity. Over the next 6 years, the number of anthropologists involved in refugee studies increased significantly.
While anthropologists in the United States developed cultural anthropology, the British developed social anthropology. Today, despite the fact that there are still departments of social anthropology in Britain and other parts of the world, social anthropology existed as a distinct discipline only from the early 1920s to the early 1970s. Historically, the Social anthropologists rejected evolutionary anthropology as speculative rather than scientific and tended to study a society at a certain point in time. Social anthropologists focused on social organization, particularly kinship. Until recently, they did not deal with history and psychology as much as cultural anthropologists.
Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) and AR Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955) were the two main figures in developing social anthropology. Malinowski developed the functionalist approach, and Radcliffe-Brown developed structural functionalism. Influenced by French sociological thought, social anthropologists examined social institutions. In particular, Emile Durkheim’s (1858-1917) organic vision of society influenced social anthropology. This approach described society as an organism in which different parts of society work to maintain it. This led to a holistic approach, which said that no institution in society could be viewed in isolation from any other institution. Social anthropology took hold in the British Empire.
Malinowski developed the method of social anthropology, ethnography, during World War I, when he conducted intensive field research in the Trobriand Islands of Melanesia for 2 years. Intensive field work, where the anthropologist lives among an exotic people, became a hallmark of social anthropology. Malinowski’s functionalism focused on human biological and social needs, ideas that followed those of WHR Rivers (1864-1922). He said that people had primary needs for sex, shelter, and nutrition and that people produced culture to meet these needs and other needs that resulted from these primary needs. While his theory has lost popularity, his fieldwork method has become the standard of anthropology. Malinowski wrote many books based on his fieldwork, the most famous of which is Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). Early works based on Malinowski’s approach include Raymond Firth’s We the Tikopia (1936) and Reo Fortune’s Sorcerer’s of Dobu (1937). Subsequent scholars criticized such ethnographies because the better they explained a particular aspect of society in relation to the whole of society, the more difficult that aspect became cross-culturally compared.
Radcliffe-Brown’s structural functionalism used Durkheim’s ideas to a greater extent than Malinowski’s, and Radcliffe-Brown suggested that social anthropology should be called “comparative sociology.” He got his insights from the social fabric of Lewis Henry Morgan, Henry Maine and their teacher WH Rivers. Radcliffe-Brown developed a more organic functionalism than Malinowski. He made the analogy that the people of a society are like the parts of a human body. Social anthropologists who followed this analogy spoke of kinship systems, political systems, economic systems, and other systems, all of which worked to maintain the social structure of a society. They wrote about how each of these systems influenced the other, and when one changed, the others also changed. So, Some social anthropologists talked about how witchcraft beliefs are linked to social control and, as Durkheim said, the religion you belong to correlates with the possibility of suicide. Examples of ethnographies that combined Malinowski’s method of fieldwork with Radcliffe-Brown’s theoretical approach include Gregory Bateson’s Naven (1936) and EE Evans-Prichard’s Witchcraft, Magic, and Oracles Among the Azande (1937).
Early social anthropologists focused on social relationships in terms of status and social roles. Social status is the different positions that a person has in a society. Each society has different social statuses than a person can have in a society, and there are behaviors associated with these statuses. Social roles are the behaviors associated with social status. They involve how people relate to each other in terms of their status, such as how a father relates to his children, a supervisor relates to his staff, or a boss relates to his followers. When people react together in relation to social roles, they define their social relationships.
Henrika Kuklick points to another aspect of social anthropology; it was tied to colonial rule, and this influenced the way people wrote ethnographies. Most of the social anthropologists described the societies they studied as harmonious and static. Social anthropologists, for various reasons, generally concentrated on egalitarian societies and wrote how consensus was the rule in egalitarian societies. She uses Evans-Pritchard’s writings in the Nuer to make this point, noting that Evans-Pritchard’s accounts show that some Nuer prophets had considerable power and that leopard-skin chiefs also had power, but Evans-Pritchard minimizes This power.
In the 1940s and early 1950s, the focus of social anthropology shifted to the study of social structure, the relationship between groups. The most important works of this period were EE Evans-Pritchard’s The Nuer (1940), and African Political Systems (1940), which was influenced by the classification systems of Lewis Henry Morgan and Henry Maine. In The Nuer, Evans-Prichard took a more cultural point of view than most previous social anthropologists, in that he said that structures were cognitive maps of society, not actual social relations. Then, in the mid-1950s, some social anthropologists began to pay more attention to how society changed. This was reflected in Edmund Leach’s approach, which was mainly influenced by Malinowski, and in Max Gluckman’s approach to conflict, which was mainly influenced by Radcliffe-Brown and Karl Marx. The main works that emerged during this period were Edmund Leach’s Highland Burma Political Systems (1954), and the work of Gluckman’s student Victor Turner, Schism and Continuity in African Society (1957).
After this period, the influence of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown began to decline as social anthropologists turned to the structuralist ideas of Claude Lévi-Strauss, and later to the ideas of Americans such as David Schneider and Clifford Geertz, who they looked more at culture than at society. And Americans were exposed to ideas of social anthropology when social anthropologists like John Middleton, Victor Turner, and Mary Douglas came to teach at American universities. Finally, theorists like Foucault and Derrida influenced social and cultural anthropologists. Today, many American universities say they teach sociocultural anthropology, and social anthropologists are now concerned with both culture and society.