Sociology & Anthropology


 Describe the basic elements of anthropology
 Compare and contrast anthropology and sociology
 Explain the research designs of survey, observation, laboratory, experiment, and external data analysis as used by an anthropologist
 Define and describe independent and dependent variables, sample, and population
 Identify the behavioral sciences
 Discuss the four main branches of anthropology: physical, cultural, archaeology, and social

Grade Level(s):   Grade 10    

Subject Area(s):   Social Studies    

Duration: 2 weeks

Detailed Plan

A Kazakh tends his sheep on a plateau near the Altai Mountains in central Mongolia.  The Mestizos are part of the growing middle class in Peru.  People in Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city, leave their apartment buildings and go to work in modern office buildings.

An anthropologist might be hard at work studying and researching the societies and cultures of all the previous examples.  However, another lesson also states that sociologists study cultures and societies.  How are sociology and anthropology related?  Sociology can be described as a scientific investigation of the behavior of individuals and groups in a society.  A society is defined as a group of persons joined together by common beliefs, interests, government and economic systems, and culture.  Each society is organized in formal and informal structures that influence the behavior of all individuals and groups.  A sociologist studies many aspects of a society inducing behavior, institutions, culture, population, minorities, and changed in the informal and formal structure of the society.


A social psychologist studies individual behavior and relationships with other people living in a society.  The social behavior of individuals can produce interactions that have positive or negative consequences such as conflicts, violence, or even criminal behavior.  A society sets standards of behavior that are determined by formal institutions such as a government, or the informal structure of a culture.

The main source of these standards of behavior is the family.  The process of learning how to follow the rules of a society is called socialization.  Part of the process of socialization is the status and rule of an individual in a society.  Status is a person’s defined position or rank in society.  The role refers to the behavior that an individual is expected to display as a member of a society.


Social institutions are created by a society to address and satisfy the social and personal needs of the people.  These institutions reflect the values and standards of behavior that have been established by the society.  The main institutions in a society include the family, education, religion, political systems, and economics systems.  Each institution includes groups and organizations that play an important part in fulfilling the needs of society.

For example, the family provides the early nurturing and socialization that teaches the expected behavior of the society.  Schools impart knowledge and the history of the society to students.  Churches provide moral training and guidance.  The government provides the necessary services and support including hospitals and fire protection.  Banks and businesses create jobs for citizens in society.

A sociologist may research how these institutions interact with each other, such as in the case of how an increase in taxes imposed by the government institution might affect the family and economic institutions.  Similarly, a change in the structure of the family institution, such as an increase of single-parent households, could have a profound affect on the educational institution.


The culture of a society includes its history, customs, traditions, knowledge, literature, arts, language, and a belief in various elements of religion.  A culture imparts rules of behavior that standardize the structure of society.  The survival of a culture is dependent on the successful transmission of the culture from one generation to the next.

The main element of all cultures includes labor division, rules for marriage, family structure, and adolescent passage to adulthood.  Another important element of a culture is ideology, or the political and social viewpoints of people.


A population is the total number of people who live in an area or geographic region.  Population statistics describe the makeup of a people in a particular area.  These statistics may reveal, for example, how population size presents specific problems for the individuals.  For instance, some heavily populated countries may have trouble raising enough food for everyone.  Factors such as birth rates, infant mortality, availability of health care, and death rates also influence the population growth, social structure, and stability of a society.

The study of human populations is carried out in two branches of sociology called human ecology and demography.  Human ecology is the study of how people relate to their environment, be it a jungle in Brazil or a large city in Europe.

The study of demography focuses on the number of people living in a region, their social characteristics including gender and age, and the specific areas in which they live.  The population density of a region would be an important part of a demography study.  For example, there might be a large number of people living in crowded conditions in a large city while there are relatively few people living in an outlying region.


The minorities in a culture are individuals or groups who are different from the major population groups in a society.  These minorities may have different ethnic, racial, religious, or socioeconomic backgrounds that prevent them from enjoying the same rights and treatment given to the majority.  The minority status of a group may also be determined by gender in some cases.  The rights of these individuals would be a topic of research for political sociology and the sociology of law.

Societal Changes

The changes to the structure of a society can occur because of economic, social, technological, or revolutionary events.  Advances in technology have radically changed how people live and work.  These changes in society are important to both sociologists and anthropologists.  Anthropologists and sociologists are also concerned with making generalizations about patterns of human behavior in societies throughout history.  These studies could be used to explain the way people act today.  In other words, how has culture been passed on from one generation to the next while adapting to the environmental, technological, or social change?

Sociology and anthropology share many of the same characteristics, theories, and areas of study.  The two main subject areas include cultural anthropology and social anthropology.  Cultural anthropology focuses on human cultures from their beginning to the present day.  Social anthropology studies how individuals interact in group settings.

Sociologists use research methods that focus on large groups in modern and complex industrial societies.  The research methods employed by sociologists are designed to secure data from many people in a short period of time (quantitative research).  Cultural anthropologists, on the other hand, focus their research studies on small groups over an extended period of time.  The small groups represent societies that are not part of the modern industrial world. For example, a cultural anthropologist would study a group of nomadic herdsmen in Africa while a sociologist would conduct research on an area in the inner city (qualitative research).

Anthropology is the scientific study of humanity and culture.  Anthropologists study humans as they live in different social groups.  They also study the sources and development of cultures.  Anthropologists study the characteristics that all humans share across cultures.  They may study why some cultures change and why some come to an end.  A culture that is always changing is called a dynamic culture.  As behavioral scientists, anthropologists use their skills of observation to study human culture.  Some types of anthropologists may look for general patterns within human behavior.  They may use a systematic approach to investigate research problems as an integral part of their profession.  This system is similar to the model used by sociologists.

These are the steps that are included in a research project:

1.      Identify the problem.

2.      Research and gather information.

3.      Form a hypothesis.

4.      Select a research method.

5.      Identify the sample size and gather the data.

6.      Record and analyze data.

7.      Draw a conclusion.

Anthropologists may conduct many types of research.  For example, one type may identify the similarities and differences between two or more cultures.  Anthropologist may also conduct cross-cultural research that examines similar patterns in cultures.  These scientists are often called comparative anthropologist.

Branches of Anthropology

Five branches of anthropology: physical, cultural, linguistic, archaeology, and social anthropology will be discussed in this lesson.  (Note: some scholars combine the cultural and social branches of anthropology.)  Anthropologists working in one branch may often conduct research in another area.  A cultural anthropologist may study the laws of a modern culture, while another part of the study may examine how an ancient culture created its legal system.  Some physical anthropologists and social anthropologists might study the behavior of different animals to find clues about human social development and culture.

Physical (or Biological) Anthropology

Physical anthropology is the study of human physical characteristics.  Physical anthropologists may study modern cultures or the fossil remains of ancient cultures to learn how human characteristics have developed.  Human characteristics are things such as hair color, height, skin color, and brain size.  Read the following terms associated with the study of physical anthropology.

Paleoanthropology = the study of human fossil remains and how they relate to human evolution.

Forensic anthropology = the use of modern scientific procedures to determine the identification of deceased individuals.

Primatology = the study of how primates such as apes and monkeys are related to humans.

Cultural Anthropology = the study of physical (artwork, housing, tools, and other material products) and non-physical (language, symbols, laws, and values) things created by a society.  Cultural anthropologists may study both primitive and highly advanced cultures.

Read the following terms associated with the study of cultural anthropology.

Applied anthropology = using the information from research in the study of modern cultures.

Economic anthropology = the study of how goods and services are produced and distributed in a culture.

Political anthropology = the study of how cultures and societies create political systems that includes a process for decision making and a justice system.

Psychological anthropology = the study of how cultures influence the development of individual personalities.

Religious anthropology = the study of how religious beliefs affect the development and structure of a culture.

Linguistic Anthropology = the study of the development of language.  This area also examines how people use language to communicate.  The following terms relate to the field of linguistic anthropology.

Ethno linguistics = the study of the language of a specific ethnic group within a culture.

Sociolinguistics = the study of how language affects any or all parts of a culture or a society.

Archaeology = the study of objects left by earlier people.  An archaeologist studies the tools, artwork, and structures of past civilizations.  An archaeologist may even study the garbage left behind by people to obtain clues about how these civilizations developed.  An archaeologist might also examine why a civilization no longer exists.

Social Anthropology looks at social relationships within human groups, including families, religious groups, and communities.  Social anthropologists study what brings these groups together and what keeps them together.  They may also study the characteristics that societies find important.  For example, they may examine how societies develop characteristics and how people learn different roles within societies.  The following term is related to the field of social anthropology.

Ethnography = the study of people’s views regarding their environment and society.  For more information, go to the Natural Museum of the American Indian website ( Be sure to view the online exhibitions and past exhibitions.

Anthropologists, like sociologists, are scientists who utilize the scientific method in conducting their work.  They must first ask a series of questions.  They then form a hypothesis (an educated guess) that will answer the question or questions.  Next, anthropologists collect evidence in their areas of study.  They may gather evidence using a variety of methods.  The most common method of gathering evidence is through observation.

Anthropologists may observe culture in many ways.  First, they may actually live in the society they are studying.  This is called field observation or participant observation.  For example, an anthropologist may conduct participant observation by living with a tribe that has not changed its way of life for a thousand years.  An anthropologist could also conduct participant observation by simply living in a high-rise apartment building among a group of people.  Famous anthropologists like Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall lived with groups of gorillas and chimpanzees to observe their habits and behavior.

Using other methods to gather information, anthropologists might conduct surveys by distributing questionnaires to each member in a community.  They may also record oral histories from the oldest members of a tribe or group in order to learn about a culture.  Sometimes a culture no longer exists, making it impossible for an anthropologist to conduct field or participant research.  When this is the case, archaeologists may study items left behind by these cultures.  These items are called artifacts and ethno facts.

History of Anthropology

People have always had an interest in how other cultures lived and developed.  In the nineteenth century, scientists from Europe began to study other cultures around the world.  These scientists began their studies with a belief that European culture was the best.  As a result, most of their studies focused on why European culture was superior to another cultures in the world.  The concept of believing your culture is better than another culture is known as ethnocentrism.

Anthropologists now know that cultures around the world exist for different reasons.  A highly developed culture is not necessarily better than another culture.  By the late 1800s, other scientists began to criticize these ethnocentric ideas.  These scientists discussed the discovery and recording of human differences.  They also noted the study of groups whose cultures were being transformed by contact with Europeans and Americans.    Currently, anthropologists focus on the diversity of cultures around the world.  Culture can be considered the centerpiece of anthropology.

As you have previously learned, culture is defined as the way a society lives.  Things such as customs, values, social institutions, art, dance, language, and tradition are part of a society’s culture.  These things are called cultural traits.  Think of cultural traits as pieces of a puzzle.  The more pieces you put together, the clearer the picture of a society’s culture becomes.  Can you think of any cultural traits that are important to you?  Think of the language you speak.  You are reading this lesson in English.  You learned to speak this language from your parents and friends.  Soon, you were able to communicate with and understand the people around you.

The culture learned by a person born into a society is part of the enculturation process.  Remember that enculturation is the process of learning the roles of a society.  Through enculturation, a person becomes a part of that culture.  Sociologists also refer to the process of enculturation as socialization.  For example, a group of girls growing up in China have a different enculturation process than girls growing up in New York City.  These girls will learn about their own cultures from their parents, family members, and other people in their societies.

The process of learning the traits of other cultures, such as social customs, is known as acculturation.  In many societies the process of acculturation may be quick and easy.  However, it can also occur over a long period of time, making the process more difficult.  For example, a large number of European immigrants came to America in the early 1900s.  Many of those who came from English speaking countries had a much easier period of adjustment to living in America.  The people who came from Austria, Sweden, or Italy had a more difficult time because of the language barrier.  Similarly, the process of acculturation was also hard for many Indian tribes when they were forced to move to reservations in the nineteenth century.

There are many celebrations and festivals in the United States that are examples of the acculturation process.  For instance, the Cinco de Mayo celebration, observed by Mexican people, is a remembrance of a Mexican army’s victory at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  Other celebrations, such as the Chinese New Year, are important events to many minority groups living in America.