An anthropology student at North Central College listening to a lecture.

Anthropology vs. Sociology Degree

Kara Kots

Feb 25, 2021

Do you have an interest in studying human behavior within specific societies throughout time? If so, an undergraduate degree in anthropology or sociology may be the right choice for you. The unique courses offered in these areas of study will encourage you to develop a set of tools and a new perspective to help you experience a fulfilling career and life. Read on to learn more about anthropology vs sociology, including what each studies, their similarities and differences and the available career paths.

What is Anthropology?

In the words of the ​American Anthropological Association​, "Anthropology is the study of what makes us human." An anthropologist strives to uncover and understand how humans and their societies lived hundreds and thousands of years ago.

To understand what makes each human group distinct, an anthropologist looks at various aspects of the human experience, such as physical character, culture, environment and more. From humans' biological bodies and genetics to survival needs such as food, water, and companionship, anthropologists figure out the ways previous societies and cultures met these needs. Additionally, anthropologists try to understand how people interacted socially, including how they dressed and communicated with one another, such as family, friends and other community members.

A degree in ​anthropology from an institution such as North Central College prepares students for their future careers with rich academic study and opportunities. Inspiring faculty encourage you to process and apply your knowledge to the world. A successful program will enable you to think independently and work globally to solve problems and lead. To get there, you will take several foundational courses. Some may include:

  • Language and Culture in Community: Linguistics and Cultural Anthropology
  • Stones and Bones: Introduction to Archaeology and Biological Anthropology
  • Field Methods: Digging the Earth
  • Social Inquiry I: Quantitative
  • Social Life and Social Theory

You may also choose from place-oriented and topical courses such as:

  • Native Nations of North America: Homelands, Reservations and Urban Indian Communities
  • Mayas, Aztecs and Their Neighbors: Heart of the Earth
  • Urban Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Place
  • Cultural Ecology
  • Applied Economic Anthropology
  • Indigenous Peoples, State and Order
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Religion, Spirituality and Community
  • Law and Order in Cross-Cultural Perspective
  • Culture, Illness and Wellness: The Anthropology of Medicine

Courses like these will not only prepare you for a career in anthropology but will help you develop cultural competence and deepen an appreciation for the many facets and growth of human life.

What is Sociology?

Why study sociology instead of anthropology? As defined by the ​American Sociological Association, sociology is "the study of social life, social change and the social causes and consequences of human behavior." A sociologist explores the structure of groups, organizations and societies, such as their interactions and processes at a given period in time. To do this, a sociologist examines subjects ranging from gender to race to age, as well as social change, status and movements.

To dig deeper, studying ​sociology at an institution like North Central College will offer core courses such as:

  • Life Chances and Choices: Introduction to Sociology
  • Pathways in Sociology
  • Social Inquiry I: Quantitative
  • Social Inquiry II: Qualitative
  • Social Life and Social Theory
  • Sociological Culminating Experience

Other courses may include:

  • Gender: Patterns/Privileges/Possibilities
  • Race/Ethnicity: Conflict and Change
  • Social Class: Get Ahead/Fall Behind

In these courses, the core ideas and lessons will introduce you to intriguing ideas, encourage you to overcome challenges, and discover new truths to promote your development and growth as an engaged and informed student and citizen.

Similarities Between Anthropology and Sociology

Anthropology and sociology both aim to receive a more in-depth look at the causes and effects of human action, whether that is through their culture or social life. By examining a people’s culture, social structure and social institutions, anthropologists and sociologists can see how these factors affect human attitudes, actions and lives.

In addition, anthropologists and sociologists can dig deeper to understand how previous societies and organizations helped create and shape humans. To achieve an understanding of this requires an exploration and analysis of humans' interactions within their community and the role their culture, social class and more played.

You’re probably asking yourself, "What can I do with a sociology degree?" Students graduating with a degree in anthropology or sociology will find roles in their respective and related fields, such as business, health, journalism, law, medicine, public health, government and education.

 

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Differences Between Anthropology and Sociology

While anthropology and sociology do display similarities, they are not exactly alike. On the one hand, anthropology studies humans and their ancestors through their physical characteristics, environment and culture. The specialization of anthropology is sociocultural, linguistic, biological and archaeological.

On the other hand, sociology studies the development, structure, social interactions and behaviors of human society at a specific time. Specializations in sociology include social institutions, which means a society's economic life, education, family dynamics, politics, and religion. It also explores social stratification and how society categorizes humans by their age, gender, race and ethnicity, and social class. In comparison, anthropology covers all human characteristics, including physiology and evolutionary origins, sociology centers around social relationships.

Careers

After learning more about anthropology and sociology, you may ask, "Where can I work with a degree in these areas of study?" In short, anthropologists and sociologists today have access to an array of careers. For instance, anthropologists may work in private businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations and much more. According to ThoughtCo​,​ "Their work may involve building research partnerships, assessing economic needs, evaluating policies, developing new educational programs, recording little-known community histories, providing health services and other socially relevant activities."

Similarly, a sociology major can pursue a wide variety of career pathways. These career pathways include, but are not limited to, jobs in industries such as business, education, politics and health. Day-to-day sociology professionals use critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. With a sociology degree, you may find yourself interested in jobs such as an educator, social service provider, public health worker, journalist or counselor, to name a few.

Are you considering continuing your education after your bachelor's degree? Graduate school is also a standard route for an anthropology or sociology major. Graduates with their master's or doctorate in anthropology or sociology, for instance, can become college professors, market research analysts and mental health counselors.

The Focus Areas

Anthropology separates into four primary subfields, each using different research techniques and teaching specific skills. These subfields include archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. According to ​Dr. Matthew Krystal,​ professor of anthropology at ​North Central College​, "These subfields, though distinct, are connected by a comparative perspective and a holistic approach." Read on to learn more about the subfields' specific interests and goals.

Archaeology

Archaeologists worldwide study societies and cultures by recovering and analyzing the remains or objects people have left behind. They carefully remove from the ground pottery, tools, human bones, and teeth to learn more about people's daily lives from that time. Also, archaeologists look for plants and animals' remains to learn more about the previously lived environment.

Biological Anthropology

In this focus area, biological anthropologists are interested in learning more about how humans adapted through time to become what they are today. From evolving from animals to adapting to different environments, they see how biology plays a role in shaping the lives from that time and how those lives compare to others around the world.

Cultural Anthropology

A sociocultural anthropologist explores how different societies live and understand the world around them. They aim to learn more about what these societies accept or view as the norm for speaking, eating, dressing, traveling and more. To achieve this, anthropologists gather viewpoints and sometimes even live amongst different societies and cultures to better understand them.

Linguistic Anthropology

Lastly, linguistic anthropology studies the way societies communicate with themselves and with others. Linguistic anthropologists look to uncover how a society's language impacts how members view and connect to the world around them over time. They dive deep to reveal not only the function of language and speech but the social structure as well.

As stated previously, sociology comprises focus areas, including social change, social institutions such as economic life, education, family, politics and religion and social stratification by age, gender, race and ethnicity and social class. It is through these areas sociologists can better understand the humans and societies that lived before us.

Follow the provided link to learn more about sociology vs. psychology, and discover which field of study is more interesting to you!

Kara Kots​ is a social media specialist at North Central College, where she contributes her content, writing and communication skills.