Socioanthropology: Definition, Characteristics and Scope

The Socioatropology Is the anthropological branch that studies the human being, from the individual itself to his forms of interpersonal and social relations.

Studying man, his culture and interaction with others, has been a question of the social sciences that has been analyzed since the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Socioanthropology, branch of anthropology that studies man in his people, culture, environment.

For this reason, disciplines such as psychology, anthropology, archeology and sociology have emerged that diagnose the individual and social behavior of people with empirical data, ideologies, geography, socioeconomic context, among other factors.

Socioanthropology vs Sociology

Sociology, founded by the positivist philosopher Auguste Comte , Puts more emphasis on the statistical characteristics of human society, such as population, voters, immigrants or the Gross domestic product from a country.

In contrast, socio-anthropology gives preponderance to the cultural aspect (religion, art, moral, etc.) of human societies.

The so-called social anthropology studies man observing it in its social fabric. That is, how institutions are organized and ordered to respond to their social needs.

The precursors of this discipline were Edward Burnett Tylor Y James George Frazer With his works at the end of the 19th century. These researchers underwent changes in their methodology and theory during the period between 1890 and 1920.

These authors were interested in the field work and the holistic studies, for several years, of social behavior in spaces, especially natural spaces.

The youngest social science

Socianthropology is the most novel of the social sciences according to the British anthropologist Godfrey Lienhardt, author of the book Social anthropology .

His colleague and compatriot, E.E. Evans-Pritchard , Defines the social anthropologist as the one who"directly studies the primitive peoples living among them for months or years, while sociological research is usually done on the basis of documents, especially statistics."

The interest of anthropology has been the study of cultures that grew up without a tradition of writing or technology. That is, what for historians and sociologists is a problem, given that they are based on the tangible material to work.

Faced with such difficulty, social anthropologists try to solve the problem, studying more complex societies, although for E.E. Evans-Pritchard it is best to start with those simpler ones to gain experience.

The importance of the people and the environment for socio-anthropology

Socioanthropology is interested in knowing man from different magnitudes. There are many villages with unique environmental conditions that require special analysis to understand their type of organization, religion, culture, etc. This is where this discipline gains strength.

Lienhardt argues that no matter how easy it is to describe a society, if it leaves its natural environment and geographical location aside, the result will be an incomplete analysis that leaves out an aspect of reality.

According to this perspective, many social anthropologists study topographical and geographic subjects of a specific people to obtain greater precision in their investigations.

Some rather primitive peoples may be affected by natural disasters or catastrophes, as they do not have countervailing technologies. Some Amazonian tribes of the forest, African or Asian, fit within this category.

To illustrate this, Lienhardt gives an example:"A year of late rains, ruining crops and causing hunger, can mean the dispersal of an entire community forcing its members to live scattered among neighbors and fortunate relatives, or to put themselves at the mercy of foreign"( Lienhardt, 1994: 62 ).

Human Ecology

This discipline is also interested in knowing the connection of man with his ecosystem. From there arises the call Human ecology .

Lienhardt brings up, in his book Social anthropology, To the people of the Arab Bedouins , Who live in the desert, depend on camels and interact with other tribes in the area. The environment, in this case, establishes limits for the ways of life by the policy that they apply.

In short, the social anthropologist's ideal is to understand the adaptation of a people to its surrounding nature and how it evolves in this relationship over time as a result of its own social interaction. Godfrey Lienhardt sets forth the following example with the reasoning of an Eskimo:

"The bears have not come because there is no ice, there is no ice because there is no wind and there is no wind because we have offended the powers." This phrase clearly exemplifies how a community understands why natural phenomena occur.

Political reality

For this current, knowing how a people is organized politically is of the utmost importance, since it defines the ideological sphere in which it operates.

"Men do not have pleasure, but on the contrary, a great many regrets, in keeping in company, when there is no power capable of intimidating them all"(Lienhardt, 1994: 87).

The author refers to the need for a people to organize politically. Social anthropologists have intruded into the kinds of existing political mixes and have sought to understand their internal and external relationships.

Many hunting and gathering tribes are small groups that are linked by kinship, marriage or specific rituals that they practice. Some of them still exist in Africa.

"In most current anthropological writings, the term"tribe"is used to refer to a larger political and territorial division of a larger ethnic group."(Lienhardt, 1994: 97).

Socioeconomic links

On the other hand, socio-anthropology also analyzes the social and economic reality of the people it investigates.

Lienhardt argues that at the time of the change from subsistence to monetary, there arose the need to know the concept of" purchasing power "Individual and collective of peoples to understand them anthropologically.

The author mentions a village to exemplify the above. He says that he was found among the Indians on the coasts of British columbia , A group of people who had a form of economy based on great celebrations, competitions and parties.

Collective recreation aimed at securing a kind of social stability and recognizing the attributes to have more prestige in some meeting, which the author calls"Plotatch"(or ceremony of giving).

People gave each other gifts and were forced to accept them in order not to suffer social discredit.

"Helen Codere has shown that"Plotatch"from the European point of view is a form of madness, but it was the basis of a complex social organization, which could not have been maintained without it"(Lienhardt, 1994: 134).

Family relationship

For socio-anthropology, the core of society remains the family. In it, kinship plays a fundamental role expressed in nepotisms, typical of ancient peoples or tribes that do not share the canons of Western societies.

Lienhardt believes that kinship is one of the pillars of good social organization. It is the basis for the study of all forms of social activity, according to him.

In this regard, the anthropologist says:"Mating is a fact of biological order, marriage is only a creation of human society. Similarly, the family and, more broadly, the kinship, are non-biological social conceptions"(Lienhardt, 1994: 153).

In England, for example, the basic family nucleus consists of father, mother and children, which anthropologically would be the simile animal of male, female and offspring.

Anthropologists have also seen patriarchal societies, where man is a social being and responsible for the children and wife, whom he maintains and gives sustenance.

Finally, we have the values ​​and belief systems of the peoples, with their rituals, ideologies, clothing, arts, language, etc. Aspects that, together with the previous ones, make up the social fabric that tries to explain the socioanthropology like modern social science based the complete understanding of the towns.

Characteristics of socioanthropology

Below you can find some of the features that stand out in this social science:

  • This discipline gives a holistic vision that understands man individually and socially, in addition to framing it in its cultural and political context of complex reality.
  • A more comprehensive view of the human body is obtained, since it is studied in its sociocultural context, the pathologies that affect it and its fashions.
  • The ecology is understood more deeply and points to the degree and mode of adaptation of a social system or town, to its environment.
  • The social structure is understood as the organization of the man in community, since the sociocultural systems need some institutional order to guarantee that it works in a stable way.
  • It focuses on the ideology that houses a community, which refers to the customs, beliefs, and mental traits that groups have.
  • It contains conceptual tools that contribute to understanding diversity, the complexity of human beings and their interaction with nature.
  • It serves to understand collective aggressive behavior, determining causes and consequences such as terrorism.
  • It analyzes reality by making a methodological reading of how society acts, which allows it to predict future social trends of behavior or preferences.
  • It includes concepts such as rapid diagnosis and life histories of people.
  • It is a discipline that happens to be interlocutor between the scientific knowledge of the health and the local knowledge of a particular town or community.


  1. "Sociocultural anthropology and its methods"(2003). Gómez, Eloy. Department of Anthropology. University of Cantabria, Santander, Spain.
  2. "Contribution of gender studies to the social sciences"(2014). Revista Antropológica del Sur, Nª1. Rebolledo, Loreto, Temuco, Chile.
  3. "Introduction to social and cultural anthropology"(2010). Barañano Acensión Cid. Department of Social Anthropology. Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
  4. "The providential democracy"(2004). Schneider, David M. Essay on contemporary equality. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  5. "Social Anthropology"(1994). Godfrey Lienhardt, Editorial Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico.
  6. "History of Anthropological Thought"(1987). Evans-Pritchard, Edward, Chair Lecture Theorema, Mexico.
  7. Lienhardt, 1994. monografí

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