Frequently Asked Questions

There are often many questions asked about anthropology, so we thought it would be best to collect the most frequently asked questions here in one place. This list will most likely grow and change over time, but we hope that this page will help if you are uncertain about anything. If you still have questions, or if you have some suggestions for this list then feel free to contact us via the form on the contact page.

  • What is the difference between social and cultural anthropology?

This is one of the most widely asked questions from people outside the field and even from people studying anthropology. Both social and cultural anthropology are really quite similar in their focus and there is no solidly defined distinction between them, although they do differ on their emphasis. Social anthropology has mainly been developed by British anthropologists since the early 20th century and tends to focus on social institutions and their interrelationships. Social anthropology has undergone many theoretical shifts over the past century, but essentially retains its emphasis on specific societies’ organising principles that govern behaviour. Cultural anthropology also examines these deeply rooted structures, but tends to focus more on the understanding of specific cultures, for example their language, rules, creations and concepts of the world (and the importance of each on their own terms). Cultural anthropology is usually associated with the work of pioneers such as Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, and as such is more prominent in the US.

  • Then what about biological and physical anthropology?

You know, we’ve seen many discussions about this question and for all intents and purposes, they are one and the same thing. Some people have argued that there are subtle differences between the two in terms of focus, but most people are saying that physical anthropology was the old name, it was updated to biological anthropology and many institutions just didn’t make the change. So yeah, even if they weren’t the same thing, the differences are too small for anyone to agree with so I wouldn’t worry about it. Biological anthropology = Physical anthropology.