Department of Social Anthropology

What is Social Anthropology

Collage sosialantropologi
Mari H. Korsbrekke, Nina B. Dahl, Nora Haukali, Erik Sandvik, Silje Fjærested-Tollefsen, Gazal Aydin

Main content

Social anthropology is the central discipline in the global comparative study of culture and society. Social anthropologists examine the cultural diversity of mankind and the social processes which unfold in this global diversity. Thus the thematic range of the discipline is extremely wide – all human activity and knowledge is of interest in an attempt to understand variation, context and change in society and culture.

This is evident also in the geographical range of the discipline. Social anthropologists undertake research throughout the world and have a distinct tradition for studying non-western societies, but the discipline also contributes significantly to the knowledge of culture, society and organisational forms in Norway and other western societies. Methodologically, the discipline emphasises fieldwork, comparison and holistic perspectives.

Fieldwork involves social anthropologists spending long periods of time (months or years) in close proximity with people in order to gain insight into their lives. The comparative method involves social anthropologists processing their data by way of comparing them to other places, including the researcher’s own society. The holistic, all-inclusive gaze also inspires social anthropologists to contemplate different social settings (family life, economy, politics, religion etc.) which are traditionally handled in isolation by other disciplines.

Social anthropology has particular access to people’s daily life experiences, especially among groups that are not in the public spotlight, and this deep insight into often unexpected thought patterns and lifestyles that the discipline provides lays the foundation for critical and alternative perspectives on one’s own society.