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Sociology and Social Anthropology- Andre Beteille

In America the anthropologist studied the tribal society and sociologist studies their
own industrial society. Primitive and civilized societies came to be studies by
different sets of scholars on the premise that the two societies were different from
each other. The differences were regarded as real and not imaginary. However it led
to exaggeration of the manner in which social life was being organized. The study of
primitive and civilized society by two different disciplines led to the assumption of
two societies representing different realities rather than different pattern within
same social order.
The second difference between the two disciplines is that anthropology studies
kinship system because of the ways in which primitive societies are structured by
kinship network and its significance more than in the industrial society. For example
in the Australian aborigine the entire community can be represented in a single
genealogy and four terms used to refer to cousins, both aspect is different in
industrial society and therefore of interest to anthropologist.
What the study of kinship was to anthropology, the study of class and stratification
was to sociology and again there were difference between the American and the
European. The former concerned with ranking and prestige while the later more
focused on Marxian analysis of class. The study of stratification was of less interest
to the anthropologists because of the absence of graded strata or mutually opposed
classes. The studies of kinship and of stratification by different sets of scholars
eventually led to the growth of specialized bodies of literature, methodology and
technical concepts. The differences got reflected in academic writings and in
journals and it led to American sociologist developing a sense of incompetency in
studying kinship on the ground that it was not their foray. This segregation of two
institutions was detrimental because kinship and inequality has universal
significance to study of human society.
Though anthropologist and sociologists study different institution what is important
in the identification of the discipline is the type of society studied. For example if
someone studies kinship of New York urban slum then he/she is a sociologist and if
one studies the status and rank among Kwakiutl Indians then the person is an
There are also differences in the use of the concepts by the practitioner of the two
disciplines; however the differences are in terms of the emphasis on opposite type
of society. Therefore there is an overlap in the use of terms like structure, status,
role, conflict, change and evolution in the two disciplines. For Beteille the
differences in terms of the study of different type of society are not very relevant for
two reasons:1. Difference are not so large as made to appear
2. No field of scientific inquiry can be defined by its method

The more significant part of a discipline is the problem of study. It is the problem of
study that defines the method of the discipline. In terms of approach, method and
technique the two disciplines have the same approach to the study of social life,
their methods are similar but they have developed different techniques of
investigation and analysis. The contrast between sociology and anthropology has
been done with reference to the method of investigation, that sociology employs
survey method whereas anthropology uses intensive fieldwork. However such a
distinction is false as no sociological study can be possible without empirical
fieldwork and similarly no anthropologist would evade use of survey method.
Another way of differentiating between anthropology and sociology is the
assumption that anthropologist study other culture whereas sociologist study their
own society and culture. Beteille feels that such a distinction can lead to confusion.
Such distinction works only if all societies are studied by western scholar else it
remains relative term. What is anthropology to American would be sociology to India
and vice versa. It becomes meaningless if scholars from different part of the world
study their own as well as other societies.
Sociology and Anthropology in India

Both came to India from outside, particularly from Britain, initiated by British
scholars and visitors. Later Indian scholars got trained in Britain and USA
played a dominant in the study of Indian society and culture. These scholars
added to the understanding of Indian society but their orientation were
largely those of American and British scholars.
From the start the two branches were divided in the formal set up. They
began to be taught as separate subjects in Indian universities. Bombay
University started with sociology and Calcutta University with anthropology.
For two decades these two remained as the centre for teaching and research.
Later as soon new departments came up, eastern region opted for
anthropology and western region generally for sociology. In recent years
many university has both the departments however, Calcutta continues to
have only anthropology and Bombay has sociology department.
There is difference also in the faculties offering these courses; anthropology
is taught in Faculties of Sciences and sociology in the faculties of Arts (social
sciences). This distinction got carried over to research institutes and
organization, the Indian Science congress has a section for archaeology and
anthropology but none for sociology. There has been an organization since
British day for anthropological research called the Anthropological Survey of
India but none for sociology.
The division of work proposed at the start of the two disciplines still manifests
in India. Anthropology is limited to study of tribal customs and sociologist
concerned with advanced industrial society.
In spite of separate department and different approach the two disciplines
have continually exchanges roles and the distinction appears vague and

arbitrary especially in the works of prominent sociologist. For example G.S

Ghurye trained as anthropologist had a long and successful career as
sociologist. His essays cover a vast field of study including cross-cousin
marriage as well s social-economic condition of clerks in Bombay. Other
contemporary Indian scholars like M.N Srinivas, S.C Dube, Ramakrishna
Mukherjee have all applied a unified approach to study Indian society.
The distinction between sociology and anthropology was imported to India
but in long course did not work out and the distinction has become blurred.
The way in which Indian society is structured, provides no scope for
distinction between tribal and civilized, tribal and industrial and they and us.
In Indian unlike in America or Australia, the distinction between tribal and non
tribal is vague, unclear and arbitrary. It is difficult to define any group as tribe
as per definition given in text books.
In the west division of work between students of primitive society and
advanced society crystallized into the academic distinction between social
anthropology and sociology. In India, spite of formal acceptance of the
distinction, the actual pattern of work lay stress on unity of society and

There is no clear cut distinction as such but only variance in the pattern of work.
The actual pattern of work even in the west does not stress the difference and
overlaps have been there. For example, Lloyd Warner, student of Radcliffe Brown
studied both primitive society and advances industrial society and so did Erving
Goffman. The debate on whether there should be two different discipline or there
should be one unified discipline continues. Those who favor for distinction to be
maintained argue for different techniques of investigation for different subject
though a relation can exist between two. Those who agree for a unified system
also support use of different techniques and methods. For Beteille, whether to
regard sociology and anthropology as the same subject or as different branches
of the same subject or as two different subjects will depend on how we feel
about the varieties of human society and culture. If the similarities are to be
emphasized then sociology and anthropology have a unity but if we accept the
differences to be more fundamental then the two disciplines have to be
differentiated. Neither is more scientifically justified and it is ultimately a
question of values.