Sociology vs. Cultural Anthropology

Last semester I took an introductory class on cultural anthropology and this semester I am wrapping up my introductory class in sociology. As I near the end of the semester, I realize that the sociology class has been much more meaningful to me than the cultural anthropology class. Each week the discussions and videos supplementing the lesson took me through an emotional roller coaster of happiness, sympathy, understanding, sadness, and fear. This week was particularly emotional. I read about the impact of economy and workforce and watched a small clip of “Which Way Home”. In the clip I watched and met Kevin and Fito 14 and 13 year old boys, respectively, that had left their home in Honduras in search of a better life in the U.S. Their journey consisted of crossing the border from Guatemala into Mexico, catching a train in Mexico towards the border and later crossing on foot into the U.S. through the desert hoping to make it unscathed. I saw them sleep under a gazebo in a plaza, ask strangers for food and water, jump onto a moving train and ride between or atop the cars while exposed to nature. The little bit of backstory that they shared on Kevin was that he had a hardworking mom back in Honduras and a stepdad that did not particularly like him, which led him to make the decision to head towards the U.S. to work, make money and buy his mom a house. He dreamed of seeing Manhattan, tall towers and large cities of the U.S. that he had seen on TV and movies. Fito’s story was a bit more somber with his father having passed away many years back. He left to join Kevin on his journey without even telling his mom because she was out at a party with her husband. A short clip and a chapter’s worth of reading led me to not only feel the situation deeply because I have children of my own, but to also put more thought into the ongoing, heated discussions surrounding families and children crossing the border and the consequences of being caught.

Clip of “Which Way Home” (2009) is a feature documentary film that follows unaccompanied child migrants, on their journey through Mexico, as they try to reach the United States.

The broader scale discussions about society and impact of contributing factors have kept me engaged, but also wondering why I didn’t feel this way during my cultural anthropology course. My cultural anthropology course felt much more dry, a focus on being an objective eye in the observation of others. Is it really that different? The answer I found is much more complicated than a simple yes or no, but to simplify, yes they are differences within each field of study and methodology, though there is overlap. Openstax (sociology textbook used this semester) defines sociology as “the study of groups and group interactions, societies and social interactions, from small and personal groups to very large groups.” (Openstax, pg.6/1.1) In contrast, the book defines cultures as a group’s shared practices, values, and beliefs, which are a part of the social facts that make up a society. This leads me to loosely define cultural anthropology as the study of individual’s or a group’s cultures, customs, practices, values, beliefs, and languages in an effort to learn about past societies. This is one of the broader anthropological fields. The use of ethnographic studies, qualitative methods, is how research under this field is cultivated. While sociology does rely on qualitative methods of research much like cultural anthropology, they are able to tap into quantitative research methods through statistical analysis. Though there is much to consider for both fields and the overlap is undeniable, at the early stage in academic studies of culture and society, I am finding that sociological concepts and their broadness help bring into perspective current events and how they have progressed over time from pre/post Industrial Revolution and into the Information Age. The relevance creates my affinity for this study.

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