Meaning and Scope of Social Anthropology

Abstract

THE name 'social anthropology' came into use some sixty years ago to distinguish the subject from ethnology. The avowed aim has always been to apply the inductive method of the natural sciences to the study of human society, its institutions and its evolution. But it is only gradually that we can learn how to apply the inductive method in a new field. The history of chemistry from the time of Bacon to Lavoisier illustrates this. So social anthropology is not now what it was in 1890. At that time theoretical discussions in social anthropology were largely concerned with speculations about origins (of religion, of totemism, of exogamy, etc.). There are still some social anthropologists who remain faithful to the ideas and methods of 1890. But the work now being done in the subject consists largely of experimental studies, combining observation and analysis, of particular social systems, intended to provide material for the systematic comparison of systems of different types and to test existing hypothetical conceptions. Anyone who wants to know what social anthropology is doing at the present day should read the admirable work of Arensberg and Kimball on "Family and Community in Ireland".

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RADCLIFFE-BROWN, A. Meaning and Scope of Social Anthropology. Nature 154, 257–260 (1944) doi:10.1038/154257a0

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