SASA answers the most frequent questions about social anthropology. If you have a specific question you want answered, do not hesitate to send it to us!
What types of anthropology can we identify?2022-02-01T14:06:29+01:00

In the socio-anthropological environment, we often encounter the term “anthropology” without any epithets. We mostly use this one word to describe social anthropology specifically.

However, in some other environments and contexts, the term anthropology is not necessarily equal to social anthropology. Thus, there are other types of anthropology (as a general science about humans) that are formed with respect to the various aspects of humanity on which we want to focus in more detail.

Based on the North American model, we usually talk about four interconnected branches of anthropology which, however, are more independent of each other in the European context.

Social anthropology (also called cultural or sociocultural anthropology) deals with human societies and cultures, i.e. it examines the relationships between individuals and groups, their social, economic and political organization, patterns of behaviour, beliefs and systems of ideas in different temporal and spatial segments.

Another stream is linguistic anthropology which studies the social aspects of language use and its functions in connection with other dimensions of society.

Archaeology or archaeological anthropology is characterized by an interest in learning about the details of people’s sociocultural life in the past through any material remains.

And biological (or physical) anthropology focuses its attention on the biological characteristics of humans it studies the biology of the human body and the behaviour associated with it, as well as their evolution.

What kind of research do social anthropologists conduct?2022-02-01T14:06:39+01:00

Work of social anthropologists armed with diverse theoretical and practical knowledge, perspectives, questions and assumptions is characterized by field research in selected communities which usually lasts several months, even years.

Thus, socio-anthropological research is most often long-term and stationary, although it may consist of several field trips and move between several localities. In this process, researchers try to describe and understand the complexity of social phenomena through direct participation in everyday life.

To a certain extent, they become part of the studied populations (by learning local languages, customs, behaviours and expressions in certain contexts through participation in activities with local people) in order to get closer to local images of reality (i.e. to acquire emic perspective).

Their research is therefore ethnographic, as it is based mainly on the use of qualitative methods (mainly participant observations and semi-structured in-depth interviews) in order to record in detail the actual behaviour and thinking of people and the links between them.

Why should I hire an anthropologist?2022-02-01T18:06:53+01:00

The study of anthropology, as well as the field research itself, enables to learn many skills that can be used in different professions.

For example, during such field research, an anthropologist makes contact with people who ware practically strangers. And it doesn’t end there. As part of their work, they must gain people’s trust and continue to maintain and cultivate these relationships.

Anthropologists often have to get out of their own comfort zone and adapt to living in unsanitary conditions or in the environment where extreme situations, such as violence, crime, adverse climatic conditions, occur. It all depends on the conditions in which the researched community lives.

Long-term field research also improves observational skills and the processing of collected data improves analytical skills. Overall, ethnographic research can be imagined as a project that requires management: starting from the research design through the actual conduction of field research and subsequent data analysis, ending with the writing of ethnography and further presentation of results.

However, communication skills, versatility, management, observational and analytical skills are not the only skills that anthropologists acquire through the study and field research. During their study, anthropologists start to realize from their own experience that all people have prejudices, and anthropologists are not the exception. As a result, they gradually learn to overcome their prejudices, not only emotionally but also through understanding. This ability of anthropologists to overcome their own prejudices makes it easier to study other people.

Why does anthropological research last so long?2022-02-01T14:04:16+01:00

If we want to delve deeper into how society works, it is not enough for us to stay at the level that can be described using “quick” methods such as questionnaires. Both participant observation and ethnographic interviews require us to get closer to the people whose lives we study and to establish a kind of relationship of mutual trust. It takes weeks, even months.

We could compare it to observing a game of chess from a complete beginner’s point of view. If we, as complete novices, entered a chess club in the middle of the game, perhaps we would be able to summarize the basic rules by observation and well-chosen questions (what moves are allowed for each figure, what situations lead immediately to winning or losing, what a draw looks like, etc.). However, such observations and one-off interviews would be far from sufficient to reveal the tactics used in chess; we would not be able to distinguish the distinctive style of players from something that they themselves consider a mistake, and so on. In that example with a chess game, a very important element of participant observation also appears we penetrate deeper into chess only when we try to apply the acquired knowledge directly in the game.

It is similar in field research. Of course, in those few months we will not become equal members of the community under study. However, the key is to try to find a position in it that will be understandable to the locals and that will allow us to immerse ourselves in the game as much as possible.

Is it possible to somehow speed up anthropological research?2022-02-01T14:04:35+01:00

It is possible to some extent, but we must always keep in mind the limitations. If we have a very precisely defined research question and well-founded research assumptions, then in certain circumstances we can apply the so-called rapid ethnography. The image obtained in this way can answer some questions for us, and although we do not get a full overview of social relations, the answers obtained in this way can be useful. We can afford to proceed in this way, for example, in environments that are already quite well researched overall, given that we are interested in very specific questions.

Thus, we often encounter rapid ethnography in applied research, for example in evaluating the benefits of some government measures or projects led by non-governmental organizations. Therefore, rapid ethnography can help us determine whether the project achieved the intended goals, what obstacles arose, or whether it did not have any serious (and therefore relatively quickly observable) consequences which were not anticipated.

Foto: Andrej Mentel (kozia farma na Planinici pri Vareši (Bosna a Hercegovina))

Farming in Pogar, Vareš, Bosnia and Herzegovina
© Andrej Mentel

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