When planning for a college major distinguishing between anthropology and sociology can be particularly difficult as they are closely related areas of study. This article will help distinguish between the two and aid in understanding anthropology vs. sociology. The definitions of the two are:
  • Anthropology is the science of human beings; especially: the study of human beings and their ancestors through time and space and in relation to physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture.
  • Sociology is the science of society, social institutions, and social relationships; specifically : the systematic study of the development, structure, interaction, and collective behavior of organized groups of human beings


Anthropology is a very broad study of human beings, how we've developed, the cultures that have developed over time, and our physical characteristics. Anthropology is also broken down into many sub-fields including archaeology, physical anthropology, and cultural anthropology. In studying the development of humans this can also encompass fields like the study of primate and how they relate to humans.

Most universities offer anthropology programs, sometimes broad and sometimes more focused on specific sub-fields. By the time a student would be pursuing a master's degree it would almost certainly be in a sub-field of anthropology as a whole.

Anthropology also tends to be backward looking and looks at many traditional and pre-industrial societies. Much of the study will focus on providing insights into aspects of human history and development that we may not fully understand yet but there are evidential clues available for study.


While anthropology looks at the overall development of human beings from many different perspectives, sociology focuses on the development and structure of how human beings communicate and organize ourselves. Specializations in sociology include the study of social institutions (i.e. education, politics, and religion), social hierarchies (i.e. gender, race, or age structures), social change and social problems.
Similar to anthropology most universities offer sociology programs that are broad at first and then narrow into more specified fields as a student advances through their education.

Sociology tends to be far more focused on current society and the social structures and interactions that occur in modern society. Sociology seeks to further expand our understanding of how we organize and interact today, and often how we can leverage that better understanding for some benefit. While historical sociology exists, studying the social structures of traditional and pre-industrial groups, this does not make up the focus of most research.

Anthropology vs. Sociology

While both anthropology and sociology study human beings the focus of sociology is narrower than that of anthropology as it focuses solely on the social relationships and structures of society. Anthropology on the other hand is far broader in terms of looking at how we've developed and how we are structured from many different perspectives.