What are sociology and anthropology?

In general, the disciplines of sociology and anthropology describe the patterning, problems and prospects of human relationships. That is, they consider how and why people behave as they do, the implications of these patterns for other aspects of social life, and how new ways of living may be built and sustained. To some extent, sociology and anthropology share these commitments with other disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences — i.e., with political science, geography, history, economics, human services and psychology. However, there are important differences. Fundamentally, sociology takes as its principal focus the study of human groups and organizations. This is different than the respective focuses of political science (government and power issues), economics (goods and services) and geography (the physical resources of the earth). By looking at all varieties of human social life, sociology takes a somewhat wider viewpoint than these other disciplines. Anthropology takes an even broader perspective, however. As the most philosophical of the social sciences, anthropology is concerned with the meaning of human nature and human possibility. It examines these questions by investigating the different cultural forms developed by peoples across the globe and by studying the evolution (both physical and cultural) of humans over thousands of years. It joins with sociology in its studies of culture, the vast patterning of symbolic and material creation that guides people’s lives.

How do sociology and anthropology differ from psychology and social work?

Although anthropology and sociology share an interest in the past with history, they are equally concerned with contemporary events. Furthermore, they are distinguished from psychology because that discipline focuses on individual (rather than group or societal) beliefs, behaviors and tendencies. Likewise, sociology and anthropology are to be distinguished from human services or social work. Social work is an applied profession, which uses theories and research from throughout the social sciences to support practitioners working with specific individuals and families in difficulty. By contrast, sociology and anthropology have as their principal objective the development and sharing of knowledge about human societies and behavior.

What is distinctive about Elon's program?

How is the Elon program different from those found at most colleges and universities? At Elon, the disciplines of sociology and anthropology are combined within one department to provide students with a comprehensive and integrated understanding of human societies. Our department’s approach is comprehensive in that it offers course work covering a wide range of societies and examines these societies at many different levels. However, sociology and anthropology courses do much more than describe the overall characteristics of societies, including such issues as cultural values, population characteristics, and everyday customs. These courses also analyze basic socio-cultural institutions, such as family life, religion, and economics; patterns of social difference, such as race, class, and gender; types of social organization, like schools, businesses, and social clubs; forms of interaction; and even the ways in which personal identity is formed.

Our program is integrative in the sense that students are shown not only how societies themselves are connected in a wider global context but also how the different elements of each society are woven into complex cultural patterns. In the past, sociology courses focused more on patterns of interaction and organization in advanced industrial societies like the United States while anthropology courses emphasized the cultural environments of indigenous and traditional peoples. However, in recent years, forces of globalization and a growing emphasis on cultural diversity have brought these disciplines together into a powerful, mutually reinforcing relationship. At Elon University, sociology students have their knowledge of their own society enhanced dramatically by the evolutionary and comparative perspectives of anthropology. Consequently, anthropology students benefit from sociological theories of group behavior and organizations.

These two disciplines are brought together clearly in what we have called the CAP program. CAP, or “Cultural Applications Principle,” is a department-wide approach that takes some of the ideas/theories in sociology and anthropology and applies them to everyday settings – through both research and practical experiences like study abroad.

What is the mission statement of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology?

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology has adopted the following mission statement to guide its work. This statement is as follows:

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology provides students with important sociocultural problem-solving skills (including quantitative and qualitative research skills, critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, and communication skills) and knowledge requisite to becoming productive, self-sustaining, humanistic, culturally relativistic, local, and global citizens and to becoming committed to such ends. It seeks most emphatically to address three particular objectives. These are to provide students with opportunities:

  1. to develop an informed respect for differences among cultures as well as an understanding of the interdependence of world conditions and of the needs for individual and collective responsibility for the environment;
  2. to develop the ability to gather information; to think critically, logically, and creatively; and to communicate effectively;
  3. to apply sociological and anthropological perspectives and skills in the workplace and in the community.

In addition to these broad learning goals for students, it should be pointed out that the department also is committed to certain responsibilities that are elements of good citizenship in an academic community. Fundamentally, this means that participants in sociology department courses or programs should conduct themselves in ways that exemplify personal honesty and respect for the rights of others. A member of this community must take responsibility for his or her own work; when using the work of others in various ways, they must specify the nature of that relationship. These themes of individual integrity are detailed in the “Elon University Academic Honor Code” (described in the Elon Student Handbook), which the department supports.

However, the department also stresses the importance of respect for others – a category that includes persons being studied; students as colleagues; professors; other members of the college; and the community at large. Like other forms of academic inquiry, sociology and anthropology department courses and programs are expected to illustrate the characteristics of open and courteous discourse. Participants in such events owe each other their honesty; however, they also must conduct themselves in a way that supports rather than disrupts the collective enterprise we share. Education is neither a spectator sport nor a consumerist indulgence. Academic citizenship is a call not only for positive leadership in courses and programs but for thoughtful and committed response as well.

What majors and minors are available in this department?

In addition to the sociology and anthropology majors, the department offers minors in anthropology and sociology.

What is the Cultural Applications Principle?

A distinctive theme of the Elon Sociology and Anthropology Department is the Cultural Applications Principle, or CAP. This theme integrates the perspectives, theories, and methods of sociology and anthropology and applies them to the socio-cultural contexts of human action. Although (as indicated below) the CAP theme contains several different elements, perhaps the central one is the idea of cultural relativism. In our program, students are taught how to identify and analyze cultural differences — between societies or between subgroups within societies — in ways that are attentive to the circumstances of the people being studied and respectful of the people themselves.

In this sense, the long-term goal of our program is to help students understand and then apply socio-cultural knowledge and skills in concrete, practical, responsible ways throughout their personal lives and professional careers. To thrive in today’s increasingly global world, it is important that students approach problem-solving with a cultural sensitivity that respects the concerns and problems of humankind. CAP prepares students by exposing them to a solid socio-cultural curriculum and by a series of personal commitments and practical applications that include:

  • advocating humanitarian treatment and respect for all peoples globally
  • advocating equitable treatment of minorities and other disadvantaged peoples
  • enhancing personal relationships in private (e.g., family and friendship) and public (e.g., work and community) life
  • enhancing the effectiveness of organizations (e.g., in work or business)
  • enhancing community development and commitment to community service
  • developing career opportunities

In addition, students will learn a range of methodological skills including, but not limited to, the following:

  • quantitative data collection and analysis (e.g., survey research, content analysis)
  • qualitative data collection and analysis (e.g., ethnographic research, interviewing, observation, participant observation, content analysis)
  • assessment and evaluation skills (e.g., impact statements)
  • applied research (e.g., program evaluation, needs assessment, social impact assessment, future forecasting, social indicator analysis, cost-benefit analysis)

What are the main focuses of the sociology curriculum?

The Sociology and Anthropology Department offers introductory courses that provide overviews of many of the issues studied throughout the program.  These courses are SOC 111 (Introduction to Sociology); ANT 112 (Introduction to Cultural Anthropology); ANT 113 (Human Evolution and Adaptation) and ANT 114 (Introduction to Archaeology).  Beyond these introductory levels, the coursework in the department is organized within seven themes or focus areas.

Focus 1: Societies in a Global Perspective
Focus 2: Diversity Studies
Focus 3: Culture and Social Issues
Focus 4: Culture, the Individual, and Society
Focus 5: Popular Culture, Media, and Social Organization
Focus 6: Theory and Methods

What types of internships are available?

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology offers students the opportunity to engage in sociology and anthropology internships in service, research, teaching and work/corporate settings. Sociology and anthropology internships enhance students’ knowledge of sociology and anthropology in two ways. First, internships are opportunities for students to apply their knowledge to real life settings in service to the community, academic research, teaching, or profit-oriented occupational settings, thus furthering their skills in applying their knowledge in practical ways. Second, internships allow students to gain a deeper understanding of the sociological and anthropological concepts, theories, ideas, which underlie these disciplines. Each of these internships is a valuable way for students to enhance their academic lives personally and intellectually, while gaining practical experience to further the achievement of their goals.

What study abroad opportunities are available?

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology participates fully in Elon University’s Studies Abroad Program. Department faculty members have led semester-long courses in London and Australia, and there are plans to do so in Florence, Italy. Winter term study abroad courses have been offered in London, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, and Ghana, as well as service-based courses in Guatemala and Brazil. Summer term courses have also been offered in Brazil.

What are the career options for those who study sociology and anthropology?

Anthropology and sociology can lead to work in a wide variety of fields. Anthropology students often go on to work in education, government, social services, museums, business and the private sector, just to name a few. Those with degrees in sociology work in fields such as criminal justice, human services, demography, business, education, community relations, social science research and more.

What about graduate school?

Many students who study sociology and/or anthropology decide to pursue a graduate degree in one of these fields. A graduate degree can take several shapes:

Ph.D., Doctorate of Philosophy in either Sociology or Anthropology. This degree affords you the opportunity to teach in a college or university setting as a full faculty member with tenure track potential. With a doctorate, you would also be able to work in an applied field using your research and analytical expertise.

M.S., Masters of Science in Sociology. This degree enables you to teach in a community college setting while also providing necessary research and analytic training to pursue careers in applied settings, such as research and technology positions, government policy centers, and evaluation research centers.

M.A., Masters of Arts in Sociology. This degree is a more applied degree, and is not offered through all graduate programs. Typically a two-year program, this degree enables you to work in an applied field with a higher level of qualification for the job than some other candidates.