Social Anthropology is popular because it is widely useful. The reason for this lies in the history of this social science. Early in its history, Social Anthropology focused on non-Western societies to research how people differ from each other and to identify characteristics that are common to people globally. Anthropologists, thus, had to establish themselves in a number of fields of study, from politics, to religion, to economics, to family relationships, mythology and folklore. Due to the need to approach these societies holistically, no single aspect of society could be emphasised, as done by social scientists studying Western societies. Through this approach to non-Western societies, they gained an understanding of societies as complex and messy, overlapping and conflicting networks of relationships between different powers and interests.
The world has changed enormously since the mid-twentieth century. Former colonies have gained independence as empires fell. The Cold War between Communism and the West that dominated global politics for near on 50 years has ended. Capitalism as an economic system spread globally. Globalisation even threatens the central position of the Nation State. These changes have shaken the social sciences' classification of the world into units of study to its roots. Today's world is characterised by powerful modern institutions such as the development industry, mass media, biomedicine and global capitalism. All these institutions straddle national boundaries, class boundaries, and ethnic boundaries and are not limited by geography. As such they upset the categories within which social scientists used to operate.
It is Social Anthropology that is best geared to help us understand this complex and messy world. The reason for this is that anthropology's holistic approach to researching non-Western societies that underwent great change due to contact with, and domination by, Western colonialism and Capitalism. This background provides insight into the ways in which powers and interests in our world support or oppose each other. In this way, we obtain an understanding of networks that link extreme wealth with extreme poverty globally - networks that determine people's understanding of their world and functioning of human relationships.
By choosing to study Social Anthropology, you choose to engage closely with a wide field of knowledge. From urban anthropology focusing on the social and political implications of urban planning and urban space, to public health, to mass media, to market research and product development we strive to involve our students in service learning projects that bring them directly into contact with initiatives in South African context. The undergraduate curriculum at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University is so structured to immerse students in relevant aspects of social life, to give them research experience and to prepare them to ask the sort of questions and generate the types of insights that have made anthropologists sought-after social scientists.
- Ms Nicolette Visser
- 018 299 1626