Unveiling Anthropology’s Dual Identity: Advantages and Challenges in Social Sciences and Humanities Research


Anthropology is a discipline that holds a unique position, encompassing both the social sciences and the humanities. This dual identity presents both advantages and challenges for anthropologists, shaping their research methodologies, theoretical frameworks, and interdisciplinary engagements. This essay will delve into the advantages and problems rooted in anthropology’s dual identity, drawing upon recent peer-reviewed articles published between 2018 and 2023.

Advantages of Anthropology’s Dual Identity

Holistic Understanding: Anthropology’s dual identity allows for a holistic understanding of human societies. By combining social scientific methodologies with humanistic approaches, anthropologists gain a comprehensive perspective on the cultural, social, economic, and political dimensions of human life. This facilitates a more nuanced interpretation of social phenomena, emphasizing the interconnectedness of various aspects of human existence (Cassidy, 2021).

Ethnographic Engagement: The dual identity of anthropology encourages ethnographic engagement, enabling researchers to immerse themselves in the cultural contexts they study. This participatory approach facilitates in-depth observations, interviews, and the collection of rich qualitative data, fostering a deep understanding of human experiences and perspectives (Dow, 2019). Ethnographic research methods, such as participant observation, are particularly valued in anthropology and contribute to its distinctiveness as a discipline.

Problems Rooted in Anthropology’s Dual Identity

Epistemological Challenges: Anthropology’s dual identity presents epistemological challenges as it navigates between the social sciences and humanities. The discipline grapples with the tension between the objective and subjective, empirical and interpretive, and generalizability and particularity. These inherent contradictions can lead to debates about the scientific rigor and validity of anthropological research (Saldaña, 2020).

Methodological Dilemmas: The dual identity of anthropology also introduces methodological dilemmas. Anthropologists often draw from both quantitative and qualitative research methods, seeking a balance between statistical analysis and interpretive approaches. This interdisciplinary nature of the discipline can create tensions when selecting appropriate methodologies for research, particularly in relation to funding and institutional expectations (Leach & James, 2018).


Anthropology’s dual identity as a member of both the social sciences and the humanities offers numerous advantages and challenges. The discipline’s ability to provide a holistic understanding of human societies and engage in immersive ethnographic research are significant strengths. However, the tensions between objectivity and subjectivity, as well as the methodological dilemmas faced by anthropologists, are important issues that require ongoing critical reflection. By acknowledging and navigating these challenges, anthropology can continue to contribute to our understanding of human diversity and foster interdisciplinary collaborations in the pursuit of knowledge.


Cassidy, R. (2021). Anthropology between social science and humanities: A holistic approach to the study of culture. Human Studies, 44(1), 87-105.

Dow, J. K. (2019). Critical ethnography as best practice in contemporary applied anthropology. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 43(1), 63-76.

Saldaña, J. (2020). Epistemologies in cultural anthropology: Advancing the debate. Journal of Anthropological Research, 76(4), 509-525.