Sociocultural anthropology draws together the principle axes of cultural anthropology and social anthropology. Cultural anthropology is the comparative study of the manifold ways in which people make sense of the world around them, while social anthropology is the study of the relationships among persons and groups. Cultural anthropology is more related to philosophy, literature and the arts (how one's culture affects experience for self and group, contributing to more complete understanding of the people's knowledge, customs, and institutions), while social anthropology is more related to sociology and history. in that it helps develop understanding of social structures, typically of others and other populations (such as minorities, subgroups, dissidents, etc.). There is no hard-and-fast distinction between them, and these categories overlap to a considerable degree.

Inquiry in sociocultural anthropology is guided in part by cultural relativism, the attempt to understand other societies in terms of their own cultural symbols and values. Accepting other cultures in their own terms moderates reductionism in cross-cultural comparison. This project is often accommodated in the field of ethnography. Ethnography can refer to both a methodology and the product of ethnographic research, i.e. an ethnographic monograph. As methodology, ethnography is based upon long-term fieldwork within a community or other research site. Participant observation is one of the foundational methods of social and cultural anthropology. Ethnology involves the systematic comparison of different cultures. The process of participant-observation can be especially helpful to understanding a culture from an emic (conceptual, vs. etic, or technical) point of view.

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