At any rate, it will be futile to suspend our comparisons until the perfect classification or the perfect typology of human societies is placed within our grasp.”
After all, what does social anthropology do? It studies man in his totality. In other words, we assume that whatever may be the kind of society, it surely has some order, some organization. Social anthropology tries to find out what is common to all societies and at the same time what is different in all societies.
The identification of the common, that is, universal would enable us understand human society. Such an objective of social anthropology has become important all the more and immediate in the wake of the present process of globalization. This can be achieved only through a comparative study.
It would be interesting to mention a meeting of the authors with a Japanese social anthropologist. We wondered why she had come to study an Indian village when there were hundreds of villages in Japan too.
Her reply was prompt: I can understand Japanese villages better only when I understand Indian villages. This clearly shows that social institutions of a particular culture can be understood better by comparison to other cultures. This stresses the need to employ comparative method in social anthropology.
Historically, it should be mentioned that during the 19th century extensive comparisons were attempted by social anthropologists.
These pertained to the whole society and also to particular institutions and practices such as kinship systems, marriage practices, techniques of agriculture and pottery, magical practices, religious beliefs and so on.
The central place assigned to comparison was signaled by Durkheim when he wrote: “Comparative sociology is not a special branch of sociology.”
Thus, the methods of social anthropology and sociology are common not only in India but all through the Third World. Ravindra K. Jain, writing on the methods of social anthropology, says that “the distinction between social anthropology and sociology at the level of theory and method is extremely tenuous, particularly in the context of ‘third world’ countries.
And yet, precisely for the reason that the distinctive disciplinary traditions of the two subjects are obliterated in our practice.” In the same vein, Andre Beteille also observes that in India comparison is the methodology of social anthropology as well as sociology.
It is noteworthy that the ICSSR, which is the apex body of social science in the country, has also combined social anthropology with sociology. All the trend reports published by it include both sociology and social anthropology in the title.
In fact, the aim of social anthropology as it has emerged in the west, according to Ravindra K. Jain, “is the holistic comparative understanding of societies, cultures and civilizations that are primarily of the non-modern types”.
The notions of holism and comparison can be explicated only with reference to the theory and method of the discipline. Holism in current anthropological theory and practice means the study of the total society in all its parts. This holistic study is usually compared with other societies.