Lack of Definition

I have recently discovered that I am attracted to and yearn for rules and definitions. Whether in social settings, the workplace or areas of study I find that rules and definitions allow everyone to behave, work and learn more effectively. That is the reason for this post (for I admit it does seem a bit random).

In college my major was Sociology. I have encountered many people since who have asked what, exactly, Sociology is. I have typically responded with the definition I learned in my first course — “Sociology is the study of groups of people.”

This was a clear distinction from my understanding of Psychology, which is the study of individuals.

Lately I have been watching the television show Bones and enjoying it very much. The central character of the show is a forensic anthropologist. She has explained what it is she does and can do numerous times on the show. The more explaining she has done (regarding the non-forensic aspects of her field of study) the more confused I have become concerning the differences between Sociology and Anthropology.

I decided today to try and find definitions of each discipline in order to have clarity on the subject. To my dismay I find myself more confused. Below are the definitions  I have come across. The formatting is not uniform and for that I apologize.


  • the study of society
  • a social science involving the study of the social lives of people, groups, and societies
  • the study of our behavior as social beings, covering everything from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes
  • the scientific study of social aggregations, the entities through which humans move throughout their lives’
  • an overarching unification of all studies of humankind, including history, psychology, and economics

Taken from the website of the American Sociological Association —


Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, Anthropology draws upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. Historically, in the US, anthropologists usually have been trained in one of four areas, socio-cultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics. Often, however, anthropologists integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their work.

Taken from the American Anthropological Association website —


Psychology is a diverse discipline, grounded in science, but with nearly boundless applications in everyday life.  Some psychologists do basic research, developing theories and testing them through carefully honed research methods involving observation, experimentation and analysis. Other psychologists apply the discipline’s scientific knowledge to help people, organizations and communities function better.

Taken from the American Psychological Association website —

I find this last definition lacking so I went to another site — Merriam-Webster.

Main Entry: psy·chol·o·gy Pronunciation: \-jē\Function: nounInflected Form(s): plural psy·chol·o·giesEtymology: New Latin psychologia, from psych- + -logia -logyDate: 1653

1 : the science of mind and behavior
2 a : the mental or behavioral characteristics of an individual or group b: the study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity
3 : a theory or system of psychology <Freudian psychology> <the psychology of Jung>

Author: John Ryan Sullivan

I am a writer and filmmaker.

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