Sociocultural anthropology is the subfield that concentrates on the realities, understandings, and problems of contemporary human beings who organize their lives within social systems according to a wide variety of cultural rules, legacies, and interpretations of the challenges of existence. Although sociocultural anthropologists often use methods similar to those found in the disciplines of psychology, sociology, history, and political science to gain information about human experience, the primary tool for studying, writing about, and sharing findings with people is ethnography. Ethnography involves spending more community-based time participating in the lives of people (with their permission) in order to arrive at rich, linguistically grounded, and more nuanced understandings than quick observations and questionnaires offer.
The curriculum of the Department of Anthropology at Fort Lewis College reflects two foci in sociocultural anthropological work. Some sociocultural courses are areal in nature, meaning they concentrate on particular regions of the world (e.g., Native Peoples of the Andes and Ethnology of the Southwest). The other type of sociocultural course is topical, focusing on a particular set of issues across various societies with an eye towards applying anthropological understandings towards ameliorating human social problems (e.g., Traditional Ecological Knowledge & Cultural Survival and Anthropology of Gender). Students majoring in Anthropology must take at least one course in Sociocultural Anthropology in addition to core courses and electives. Students who are not Anthropology majors may take a minor degree in Sociocultural Anthropology.