Difference between ethnography & ethnology

Written by david karanja
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Difference between ethnography & ethnology
Ethnography and ethnology are fields in anthropology. (Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Ethnography and ethnology both are natural sciences that deal with the study of the natural history of man. This field of study is commonly known as anthropology. Ethnography and ethnology both are important branches of anthropology, just as zoology is a key branch of biology. Although ethnography and ethnology are similar, they still have fundamental differences.

Fundamental Difference

Ethnography's sphere of study incorporates the use of descriptive details in the analysis of a society. It includes a description of things like the marriage and burial procedures or circumcision ceremonies. Ethnology, on the other hand, employs rational exposition in explaining human aggregates and organisations such as clans, tribes and nations, especially during their formative years.

Scope of Study

Ethnographists study particular tribes and particular institutions characterised by particular customs that prevail among several people in the world. They focus more on the so-called "savages." On the other hand, an ethnologist encompasses the simultaneous review of superstitions, legends, myths, customs and institutions that may be located in different parts of the earth. Another difference that arises in the sphere of study is that an ethnologist constructs a theory of what goes into a particular society, while an ethnographer works to find common principles across different societies.


Ethnology is divided into two divisions, historical ethnology and prehistoric ethnology. Historical ethnology researches the origins, customs and established institutions that were present in barbarian tribes. This is made possible by using historical records. Prehistoric ethnology is concerned with the early conditions of man, mainly on deductions from indirect evidence, since there are no records of what really transpired. Ethnography does not endeavour toward discussing new solutions that have been suggested by anthropology.

Weapons, Tools and Other Implements

Ethnology is centred on investigating weapons, tools and other implements. A large number of ethnologists have made it the centre of their research and they will go around the globe in search of bones, teeth, flints and other tools of interest. They use the motto "Ex ungue leonem," which can mean trying to discern broad principles from examining a single item. On the other hand, the work of the ethnographer is to only classify details concerning the tools and implements excavated with respect to their history and geographical distribution to determine if a relationship existed among them.

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