Social and Cultural Anthropology considers people, through and through, as social beings. It learned to do this through an early interest with 'exotic' places. But the approach that it learned applies to all of us. It has forced the realisation that everything that all of us do, in whatever society or culture at whatever period of history, rests on assumptions, which usually are not stated but which are largely shared with our particular neighbours, kin, friends, or colleagues. Everything social is open to question, including solidly held beliefs and attitudes and ideas about causality, the self in society, and nature and culture. Learning to relate different versions of the world to each other is learning to be a Social Anthropologist. In turn, Social Anthropology has been described as 'empirical philosophy'.
Social Anthropologists are usually area experts, often spending a lot of time, when relevant, on language, literature and history. But they talk among themselves about general problems of how to understand the social world. Specialisation can be by topic (for example economics, politics, religion, medicine, migration, or the visual, material, and embodied), but the subject as a whole is not topic-based. Social Anthropology asks where the topics come from, what they reveal and what they conceal, and what light, if any, they throw on the deep assumptions that persons in society might share. In so far as it does that, it is happy to take as its subject matter whole other disciplines in academia, or whole institutionalised forms of knowledge, such as science, law, nationalism, or pyschoanalysis, just as it does other cultures or societies or forms of common sense. As a discipline, it represents a way of making sense of disparate lives, societies, and ideas of the world.
Originally established as the only centre in the UK specialising in postgraduate teaching and research within the discipline, it continues to supervise large numbers of graduate and research students.