Social and cultural anthropology adopts a comparative perspective to focus on the variety of forms that human coexistence takes in various places and at various times. In the past the field's attention was primarily given to small-scale societies outside of the industrial world. Nowadays, the focus of research is frequently on the processes related to colonialism, globalisation and the worldwide flows of migration seen in the present day, for example the redefinition of identities and cultural distinctions. The classical themes of local cultural interactions, organisational forms and world views are simultaneously developed, and intensive field research remains the field's defining characteristic in connection with the "participant observation" method.
Beyond scientific research, the practical application of cultural and social anthropological expertise is useful and sought after in many fields, including refugee work and integration, development cooperation, international missions, cultural mediation, exhibition and media work, tourism, and health care systems.