The Society for Cultural Anthropology was established in 1983, at a moment of organizational and intellectual renewal in the discipline of anthropology. The Society became one of the first sections of our parent organization, the American Anthropological Association, even as its members grappled with questions around the concept of culture and the subjects and objects of anthropological knowledge. David Schneider, Clifford Geertz, and Annette Weiner were among the Society’s first officers, and George Marcus was the founding editor of its journal, Cultural Anthropology. In 1988, the Society began holding regular conferences, initially structured around a series of plenary lectures meant to facilitate conversation among participants.

The SCA has evolved into a forward-looking project for critically assessing the production and consumption of anthropological knowledge, as well as its contested and shifting locations within the academy and beyond. In 2007, these commitments gave shape to an innovative website intended to expand the reach and impact of Cultural Anthropology. In the years that followed, the Society became known as a hub of experimentation with new modes of scholarly communication, and in 2014 its journal was relaunched on an open-access basis. In 2018, the Society's biennial meeting took place in a hybrid format pairing online multimedia presentations with face-to-face gatherings at nodes around the world.