Anthropology and the study of culture Ch.1

the study of humanity, including its prehistoric origins and contemporary human diversity
Biological Anthropology
the study of humans as biological organisms, including evolution and contemporary variation
the study of the past human cultures through their material remains
Linguistic Anthropology
the study of human communication including its origins, history, and contemporary variation and change
Cultural Anthropology:
the study of living peoples and their cultures, including variation and change
people’s learned and shared behaviors and beliefs.
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Applied Anthropology
the use of anthropological knowledge to prevent or solve problems or to shape and achieve policy goals
the theory that a culture is similar to a biological organism, in which parts work to support the operation and maintenance of the whole
the perspective anthropology that cultures are complex systems that cannot be fully understood without paying attention to their different components, including economics, social organization, and ideology.
Cultural Relativism
the perspective that each culture must be understood in terms of the values and ideas of that culture and not judged by the standards of another culture.
Cultural Materialism
a theory that takes material features of life, such as the environment, natural resources, and mode of livelihood, as the bases for explaining social organization and ideology.
Interpretive Anthropology:
the view that cultures are best understood by studying what people think about, their ideas, and the meanings that are important to them.
a theoretical position concerning human behavior and ideas that says large forces such as the economy, social and political organization, and the media shape what people do and think.
the ability of humans to make choices and exercise free will even within dominating structures
a distinct pattern of learned and shared behavior and thinking found within a larger culture
an object, word, or action with culturally defined meaning that stands for something else; most symbols are arbitrary.
increased and intensified internal ties related to the spread of Western, especially US, capitalism that affect all world cultures.
the transformation of global culture by local cultures into something new.
a way of categorized people on the basis of their economic position in society, usually measured in terms of income or wealth
a classification of people into groups on the basis of supposedly homogeneous and biological traits such as skin color or hair characteristics.
a shared sense of identity among members of a group based on heritage, language, or culture.
Indigenous people
groups of people who have a long-standing connection with their home territories that predates colonial or outside societies
culturally constructed and learned behaviors and ideas attributed to males, females, or blended genders
judging another culture by the standards of one’s own culture rather than by the standards of that particular culture
Biological Determinism
a theory that explains human behavior and ideas as shaped mainly by biological features such as genes and hormones.
Cultural Constructionalism
a theory that explains human behavior and ideas as shaped mainly by learning
– anthropologists spend years in difficult, physical conditions, searching for the earliest fossils of our ancestors.
– some anthropologists conduct lab analyses of the contents of tooth enamel to reveal where an individual once lived.
– others study designs on prehistoric pottery to learn what the symbols mean, or observe nonhuman primates such as chimps or orangutans in the wild to learn how they live.
– compared with other discipline that study humanity (such as history, psychology, economics, political science, and sociology) anthropology is broader in scope
– the four fields of anthropology:
1. Biological
2. Cultural
3. Archaeology
4. Linguistic
– some people believe a fifth field should be added: Applied Anthropology.
Also known as practicing anthropology or practical anthropology.
3 subfields
1. Primatology
2. Paleoanthropology
3. Contemporary Human Biological Variation
study of nonhuman members of the order of mammals called primates, which includes a wide range of animals from very small, nocturnal creatures to gorillas, the largest members
~ Primatologists study nonhuman primates in the wild and in captivity.
> record and analyze how the animals spend their time, collect and sure food, form social groups, rear offspring, develop leadership patterns, and experience and resolve conflicts.
> alarmed about the decline in numbers, and even the extinction, of nonhuman primates
study of human evolution on the basis of the fossil record
~ one important activity is the sears for fossils to increase the amount and quality of the evidence related the way human evolution occurred
Contemporary Human Biological Variation:
~ anthropologists working in this area define, measure, and seek to explain differences in the biological makeup and behavior of contemporary humans
~ study such biological factors as DNA within and across populations, body size and shape, human nutrition, and disease, and human growth and development
literally means the “study of the old”, but “the old” is limited to human culture
2 Major Areas of Archaeology
1. Prehistoric Archaeology: concerns the human past before written records
> Prehistoric archaeologists often identify themselves with broad geographic regions
Ex: Old World archaeology (Africa, Europe, Asia)
Ex: New World archaeology ( North, Central, South America)

2. Historical Archaeology: deals with the human past in societies that have written documents
– Underwater Archaeology: the study of submerged archaeological sites
> sites may be from either prehistoric or historic times

devoted to the study of communication, mainly (but not exclusively) among humans
3 Subculture Fields of Linguistics
1. Historical linguistics: the study of language change over time and how languages are related
2. Descriptive linguistics/Structural linguistics: the study of how contemporary languages differ in terms of their formal structure
3. Sociolinguistics: the study of the relationships among social variation, social context, and linguistic variation, including nonverbal communication
– is the study of contemporary people and their cultures
– culture refers to people’s learned and shared behaviors and beliefs
– considers variations and similarities across cultures, and how cultures change over time
– can learn about culture by spending a long time, typically a year or more, living with the people they study —> cultural anthropologists
Prominent Areas of specialization
1. Economic anthropology
2. Psychological anthropology
3. Medical anthropology
4. Political anthropology
5. International development anthropology
Applied Anthropology
– emerged during and after WWII
– first concern was with improving the lives of contemporary peoples and their needs, so it was more closely associated with cultural anthropology that with the other three fields
– many anthropologists feel that applied anthropology should be considered a fifth field of anthropology, standing on its own
– weaves through all 4 fields of anthropology:
1. Archaeologists are employed in cultural resource management (CRM) assessing the presence of possible archaeological remains before construction projects, such as roads and buildings.
2. Biological anthropologists are employed as forensic anthropologists, participating in criminal investigations through laboratory work identifying bodily remains. Others work in nonhuman primate conservation, helping to protect their habitats and survival.
3. Linguistic anthropologists consult with educational institutions about how to improve standardized tests for bilingual populations and conduct policy research for governments
4. Cultural anthropologists apply their knowledge to improve policies and programs in every domain of life, including education, health care, business, poverty reduction, and conflict prevention and resolution.
– devoted to studying human cultures worldwide, about their similarities and differences
– makes “the strange familiar and the familiar strange”
A Brief History of Cultural Anthropology
most important founding figures of cultural anthropology in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were Sir Edward Tylor and Sir James Frazer in England and Lewis
❀ Late Nineteenth Century:
1. Sir Edward Tylor ——————> Armchair anthropology; first definition of culture
2. Sir James Frazer ——————-> Armchair anthropology, comparative study of religion
3. Lewis Henry Morgan ————-> Insider’s view, cultural evolution, comparative method
❀ Early Twentieth Century
1. Bronislaw Malinowski ——————> Functionalism, holism, participant observation
2. Franz Boas ———————————–> Cultural relativism, historical particularism, advocacy
3. Margaret Mead —————————-> Personality and culture, cultural constructionism, public anthropology
4. Ruth Benedict ——————————> Personality and culture, national character studies
5. Zora Neale Hurston ———————-> Black culture, women’s roles, ethnographic novels
❀ Mid- and Late Twentieth Century and Early Twenty-First Century❀ Mid- and Late Twentieth Century and Early Twenty-First Century❀ Mid- and Late Twentieth Century and Early Twenty-First CenturyMid- and Late Twentieth Century and Early Twenty-First Century
1. Claude Lévi-Strauss ———————-> Symbolic analysis, French structuralism
2. Beatrice Medicine ———————-> Native American anthropology
3. Eleanor Leacokc ———————-> Anthropology of colonialism and indigenous peoples
4. Marvis Harris ———————-> Cultural materialism, comparison, theory building
5. Mary Douglas ———————-> Symbolic anthropology
6. Michelle Rosaldo ———————-> Feminist anthropology
7. Clifford Geertz ———————-> Interpretive anthropology, thick description of local culture
8. Laura Nader ———————-> Legal anthropology, “studying up”
9.George Marcus ———————-> Critique of culture, critique of cultural anthropology
10. Gilbert Herdt ———————-> Gay anthropology
11. Nancy Scheper-Hughes ———————-> Critical medical anthropology
12. Leith Mullings ———————-> Anti-racist anthropology
13. Sally Engle Merry ———————-> Globalization and human rights
Henry Morgan in the US.
~ inspired by the concept of biological evolution, they developed a model of cultural evolution whereby all cultures evolve from lower to higher forms over time
> view placed non-Western peoples at “primitive” stage and Euro-Ameican culture as “civilization” and assumed that non-Western cultures would either catch up to the level of Western civilization or die out.
Definition of Culture
– culture is the core concept in cultural anthropology, so it might seem likely that cultural anthropologists would agree about what it is
– Tylor’s definition of culture: “culture, or civilization… is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”
~ the phrase “that complex whole” has been the most durable feature of his definition
– in contemporary culture anthropology, the cultural materialists and the interpretive anthropologists support two different definitions of culture.
~Cultural materialists Marvin Harris says, “A culture is the total socially acquired life-way of life-style of a group of people. It consists of the patterned repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are characteristic of the members of a particular society or segment of society”
~ In contrast, Geertz, speaking for interpretivists, believes that culture consists of symbols, motivations, moods, and thoughts and does not include behavior as a part of culture
– this book defines culture as learned and shared behavior and beliefs, a definition broader than Geertz’s.
– culture exists among all human beings.
-microcultures are based on ethnicity, gender, age, and more
Characteristics of Culture
-Culture is not the same as Nature:
~ a good way to see how culture diverges from, and shapes, nature is to consider basic natural demands of life within different cultural contexts.
~ Universal human functions:
a. eating
b. drinking
c. sleeping
d. eliminating
primary importance of these four functions in supporting a human being’s life, it seems logical that people would fulfill them in similar ways everywhere. But that is not the case
a. Eating:
-> culture shapes what people eat, how they eat, when they eat, and the meanings of food and eating
-> culture also defines foods that are acceptable an unacceptable
-> perceptions of taste vary dramatically/four universal taste categories
+ sweet
+ sour
+ bitter
+ salty
-> how to eat is a big deal (utensils, right hand, sharing, not sharing, sanitary/unsanitary)
-> who is responsible for cooking and serving food
+ domestic cooking is women’s responsibility; public feasts is men’s responsibility
b. Drinking:
-> every culture defines the appropriate substances to drink, when to drink, and with whom, and the meanings of the beverages and drinking conditions
-> social drinking —- whether the beverage is coffee, beer, or vodka —- creates and reinforces bonds
c. Sleeping:
-> sleep is at least as much culturally shaped as it is biologically determined
-> cultural influences on sleep include the questions of who sleeps with whom, how much sleep a person should have, and why some people have insomnia or what are called sleep disorders.
-> do infants/babies sleep with just the mother, both the parents, or by themselves in separate rooms?
-> culture shapes the amount of time a person sleeps
-> excessive sleekness is correlated with more accidents on the job, more absenteeism, decreased productivity, deteriorated personal and professional relationships, and increased rates of illness and death
d. Eliminating:
-> in spite of its basic importance to people everywhere, elimination receives little attention (in print) from anthropologists
-> first question is where to eliminate when traveling to a new place/location
-> adds fertilizer to the fields and leaves no paper litter when eliminating outdoors in fields
-> in many cultures, the products of elimination ( urine and feces) are considered polluting and disgusting
Culture is Based on the Symbols
– our entire lives are based on and organized through symbols
– symbols are arbitrary (bearing no necessary relationship to that which is symbolized), unpredictable, and diverse
~impossible to predict how a particular culture will symbolize something since symbols are so arbitrary
– it is through symbols, arbitrary, and amazingly rich in their attributions, that culture is shared, stored, and transmitted over time
Culture is Learned
– culture must be learned anew in each context because culture is based on symbols that are arbitrary.
– culture learning begins from the moment of birth, if not before
– a large but unknown amount of people’s culture learning is unconscious, occurring as normal part of life through observation
– learning in schools, in contrast, is a formal way to acquire culture
– children acquire cultural patterns through observation and practice and advice from family members and elder members of the group
-Cultures are Integrated
– to state that cultures are internally integrated is to assert the principle of holism
~ thus studying only one or two aspects of culture provides an understanding so limited that it is more likely to be misleading or wrong than are more comprehensive approaches
– cultural integration is relevant to applied anthropologists interested in proposing ways to promote positive change
– years of experience show that introducing programs for change in one aspect of culture without considering their effects in other domains is often detrimental to the welfare and survival of a culture
Cultures Interact and Change
– cultures interact with each other and change each other through contact such as trade networks, international development projects, telecommunications, education, migration, and tourism
– globalization has gaminess momentum through recent technological change, especially the boom in information and communication technologies
~ globalization does not spread evenly and its interactions with, and effect on, local cultures vary substantially from positive change to cultural destruction and extinction
Four Models of Cultural Interaction Capture Some of the Variation
a. Clash of Civilization:
-> argument says that the spread of Euro-American capitalism and life ways throughout the world has created disenchantment, alienation, and resentment among other cultural systems.
-> divides the world into the “West and the rest”
-> conflict model
b. McDonaldization:
-> model says that, under the powerful influence of US- dominated corporate culture, the world is becoming homogeneous
-> takeover and homogenization model
c. Hybridization:
-> also called syncretism and creolization
-> occurs when aspects of two or more cultures combine to form something new— a blend
-> blending model
d. Localization:
-> transformation of global culture by local microcultures into something new
-> local cultural remaking and transformation of global culture
– within large cultures, a variety of microcultures exist
– a particular individual in such a complex situation is likely to be a member of several micro cultures
– micro cultures may overlap or may be related to each other hierarchically in terms of power, status, and rights
– in discussing mircorcultures, the contrast between difference and hierarchy is important.
-People and groups can be considered different form each other in terms of a particular characteristic, but they may or may not be unequal on the basis of it
# Class
– based on people’s economic position in society, usually measured in terms of income or wealth and exhibited in therms of lifestyle
– class societies may be divided into upper, middle, and lower classes
– Separate Classes
~Working class: people who trade their labor for wages
~ Landowning class: people who own land on which they or others labor
– related in a hierarchal system, with upper classes dominating lower classes
– class struggle, in the classic Marxist view, is inevitable as those at the top seek to maintain their position while at the bottom seek to improve theirs
~ those at the bottom may attempt to improve their class position by gaining access to resources and by adopting aspects of upper-class symbolic behavior, such as speech, dress, and leisure and recreation activities.
“Race,” Ethnicity, and Indigenous Peoples
“race” prefers to groups of people with supposedly homogenous biological traits.
~ term is extremely complicated as it is used in diverse ways in different parts of the word and among different groups of people.
~ ^ important to put word in quotation marks in order to indicate that it has no single meaning
– anthropological and other scientific research demonstrates that biological features alone do not explain or account for a person’s behavior or lifestyle
~ rather than being a biological category, racial classifications are cultural constructions.
~ often associated with discriminations against, and cruelty toward, those “races” considered less worthy by those in power
–> ethnicity refers to a sense of identity among a group based on a sense of a common heritage, language, religion, or other aspect of culture
– compared with the term “race,” “ethnicity” appears to be a more neutral, else stigmatizing term
~ but still a basic for discrimination, segregation, and oppression
–> indigenous peoples, according to the guidelines laid down by the UN, are defined as groups that have a long-standing connection with their home territories, a connection prating colonial or other societies that prevail in the territory.
– typically a numerical minority and often have lost the rights to their original territory
– refers to culturally constructed and learned behaviors and ideas attributed to males, females, or sometimes a blended, or “third,” gender.
– differs from sex, which is based on biological markers, such as genitals and hormones, to define categories of male and female
– cultural anthropology shows that a person’s biological makeup does not necessarily correspond to gender
~ biology directly determines only a few roles and stakes, such as giving birth and nursing infants
– cross-culturally, gender difference vary from societies in which male and female roles re sharply differentiated
the human life cycle, from birth to old age takes people through cultural stages for which appropriate behavior and thinking must be learned anew
Institutions, or enduring group setting formed for a particular purpose, have their own characteristic microcultures
– include hospitals, schools, and universities, and prisons
~ anyone who has entered such an institution has experienced a feeling of strangeness
~ until gain familiarity with the often unwritten cultural rules, you may do things that offend or puzzle people, that fail to get what you want, and that make you feel marginalized and insecure
– educational institutions have shown that schools often replicate and reinforce stereotypes, power relations, and inequalities of the wider society
cultural anthropology has two distant research goals and two distinct guiding concepts
Cultural Relativism
most people grow up thinking that their culture is the way of life and that other ways of life are strange and inferior ——–> labeled as Ethnocentrism
judging other cultures by the standards of one’s own culture rather than by the standards of other cultures
~ has fueled cent rues of efforts to change “other” people in the world, sometimes through religious missionary work, sometimes in the form of colonial domination
– opposite of ethnocentrism is Cultural Relativism
Cultural Relativism
the idea that each culture must be understood in terms of its own values and beliefs and not by the standards of another cultures
~ assumes that no culture is better than any other
– some anthropologists have interpreted cultural relativism is absolute cultural relativism, which says that whatever goes on in a particular culture must not be questioned or changed because it would be ethnocentric to question any behavior or idea anywhere
– Critical cultural relativism offers and alternative view that poses questions about cultural practices and ideas in terms of who accepts them and why, and whom they might be harming or helping
Cultural imperialism
one dominant group claimed supremacy over minority cultures and took actions in its own interests and at the expense of the subjugated cultures
– critical cultural relativism avoids the trap of adopting a homogenized view
~ recognizes internal cultural differences: winer and losers, and oppressors and victims
~ can illuminate the causes and consequences of recent and contemporary conflicts
– many cultural anthropologists seek to critique ( which means “to probe underlying power interests,” not “to offer negative comments,” as in the general usage of the term “criticism”) the behavior and values of groups from the standpoint of a set of generally agreed-on human rights and values
Valuing and Sustaining Diversity
– anthropologists value and are committed to maintaing cultural diversity throughout the world, as part of humanity’s rich heritage
– many cultural anthropologists share their expertise and knowledge to support the survival of indigenous peoples and other small-scale groups worldwide
Biological Determinism Versus Cultural Constructionism
– biological determinists search for the gene or hormone that contributes to behavior such as homicide, alcoholism, or adolescent stress.
~ also examine cultural practices in terms of how they contribute to the “reproductive success of the species,” or how they contribute to the gene pool of subsequent generations by boosting the number of surviving offspring produced in a particular population
– skills are passed on culturally through learning, not genes —–> cultural constructionism
– through recognizing the role of biological factors such as genes and hormones, anthropologist who favor cultural construction and learning as an explanation for behaviors such as homicide and alcoholism point to childhood experience and family roles as being perhaps even more important that genes or hormones
– most cultural anthropologists are cultural constructionists, but some connect biology and culture in their work
Interpretive Anthropology Versus Cultural Materialism
– interpretive anthropology, or interpretivism, focuses on understanding culture by studying what people think about, their explanations of their lives, and symbols that are important to them
– cultural materialism attempts to learn about culture by first examining the material aspects of life: the natural environment and how people make a living within particular environments
~ believe that these basic facts of life shape culture, even through people may not realize it
⥤ Three-Level Model to Explain Culture
1. Infrastructure: term that refers to basic material factors such as natural resources,the economy, and population
> tends to shape the other two dominions of culture
2. Structure: social organization, kinship, and political organization
3. Superstructure: ideas, values, and beliefs
Individual Agency Versus Structurism
– debate concerns the question of how much individual will, or agency, affects the way people behave and think, compared with the power of forces, or structures, that are beyond individual control
– western philosophical thought gives much emphasis to the role of agency, the ability of individuals to make choices and exercise free will
– in contrast, structurism emphasizes that free choice is an illusion because choices are structured by larger forces such as the economy, social and political organization, and ideological systems
Majoring in Anthropology
– Anthro BA = Liberal Arts Degree
~ not professional degree
– provides solid education relevant to many career directions that are likely to require further study, such as law, criminal justice, medicine and health services, social services, education, humanitarian assistance, international development programs, and business
– has several clear advantages over other liberal arts majors, and employers and graduate school are increasingly recognizing these features