Last Updated 22 Jun 2020

Feminist Anthropology

Category Anthropology
Essay type Research
Words 2734 (10 pages)
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In the center of the nineteenth century the theory of feminist anthropology emerged as a reaction to a perceived androcentric prejudice within the field of anthropology ( Lamphere 1996: 488 ) .

Symbolic anthropology, on the other manus, emerged during the twentieth century and formed in response to the dissatisfaction with the theory of structural linguistics that was grounded in linguistics and semiologies ( Des Chene 1996:1275 ) . The purpose of this paper is to analyze the similarities and differences between the theories of feminist anthropology and symbolic anthropology in order to better understand the impact both motions had on the societal scientific disciplines. Both of these theories, although seemingly unrelated, portion a assortment of similarities that are at the nucleus of the paradigm displacement in anthropology that continues today. Further, an scrutiny of some of the cardinal figures in anthropology who influenced the outgrowth of these theoretical tendencies, will further clarify the principle for their development.


Additionally, an scrutiny of some of the cardinal figures in anthropology who influenced these paradigm 's will further light these theories ' importance. Although this paper can non supply a complete analysis of what differs and remains the same between feminist and symbolic anthropology, we can make a better apprehension of the two theoretical schools of idea and the impact they had on the field of anthropology and societal scientific discipline as a whole. However, before comparing and contrasting the theories, it is indispensable to hold a basic apprehension of what each theory entails.

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Basic Dogmas of Feminist Anthropology

In the history of anthropology, three different moving ridges of feminist anthropology occurred with varying focal points ( Gellner and Stockett, 2006 ) . These different moving ridges did non to the full occur in chronological order and there are convergences with some of the theories of each still relevant today.

The first moving ridge occurred between 1850 and 1920, and had the primary end of including adult females 's voices into descriptive anthropology. At the clip, there was really small ethnographic informations refering adult females, and the informations that did be was mostly the studies of male sources talking for adult females and analyzed through male ethnographers ( Pine 1996: 253 ) . The focal point of the 2nd moving ridge, which occurred between 1920 and 1980 was an effort to divide the impressions of sex and gender. Until this point, the footings had been used interchangeably and the word `` Gender '' referred to both the constructs of male and female, the cultural building that created these two classs and the relationship between them. ( Pine 1996:253 ) . This was debatable since the definition of gender varies from civilization to civilization and can take to false apprehensions and the creative activity of cultural false beliefs in the field of anthropology. Further, during the 2nd moving ridge, feminist anthropologists pushed for a rejection of the bing dualities between work forces and adult females that were present in Western civilization, such as the thought that work forces should work while adult females stayed at place. During the 2nd moving ridge, mercenary research into the thoughts of societal dealingss about adult females, reproduction and their productive capablenesss in the work force became popular, particularly how these factors related to other societal factors such as societal category.

Therefore, in the 2nd moving ridge, feminist anthropologists argued for a move off from the wide generalisations that had plagued the field of anthropology for coevalss ( Lamphere 1996:488 ) .

This is linked to the single focal point put-forth by the interpretivist motion in anthropology during the 1950s. However, it differs because it makes connexions between adult females irrespective of what civilization they belong to. Contemporary women's rightist anthropologists make up the 3rd moving ridge of feminist anthropology, which started in the 1980s and continues throughout the new millenary. Feminist anthropologists of today, are no longer entirely focused on the gender dissymmetry but instead focal point on the differences that exist between classs such as category, race and ethnicity ( Geller and Stockett, 2006 ) . This modern-day focal point therefore examines the differences that exist between adult females with differing societal backgrounds, instead than concentrating on the difference between males and females ( McGee, Warms 1996: 392 ) . Contemporary women's rightist anthropology besides examines how these assorted societal factors interact, particularly in the context of power, which is frequently used as the chief method of analysis. However, this method has resulted in a extremely disconnected theoretical attack, which uses combined pieces of assorted theories ( Geller and Stockett, 2006 ) .

Cardinal Peoples in Feminist Anthropology

One of the cardinal figures in the first moving ridge of feminist anthropology was Ruth Benedict ( 1887-1948 ) . Benedict was a pupil of Franz Boas, and one of the first female anthropologists, gaining her doctor's degree from Columbia University in 1923 ( Buckner 1997: 34 ) . Most of her work focused on Native Americans and other groups which led her to develop her `` configurational attack '' to civilization, which views cultural systems as working to prefer certain personality types among different societies ( Buckner 1997: 34 ) . Another cardinal figure who emerged in the 2nd moving ridge of feminist anthropology was Margaret Mead ( 1901-1978 ) another pupil of Franz Boas, who was friends with Ruth Benedict. Meads feminist work centered on the separating factors between sex and gender. Many of her theories were influenced by or borrowed from Gestalt psychological science, a subfield of psychological science which focused on analysing personality as an interconnected psychological form alternatively of a aggregation of unrelated elements ( McGee, Warms 1996:202 ) Her work attempted to divide the biological factors from the cultural factors that influence human behaviour and personality development and helped to construct a model for the emerging subject of feminist anthropology. Additionally, her work analyzed the permeant sexual dissymmetry that existed in the ethnographic literature of anthropology during the clip. ( Levinson, Ember 1996:488 ) .

Basic Dogmas of Interpretive Anthropology

The intent of symbolic anthropology is to analyze the different ways that people understand their milieus, every bit good as the differing readings of those who act within them. Symbolic anthropologists believe that these readings can be combined to make a shared cultural system of significance, or shared apprehensions shared between members of the same civilization. However, it is understood that non all members of a civilization will hold the exact same beliefs ( Des Chene 1996:1274 ) . One of the chief focal points of symbolic anthropology is the survey of symbols and the assorted ways that symbols are created and have their significances assigned to them. Symbolic anthropologists believe that scrutiny of these symbols and the procedures that create them ( such as myth and faith ) will light the cardinal inquiries of human societal life shared by each civilization ( Spencer 1996:535 ) . Therefore, symbolic anthropologists view civilization as an independent system of intending that can be deciphered by construing cardinal symbols and rites that create it ( Spencer 1996:535 ) . Overall, there are two cardinal premises in symbolic anthropology. The first of these premises provinces that the beliefs of a certain group of people, nevertheless unintelligible they may look, can ever be understood when they are examined as portion of an bing cultural system of significance ( Des Chene 1996:1274 ) . The 2nd premiss provinces that the actions of a specific group of people are guided by the reading of these symbols. These two premises allows for symbolic anthropologists to use symbolism to construe both ideal and material activities of a specific group of people.

Frequently, the focal point of symbolic anthropology will be on faith, cosmology, ritual activity, and expressive imposts such as mythology and the acting humanistic disciplines ( Des Chene 1996:1274 ) . However, symbolic anthropologists besides study other signifiers of societal organisation such as affinity and political organisation, which allows research workers to analyze the function that these symbols play in the mundane life of people from different civilizations. ( Des Chene 1996:1274 ) .

Cardinal Peoples in Interpretive Anthropology

Overall, the field of symbolic anthropology can be divided into two major attacks, each associated with one of the cardinal figures of the theory. The first attack is associated with Clifford Geertz and the University of Chicago and the other with Victor W. Turner at Cornell University. Geertz 's place illustrates the interpretative attack to symbolic anthropology, while Turner 's illustrates the symbolic attack. Clifford Geertz ( 1926-2006 ) studied at Harvard University in the 1950s and was strongly influenced by the Hagiographas of philosophers such as Langer, Ryle, and Weber. ( Handler 1991 ; Tongs 1993 ) Geertz was influenced mostly by the sociologist Max Weber, finally utilizing different facets of their thought as cardinal elements in his theory of interpretative anthropology, and was more interested in the operations of `` civilization '' than the assorted ways that symbols interact within the societal procedure. In his digest of essays entitled `` The Interpretation of Cultures '' ( 1973c ) , Geertz argued that an analysis of civilization should `` non [ be ] an experimental scientific discipline in hunt of jurisprudence but an interpretative 1 in hunt of significance '' ( Geertz 1973d:5 ) . Further, Geertz believed that civilization was a societal phenomenon and a shared system of intersubjective symbols and significances ( Parker 1985 ) .`

This can be seen in his ain definition of civilization, which was `` an historically familial form of significances embodied in symbols, a system of familial constructs expressed in symbolic signifiers by agencies of which work forces communicate, perpetuate, and develop their cognition about and their attitudes toward life '' ( Geertz 1973e:89 ) . Geertz 's symbolic anthropology focused on the different ways in which symbols operate within a specific civilization, particularly how persons `` see, experience, and think about the universe '' ( Ortner 1983:129-131 ) . He believed that civilization is expressed through the external symbols utilized by society and is non merely stored inside the heads of members of that society. Geertz, argued that adult male utilized the symbolic as `` beginnings of light '' in order to point himself in his ain system of significance ( Geertz 1973a:45 ) .

Therefore, societies use their symbols to show their ain alone “worldview, value-orientation, ethos, [ and other facets of their civilization ] '' ( Ortner 1983:129 ) . Symbols could be seen as `` vehicles of 'culture '' who 's intending should non be studied in and of themselves, but alternatively should be studied for what they can uncover about a peculiar civilization. Geertz argued that these cultural symbols shaped the ways that societal histrions see, experience, and think about the universe ( Ortner 1983:129 ) . Victor Witter Turner ( 1920-1983 ) was the leader of the other subdivision of symbolic anthropology ( Turner 1980:143 ) . Born in Scotland, Turner was influenced by the structural-functionalist attack of British societal anthropology that had been outstanding during the clip. In peculiar, Turner was influenced by Emile Durkheim, which shaped his version of symbolic anthropology to concentrate more on the operations of `` society '' and the ways in which different symbols operate within it. ( Ortner 1983:128-129 ) . Turner, like old British anthropologists, was interested in look intoing whether symbols really functioned within the societal procedure the manner current symbolic anthropologists believed they did. Thus, Turner 's attack to symbols was highly different than that of his modern-day, Clifford Geertz.

Alternatively of being interested in symbols as vehicles of `` civilization '' as Geertz was, Turner believed that symbols functioned as `` operators in the societal procedure '' ( Ortner 1983:131 ) and that `` the symbolic look of shared significances '' , non the attractive force of stuff involvements, prevarication at the centre of human relationships '' ( Maning 1984:20 ) . Turner believed that symbols `` instigate societal action '' and exercise `` determinable influences tending individuals and groups to action '' ( Turner 1967:36 ) and felt that these `` operators, '' if placed in a certain agreement and context, would bring forth `` societal transmutations '' which both act to maintain the people in a society tied to the society 's specific societal norms every bit good as decide societal struggle and assistance in altering the societal position of the histrions involved ( Ortner 1983:131 ) .

Theoretical Similarities

There are several theoretical similarities between feminist and symbolic anthropology. Both Fieldss recognize the dynamic nature of societal systems. Like symbolic anthropology which views civilization in footings of symbols and mental footings, accounting for its transient and altering nature, 2nd wave feminist anthropologists rejected Durkheim’s impression of a inactive system composed of built-in dualities, and sought to demo that the societal systems are dynamic.

Further, both women's rightist and symbolic anthropology believe in `` actor-centric '' actions, intending that actions are non separate from societal histrions but a portion of their societal model. ( Ortner 1983:136 ) . Another cardinal similarity is the focal points shared by both women's rightist and symbolic anthropology. Focus on individuality and difference is a cardinal focal point of both feminist anthropology and symbolic anthropology. This means that there is a focal point on societal classs such as age, business, faith, position, and so on. Power is besides an of import constituent of analysis for feminist anthropology, since the building and passage of individuality occurs through discourses and actions that are structured by contexts of power ( Gellner and Stockett, 2006 ) . However, this besides fits in with Turner 's analysis of symbols and societal action.

Further, both theories challenge the construct of normality and catholicity that many old anthropological theories supported. The rejection of normality and cosmopolitan truths, every bit good as the thought that anthropology must non merely analyze on a cultural degree, but besides on an single degree, is cardinal to symbolic anthropology. This thought is chiefly seen in feminist anthropology through the thought that male point of view differs well from the female point of view, and that both must be accounted for. The rejection of normality is farther seen in feminist anthropology through fagot theory, which is the most recent reaction against the impression of “normalcy” Queer theory challenges the construct of heteronormativity, or the premise that heterosexualism and the ensuing societal establishments are the normative socio-sexual constructions in all societies ( Gellner and Stockett, 2006 ) . The theory argues that gender is non a portion of the indispensable ego and is alternatively based upon the socially constructed nature of sexual Acts of the Apostless and individualities, which consist of many varied constituents ( Warner, 1993 ; Barry, 2002 ) . Therefore, like symbolic anthropology, feminist anthropology relies to a great extent on the construct of cultural constructivism.

Arguing different positions

Due to cultural growing and intervention of Man and Women.

The most obvious similarity between the theories is that both were a response to old anthropological theories. The symbolic and interpretative theory was a reactions to structuralism that was grounded in linguistics and semiologies and pioneered by L? vi-Strauss ( Des Chene 1996:1275 ) . The subfield of Feminist Anthropology emerged as a reaction to a perceived androcentric prejudice within the subject ( Lamphere 1996: Additionally, another cardinal similarity between the theories is that they have non been discredited position in the modern societal scientific disciplines? ?

Theoretical Differences

One of the chief differences between the two anthropological attacks is the catholicity found in feminist anthropology. Although the construct of catholicity is under scrutiny today, early women's rightist anthropologists believed that there was a cosmopolitan subordination of adult females to work forces, in all civilizations around the Earth. Therefore, one of the chief constituents of feminist anthropology was to seek for cosmopolitan accounts for female subordination and gender inequality. However, the thought that all adult females suffer the same subjugation merely because they are adult females does non suit within the symbolic and interpretivist model. Symbolic anthropologists argue that these historically specific Western premises about the societal differences between work forces and adult females can non be decently applied to non-Western societies ( Spencer 1996:538 ) . Another of import difference between feminist and symbolic anthropology is that feminist anthropology chiefly focuses on the constructs of gender and gender, while symbolic anthropology examines all societal facets.

Varies from civilization to civilization

Muslim adult females viewed as opressed, but they view forced sexualization as opression


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