ANTH 1001A October 9 th
Definition of Culture (Lassiter)
- “In an anthropological sense, culture is a shared and negotiated system of meaning
informed by knowledge that people learn and put into practice by interpreting experience
and generating behaviour”
- Culture is a process -> a dynamic process, at times messy, complex and nebulous.
- Culture as another way to insist our differences, as separating us (replacing race).
o Notion of absolute contrasts: it presumes a notion of culture as separated,
uniformly shaped, homogenous, and bounded.
o Notion of cultural change as cultural loss: culture as a distinct thing with core
values, if changes occur, it leads to loss of authenticity.
o A culture = a language = a people = a nation.
o Culture as the essence of the self.
- Two meanings:
o As a field method.
o As a genre of literature.
- Bronislaw Malinowski
o He spent 4 years living in the Trobriand Islands, and wrote Argonauts of the
Western Pacific (1922) which deeply influenced the development of modern
This was one of his main contributions to anthropology.
o Like Franz Boas, he challenged theories of social evolution and advocated the
suspension of one’s judgement for cultural understanding.
Malinowski’s view: we must adopt the native’s point of view.
o Like Franz Boas, he proposed that to truly understand a particular group of
people, one has to spend an extensive period of time living among them.
Malinowski’s view: systematic method to the study of culture (a way of
theorizing, practicing, and writing anthropology)
o Participant-Observation: a way of practicing anthropology:
Direct observation as a scientific way to document the native’s point of
view (includes detailed observations, field notes, and interview). o Culture as Function: a way of theorizing anthropology:
Notion that culture fulfills a function (serves basic, universal human
• E.g. Magical beliefs of Trobrianders – a primitive form of religion,
but serve to fulfill the human need to deal with the uncertainty of
life, like Christian beliefs do.
• E.g. The Kula (a system of exchange focused on the trading of
shells), primitive system=integrate the islands into a larger political
and social system (like money in Western societies)
o Ethnography: a way of writing anthropology:
A radical literary genre based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork.
Ethnography as a field method