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McMaster University
Andrew Gilbert

← Thursday, September 12, 2013 ← ← Cultural relativism • Language and culture shape perception and cognition o Boas and “alternating sounds”- trace back anthropology back to Boas- McMaster founded by someone who was primarily trained by this guy o Got into debate with linguist- Brinton believed in spoken some languages, certain sounds relatively changed- many words that when repeated, varied considerably (not an accent)- native speakers actually pronounced things differently with same speaker speaking them- interpreted this to theory called evolutionary theory (you could place every society in world from primitive to advanced- most advanced being western- can be graphed on a continuum) where they thought they could see past developments of their country from others still in primitive state- took what he saw as inconsistency in language and took it as a low stage in their evolution- Boas argued AGAINST this, and believed this didn’t exist- what Brinton perceived as alternating, didn’t actually happen- its not HOW they pronounce it, but how WE perceive it as an outsider- question of perception not vocalization  EX: Absolute direction- rely on S, N, E, W not left and right- requirements of language enforce one to know direction/orientation and are more spatially aware, and in result, more aware of time (banana growing, a baby growing, ect)- used spatial orientation to represent time, aka depending on what way they were sitting depended on how they ordered their time cards of the process of a banana (leftright, front back, ect)  Language forms our perception of the world- related to alternating sounds, problem is not with speaker, but hearer- observer bias (tendency to hear sounds alternating) is not personal, its cultural- caused English speaker to perceive it as alternating sound- not cultural evolution, but unscientific methods- reflection of English speakers belief of English culture superiority- forms basis of cultural relativism- even if meaningless or take on different meaning in another culture, leads him to categorize core of cultural anthro (SEE BELOW) ← ← Cultural relativism as core of cultural anthropology • Empiricism: With a resulting skepticism of attempts to formulate “scientific laws” of culture • A notion of culture: Customs, beliefs, habits as fluid and dynamic • Ethnographic fieldwork: In which the anthropologist resides for an extended period among the people being researched, conducts research in the native language, and collaborated with native researchers, as a method of collecting data • Cultural relativism: As a methodological tool while conducting fieldwork, and as heuristic tool while analyzing data Cultural relativism: Why it matters • What were the stakes? Scientific, moral, political? o Scientific stake: You wo
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