What is Anthropology?
It’s a scientific study of humanity with a focus on patterns of human action and interaction.
Anthropology is marked by a natural science and humanistic outlook that:
(1) considers humanity from a species-wide and long-time perspective;
(2) while observing and interpreting local variations as far as possible in the context of their
occurrence (e.g., anthropology is a science grounded in field research);
(3) heavy emphasis on the present and on the past as symbolic construction in the present;
(4) preoccupation with local conditions as an experiential whole.
What are the two main goals of cultural anthropology?
Fieldwork experience is central to the definition of anthropology as a discipline.
The four fields –
Biological (or physical),
Is anthropology a science or an art, or both? Why?
On Colonialism and Anthropology
What do anthropologists study?
The social anthropologist studies societies as wholes – he studies their ecologies, their
economics, their legal and political institutions, their family and kinship organizations, their
religions, their technologies, their arts, etc., as parts of general social systems. (Asad 1975:11-
Why should we turn to “primitive” cultures rather than our own “civilization?”
The Second World War – the attainment of political independence by colonial, especially
African countries in the late ‘50s and the early ‘60s accelerated the trend….planned
African and Asiatic dependencies of Britain and her allies.
Colonial connections of anthropology --“to govern efficiently”
1 “anthropologists as “apologists of colonialism” and subtle agents of colonial supremacy who
studied African customs merely to provide the dominant white minority with information
damaging to native interests but normally opaque to white investigation.” (Asad 1975:15).
ANTHROPOLOGY AS THE HANDMAIDEN OF COLONIALISM
The colonial power structure made the object of anthropological study accessible and safe.
The asymmetry is the dialectic of world power.
But they have also contributed, sometimes indirectly, towards maintaining the structure of power
represented by the colonial system.
The historical power-relationship between the West and the Third World.
Basic Features of Evolutionism:
1. Ethnocentrism – Evaluate cultures of the world in terms of the model of Victorian
2. Armchair speculation – No fieldwork
3. Unilinear scheme – Assumption that all cultures had gone through the same stages of
evolution in the same order.
4. Inevitable progress – As sociocultural life evolved, it supposedly got better in the sense
of being more civilized, moral, and orderly.
1) Edward Tylor (1832-1917) – published Primitive Culture in 1971. Emphasized psychic
unity of humankind.
Savagery barbarism civilization.
Primitives were rational in the context of their own cultures.
The assumed superiority of the European, it provided ideological support for imperialism and
E.B. Taylor’s definition of culture “ That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief,
art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member
of society” (1871:1).
2 REMEMBER, THIS EARLY DEFINITION OF E.B. TAYLOR IS PROBLEMATIC FOR A
NUMBER OF REASONS, NOT THE LEAST BECAUSE IT DOES NOT TAKE INTO
ACCOUNT THE FACT THAT CULTURES ARE NOT STATIC; THEY CHANGE,
ESPECIALLY WHEN MEMBERS OF DIFFERENT CULTURES COME IN CONTACT
WITH EACH OTHER. WHAT HAPPENS?
The major concern of the skeptical discourse on culture is that the concept suggests
boundedness, homogeneity, coherence, stability, and structure whereas social reality is
characterized by variability, inconsistencies, conflict, change, and individual agency
The noun culture appears to privilege the sort of sharing, agreeing, and bounding that fly in
the face of the fact of unequal knowledge and the differential prestige of lifestyles, and to
discourage attention to the worldviews and agency of those who are marginalized or
dominated (Appadurai 1996:12).
Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942)
Emphasis on fieldwork – long-term participant observation in a small community.
Malinowski -- The Ethnographer’s Magic – Fieldwork the hallmark of anthropology – intensive
He drew attention to “the chasm between “the brute material of information…and the final
authoritative presentation of the results.”
Malinowski made much more of fieldwork method than did Boas. – He was a mythic cultural
hero of anthropological method.
To grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world.
The “mythopoeic” ethnographic experience in the Trobriands.
Malinowski’s real problem was not so much to tell his readers how to accomp