Week 3: Thinking About Time and Space
“Their social idiom is a bovine idiom”
Idiom: A group of words established by usage as having a meaning
not deducible from those of the individual words (eg. raining cats and
-A form of expression natural to a language, person, or group of
people “he had a feeling for phrase and idiom”;
-The dialect of a people or part of a country
-A characteristic mode of expression
The Nuer tend to define all social processes and relationships in
terms of cattle. Nor is Nuer interest in cattle confined to their practical
and social functions. The over-emphasis on cattle is thus strikingly
shown in language---whatever the subject of speech it is expressed
in terms of cattle as the superlative value of Nuer life.
The Nuer are willing to fight for their cattle: Cattle were the primary
source of friction with the colonial government.
Raiding for cattle was a condition that shaped their character,
economy, and political structures.
Why did E-P argue the goal of anthropology should be interpretation rather than
Clay soils, flat, thinly wooded, high grasses, heavy rainfalls followed
by draught—a severe ecology suitable to transhumant adaptation of
Pg 55, E-P asks “To what extent are the Nuer controlled by their
environment as herdsmen, fishermen and gardeners?” - The herds and environment shape mode of life.
- Land is better suited to herding than agriculture
- Climate necessitates nomadic movement
o Floods-head to higher grounds
o Draughts-head to flood plains seeking water for cattle.
o Fire grasses to promote new shoots of grass
o Small herds –splitting up - prevents over-grazing during
Camps and villages
Villages protect against floods and mosquitoes-practice
agriculture, millet farming, corn and beans.
Camps- fishing – herding
Time and Space
Concepts of time and space are values – but one of many
possible responses. Our humanity lies in this sort of variability –
our adaptations are not simply organic and or instinctual – they
are mediated by cultural practices: Creative, learned socially-
they belong to structural principles which belong to a different
order of reality.
WE ARE CULTURAL
What gives us “common sense” is society, our shared
understanding of the world based on what we have been
So stop, visualize. Draw a map of Nuer land, and then add in the
temporal, cyclical, annual activities.
(Two students went to the chalkboard. One visualized the rainy
season, one the dry season)
Diet well balanced, but there is no surplus, thus a high value on
sharing. The division of labour directly related to social relations.
** Ecology influences social relations but does not over-
determine all aspects of social life in a simple fashion.
P 94: E-P “partly dependent on it and partly existing in its own
Ecological Time – An annual cycle based on our yearly
activities: dependent on environment and livelihood.
Tot-Rains Ruon – Draught