Lecture 1 - Socio-cultural Anthropology

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7 Mar 2011
Lecture 1: Soc: Thinking is a social act
Socio-Cultural Anthropology
Study of contemporary and recent human populations
Comparative -how societies vary and why, under what conditions
Holistic- studies communities in historical, political, economic, religious, etc. context
oAt its most basic, culture is understood to refer to learned sets of ideas and
behaviours that are acquired by people as members of society.
oLike language (a dimension of culture), culture is symbolic
oMuch of culture consists of unspoken implicit meanings and behaviours
oExpression of cultural ideas vary depending on the specific social
relationships in which they arise: on the social context and the social
positions of actors
oEffects of changes in technology and safety measures
oCulture is not a thing so much as a process:
Dynamic (interactive)
Historical (a culture changes over time)
Changes in technology (bucket seats in cars0 and the law
(safety regulations, seat belts) contributed to changes in the
expression of certain cultural meanings (in cross-gender
Cumulative (we learn from the past and add to our cultural toolkits
from other societies)
Creative (subject to human innovation)
Socially realized (becomes evident through social interaction)
Imagined (i.e. conceptual) but not imaginary
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oCulture is humanitys key biological adaptation.. a biological capacity that is
completed or filled through social interaction.
oHumans are unfinished animals who complete themselves through culture
oFeral or wild children: have been isolated and socially neglected or raised by
Depending on their age at rescue feral children may never acquire full
facility with language, or the ability to relate socially to others May
never be fully enculturated
Language is learned in first 5 years of life
Example Oxana Malaya- 8 year olf feral child in Ukraine in 1991,
having lived most her life in the company of dogs. She picked up a
number of dog-like habits and found it difficult to master language.
Oxanas alcoholic parents were unable to care for her. They lived in an
impoverished area where there were wild dogs roaming the streets.
She lived in a dog kennel behind her hosue where she was cared for by
dogs and learned their behaviours and mannerisms. She growled,
barked and crouched like a wild dog, sniffed at her food before she ate
it, and was found to have acquired extremely acute senses of hearing,
smell and sight.
So we also train our senses to pick up certain ques and ignore others
when we gain culture
oThe capacity for culture is non-intstinctive: we are not genetically predisposed
to learn a specific culture.
A culture: a specific set of learned behaviours and conceptual patterns
A society: a group of interacting organisms.
Adds the dimension of power to the concept of culture, in the context of
social complexity.
Refers to cultural assumptions about the nature of the world and how
it works that dominate in a given population
Hegemonic assumptions and ideas
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