SocioCul Mar1.rtf

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Socio-Cultural Lecture
March 1, 2012
Socio-Cultural Anthropology
Seeks to understand and explain similarities and diff
between contemporary societies
Intellectual Focus
Ethnography challenges us to think differently.
that which is taken for granted as true...
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004): Copernican, Darwinian,
Freudian revolutions
Darwinian revolution: until 19th cent, humans thought we
were completely different from animals-
privileged, with souls
broke boundary between humans and other
Freudian: there is an "unconscious"- where our desires are
"making the strange familiar and the familiar strange"
(Melford Spiro)
Nacirema (Horace Miner)
Anthropological knowledge promotes and facilitates cross-
cultural understanding
Learning a new language
Learning a new way of life
Conditions may be harsh
Long term: months/years
Jul'hoansi- !Kung San
Botswana and Namibia, Africa
What do we mean by culture?
Widely used concept, ex:
Chinese-Canadian culture
American culture
Popular culture, cultural studies
High culture
Corporate culture
Anthropological concept of culture:
Not only the arts and literature
Not strictly "bounded" ethnic or national groups
e.g. in "multiculturalism": focuses on differences, values
stasis (emphasis on unchanging,
bounded dimensions of cultural identity)
Culture: Anthropological Sense
totality of behaviours, beliefs, values and ideals
learned, acquired through social interaction
Shared: vehicle for communication in which the meanings
we are exchanging are somehow
Patterned and Abstract: Culture, like Language, has a kind
of grammar
Culture is not static.
It is subject to change as well as stability
Culture is symbolic.
Based on the human capacity to:
represent abstract ideas (in gestures, facial expressions,
tone of voice)
signify objects in their absence
imagine the non-existent
anticipate outcomes (future)
refer to the past
categorize the flux of daily life
CONSTRUCT the world: endow it with meaning, frame
experience such that it can be shared,
learned, and taught
Culture is a natural capacity
…BUT its contents vary, and are socially learned.
it is our most significant adaptation.
Conventional knowledge, NOT instinct.
Our varied SOCIAL inheritances, NOT our DNA
Continuously created meanings that humans, as members
of societies, place onto or read into the
Cultural meanings become NATURALIZED:
seldom consciously reflected on
taken for granted
often taken to be true facts of nature ('seem natural)
Example: category - What is/is not edible
Some different ways to be human:
Marriage: W Africa, polygyny (where a man has several
wives, a form of polygamy)
Treatment of the dead: Wari, indigenous people of
Brazilian Amazonia, mortuary
Gender roles: mothering, Nancy Scheper-Hughes,
shantytown urban Brazil (reading
Gender categories: not all societies sharply divide the
biological continuum of male and
female into two genders (binary
Navajo nadle: some intersexed (from infancy), others
transgendered; a blessing to
have one in one's family
women who took on the role of men were called "too
Apache half-man half-woman; manly-heart
Characteristics of culture:
Arbitrary (vs. motivated)