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Lecture 2

Lecture 2 - Me and the "Other" - The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Social/Cultural Anthropology

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University of Toronto St. George
Paul Cohen

Lecture 2 - Me and the "Other" - The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Social/Cultural Anthropology • context of where you find a STOP sign is important; in dorm room vs on the road • how do representations convey meanings? • the stop sign being a symbol of an organized civilized society: MADD, etc. Ways of Understanding the World? Culture, Gender, Order and Chaos • meaning of saving the rainforest can have contradictory meanings, meaning of gender roles, meaning of being a woman during WWII vs now, police brutality vs keeping law and order • A. What is sociocultural anthropology? ◦ AN ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND THE HUMAN CONDITION ■ how are our lives structured? what makes us human? what makes human society, human culture? ◦ holistic, complex, and paradoxical ■ can't leave out anything, must consider all complexities and para- doxes ■ all social categories discussed - cannot focus on just one ◦ how do we live with conflicting sets of values? ■ ex. capitalistic consumption vs 'reduce, reuse, recycle' ◦ cultural meanings are created, e.g. stop sign ■ through cultural and environmental interaction throughout the ages ◦ societies are structured, e.g. political anthropology ■ political anthropology started 1930s-1940s ◦ social behaviour and beliefs are patterned - not random or chaotic, e.c. docile bodies ◦ visible and hidden aspects of social structure ◦ UNDERSTAND HOW THINGS BECOME "NORMALIZED" AND "NATU- RALIZED" ■ documentaries on seem food: Bananas! On trial for malice, wal- martwatch, bitter chocolate, black coffee ◦ EATING CHRISTMAS IN THE KALAHARI ■ people thought Richard had some power bc he possessed tobacco ■ example of a cultural organization/strategy, a way of humans inter- acting with each other that would prevent arrogance ■ there is a culturally acceptable way of communicating in which you do not brag; if you have a good hunt you still say it wasn't, but peo- ple will understand this is not true - keeps everyone's ego in check ■ bc when living in small nomadic band, social harmony is essential to collective wellbeing ◦ UNDERSTAND SAMENESS AND DIFFERENCE ■ "to make the strange seem familiar, and the familiar seem strange" ■ to make Richard feel bad when he was feeling nice may have seemed strange at first, but through particular ethnographic meth- ods, analytical way of thinking, can see that this strangeness actu- ally makes sense within the context of this culture ■ Robbins: "We cannot take for granted even about our own beliefs and behaviour, let alone the behaviour and beliefs of those whose backgrounds and histories differ from our own." Lecture 2 - Me and the "Other" - The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Social/Cultural Anthropology ■ we don't understand our preconceived notions and assumptions - we spend time trying to understand our existence, then have a complex encounter when we try to understand another culture who have their own preconceived notions ■ thus anthropology is complicated, we have to look as much at our- selves before looking at others ■ categories of difference: culture, gender, racial, ethnic, class, sexu- al preference, etc. ■ Ethnocentric fallacy versus the relativistic fallacy (in textbook) ■ ethnocentrism: believing that your culture is the best, using your presumptions to analyze the world ■ relativistic fallacy: complete opposite extreme - thinking all cultures equally good and cannot judge them; 'that makes sense in the con- text/terms of their culture'; is logical, rational 1. problem with this, of a hyper-relativism, is that how would we deal with what is morally irresponsible? child abuse, geno- cide, sati (burning widows) 2. what happens if we use that same argument about things like genocide? 3. need to understand the complexities, the reasons behind certain cultural traditions, but at same time we have a moral obligation as anthropologists and social scientists to critique something if it is unjust or immoral -this is not clear-cut, an- other paradox 4. Key Debate (See Week 10): How do we reconcile anthropol- ogy's concern with cultural difference and specificity and its attention to problems of inequality and power? 5. people have the right to a cultural ident
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