Anthropology 2222F/G Lecture Notes - Cognitive Anthropology, Blockbusting, Sociobiology

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Published on 8 Oct 2013
Department
Professor
Oct, 07, 2013
Language and Cognition
-Kruper and Marks article “Anthropologists Unite” is written in response to the AAA’s decision to remove the term
“science” from the long range plan document for the association
-Popular sources saw this as anthropologists admitting that what they were doing wasn’t science and it was seen
as a melt down of the system when it was really just a re-evaluation of their document to be more inclusive to
anthropologists who don’t do science
-The authors of the article says the shocker out of the controversy is the fact that anthropologists cant agree what
the discipline is about and they can find a precise statement so show what they’re doing and this is problematic
-They say people in the subfields do very different things and for a long time they didn’t really work together until
two radical movements provoked a confrontation
-Socio-biology was one of these and it threatened to overtake all the human sciences and to include them under
biology and there was postmodernism with cultural theorists who were raising questions about the usefulness of
“culture” and the advisability of comparison
-There were also controversies around sex, violence, and race and the Mead-Freeman debate reopened questions
about adolescence and sexuality (made people feel they had to choose nature or nurture)
-There were debates over the question of whether humans were inherently violent and prone to war and these
divides created animosities between people in the field and the general public
-There were debate over race that was really inspired by the book “The Bell Curve” but here anthropologists
united to prove the point that people do differ biologically but social inequalities are overwhelmingly the product
of political and economic history and not the evolution of these different groups
-The authors argue that few anthropologists now try to understand the origins and possible connections between
biological, social, and cultural forms (leads to the continuation of very separate subfields) and their silence on
these issues left the field to blockbusting books by amateurs that are speculating and with out reliable information
-The amateurs they were talking about were the biologists like Morris and Wilson who were new to anthropology
-We have to ask if there is hope for a united anthropology and in the letter responding to the Kruper/Marks article
Gurven and Mulder say that they are wrong in making it seem like anthropologists aren’t working together and
they go on to list different people from the subfields that are working in tandem
-We have to ask what sets humans apart from other non-human organisms and the answer for many is our brain
because we have huge complex brains and this makes our products of humanity possible and we also use our
brains to live in radically different ways (from simple huts to skyscrapers) and we live in nuclear families as well as
polyandrous families
-We also use different languages due to our capacity to use symbols but these are intelligible from one another
and we are also capable of imagining other realities than what our senses can grasp (with huge variability)
-We need to make the connection between our minds and all this variability to help us understand humans as a
whole and one way of doing this is to start with the realities we know and move backwards (comparative
anthropology) by studying something like kinship in different cultures or we can start with how the brain works
and move out from there to explain how our mind enables us to create different worlds and this way of doing it is
called cognitive anthropology
-This is where anthropologists with psychologists, biologists and others interested in how we think and how out
common evolved cognitive capacities play out similarly and differently in various contexts
-Sperber wrote the book Explaining Culture that put forth a very common sense argument and he said our
individual brains are each inhabited by a large number of ideas that determine our behaviour and to explain
culture is to explain why and how some ideas happen to be contagious and this requires and epidemiological
approach to ideas and culture (why certain things spread and other don’t and why are people susceptible)
-When we look at a fashion trend like low hanging pants Sperber would approach this by focusing on what about
this is so “catchy” but also to look at what it is about the way we have evolved to think that may draw us to this
-Our evolved cognitive capacities do not determine what we think and how we behave but they do make us
susceptible to certain “catchy” ideas and behaviours in certain contexts
-We can apply this to race because it was a concept that really caught on and we’re still trying to dispute it
-Some ask why not just leave this to psychology and Kruper and Marks say that all research funding in the human
sciences is directed to the study of the inhabitants of North America and the EU and 96% of the subjects reported
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Document Summary

Kruper and marks article anthropologists unite is written in response to the aaa"s decision to remove the term. Science from the long range plan document for the association. They say people in the subfields do very different things and for a long time they didn"t really work together until two radical movements provoked a confrontation. Socio-biology was one of these and it threatened to overtake all the human sciences and to include them under biology and there was postmodernism with cultural theorists who were raising questions about the usefulness of. There were also controversies around sex, violence, and race and the mead-freeman debate reopened questions about adolescence and sexuality (made people feel they had to choose nature or nurture) There were debates over the question of whether humans were inherently violent and prone to war and these divides created animosities between people in the field and the general public.

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