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Lecture

ANTH 1120 Lecture Notes - Clifford Geertz, Michel Foucault, Cultural Relativism


Department
Anthropology
Course Code
ANTH 1120
Professor
David Murray

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Sept 12: The Culture Concept and the Limits of Understanding Difference
CA pp.1-14
Notes:
Acts are signals of attitude that are often culture specific
sociocultural anthropology: strive to look beyond the world of everyday experi-
ences & discover the patterns/meanings that lie behind that world.
Questions about a classroom chair with attached desk (anthropological view)
why do we have chairs at all? (many societies don't)
why does it have the form it does? [erect position it forces the body to pay atten-
tion]
French Philosopher Michel Foucault : shaping of body is political anatomy, a
way that peoples bodies are controlled by others to operate with the necessary
speed and efficiency....producing ‘docile bodies’[2].
classroom chair & desk are part of the political anatomy of education settings, part
of relations that gives meaning to the classroom and forces the body to attend to
the teacher
Classroom pieces serve as an instrument of control
spacing people out = causes them to pay attention
clocks / bell = control movement
students try to rebel against conforming to this control as to move chairs, slouch in
chairs, etc.
Question 1.1: Why do human beings differ in their beliefs and behaviours?
[4]
because they share the same culture; people differ in how they view the world be-
cause their cultures differ [different: birth, death, quest for food, shelter, rules for
courtship,child rearing, procedures for exchanging goods, food production, building
shelter, etc]
EX.// death for some cultures mark passage from one world to another, or the final
event of a life span, or part of a never-ending cycle of birth/death/rebirth.

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[ex.// Kwakawaka’wakw of BC: person dies and soul enters the body of a sal-
mon, salmon is killed & eaten..soul enters body of another person]
EX.// death for some cultures are feared or cherished
[ex.// China each household has a shrine to dead ones which they ask advice
to--- thus the dead is still part of the living world. Italy they try to prevent the
soul from returning.
Some societies accept death while others always pose suspicion around them
[ec.// Dani of New Guinea: female close to dead relative must sacrifice part of
their finger. Wari in Western Brazil: eat dead body. Southern Europe: women
must shave their head if widowed, India: women must be cremated at hus-
bands funeral]
Each culture specify what is proper food to eat:
North America don't eat bugs
Chinese eat dog but don't drink/eat all dairy [opposite of NA]
Culture: humans dwell largely in worlds that they themselves create by giving them
meaning.
Human beings are cultured animals; they ascribe meanings of their own creation to
objects, persons, behaviours, emotions and events and proceed to act as though
those meanings are real.
Clifford Geertz: human beings are compelled to impose meaning on their experi-
ences because without these meanings to help them comprehend experience and
impose an order on the universe, the world would seem a jumble, ‘a chaos of
pointless acts and exploding emotions.’ Human beings are “incomplete or unfin-
ished animals who complete themselves through culture--not culture in general,
but specific forms of it: American, Chinese, Italian, etc.” [6]
when people share meanings and experiences, they participate in culture.
differences in culture arise because different groups of human beings particip-
ate in different realities with different meanings.
Question 1.2: How do people judge the beliefs and behaviours of others?
[7]
Richard Scaglion had a friend from Papua New Guinea with an ornament through
his nose for ‘beauty and ceremonial significance’ who laughed at a women in a
magazine with pierced ears.
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Ethnocentric Fallacy / Ethnocentrisim: the idea that our beliefs and beha-
viours are right and true, while those of other people are wrong or misguided. [8]
{sociocultural anthropologists reject this idea}
what appears to be an odd belief or behaviour is logical in context of a certain
culture.
Relativism: no behaviour or belief can be judged to be odd or wrong simply
because it is different from our own. We must try to understand a culture in its
own terms and to understand behaviours/beliefs for the meaning they have to
the ppl in that culture. [ belief or behaviour can only be understand in relation to
its culture]
Relativistic Fallacy: the idea that it is impossible to make moral judgments
about the beliefs and behaviours of others. [10]
Virginity testing in Turkey: day after wedding reveal bed spread and look for hy-
meneal blood stain.
anthropologists have trouble remaining objective, or they may becoming act-
ively involved in criticizing behaviour or beliefs they encounter.[12]
anthropologists must reflect critically on the impact of the harsh images of
human suffering that they foist upon the public. But they must also serve as
witnesses and reporters of human right abuses and the suffering of the poor
and the oppressed. [13]
Cultural relativity: we must tolerate the beliefs and practices of other cultures
because to do to otherwise would be ethnocentric.
Miner, Horace. 1956. “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” American Anthropo-
logist 58(3):503-507
Notes:
[503]
Anthropologists have become familiar with the diversity of ways in which different ppl
behave in similar ways
All logical combinations of behaviour has been found; and if not found it is to be as-
sumed that it is hidden in some yet undescribed tribe. [Clan organization by Murdok]
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