Midterm 1 Study Guide Introduction to Sociocultural and Linguistic Anthropology
What is Anthropology?
· Some may say it is the study of man. But this definition is not very specific because what
social science course doesn’t study man (as in humans in general)?
Some Classes Of Anthropology
The 2 subtopics that make ANT101:
- Physical/Biological Anthropology.
Medical and forensic anthropology fall under these.
Some physical anthropologists work with apes and dig up fossils.
They also examine remains of people’s bodies.
Dig up old items like pots, tools and other things like that.
They are trying to understand the unwritten history of our society.
They are concerned with the history behind the items they find.
The two subtopics that make up ANT102 (What we’re focusing on):
- Linguistic Anthropology: (Prof Barac will come in for this)
Interested in structure of languages and explore how languages are put together and spoken.
Explore the historical emergencies of language.
They study what one’s language says about one’s society.
- Sociocultural Anthropology:
Study patterns of thought and behavior surrounding basically anything from legal, academic,
musical to religious institutions.
Observe the similarities and differences in these things across societies.
They have high focus on present day.
How is Anthropology different from other disciplines?
- Keep in mind that Disciplines are non-static, that is, they change overtime.
Back to the question, anthropology is different because:
We focus on meaning and interpretation instead of trying to understand human behavior with
equations, statistics like how fields such as economics or mathematics do.
We focus on culture. We compare societies all around
We are less ethnocentric than other fields. So, we don’t hold our own culture as the standard.
We understand that other cultures are equally as important as ours.
It is a holistic discipline. We focus on many aspects of the human at the same time.
We tend to focus on typical characteristics of the society. We see this as the natural order, so
we are not that interested in the deviations or the abnormalities in a society. We focus more on
We are very fieldwork based: We go out, learn languages. It is our main research method.
Field methods: We have very fluid field methods.
- We don’t go out with hypothesis.
- We don’t go out with structured, pre-planned surveys
- We try to be more open and go out with random questions.
We are more interested in the rich textures of everyday life.
- Understanding other societies and cultures is very interesting in this big world.
- In understanding others, we understand ourselves better and start to appreciate of the
thing we may have ignored in the past.
- It lets us see our own beliefs and values are not universal.
- Learning like this changes our perspectives.
- We are interested in a very important question: “What is man?”
What are the similarities and differences between humans across the globe?
So, what is human? What is human nature?
- To get a BA, you have to fulfill some requirements and some people may take up
anthropology because of this. What is Sociocultural Anthropology and What Does it Study?
· Now, we are being more specific with sociocultural anthropology. Anytime anthropology
is mentioned, know that we are talking about sociocultural anthropology specifically.
What Do Anthropologists Study
· Anthropologists study culture or society.
· What is the difference between culture and society?
· North American anthropology focused on culture
· British Anthropology focused on Society
· Culture is about what people think, society is about what people do.
· Sociocultural anthropologists look at these 2 things
· In practice, they go together and are very hard to separate.
· Culture is one of North America’s longstanding preoccupations, that is, it has been
around for years and concerned them for years.
· In 1952, a famous anthropologist wrote a book that has 300 definitions of culture.
Some Popular Traits Of Culture.
i. Culture is coherent- it works as a systematic whole and can be easily
understood as a whole.
ii. It is learnt. It is not inborn (we are not born with it). It is something we learn
from the people around us.
iii. It is said to be passed on usually within generations. Babies, and younger
ones learn from the older ones around them and each other
iv. Culture is shared and stable and contains a stable system of belief,
knowledge and values.
v. Culture is based on symbols and symbolic systems which are often complex
vi. Culture is about meaning.
vii. Culture is said to be public because meaning is public. That is, it is not locked
in our heads, it is visible and we can experience it outside and show for others to see.
viii. Culture requires interpretation.
ix. Culture informs action. We do things because we think in certain ways.
x. Culture is fiction – That is, it is an abstraction from the world. Cultures do not exist in the world like dogs or
Can you say you’ve seen a culture the same way you’ll say you’ve seen a dog?
It is more like an idea, rather than a thing that exists.
For anthropologists, culture is not the world, but a way to understand the world, its
frame and it’s thinking.
· Culture is “a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a
system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men
communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes toward life”
-Clifford Geertz, The interpretation of cultures, 1973.
(You don’t have to learn the quotes)
· Longstanding in Particularly in Britain.
· 2 general uses of Society-
i. General/ singular human society
ii. Plural human society
Traits Associated with Society
i. The people live in the same place
ii. Consists of institutional organizations that last beyond life span. We’re born
into them, we die out of them.
iii. They are culturally distinct. Meaning that people in one society tend to all
share the same culture. This is where society and culture may overlap.
iv. Society might be a set of existing social relations. How people organize social
· In summary, society is: a group of people, what they do, their institutions, the relations
b/w all those institutions and how they act.
· The ways that we organize our lives in everyday practice, the way we go about and live
our lives. That is society.
· Culture, on the other hand will be the way we think about our lives, our ideas, values.
· Note the difference between culture and society in the sense of how we think versus
what we do.
· Also note the emphasis on culture in North America and the emphasis on society in
· We do not observe a “culture,” since that word denotes, not any concrete reality, but an
abstraction. But direct observation does reveal to us that… a complex network of social relations connects human beings. I use the term “social structure” to denote this network of
actually existing relations.
-Radcliffe-Brown, on social structure, 1952.
He argued that anthropology should study society and how a society comes about.
· Culture is what people think (ideas, values) North American
· Society is what people do – British.
What is Human?
· Are human’s spinners of culture (as in, are we creators of culture)?
· Or are we just existing and only making meaning?
· Which comes first? Culture or society?
Longstanding debate b/w British and Americans.
Now, there is kind of an agreement that they go hand in hand.
In fact, many fields are related.
- Psychology: Human behavior is driven by innate behaviors, anxiety, hidden sexual desires,
- Sociology: Humans are socially conditioned and rule followers. They act based on set out rules
and social cues.
- Economics: Humans are rational utility maximizers. They calculate and strategize.
· Contemporary anthropology still sees humans as meaning makers.
· In reality, anthropologists do not really study culture and society. So, what do we really
PART 2: What do we Really Study?
· We study anything.
· Our world has changed and anthropology has changed with it.
Changes in Anthropology
· Ideas about isolated primate people are no longer popular.
· Most anthropologists have abandoned culture concept. The idea of culture as coherent
is increasingly feeble. Ideas, and things are on the move.
· Most anthropologists have abandoned the idea of society.
· Leave behind the idea that anthropology must be done elsewhere, as in in far way lands.
You can study in your homeland. · Many insist that it is actually relevant. We are not just documenting things. It is relevant
in today’s world.
· Anthropology doesn’t really conform to popular fantasies about what anthropology
Some anthropology projects.
· Some work on rumors - For example: The book “sex thieves” (talks about West African penis
· Queer activism, religion, and ethics.
· Homeland- “Righteous Dopefiend” book about homelessness and drug addictions in the US.
· Financial markets and beliefs and predictions.
· “Fertility tourism” book about those who travel to central Europe to donate eggs.
· Bioinformatics and origin of life, climate change- “Alien Ocean” book.
Multi- species anthropology
· Looks at human from an angle that asks the question, “What is not human?”
· For example, from the book “life of cheese”, they look at cheese and say, “how do we as
humans relate to cheese”
· Another book example – “How forests think”
· Thinking about virtual worlds and second lives, another book is “Coming of Age in
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
· Sociocultural Anthropology studies culture and society. –(If you want a straight answer)
· We study a huge range of topics, as we’ve seen today.
· Almost anything these days can be seen as anthropology.
· There is a common debate on what it is and what it studies.
· This debate shows how active our field is. It is good to keep the talk going.
· We don’t talk about culture or society as much, but many of the concerns are still with us.
What do people think? What are their values and what do they tell us?
What do people do? How do we exist and organize ourselves with other humans?
What are the differences and similarities between people- We are the same in certain
ways and different in certain ways
What is it that makes us human? Field Work
1) Outcome of our work.
2) Carrying out the method, doing fieldwork and going out.
Steps In Field Work.
1) Choose a field site:
· What do you want to learn and why?
· People have all sorts of reasons.
· You can go for fun or you can decide to go where very few anthropologists have
2) Prepare for the field:
· Ask yourself questions.
· What are you going to be focusing on?
· This preparation varies a lot depending on where you’re going.
· Are you going to a rural or urban place? The materials you’ll need might be different.
· You take medical tests to ensure good health.
· You Fields methods course.
· Write a proposal.
· Apply for funding.
· Learn languages (very important).
· Get and start studying the map.
3) Getting there:
· Get a residence permit if required.
· Arrange your transportation
· Make use of your maps.
What Does One Do in The Field?
· Survey a site: This is where language becomes important. If you can’t talk to people and
ask questions, this will be a problem.
· Talking to people
· Making friends
· Participant Observation: Following people around and getting involved.
It’s through this participating and observing at the same time that we understand their
You can attend ceremonies that are open to the public such as maybe funerals, beer
parties, monthly market, and divination.
Not formal structured interviews.
A get to know you, meet and greet type of thing.
Talk to people and get information about their interests and their daily activities.
· Research Assistants:
They help and assist.
May have to be trained.
Problems In The Field
· Potentially boring.
· Everyday gossip
o No escape from everyday gossip.
o In a small community, everyone knows everything about everyone.
o This type of gossip can become claustrophobic in small world communities.
o Children that stare at you.
o Children that afraid of you because they may not be used to seeing foreigners or in this case,
a white person. (In the case of Prof Sanders)
· Pinning down informants can be tricky. It’s sometimes hard to find people to talk to and
to help you.
· Baboons or roaming animals.
· Witchcraft accusations.
· Growing crop for food. Farming can be a challenge.
· Pet problems.
o If you’re coming from a city to a village/small town setting and don’t really know how to
farm, this can be a problem for you. After The Field
· Analyzing ‘data’
o Not necessarily the same type of data you would be analyzing in physics, or chemistry.
· Write books/articles.
· Got to conferences and coffees and discuss your findings.
Identity and Difference
Who are you?
· Essentialist answers- Claims of identity and claims of social connections often rely on
ideas of essentialized self.
· There is something essential within our inner core.
· A natural essence that makes us who we are.
· This simply cannot be changed or altered. .
· Like your race, gender.
· Nearly everything can be explained through biological roots.
· There is an essence in our body, to be discovered that determines who we are.
· “Our fate is in our genes” James Watson.
· Genetic/ biologist essentialist-
o Who we are is in the core of our genes and can be determined by our genes.
o We often look to what we call human nature to understand the natural similarities
and differences between races and different sorts of humans.
o By looking through genetics and our genes, we learn about our nature.
o We think these things can be altered through gene manipulation, transformative
surgery (gender reassignment –changing your gender for example), and drugs.
o World has a very strong fate in this ideas and we have science and technology to
back us up. o The key to who you are resides within.
o Biological essentialism tells us about our world, but they may not mean what we
think they do.
· We’re looking at human nature as cultural truths that require exploration.
· According to anthropologists, the similarities and differences we see as natural, fixed,
inborn are not.
· These similarities and differences are a product of society and culture.
· Human beings cannot be explained by resorting and making conclusions based on
· Think of things that are “natural” and try to imagine if they were as a result of
· Things like race, ethnicity, and gender for example (are you a certain age because you
come from a certain place?)
Similarities and dissimilarities
· We share things with each other, but we are not identical.
· We differ by culture, social class.
· What produces these similarities and differences between humans and where did they
Nature vs. Nurture.
· Nature vs. nurture debate is very old.
o Is what makes us who we are internal or external?
· Who we are is because of our innate self.
· We are born that way
· We are who we are because of our cultural/social constitution and environment.
· We are anti essentialist and argue for the cultural and social.
· We believe that we as humans share certain similarities and differences because we learn
· In popular western cultures, humanity is explained in reference to the biological/genetic
· In answering the who we are question; we usually wrap around the essentialist ideas and base
our answers on this.
· This western culture makes us rely on biological explanations to understand ourselves.
· How did we come to this relying on biological explanation?
o Popular culture- Shows like Oprah, Dr. Phil and their likes indirectly push
o Tabloid, popular newspapers, books (For example there’s an article that talks
about how scientists how key gene makes people fat. Refer to slide to view
some more example topics)
o Ideas of essentialism are all around us.
Why does it matter?
· The ideas are powerful and have real effect in shaping our world.
· The ideas are ubiquitous, so they are everywhere.
· Ideas that have people have an unchangeable race are common so people with similar
races group together.
o This is actually a problem because of stereotyping and political issues.
o Think about adoption-
- There is stereotype that adoptees can never socially belong.
- They may feel incomplete and that they’re missing an essential part of
themselves because they were not raised with their people.
- They are made to believe that they are not fully normal because they
have not maybe grown up around the group that they genetically
- This is a problem.
· Cross cultural comparison:
o Looking around the world and learning how they live in similarities and
differences and what is natural in their view.
· Humans have ideas about what makes us human
· They also have explanations to back up these ideas
· People across the globe don’t agree on:
o Who we are (What is human)
o How we identify and relate with each other o What human nature is.
· People use the idea of human nature to justify the social arrangement around us:
o Women should stay at home and cook, men should go out and fend for the
· There are many human natures that vary with people around the globe.
· So there might not actually be a singular human nature.
What’s The Point?
· Interesting to think about:
o We all have bodies and are people.
o It is interesting to just think what you have in common with people around
you and what makes you different
· To expose us to very common anthropological ideas:
o Like how we group class, gender, and race.
o Teach us how to think like an anthropologists an easier way
· To question our worldviews that we have simply accepted as true and taken for
· Opens up a space for political action:
o If it’s true that things are different in other places, then it’s true that it can be
o So the world can be a different place and doesn’t have to be divided by
racism, gender, and class.
· Invites us to see the world slightly differently. Film: Paradise Bent (Boys Will Be Girls in Samoa)
Paradise Bent (boys will be girls in Samoa)
· Fa’afafines in Samoa
o The word fa’afafines means: “in the manner of a woman”
o Boys who have been raised as girls for traditional reasons
o Normally male but socially associated as females.
o They are mostly accepted in the community and viewed as role models.
o They take on the traditional women’s roles such as:
- Caring for children
- Caring for the elderly
· They are a very important part of the families
o Samoan families are very big
o Their numbers are growing and we can find about 2 or 3 fa’afafines in Samoa
o It is natural for the Samoan community
o The fa’afafines take pride in who they are and the role they play in their society.
· Samoa was studied various times and no record of the fa’afafines appeared until the 1960’s
o There is some controversy on if the fa’afafines actually existed before then.
o A Samoan believes that there may have been fa’afafines dating back a long time,
but they were not necessary labeled as “fa’afafines”
o According to the Samoan, the earlier fa’afafines were just seen as male members
of the families that were into cooking and cleaning and things like that.
o They were not as noticed and highlighted as they are now.
· Dancing is a very big part of the Samoan community
o The fa’afafines take on the female role while dancing
o They dance as entertainers in strip clubs and nightclubs
o A popular dancer in this community is “Tanya”
o Traditionally, men are the entertainers in Samoa
o But fa’afafines can be seen as possessing the spirits of a man and a woman.
· It is sometimes hard to tell is a person is a fa’afafine.
o Some people even view them as 100% female
o Based on their body and the way they carry themselves.
· Fa’afafines can be found in sexual relations with men.
o Although, they do not classify themselves as gays. o In this sense they view themselves as women.
o There is really no gay community in Samoa
o The fa’afafines do not have sexual relations with other fa’afafines because they
view each other as family.
· They also adopt children to call their own.
· Fa’afafines have taken on the role of women in Samoa
o Before Christianity was introduced in Samoa between the 19 and 20 century,
women were known to attract attention to them.
o After the coming of the missionaries, women now wear covering on their breast
and cover up their body so as not to be seen as too sexual.
o Women are more offstage now and fa’afafines have taken on this role.
· Religion is also a big part of their community.
o They go to Church every Sunday
o They can dress as women or whatever
o What matters is that they are present in church.
o They are accepted in the church because the church believes in accepting
· Although, there are some people in the Samoan community that do not approve of this
o People believe that there are no such things as fa’afafines
o God created man and woman
o You can only be one of those and nothing other than that.
· There are two groups of fa’afafines that can be observed in this community.
o The cultural fa’afafines
o The fa’afafines that are more westernized and are similar to drag queens.
- These “westernized” fa’afafines are bossier
- They are more competitive with each other
- People think these type of fa’afafines are overdoing it.
· A lot of them are not open to the idea of traveling abroad
o This is because of fear that they will be abused and violated.
· Samoa is considered a sociocentric culture
o Their gender roles and gender identity are divided. Gender
Male and Female
· Have Male and female bodies
· Men do manly things, women do womanly things.
· Men have particular physiology that makes them different from women.
We as anthropologists…
· We think categories of male and female are cultural or social in origin
· We think that the anatomical differences b/w male and female bodies tell us nothing
about what male and female mean.
· In pigeons, rats, it is hard to distinguish male and females.
· We as humans are sexually dimorphic so the gender differences between us are more
· These differences are found at the population level (We are talking on average).
· Human males for example
o Are taller
o Have more muscle
o Heavier skeleton
o Greater grip strength
o Larger hearts
o Larger lungs
o Larger aerobic work capacity.
· Have more muscle, heavier skeleton, greater grip strength, larger heart, lungs, and larger
aerobic work capacity.
Why do we have these differences?
· A lot of evolutionary and socio biologists have theories.
· Ancient caveman/woman explanations:
o Men are bigger because they had to hunt and chase down animals to provide.
o Women are smaller because they stay home and care for the child.
o But we know today that men and women are self sufficient
o These ideas are a just projection of what people think the world was like before.
We as anthropologists…
· Focus on the categories of male and female as they exist in the world
· We focus on the meanings the categories have and the roles they play in various
societies around the world. · We have found that what it means to be male/female varies greatly from one society to
· The roles men/women take varies from society to another.
· Because of this variation, we believe these things are culturally produced
· It is meaningless to speak of natural male and female ways to be/act because what we
think of, as natural male and female differences are different everywhere in the world.
In the 1920’s
· Interest in difference between sex and gender.
· Sex is our anatomy, biological self, and it given at birth.
· Gender is the cultural elaboration of those sex differences so it is malleable, changeable
can be altered with.
· Margaret Mead: Wrote about Sex and Sex Temperament (Masculine and feminine
o Why did Margaret care about this d