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What is cultural relativism.docx

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York University
ANTH 2170
Karl Schmid

First unit ofAnthropology Physical/biological anthropologists  • Study human and animal bodies as physical entities. They are interested in such  things as:   human evolution­ Hominids   Primatology­ eg. Present apes  Forensic analysis of skeleton­ eg. CSI; look at mass barials and crime  investigations   Disease patterns that are shown on bones­ looking at it changing in different  cultures over time  Linguistics:  • Linguists study language in past and present societies. They are interested in such  issues as:  ­ language acquisition  ­ language evolution and change  ­ identity and language  • class, race, ethnicity­ why do people talk differently, why do we have different  accents  Social/cultural anthropology  • Study of contemporary human societies throughout the world  • Politics, economics, religion, identities (gender, class, race), globalization, etc.  • Tend to specialize  • Ethnographic fieldwork­ spending a year with a group of people (live with them  to try to understand how they perceive their world) –example: Olympic figure  skater world( went to press conference, stayed the same hotel, practiced the same  session)­ involves intimate interaction with others  • Long term of interaction with groups of people  Key concerns of anthropologists Culture – sets of learned behaviours acquired by people as members of society. Various agents of enculturation transmit these behaviours. • Culture is thus SHARED, LEARNED, and DYNAMIC. Culture:  Is that not something that is genetic, biological, hardwired, or instinctual.  However, we tend to think and talk about it as if it is…. we NATURALIZE culture  What are some examples of how culture is naturalized?  What are some problems with doing this? Anthropologists study culture:  By specializing in one or more of the four sub-fields of anthropology we talked about yesterday – archaeology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, physical anthro  Example: Montreal, April 2010; 11 year-old Luc Cagadoc awarded $17,000 after court battle with Montreal-area school board after teacher claimed his table manners were “not Canadian” and “unnatural” One goal of ALLanthropologists:  To employ cultural relativism to battle pervasive ethnocentric attitudes in society. What is cultural relativism? • Adopting a non- judgmental approach to understand other cultures • Not try to oppose your values on another group of people • How anthropologist look at the world • There are limits to this notion of relativism • Realizing that these practices, materials we have are very complex and complicated • Allows us to think through the complexity of a culture One goal • Why do people believe a certain action and try to understand it • To employ cultural relativism to battle ethnocentrism Ethnocentrism: the belief that your way of life or way of thinking is superior to another person’s/group’s. It’s a belief where privileging of way of doing something in certain way. Example: the philopino boy- the teacher and school-making claim of what is the norm of the North American eating; racism- thinking other cultures are inferior to your culture Today: how has the human body been treated within the sciences? How have human behavior and cultural patterns become naturalized through science?  Nature versus nurture • Nurture: the idea that cultural factors and learned phenomena, via processes of enculturation, are the primary determinants of who we are. Influence of friends, teachers, family; example: gender and gender roles: source of many heated debates surrounding nature vs. nurture issues. For example: are men/women hardwired/programmed to act in certain ways and take on certain roles in society? We argue that women are naturally predisposed to primary given then we should see it everywhere and be a universal action. • Nature: The idea the biology, genetics, and hereditary factors are the principle factors that shape who we are. • This is obviously the case for many phenotypic variations (physical traits like hair, eye, and skin color, for example) • People are willing to die for there nation and that is just the natural part of you • Sociobiology: refers to scientists who try to make the claim that are behaviors are biological instead of cultural. For example, scientific studies on the so-called “Gay gene”; “the bell curve”-Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, made a claim that intelligence is hereditary; some scientist made the argument that IQ testing was hereditary and racial and biological • J.Philippe Rushton- sociobiologist, claimed that intelligent is hereditary and is associated with race. Wrote “race, evolution, and behavior: a life history perspective” – looked at intelligent as IQ, argued that certain groups of people were smarter than others.  Looked at them in 3 different categories: blacks, whites, Orientals, looked at lifespan, gestation, CC, how often people were having sex, law abidingness, and cultural achievements  Anthropologist would argue that looking at law abidingness how there is a higher discretion in groups of people; this is a problem because of your economics, where you lived, how your childhood was, and these were ignored in this research • Cultural constructed categories- see it as natural and don’t question these categories that are constructed through cultures • We live in a society that people are not taught to think critically in what is presented in media. Media is misinterpreted and is presented as fact • The sociobiological interpretations are problematic Anthropological positions: While most anthropologists tend to be skeptical of sociobiology and place more emphasis upon cultural/environmental explanations, our goal is not to prove that behaviors are natural or cultural. Rather, we are interested in the politics of sociobiology. Margaret mead, 1901-1978 • Wrote sex and temperament- 1935- based upon her ethnographic study of gender roles in three societies along sepik river, Papua New Guinea • Women because of there hormonal make up they can provide milk for the children indicates that women are naturally caregivers • She decided to go to a different society and found that people had different gender roles than what was the normative ideal in the NorthAmerican society • Found that even though people lived 20km away from eachother they had different cultural expectations. For example, men were nurture and women were in public • Argued that gender roles within these societies are not biology of nature but rather the cultural nature and what is seen as appropriate for men and women in specific culture • Example: Toronto, may 2011; Kathy witterick and David stocker- “genderless baby” debate surrounding “storm”, “unfit parents?” people argued that this was not natural because they’d naturally want to be strived towards what there gender roles demand. This example illustrates how many people think of gender as natural. Evolutionary theories: • Are often appropriated/misappropriated to justify the “naturalness” of human behaviors or gendered systems • Evolution and human evolution is often perceived as natural process and is often get used to try to explain of what might be the status quote Evolution and the Nature/Nurture Debate • Charles Darwin- origin of species in 1859 based upon his voyage on HMS Beagle • Natural selection- most “fit” organisms, those best adapted to their environment, survive and pass on genes (i.e. Reproduce) • Leads to the problematic assumption that: some groups of people (not organisms) are more “fit” than others; some are more evolved than others. • Researchers try to prove human behavior through animal studies Darwin’s theory • Social evolution to study societies rather than organisms and physical structures of body Lewis Henry Morgan • Ethnocentrically came up with idea of society being from simple to complex • Evolution= progress • Ethnocentrically positioned all human societies into of three stages: o Savagery- barbarism- civilization o Savagery- these initial societies lacked their own original foods. When different human societies do not posses for different capacities; no agriculture, no moving to places, don’t posses a lot of material things o Whites viewing their society as most progressive o Evolutionary paratigions to “prove” the naturalness of gender- to demonstrate problematically that contemporary gender roles are result of “natural” evolutionary processes o Roles are result of hormones and evolutionary history o Margery mead challenged the idea of men vs. women differences gender is culturally constructed o First anthros to show gender is culturally constructed, many behaviors informed and learned by culture instead of biological forces, if not, the world would be uniformed, cross cultured identities; universal laws for men and women don’t exist o Long history within scientists that behavior is natural o Humans belonged to ancestors called hominid family includes modern day humans and extinct human like species o Human like species called hominids o Barbarism- when people started to adopt agriculture and lived in one spot for a long time. More physical possession they accumulated their physical position. o Civilization- Victorian society, ancient Egypt, Rome, complex forms of technology and art o The issue is he is projecting his own beliefs into society o Evolutionary paradigms to “prove” the naturalness of gender – to demonstrate (problematically) that contemporary gender roles are the result of “natural” evolutionary processes Herbert Spencer  Patrilineal, patriarchal societies were “more evolved” than others  British society versus Iroquois (NE NorthAmerica) - matrilineal PhysicalAnthropology  Hominids – bipedal primates and great apes (chimps, gorillas, orangutans); family Hominidae  “Man the Hunter”; “Woman the Gatherer”  Washburn and Lancaster in 1960’s  Argued that hunting stimulated hominid evolution Washburn and Lancaster argued: • Argued that unethically that contemporary gender roles have their roots in evolution • Assumed in American societies that gender roles were the same everywhere • “Man the hunter” “woman the gatherer” • Thought there must be a biological reason • Believed that women being at home and men being the “bread winners” is the norm • That bipedalism led to: • Hands are free • Tools can be made, which increased brain size • Large animals can be hunted/slaughtered • Hunting parties – needed language to communicate as a group • Impacted and influenced by idealized gender norms, looking to evolutionary theory to explain gender roles • Came up with “mom the hunter” • Argued that some hominids started to hunt, hunting large animals by males was the centrum stimulation of evolution • Human organization hunting parties to go for large carnivores • Division of labour between men and women lead to new forms of relationships between men and women, men being away for monogamy to take place, fidelity, faithfulness to parties Man the hunter  But…women do hunt!  E.g.Agta (Philippines);Aka (CentralAfrican Republic); someAustralian aboriginal groups  In North America today, hunting as a hobby is experiencing more growth among women than men  Female chimps hunt (a point which challenges evolutionary/biological models claiming “it’s in our genes” or “part of the evolutionary order of things”) • Sally slocum- heteronormative • Thought “man the hunter” is problematic- antrocentimic • Washburn and ancestor believing its natural, but its not cross cultural or universal, it is actually culturally constructed norm • But women do hunt • E.g. Female chimps hunt challenges biological evolutionary models claiming “its mour genes” or “part of the evolutionary order of things” • Making assumption that its universal • Ignored human diversity and not universal norm • Projection of dominant, androcentric (male bias) idea into the past • Ultimately assumption protein is the norm that’s how naturally people eat, it is major stimulus for human evolution, proteins were main meals in NorthAmerican society in past •
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