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Chapter 1

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Maggie Cummings

WEEK 2 READING NOTES- What is culture & how do anthropologists investigate it? Cultural Anthropology, Chapter 1  Nearly impossible to accurately interpret people‟s acts when we do not understand the meanings they attribute to those acts INTRODUCTION The World Behind Everyday Appearances Sociocultural anthropology- An anthropological approach that retains the British focus on social anthropology at the same time it adds the American focus on culture to produce something slightly different from either one  In sociocultural anthropology we strive to look beyond the world of everyday experiences to discover the patterns and meanings that lie behind that world  A classroom chair poses some interesting questions for the sociocultural anthropologist o Ex. Why do we have chairs at all?  One feature of classroom chairs an anthropologist may note is it forces the body to pay attention  French philosopher Michael Foucault refers to the shaping of the human body as a “political economy,” meaning that people‟s bodies are controlled by others to operate with the necessary speed and efficiency, he also says political anatomy produces “docile bodies.”  An anthropologist might say the classroom chair and desk are part of the political anatomy of educational settings o Ex. The desk and chair forces the body to attend to the teacher and not others in the classroom as a pose to a bar stool, whose main purpose is to promote bodily mobility and conversation with others  The ways in which specific societies order behavior through the arrangement of space and time is one small area examined by sociocultural anthropology  Through an anthropological perspective we see that we cannot take anything about even our own beliefs and behavior for granted, let alone those of others What Makes Sociocultural Anthropology Unique?  “Anthropology” comes from two Greek words: o anthropos meaning “human beings” & o logia meaning “the study of” or “the knowledge of”  Anthropology includes everything humans do currently or have done in the past o Containing evidence also of how and when we became human and comparing humans to other organisms in the world  The kind of knowledge about human beings that sociocultural anthropologists are interested in is acquired by spending time with people, talking to them, observing them, and trying to understand their lives  4 sub disciplines of anthropology in North America which focus on different aspects of the anthropological perspective: o Biological anthropology  Oldest sub discipline  Focuses on human beings as one of a great multitude of organisms that inhabit the earth  Some biological anthropologists specialize in paleoanthropology, others in primatology, or forensic anthropology o Archaeology  Studies human history and its artifacts  Archaeologists typically look at the material remains of human groups to figure out how people lived o Linguistic anthropology  Linguistic anthropologists examine the relationship between language and culture  Interested in how people use language, both in a physical and historical sense, with regard to how different languages have developed and spread throughout history o Sociocultural anthropology  Sociocultural anthropologists look at how societies are structured and how cultural meanings are created  Interested in similarities and differences among peoples throughout the world and how they construct their own versions of what it means to be human  They explore both the universal and particular  They do fieldwork among the societies and cultures they study, gathering data by talking to people and by participating in and observing their day-to-day lives  Many people—including some anthropologists wonder whether sociocultural anthropology should be regarded as a science or as one of the humanities  At its best, sociocultural anthropology incorporates aspects of both: the methodological and analytical rigour of the sciences, and the interpretive insights and nuances of the humanities  Eminent anthropologist Eric Wolf (1964, 88) described anthropology as “the most scientific of the humanities, & the most humanistic of the sciences.”  This book is organized around eight general problems that arise from the human condition— problems such as how to understand people with different beliefs and behaviours; why ways of life change; how people justify violence; and whether it is possible to solve problems of social inequality  These problems concern everyone  Definitive solutions are not possible  Goal is to develop a greater understanding of why those problems exist and what might be done to address them QUESTION 1.1: WHY DO HUMAN BEINGS DIFFER IN THEIR BELIEFS AND BEHAVIOURS?  From an anthropological perspective, members of a society view the world in a similar way because they share the same culture; people differ in how they view the world because their cultures differ  Members of all societies experience life events such as birth, death and the quest for food, water, and shelter  From one society to the next, the meanings people assign these events differ We learn these meanings from, and teach these meanings to, other members of our culture Culture- The system of meanings about nature of experience that are shared by a people and passed on from one generation to another, including the meanings that people give to things, events, activities, and people.  This definition encompasses the meanings that people give to things, events, activities, and people  Most anthropologists can agree that culture is about meaning; cultural meanings must be learned; and, once learned meanings are shared by members of a particular culture  Culture enables us to make sense of our life experiences and to understand those experiences as meaningful in particular ways  Different people of different backgrounds understand different experiences in different ways, but why?  Thinking about culture begins to answer this question o Ex. For some people, death marks the passage of a person from one world to another. o Or for others, death is an ending, the in a life span; and still others view death as part of a never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth o Some societies fear the dead; others revere them o Basically different societies view death or different phases or customs of life differently  Food provides another telling example of how a culture takes the “raw materials” of human life and makes them meaningful  No society accepts all items in their edible universe as “good to eat.” Or edible or non-edible  In some societies eating insects is acceptable, but other societies would consider that horrific  Human beings are cultural animals; they ascribe meanings of their own creation to objects, persons, behaviours, emotions, and events and then proceed to act as if those meanings are real  Clifford Geertz says humans are compelled to impose meaning on things, because without it the world would seem a jumble he says we are incomplete & complete ourselves through culture  People who share meanings they give to experiences, share culture  Differences in culture arise in part from the fact that different groups of human beings, for various reasons, create, share, and participate in different realities; as a consequence, they assign different meanings to death, birth, marriage, and food  Objects, persons, behaviours, emotions, and events in a human world have meanings ascribed to them by those who share, use, or experience them  Objective of anthropological study: understanding culture, and the culturally situated meanings that flourish in various cultural contexts QUESTION 1.2: HOW DO ANTHROPOLOGISTS LEARN ABOUT CULTURE? The Formative Years of Anthropology  Anthropology began at a particular time in history: “the Age of Exploration,” launched by Christopher Columbus when he arrived in the Americas in 1492 & which lasted until the early seventeenth century  This is when Europeans first encountered people who looked and behaved very differently  Travelers and explorers returned home with stories about the seemingly “strange” people they had met in faraway places, sometimes bringing back live native “specimens” as well  At home people debated whether these beings were actually human  European countries established colonies among the world, and often sent missionaries along with them to “civilize” these strange people; these missionaries documented their encounters  Anthropology did not emerge as a formal discipline until 1883, when Edward Tylor was appointed to the first position of anthropology in Britain  1925- Thomas F. McIlawraith became the first anthropology appointment at U of T  1936- Canada‟s first Department of Anthropology was founded at U of T  Late 1800s- anthropology grew in popularity many early anthropologists like Tylor were armchair anthropologists Armchair anthropologists- refers to an approach to the study of various societies that dominated anthropology in the late 1800s. It involved the collection, study, and analysis of the writings of missionaries, explorers, and colonists who had sustained contact with non-Western peoples. Armchair anthropologists used these documents make comparisons and generalizations about the ways of life of various groups.  They stayed at home or in their offices and amassed diaries, reports, and various documents written by others who had come in contact with various non-Western peoples instead of conducting their own first hand research  Sitting in their “armchairs,” these anthropologists applied a comparative method to explore differences and similarities in social institutions and belief systems in a variety of societies  Based on their comparisons, armchair anthropologists would attempt to make a cross-cultural generalizations about such things as warfare, family structures and marriage, religion, and other phenomena  Tylor relied on the accounts provided by travelers and missionaries as sources of info for his book, Primitive Culture (didn‟t acknowledge the biases in the writings)  His 1871 definition of culture reflected the methodological approach that he shared with his fellow armchair anthropologists  Tylor‟s definition- “culture or civilization, taken in its wide (comparative) ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of his society” (1871, 1).  Like our definition of culture, Tylor‟s definition emphasized the shared and learned aspects of culture, however he and other Victorian anthropologists wrote about culture in the singular, believing that some peoples or cultural groups might have more or less culture or civilization than others  So both their methodology and understanding of culture were not merely comparative, but hierarchical as well  Today‟s anthropologists no longer resort to hierarchies when comparing human beliefs and behaviors but they do remain interested in the differences and similarities between cultures  Fathers of social and cultural anthropology- Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas (anthropologists)  Malinowski and Boas would soon move beyond armchair anthropology  Boas sought firsthand knowledge among the Inuit and the Kwakwaka‟wakw  Malinowski lived in the Trobiand Islands during the WWI, extended periods of fieldwork became the required method of sociocultural anthropology  Ethnographic method- the unique feature of sociocultural anthropology where investigators immerse themselves in the lives of the people they are trying to understand and thereby attain some level of understanding of the meanings those people ascribe to their existence  This immersion process entails participant observation, defined as the active participation of observers in the lives of their subjects Ethnographic model- the immersion of researchers in the lives and cultures of the peoples they are trying to understand in order to comprehend the meanings these people ascribe to their existence Participant observation- an element of fieldwork that can involve participating in daily tasks, and observing daily interactions among a particular group  Anthropologists seek to explain why people view the world as they do and increase the understanding of human behavior  But this begins with fieldwork, which involves the meeting of at least two cultures: that of the researcher, and that of the people trying to be understood  Anthropologists must look at this world in a new way instead of through his own views Fieldwork- Anthropologists engage in long-term interactions (usually a year or more) with various groups of people. This often involves living with people, observing and contributing to daily chores and tasks (participant observation), and conducting interviews. Most fieldwork in anthropology has historically been qualitative in nature.  Bronislaw Malinowski- Polish-born and British- trained o One of the first to abandon armchair approach o He would revolutionize anthropology by stressing the primacy of fieldwork o In his time anthropologists would have to get out of their armchairs and travel to and live among non-Western (usually indigenous) peoples o They would spend at least a year carrying out fieldwork—conducting interviews and surveys, taking photographs, and recording songs and oral narratives , among other things o 1915- arrived in the Trobriand Islands as the guest of British colonial officials o Soon concluded that it would be necessary to spend each day with the Trobrianders if he hoped to obtain a comprehensive understanding of their daily lives o Set up a tent in a nearby Trobriand village o He lived with the Trobrianders, observed them, participated in their daily tasks, learned their language, and thus established the importance of participant observation as a fieldwork strategy o Participant observation involves long-term engagement with a group of people and their daily lives o This fieldwork technique would become a defining feature of contemporary anthropological fieldwork o Took detailed notes during interactions, later would transform these into an ethnography (a written description and analysis of an anthropologist‟s experiences and interactions with a group of people) o Ethnography is the end product of a fieldwork experience o He felt that by documenting experiences and observations with notes, and combining this with participant observation and other qualitative fieldwork techniques, anthropologists would be able to obtain “the native‟s point of view” this approach also referred to as the “Emic” or “insider” perspective, implies that goal of anthropology is to understand people‟s beliefs and culture from their own perspective o Until Malinowski‟s time, armchair anthropologists had tended to privilege “etic” or “outsider” explanations for human behavior o Malinowski was instrumental in establishing the importance of long-term fieldwork for understanding various cultures, and in challenging the cultural generalizations that the comparative, armchair approach tended to produce o Differences between Tylor and Malinowski‟s definition reflect the differences between armchair anthropology and ethnographic fieldwork o Malinowski focused on understanding each culture in its own terms o His view: cultures arise in order to meet the particular needs of specific peoples Changing Notions of Fieldwork  Malinowski has effected anthropology so much that even today PhD students in anthropology are required to spend at least a year in the field, and they often incorporate participant observation as a fieldwork technique  Fieldwork has changed over the last century, and many of Malinowski‟s ideas about it have been challenged th  Late 19 century anthropology was about the study of non-western peoples and places, most anthropologists were educated white men from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA  Anthropologists viewed indigenous people as groups in need of “rescue”  Thus, a great deal of early-twentieth-century anthropology in North America was an outgrowth if salvage anthropology—an idea espoused by Franz Boas, among others, who felt that indigenous peoples throughout the world were undergoing rapid assimilation and would eventually disappear  And he felt that anthropologists were obliged to document and collect the various traditions and cultures of these groups  To “preserve” the culture Boas and his students began documenting Inuit and North west Coast indigenous cultures (but they never disappeared)  Museums took on the same task, became integral to this culture of collecting and would play a prominent role in the development of Canadian anthropology  1911- Anthropology Division of the Geological Survey of Canada was established  1920- the unit became part of the National Museum of Canada, renamed the Museum of Civilization  Ideas about appropriate “field sites” and subjects of study have changed since the days of Malinowski and Boas  Anthropologists don‟t just limit the selves to non-western peoples, we see anthropologists studying aspects of their own culture  This shift in thinking has had consequences for how anthropologists conduct their fieldwork  “field site” is not necessarily a faraway place  Globalization has also transformed how anthropologists perceive and study societies  Increasingly seeing anthropologists conducting fieldwork online as well as face to face  Online communities can be an object of study as traditional face-to-face communities have been  No longer tenable for anthropologists to stay in one location for a long period of time given that globalization has resulted in increasingly fragmented communities and highly mobile groups  Today anthropologists often conduct multi-locale fieldwork, or fieldwork in multiple locations  Other anthropologists advocate the use of multi-sited fieldwork, a term coined by George Marcus in 1995  Multi-sited fieldwork involves connecting the localized events and experiences of a community with broader regional, national, or global processes  This approach often goes hand in hand with multi-locale approaches Multi-sited fieldwork- This term, coined by George Marucs in 1995, refers to the process of connecting localized experiences of fieldwork with broader, global processes. It necessitates understanding various issues from multiple “sites” or perspectives.  Fieldwork has undergone changes since Malinowski‟s time; but the content of fieldwork, or data collection has undergone relatively few changes  Anthropologists thru our ethnographies create bodies of knowledge about people we are studying  Issues of how to accurately and ethically represent human beliefs and behaviours therefore remain central to the discipline Representation and Culture  Because they create knowledge about culture and relay other people‟s stories about themselves, anthropologists are concerned about issues of representation  That is why they try to think critically about how they depict the people they are studying be it in writing, photographs, art, films, and other media or on the Internet. Representation- The way in which a group of people is depicted in writing or through images. Anthropologists are increasingly conscious of the fact that when they write about a group of people, they are constructing particular representations that may have positive or negative long- term effects for a group of people.  Representations can be created by anthropologists speaking out against racist, sexist, or homophobic representations produced by the mass media  Anthropologists are increasingly speaking out against racist, sexist, or homophobic representations produced by the mass media  The mass media have tended to resort to essentialism when representing particular groups  In essentialist representations, groups of people are depicted in ways that tend to homogenize and stereotype them Essentialism- the act of creating generalizations or stereotypes about the behavior or culture of a group of people  With respect to representation, anthropologists also turn a critical lens upon themselves  When an anthropologist takes a photo or writes an ethnographic account he is creating a representation of a group of people  An issue thus is arisen: Who has the right to produce representations of another group of people, and is there such a thing as a misrepresentation  The people who are studied are becoming increasingly critical of how they are depicted o Ex. Margaret Mead studied Samoan adolescent girls‟ sexual habits and noted girls were free to experiment with pre-marital sex which contrasted sharply with American attitudes and thus created a romanticized and “exotic” representation of Samoans for a largely Western audience  Representations crafted by anthropologists can have long-term ill consequences for the groups being depicted  Representations put forward by anthropologists, the mass media, and others have social, economic, and political consequences for various groups  So it is important for anthropologists to consider the long-term impact of their work in various communities QUESTION 1.3: IS IT POSSIBLE TO SEE THE WORLD THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS?  Anthropologist must be able to look beyond everyday appearance to decipher the often hidden meanings of beliefs, objects, and behaviours, while at the same time setting aside his/her preconceptions about what is normal or proper  Anthropologist must learn a culture and relate it to members of another culture to translate meanings of one world to another The Embarrassed Anthropologist  Awkwardness and embarrassment are a part of fieldwork, as well as part of the process through which the fieldworker learns about another culture o Ex. Richard Scaglion spent over a year with the Abelam of Papua New Guinea, he was going to go with the men in the pig hunt but the men told him to go with the women and children to beat the bush saying they have never seen anyone who makes as much as noise as him in the jungle o Later he offered to help an Abelam who was planting crops with a digging stick, a crowd watched as he used a shovel to try to dig a demonstration hole, he struggled to get the shovel into the hard packed soil, and when someone handed him a digging stick he was amazed at how easy it was to use, and found out that several Abelam had shovels but did not use them because they did not work o When he explained how the earth rotates using a coconut, saying sometimes US is upright and New Guinea on the bottom they rejected this because they could not see they were upside down Confronting Witchcraft in Mexico  Awkward or emb
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