Chapter 1: Culture andMeaning
The World Behind Everyday Appearances
Sociocultural anthropology – An anthropological approach that retains the British focus on social
anthropology at the same time as it adds the American focus on culture to produce something
slightly different from the other one.
Look beyond the world of everyday experiences to discover the patterns and meanings that lie
behind that world.
Chair question it’s everyday use. Why do we have chairs? Most societies don’t, they squat, or sit
on the floor. It wasn’t common till 18 century Europe. Why do classroom chairs have that shape?
The classroom chair might force the body into erect position in order to pay attention.
o Michael Foucault shaping of humans as a political anatomy – people’s bodies are
controlled by others to operate with the necessary speed and efficiency.
chair shaped to pay attention, bar stools for conversation and mobility.
What Makes Sociocultural Anthropology Unique?
The term “anthropology” comes from the two Greek words: anthropos = human beings and logia
= the study of/ the knowledge of.
Anthropology - the study of what humans do and what humans have done.
It includes collecting evidence of how and when we became human and comparing humans to
other organisms in the world achieved by spending time with people.
Anthropology is divided into 4 approaches to the study of humans:
1. Biological anthropology – (oldest) focuses on human beings as one of a great multitude of
organisms that inhabit the earth fossils, evolution, primates, forensics
2. Archaeology – studies human history and its artifacts materials tell us how people lived
3. Linguistic anthropology – examines the relationship between language and culture how
language is used and how it developed
4. Sociocultural anthropology – look at how societies are structures and how cultural meanings are
created. differences between peoples and similarities in what it means to be human
Question 1.1 Why Do HumanBeingsDiffer In Their Beliefs And Behaviours?
Culture – the system of meanings about the nature of experience that are shared by a people and
passed on from one generation to another, including the meanings that some people give to things,
events, activities and people.
Same culture =same view of theworld Different culture = different viewon theworld
We have thesame experiences but different meaningsto it:
o Kawkwaka’wakw of BC believe when a person dies, the soul leaves the body and enters the
body of a salmon til it is caught and eaten, then it is free to enter the body of another
o Chinese make the dead part of their world, by having ancestral shrines, but Italians
discourage the dead from returning by placing useful objects near their grave.
o Some societies death is attributed to the malevolent act of some person sorcery.
Some require great demonstrations of grief and morning for the decreased. o The Dani of new Guinea require a close female relative of a recently deceased person to
sacrifice part of a finger.
o Wari’in of Western Brazil disposedof thebodies of their dead by eating it out of respect and
compassion for thedead person and family. *
o Southern Europe’s, they shave their heads
o India, cremated aliveat their husband’s funeral (Sati) *
o North America, grieving for the rest of their life
o Italy, fling themselves into an open grave
o Some societies define insects as food, others don't.
o Some cultures in China consider milk undrinkable
o China raises dogs for meat
o Peru raises guinea pigs for food
Clifford Geertz – we are compelled to impose meaning on our experiences because without the
meanings to help us comprehend experience and impose and order on the universe, the world
would seem a jumble – chaos of pointless acts and exploding emotions. We are incomplete animals
who complete ourselves through culture – specific forms of it.
When people share the meanings they give to experiences, we share and participate in the same
Differences in culture arise from the fact that different groups of human beings, for many reasons,
create, share and participate in different realities; consequently, we assign different meanings to
death, birth, marriage and food.
Question 1.2: How Do Anthropologists Learn AboutCulture?
The Formative Yearsof Anthropology
Began in “the Age of Exploration” Columbus 1492 – 17 century when Europeans first
encountered different people they called strange, inhuman?
Jesuit Relations – describes the interactions between the Jesuit missionaries and the indigenous
peoples in southern Ontario.
Anthropology became a formal discipline in 1883
ArmchairAnthropologist – 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 to make comparisons and generalizations about
the ways of life of various groups.
Edward Taylor appointed to first position of anthropology in Britain book Primitive Culture
o some cultural groups have more or less culture than others Singular Hierarchical
Ethnographic method – the immersion of researchers in the lives and cultures of the peoples they
are trying to understand in the order to comprehend the meanings these people ascribe to their
Participant observation – an element of fieldwork that can involve participating in daily tasks, and
observing daily interactions among a particular group.
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
anthropology has historically been qualitative in nature. o Involves meeting of 2 cultures: researcher, and the people
o Attempt to see the world without bias
o Assume the people have been taught the culture
Ethnography – a written description and analysis of a particular group of people based upon
All of this the native’s point of view (insider = emic instead of outsider = etic)
BronislawMalinowski first to use this fieldwork 1915 Trobriand Islands
o Culture arises in order to meet the particular needs of specific peoples Plural.
Changing Notions of Fieldwork
Salvage Anthropology – An approach to anthropology that arose in the late 1800s when
anthropologists witnessed the extinction and/or assimilation of indigenous groups throughout the
world. In response, some anthropologists, such as Franz Boas, suggested that anthropologists
rapidly document the oral stories, songs, histories, and other traditions of indigenous groups
before they disappeared.
Regna Darnell studied Canadians combining features of history that are unique
Today, people are likely to study their own culture, Western culture
Globalization studies in different dimensions: TV, internet, social networking, media, etc.
o TomBoellstorff studies culture in online gaming world of Second Life “Coming of Age in
Second Life” book
o Anthropologists rarely stay in one location for a long time anymore
Multi-sited fieldwork – this term, coined by George Marcus 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.
Andrew Walsh studied the commodification of sapphires and the growing preference for natural
gems (no treatment to enhance colour) all over the world to get different meanings and
relationships and how it affects the lives of miners.
Content of fieldwork is the same, as well as creating knowledge of the people we study.
Representation and Culture
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.
o Eg. 9/11 media depicted Islamic men as violent terrorists or as uncivilized
Essentialism– the act of creating generalizations or stereotypes about the behaviour or culture of
a group of people.
o lead to racism and domestic and foreign policy are affected for the worse
People become critical of howthey are depicted.
o Margaret Mead studied American Samoa adolescent girls’ sexual habits in 1925 Coming
of Age in Samoa book peaceful society but the girls were free to experiment with pre-
marital sex, which contrasted with American taboo of pre-martial sex Samoa denied.
Representations by anthropologists can have long-termill consequences for thegroup depicted.
o Napoleon Chagnon studied the Yanomami, an Amazonian indigenous group in Brazil and
Venezuela and labeled them fierce and warlike. When money c