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Chapter 5

Cultural Anthropology Chapter 5.docx

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Maggie Cummings

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Chapter 5: The Cultural Construction of Identity Problem: How do people determine who they are and how do they communicate who they think they are to others? INTRODUCTION To examine how people in a society determine who they are and communicates who they think they are to others, you need to explore the ways different societies define the person, the ways individuals are differentiated from other, the ways they find out who they are and convey to others who they are, and the ways they form collective identities. QUESTION 5.1: HOW IS IDENTITIY, AND ONE’S SENSE OF SELF, LEARNED?  Identity – learned personal and social types of affiliation including gender, sexuality, race, class, nationalism, and ethnicity, for example. Learning to Belong  Stories present people of all ages with ways of knowing about whom they are and where they came from. Storytelling is also a way of communicating information from one generation to another  Hugh Brody highlights that we are not born knowing who we are or what our places are on the social landscape; we learn to be Canadian or Japanese, husbands or wives, Andrea, Gavin, Homa, Natasha or Sebastian. We learn how we related to others as songs, daughters, students, friends or lovers o Individuals form various identities so they can relate to others and cultivate a space for themselves within their social landscape o At the same time, identities are political and collective, formed around struggles against such threats as colonialism or the state  Our sense of Canadianness, like any other identity, is cultivated and learned through various agents of enculturation – the process through which individuals learn an identity. This can encompass parental socialization, the influence of peers, the mass media, government, or other forces. o In elementary school, most children learn how to sing the National Anthem, and because provincial governments control the content of the school curriculum, they learn a government-sanctioned version of Canadian history o The mass media play an important role in shaping ideals of Canadianness through media depictions of sports (i.e. Hockey gives a dominant ideal of Canadian identity as white, middle-class, and male).  Shared experiences, such as sports and other mediated events, are often used to cultivate a sense of imagined community – refers to the fact that even in the absence of face-to-face interactions, a sense of community (e.g., nationalism) is culturally constructed by forces such as the mass media  “Nature versus nurture” is a phrase coined by Francis Galton, referencing a longstanding scholarly debate concerning whether or not human behaviours and identities are the result of nature (biological and genetic factors) or nurture (learned and cultural factors) o One of the first anthropologists to engage ethnographically with the nature versus nurture debate was Margaret Mead who argued that the experiences of adolescents varied depending on the culture in which they were raised and emphasized the role of culture or “nurture” in human behaviour. QUESTION 5.2: HOW DOES THE CONCEPT OF PERSONHOOD VARY FROM SOCIETY TO SOCIETY? The Importance of Self  Personal names in all societies are intimate markers of the person, differentiating individuals from others. Names also reveal how people conceive themselves and their relations to others o Business people are linked to their organization (exchange first name, last names, and business titles)  North Americans are highly individualistic – a view of the self in which the individual is primarily responsible for his or her own actions  In societies such as the Umbundu, the relationship between the person and the group, or the person and his or her social position, is holistic – when an individual’s sense of self cannot be
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