Chapter 3: The Social and Cultural Construction of Reality
The Central Question
People believe in things (Eg. God, Satan, possession) with NO material proof not always
religious (Eg. horoscopes)
Edward Tyler Primitive Culture religion and a belief in the supernatural develop through
people’s efforts to explain basic phenomena, such as death and dreaming belief of souls that
leave the body gods that controlled life’s uncertainties
Emilie Durkheim The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life concept of god derived from the
beliefs of early human beings
o Eg. Natives of Australia believe in totemism – the use of a symbol, generally an animal or a
plant, as a representation of a group, generally a clan. Totems are considered holy and
sacred, it’s power deriving from the power people feel when in groups of celebration and
ritual – a dramatic rendering or social portrayal of meanings shared by a specific body of
people in a way that makes them seem correct and proper.
Early Anthropologists beliefs were in error BUT religious beliefs and rituals increase group
cohesion and provide supernatural sanctions for the violation of group norms
Today’s Anthropologists don’t focus on the errors in beliefs BUT the nature of belief or religious
practices and how people came to believe that their view of the world is correct.
o Metaphors help us make our knowledge meaningful sense of ourselves and the universe
o Symbolic actions – the activities – including ritual, myth, art, dance, and music – that
dramatically depict the meanings shared by a specific body of people. It’s organizing and
making concrete a particular view of the world.
Question 3.1: How Does TheUse of Metaphor Affect TheMeanings People AssignTo Experience?
Borrowing Meaningwith Metaphors
Metaphor – a figure of speech in which linguistic expressions are taken from one area of
experience and applied to another
Domainof experience – an area of human experience (Eg. business, war, science, family life) from
which people borrow meaning to apply to other areas.
o Eg. “Jeff is a dog” extension from animal to human world
World view – an encompassing picture of reality based on shared cultural assumptions about how
the world works
Through metaphors we understand the abstract in terms of the concrete
Harvey Feit Cree in northern Quebec used the metaphor “hunting is like gardening” and
“hunting lands are like a garden” as a strategy to defend their lands against a hydroelectric project
that would flood their land and destroy the habitat of their animals. It shows they care about
nature, that one wouldn’t destroy nature, and by doing so, it would destroy the Cree.
Language extends fromone domainto another AND its meaning.
o Eg. “I won that argument” extension of war terminology to arguments & it’s meaning, you
CAN win or lose and argument.
War extension to dance, it’s more about coordinating and mutual accommodations.
War extension to illness, AIDS weakens the immune system BUT the Navaho see it
as a disruption of harmony. o Eg. English North Americans use economic exchange terminology, you can spend time, time
is money and budget time. Thus, time is valuable; it’s quantified, invested and spent.
Metaphorscan influence people’s views of theworld
Key domain – a term to identify metaphors that dominate the meanings that people in a specific
culture attribute to their experiences
Kwakwaka’wakw Metaphors of Hunger
Stanley Walens – the act of eating is a key metaphor for them
The universe is a place in which some beings must die so that other beings may eat them and live.
Eating gives life by providing nutrition and freeing souls.
They believe when a person dies, their soul enters a salmon. But the soul cannot be freed until the
physical body is destroyed, so they allow it to be eaten by ravens and other birds. When it enters
the salmon, it says there living in a salmon world that socially resembles the human world. When
caught and eaten, it can enter the body of a newborn.
Eating metaphor dominant in art, ritual and myth – a story or narrative that portrays the
meanings people give to their experience. SCARY.
They believe their problems of greed, conflict, child rearing can be solves by controlling hunger
eatingis ritualized and controlled give generously to avoid greed accusations rich people and
animals regurgitate are sacred
The Metaphors of Contemporary Witchcraft and Magic
Tanya M. Luhrmann witchcraft and magic in England
England Middle-class are urbanites who participate in magic in new age ideology, the age of
Aquarius people who place an emphasis on natural food, good health and personal stability and
whose magic practices consist of conjuring spirits, reading the tarot and magical healing
Modern magic mind and thought can affect matter without actions (thought & matter same)
Magicians It is a distortion to treat objects as isolated and unique. Things aren't fixed
objects, they are swirlsof energy should NOT be disrupted
Metaphor of stratification of planes and levels We exist on different planes than other worlds
After death the soul goes to another plane Magic can influence our plane and we can influence
other planes Magicians require training
78 tarot cards is a complex system of metaphoric associations linking domains of experience (Eg.
Celestial objects to personal qualities) Tarot deck is a living being
o provide people ways to interpret their own lives but one begins to define oneself in terms
of the tarot cards and become the person that the cards identify
Question 3.2 how does symbolic action reinforce a particular viewof theworld
We participate in activities that expressed a particular view of the world and reinforce beliefs
The Kwakwaka'wakw HamatsaDance
Cannibal dance is a four day spectacle during the winter ceremonial
Spiritual world intersects with the real world
Focal point in youth initiation into the cannibal Society
Cannibal society gathers in the ceremonial house and calls the cannibal to the human world. It is
first in the woods searching for Hamatsa. The Cannibal society eventually entices the Hamatsa into
the house. Then they eat a normal meal the final symbol that the Hamatsa has been tamed.
Hamatsa is the ultimate power of hunger and its desire for human flesh is the force that can
destroy society. Participants symbolically tame the hunger and show their responsibility to
control greed and conflict; children should learn.
The Ritual OfContemporary Witchcraft And Magic Rituals can draw participants into an emotional involvement with the metaphors sick baby spell
You believe it is not the ritual itself that produces feelings but the forces of powers
ZombiesAre “Good To Think With”
Myths are accounts that explain the past from a particular point of view
Books and movies of magic in North American culture Key scenarios - dominant stories are
myths that portray the values and believes of a specific society
Claude Lévi-Strauss - "good to think with" humans use aspects of the material world as a
reservoir of metaphorical and symbolic meanings
Stories of the zombie apocalypse taps into her fears in the millennial capitalism: zombies like
North Americans consuming senselessly, zombies work without seizing and for little reward,
zombie epidemic like the avian flu or SARS or H1N1.
Question 3.3: How Does TheWay We Live Affect Our Beliefs And Rituals
God is created in the image of ourselves or society
Jean-Guy Goulet - For the Dene Tha in northern Alberta learning comes only through direct
experience Adults cannot teach children how to live or knowledge becomes a commodity
o learn through observation and imitation true knowledge is personal knowledge
They have personal autonomy and responsibility to respect the autonomy of others including non-
Dene Tha Or you're infringing on the right of the other to gain knowledge properly
Powerfulness is inherent in plants, animals or other substances which can affect human beings
knowingly or unknowingly
There are two different types of land: our land and the other land the other land consists of
plants and animals which must be respected
o Eg. Cree ensure the animals survival and never waste the animal
Emotions can affect the world Eg. storm caused by a man’s feelings
They communicate with the other world through dreams (future, misfortunes) and gain
knowledge of healing using plants and animal parts in return they place tobacco where they
Animals can share power with humans and were once seen as equals same language, marriage
BUT animals are now superior to humans and only share the power they don't need
The body can die but the mind can return to this land through reincarnation. The soul can leave
the body and travel to spend time with their relatives BUT if they stay too long they become ill and
healer is needed to bring them back or the body dies.
o A boy can be referred to females once the former identity of the child is decided
They are part of nature whereas we are separate from nature
Mi'kmaq believe that the sun created the earth and everything, the moon are manifestations of the
Great Spirit. When a person dies they go to the Milky Way, which is the land of the dead.
First Nations women from Saint Elias mountains of Yukon believe that glaciers have human
qualities and interacted with humans human behavior = natural world behavior
Maori from New Zealand’s origin of E