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Chapter 1

ANT100Y1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Samarai, Banana Leaf, Enemy Alien

Course Code
M Cummings

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Anthropology Culture and Meaning
The World Behind Everyday Appearances
- Sociocultural anthropology look beyond the world of everyday experiences to
discover the patterns and meaning that lie behind that world
- Ex. Classroom chair something to sit on, write on or to even put your feet on
o For a social psychologist ask why we have a chair at all some societies
don’t, they sit or squat instead
o Might explore the erect position in which it forces the body compelling it, In
affect to “pay attention”
- Foucault refers to the shaping of a human body as the “political anatomy”
o People’s bodies are controlled by others to operate with the necessary speed
and efficiency
- Anthropologist might suggest that the chair is part of the political anatomy of
educational settings part of the system of realizations that give meaning to the
- Forms the body into shape that forces it to attend to a teacher and not to others in
the same room
- The distribution of people in space, with each person in a particular spot in neat,
ordered rows, serves to discipline people to “pay attention” to the classroom centre
and not to others around them
- Contrast the wide open space of kindergarten to the space of a second or third
grade classroom, with its desks facing the centered desk of the teacher
- The ways in which specific societies order behaviour through the arrangement of
space and time is one small area examined by sociocultural anthro serves to show
that we cannot take anything about even our own beliefs and behaviors for granted
What Makes Sociocultural Anthropology Unique
- “anthropology” comes from the words anthropos meaning human beings and logia
meaning the study of or the knowledge of
- The kinds of knowledge about human beings that sociocultural anthropologists are
interested in are acquired by spending time with people, talking to them, observing
what they do and trying to understand their lives
- Four subdisciplines biological anthro, archaeology, linguistic anthro, sociocultural
- Biological focuses on the human beings as one of the great multitude of organisms
that inhabit the earth
- Paleo anthro study of fossil remains and an attempt to understand the history of
human biological evolutions
- Primatology the study of our closest nonhuman relatives
- Forensic study of human remains for identification and cause of death
- Archaeology the branch of anthro that study human history and its artifacts
o Look at the material remains in order to understand how people lived :
tools, pottery shards, and other artifacts offer clues about the social and
cultural lives of societies that existed years ago
- Linguistic relationship between language and culture
- Sociocultural looks at how societies are structured and how cultural meanings are
o Similarities in how people construct their own versions of what it means to
be human
o Do fieldwork among societies and cultures they study gathering data by
talking to people and by participating in and observing their day to day lives
Question 1.1: Why do human beings differ in their beliefs and behaviours?
- Members of 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 human societies experience similar life events such as birth, death, and
the quest of food, water and shelter
- The meanings people assign these events differ
- Our working defn of culture is the system of meanings about the nature of
experience that is shared by people and passed from one generation to another
- Anthropologist can age that culture about meaning, cultural meaning must be
learned and once learning meanings are shared by members of a particular culture
- Culture enables human beings to make sense of their life experiences and to
understand those experiences meaningful in particular way
o Share similar experiences but understand them differently
o Ex. Attitudes toward death 0
For some people, death marks the passage of a person from one
world to another
For others death is ending, the final event in a life span; and still
others view death as part of a never-ending cycle of birth, death and
Some societies fear the dead: others revere them
Ex. In China each household contained a shrine to their family
ancestors, making the dead part of the living
Ex. In Italy- funeral customs were designed to discourage the dead
from returning placed useful objects such as matched and small
change near the body to placate the soul of the deceased and to
ensure that they did not return to disturb the living
In some societies death attributed to the malevolent act of some
person, often involving sorcery
Other societies require great demonstrations of grief and mourning
Dani of New Guinea require close female relative of a
recently deceased person to sacrifice part of a finger
Wari’in of western Brazil – lived independent of the Western
civilization and they ate the dead bodies as way of showing
compassion and respect for the dead person and the dead
persons family
At one time in India, widows were cremated alive at their husbands
funeral, a practise known as sati
o Food provides another example of how culture takes the “raw materials” of
human life and makes them meaningful
Insects such as bugs, grubs, beetles and ants are acceptable in some
societies whereas not in North America
Chinese raise dogs for meat, Peruvian practice of raining guinea pigs
for good
- Human beings are cultural animals, they ascribe meaning of their own creation to
objects, persons, behaviours, emotions and events and the proceed to act as if those
meaning are real
- Geertz said that human beings are compelled to impose meanings on their
experiences to help them comprehend experience and impose an order on the
universe, the world seem to jumble
- When people share the meanings they give to experiences, they share and
participate in the same culture
Question 1.2 How Do Anthropologists Learn About Culture?
Formative Years of Anthro
- “the age of exploration” was launched by Chris Columbus it was during these
centuries that Europeans first encountered people who looked and behaved
- Debated whether these beings were human
- Sent missionaries to civilize the strange people
- Armchair anthropologists instead of visiting various people and conduction their
own first hand research, they stayed at gome and amassed diaries, reports and
various documents written by others who had come into contact with various non-
Western people
o Would attempt to make cross-cultural generalizations about such things as
warfare, family structures and marriage, religion and other phenomena
- Ed Taylor appointed to a first position of anthropology in Britain
o Culture or civilization, 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 society
- Contemporary anthro remain interested in the difference and similarities between
cultures, but they no longer resort to hierarchies when comparing human beliefs
and behaviours
Ethnographic Fieldwork
- Use surveys, written documents, historical accounts, and questionnaires as part of
their research toolbox