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Chapter 1

Anthropology chapter one.docx

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M Cummings

Anthropology – Culture and Meaning Introduction 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 classroom - 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 created 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 rebirth  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 differently - 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 - Ethnographic method – 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 - Entails participant observation – active participations of observers in the lives of their subjects - Requires fieldwork – involves the meeting of at least two cultures: that of the researcher and that of the people the researcher is trying to understand o Must set aside their own views of things and attempts to see the world in a new way - Malinowski – the first anthropologist to abandon the armchair approach o Stressed the primacy of fieldwork – involved conducting first-hand, long- term, qualitative research with a group of people o Would spend a year at their research sites – carry out fieldwork, conducting interview and surveys, taking photographs, and recording songs, and oral narrative among other things - Malinowski set up camp in a nearby Trobiand village - Participant observation – living with them as well as observing, and participating in daily task, no matter how mundane - Ethnography – written description and analysis of an anthropologist experiences and interactions with a group of people o Would be able to obtain the “native’s point of view” o Understand people’s beliefs and culture from their own perspective - Instrumental in establishing the importance of long-term field work and for understanding cultures and challenging the cultural generalizations that the comparative, armchair approach tended to produce - His view was that culture arose in order to meet the particular needs of specific people Changing Notions of Fieldwork - A lot had changed over the last century of Malinowski’s original ideas about fieldwork - In the early days, anthro was the study of non-Western people and places - Most anthropologists were upper class, educated, white men from Europe, Australia, Canada and the US - Indigenous people were a group in need of “rescue” - Salvage anthropology – an idea exposed by Franz Boas o Felt that indigenous people were undergoing rapid assimilation and would eventually disappear o Felt that anthropologists had an obligation to document and collect the various traditions and cultures of these groups o Museums at the time took on the same task - Subjects of study have changed – no longer restrict themselves to the study of non- Western people and places o Are likely to see anthropologists study aspects of their own culture o The field sites are not necessarily a far place – don’t need to travel long distances for fieldwork, and many no longer live among their informants for extended lengths of time - Globalization had transformed how anthropologists perceive and study societies o The internet, media technologies have transformed the ways we form and maintain social relationships - Anthropologists conduct fieldwork online as well as face to face o Ex. The online communities created by gamers are just as valid as object of study as traditional face to face communities been o Not studying “virtual culture” but ‘culture in the virtual worlds” - Globalization had led to increased communities and mobile groups – no longer tendable for anthropologists to stay in one location for a long period - Multi-sited fieldwork – involves connecting the localized events and experiences of a community with broader regional, national and global processes o Ex. Studied the commodification of sapphire and the growing preference for “natural gems” o Attempting to track the multiple meanings and relationships that for around the international sapphire trade and explores how demand for natural sapphires is affecting the lives of miners in local communities in Madagascar - What Remains relatively unchanged is that, through ethnographies we created bodies of knowledge about the people we are studying and how to accurately and ethically represent the human beliefs and behaviours therefore remain central to the discipline Representation and Culture - Are concerned about the issues of representations - How they depict the people they are studying, in writing, photographs, art, films and other media or on the Internet - Anthropologists are speaking out against racist, sexist or homophobic representations produced by the mass media o Ex. 9/11 American media outlets depicted Islamic people as violent terrorists or as “uncivilized”, “backward” - Resort to essentialism – when representing particular groups – groups of people are depicted in ways that tend to homogenize and stereotype them - An anthropologist who takes a photo or write an ethnographic account is crafting a particular representation of a group of people – raises the question of who has the right to produce representations of another group of people, and is there such as thing as misrepresentation - The people who are studied, are become increasingly critical of how they are depicted o Ex. Samoa girls – depicted of being free to experiment with pre-marital sex o Contrasted sharply with the American attitudes at the time o Later Samoas critiqued her work – denying that they engaged in these practices - Raises questions of what if the anthropologist interpretations of culture differ from their informants - What are the consequence of the representations cultivated by anthropologists - The representations crafted by anthropologists can have have long term ill consequences for the groups being depicted o Ex. Studied the Yanomami, an indigenous group in Brazil and Venezuela – often labelled them as “fierce” and warlike o Argued that the representations of the Yanomami has done them wrong o The British government wanted to provide financial assistance for various Amazonian groups but after reading this work they felt that the money would be better spent reducing the violence in this community Question 1.3 – Is it Possible to See the World through the Eyes of Others? - Must be able to look beyond everyday appearance to decipher the often hidden meanings of beliefs, objects and behaviours while at the same time look beyond their preoccupation about what is normal or proper - Often find themselves in embarrassed, or dangerous situations The Embarassed Anthropologist - Scaglion spent a year in Abelum of Papua New Guinea o He arrived in the field and observed how the men set out nets and waited while the women and children made noises to drive the pigs into the net o Was asked to participate, took it as a sign of acceptance that the people liked him o Asked to join the men – “we’ve never seen anyone who makes as much noise as you in the jungle” o Some asked him about his view of the universe – enplaning the shape of the earth and its daily rotations and it travels around the sun o Overhead some elders talking about how it was possible that North Americans walk upside down o They could not understand that they were not upside down – he tried to explain Newtons law of gravity but realized it was something he did not understand wither but taken granted as a convenient concept Confronting Witchcraft in Mexico - Awkward interactions cause anthropologist to question their own world - To communicate with anyone – they must share some of the meanings they ascribe to objects, persons, behaviours, emotions or events – what happens when they are different - Kearney working in the valley of Oaxaca, Mexico - Often fascinated by the differences between his view and that of the people of Santa Catarina Ixtepeji o Their world was controlled by notions of “fate’, the “will of God”, malevolent witches and other harmful and sometimes lethal spiritual forces o Met a women Dona Delfina – was a known witch and had a sister-in-law with a very bad disease o Rejected the offer that take the sick women to a doctor for medical treatment o He put ointment on her wounds and within days she was recovered o Was told that the sick women had been a victim of black magic – another women was trying take Delrina’s brother and she was using her magic to make her sister in law sick o He had intervened and gave Delfina power but making Gregoria a enemy o Was told to leave town until Gregoria calmed down  Later woke up to welts on his arm – thought “she got me”  He was witnessing the disintegration of his scientific, materialist view of the world with forces he was unprepared to deal with  Was suspended between two worlds, his own and that of the Ixtepejanos  He came to realize that that systems of belief are reasonable when viewed from within the system - Those who succeed in seeing the world as others do, even for a brief moment, find it easier to understand and describe that world - They are never completely native because they cannot totally shed their own cultural perceptions but they are never the same again after having glimpsed alternative visions of the world - It is difficult to look beyond everyday experiences at our beliefs and behaviours, it is far more difficult when we confront beliefs and behaviours of others that we initially consider wrong, horrible, or bizarre How Do People Judge the Beliefs and Behaviours of Others - A member of the Abelam tribe of Papua New Guinea o Laughed uncontrollably at a white women who had holes in her ears and had stuck things in them o When asked about the feather in his nose – said that it was for beauty and ceremonial significance and he didn’t know white people mutilated themselves - Since there are so many versions of the world, how do we go about trying to understand each of them without making positive or negative judgements? - Its not difficult to find practises that are weird or shocking o Phillipines – kill an enemy to obtain a head that they can throw away in order to diminish grief o Aztecs in Mexico – the only way to ward off disaster was to pluck the hearts from live sacrificial victims to offer to the gods The Ethnocentric Fallacy and the Relativist Fallacy - Ethnocentric – is the idea that our beliefs and behaviours are right and true and those of other peoples are wrong and misguided - Ethnocentrism – the tendency to judge the beliefs and behaviours of other cultures from the perspective of one’s own o What is an odd belief or behavior is logical in the context of a particular culture - If everyone thinks that they are right and others are wrong – leads to social dead end - Cultural relativism – no behaviour or belief can be judged to be odd or wrong simply because it is different from our own - Try to understand it on terms of the purpose, meaning or function of a society - Renato Rosaldo o Moral predicament – is it permissible to rip the hearts out of a living human being, provided that it is neccesary to save the world - Relativistic fallacy – the idea that is it impossible to make moral judgements about the beliefs and behaviours of others – none can be condemned Virginity Testing in Turkey and Cannibalism Among the Wari’’ - Young women in Turkey are expected to avoid sexual relations prior to marriage, although the same rule does not apply to men - The brides virginity is revealed the morning after the wedding – to see if the sheet had the tell-tale hymeneal blood stain - Human rights condemns the practise: is the human rights group being ethnocentric in judging Turkish customs by North American cultural norms, or is it correctly identifying abuses of women that must be corrected - Coral Delaney – explained how virginity testing relates to the way in which Turkish villagers conceptualize and explain the reproductive process o The man provides the seed and the women serves as the soil in which the seed germinates and grows o Seeds do not have a limited life span – it may grow at any time o If a women has sexual relations, the paternity of the child may be questioned o Descent in Turkish culture has a lot to do with property rights, o These views are reinforced by religious proscription, legitimized in the Quran and the old testament - What about cannibalism o To accuse ones enemies or people one wished to degrade or dominate of cannibalism was the ultimate justification for conquest, domination, an exploitation o Pope rules that Christians could punish by force of arms sins of Cannibalism o There was however practise of it – medical cannibalism – the consumption of human body parts for curing purposes was a long tradition in Europe o Consumption of human flesh, heart, bones and other body parts as sures for affictions as arthritis, reproductive disorders, warts etc o Drinking the blood was a cure for epilepsy - The Wari however ate because they believed it was the compassionate thing to do o A corpse left intact was a painful reminder of the deceased o Ate it even if the smell repulsed them because they believed it would help the family come to terms with the lost o If they bury them – believe its cold in the earth  “would always remember our child, lying there in the cold, when others ate the body we did not think about out child’s body much” o Considered the ground was “dirty” and “polluting” – never sat directly on it and spiritual things were never allowed to touch the ground o By consuming the dead they are able to rid the painful memories of their loss o They also burn the house and the personal possessions of the deceased o They also changed the appearance of the last earthly places to which the memories of the deceased amy cling o They believe that the spirits of the dead enter the bodies of animals they depend on for food, create a cycle of eating and being eaten - Main point: when we impose our meanings on practises such as cannibalism and fail to see those practises the way others do, we miss a great deal Objectivity and Morality - Should they maintain a “moral distance” from those they are studying and remain objective or should they engaged in criticizing that behavior or beliefs - Huges – returned to a town Brazil where she had worked as a community organizer o Had helped them to organize to fight for clean water, decent wages and protection o She came back to work as an anthropologist and to observe and document and write about their lives – the people there became angry with this o She now fights for a engaged anthropology = have a obligation to reflect critically on the impact of the harsh images of human suffering that we foist upon the public o They must serve as witnesses and reporters of human rights abuses and of the suffering of the poor and oppressed o This become conflicted when they engage in behavior that is morally questionable  Impoverished women starve their infants in the belief that they are doomed anyway - If we tolerate the beliefs and practises of other cultures because to do otherwise would be ethnocentric, then how can we criticize what seems to be violations of basic human rights o Ex. In India  The sati – the burning of a widow on her husband’s funeral  Indian has outlawed the practise but rarely enforce the law because of the difficulty obtaining evidence  The endorsement or rejection of foreign customs risks imposing one’s own cultural prejudices – but one simply cannot avoid making judgements when faced with oppression and brutality - Need to keep in mind that when cultures order the world in certain ways for their members, they are in effect masking other ways of viewing things - Our ethnocentric biases may build us to those alternatives – what our culture hides from us may be more important than what it reveals Question 1.4 – How can the Meanings that Others Find in Experience be interpreted and described? - Sherlock Holmes detective story o Watson hands Holmes a watch and ask him to infer the character of its owner o Holmes gave an accurate description of Watson’s brother  The watch was dented, had cut marks all over – the man who treats a watch like that must be careless  How did he know about his drinking habits  Thousands of scratch marks all around the hole marks where the key has slipped o If he was an anthropologist he would have made inferences about the society in which the watch was manufactured  In some societies time is task oriented, not clock oriented  In other societies time depends on natural events such as the rising of the sun of the ebb and flow of tides o May also infer that clocks are instruments of discipline; they tell use when to get up, when to go to bed, when to eat, when to start work o Watsons brothers watch was a product of Western culture – a collection of symbols or words, a cultural text that revealed the character of its owner - One way to think about culture is a text of significant symbols: words, gestures, drawings, natural objects – anything that carries meaning - We must be able to decipher the meanings of the symbols that comprise a cultural text - Our task to understanding another culture if to take the abilities that have enabled us to dwell in our own culture and use them to understand the cultures of others Deciphering the Balinese Cockfight - Cockfight – you see a rin
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