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Chapter 3

Anthropology - Chapter 3.docx

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M Cummings

Anthropology Chapter 3 : The Social And Cultural Construction of Reality Introduction - How can people believe in God when his existence can never be proven - People believe in these things and take these beliefs for granted - How can they believe in things that are considered illogical o These came about through people’s basic phenomena, such as death and dreaming - They must have reasoned that there was something, some kind of essence, that left the body at the moment of death or that travelled to distant places in sleep’s dreams o The idea that a soul fled the body in death and sleep - Once they believed in souls, it was a small step to reason that there were places where departed souls resided and an even smaller step to believe that souls became gods - Beliefs in god and spirits developed through the attempts of human beings to explain certain events, to understand why things happened as they did - Religious beliefs of indigenous people of Australia, their beliefs about totemism o The totem was an element of nature – an animal, insect, a plant – that served as a symbol for a group or clan o Was worshipped and considered sacred and holy by members of the group o Was the clan itself – the object of worship? o There’s a special feel when groups come together in celebration and ritual - Is it not reasonable to suppose that in large scale socities people worship society through their god or God? That God is society? - The beliefs and rituals may have increased group cohesion or provided supernatural sanctions for the violation of group norms - Today anthropologist try to understand religion not by the premise that people’s beliefs are irrational or incorrect - Try to understand the nature of belief or religious practice and how it is that people come to believe that their view of the world is correct - Symbolic actions – all the rituals, myths, arts, stories, and music that we enjoy or participate in – play a role in organizing and making concrete a particular view of the world Question 3.1 How Does the Use of Metaphor Affect the Meanings People Assign to Experience? - Metaphor take language from one domain of experience, such as the domain of the body or the domain of animals and apply it to another domain, such as landscape features or persons - When people make sense of their experiances, they do by drawing from shared cultural assumptions about how the world works o Create an encompassing picture of reality called a world view - “through metaphors we understand the abstract in terms of the concrete” - In northen Quebec used the metaphor “hunting is like gardening” and “hunting lands are like a garden” – strategy to defend their lands against a hydroelectric project that threatened to flood their land and destroy the habitat of their animals o Countered the governments view that the land was unhabited and unproductive wilderness - The “garden of the Cree” metaphor calls forth an earth that, if protected and nurtured, will sustain Cree life - If the Cree garden is destroyed, Cree people will be destroyed too - Metaphor involves not only speaking of one experience in terms of another but also understanding one experience in terms of another - We speak of argument In terms of conflict, taking the language from the domain of war and applying it to the domain of conversation o We don’t simply talk about arguments in terms of war, we actually win and lose arguments - If we borrowed dance to comprehend argument o The rhythm of the interaction or the grace of the performance o Two partners trying to coordinate their movements to arrive to mutual accommodations - Language from the domain of war o We build our defences against illness, we get ill because our resistance was low o Aid virus weakens the immune system attack force and that “killer cells”are meant to “destroy virus stricken cells” - Not all societies borrow from the domain of conflict to give meaning to health o The Navaho – see illness as a displacement of the person from his or her proper place in the universe - Borrow also from the domain of economic exchange o “time is money” o “your wasting my time” o “this gadget will save your hours” o “is that worth your while” - Metaphors are not used to make our language colourful and economical, they are theories to help us understand our domain of experience in terms of another - The metaphors we use to describe experiances may predispose us to seek certain solutions to problems associated with those things and people o Does our way of speaking like illness is a war and battle encourage us to take for granted that it is some kind of war o If so, how does that determine the kinds of treatment for illness that we devise and seek o Doesn’t it imply the need for cures that destroy the agent of disease rather then return the patient to health - Most socities seem to have one or more domains from which they borrow extensively for metaphor o These domains become key metaphors that give to each culture a style or cast that makes the culture distinctive - When a cultures members think and speak of many domains of experience in terms of particular domain, that cultures meanings achieve a certain coherence an da coherence of belief is achieved Kwakwaka’wakw Metaphors of Hunger - Believe that the universe is a place in which some beings must die so that other beings may eat and live - Eating gives life by providing nutrition and it frees souls - When a person dies, the soul leaves the body and enters the body of a salmon - The soul cannot be freed until the physical body is destroyed, their dead on scaffolds where the body can be devoured by ravens and other birds - When the salmon is caught and eaten by human beings, the soul is once again freed and enters the body of a newborn child - The importance of eating as a metaphor that orders experience is evident in the dominance of mouths art, ritual and myths - Their art is filled with gaping jaws of killer whales, fangs of wolves and bear and tearing beak of hawks, eagles and ravens - Dancers wear masks of cannibal birds with nine-foot long beaks that shatter human skulls to suck our their braing - Wild women with protruding lips inhabit the woods, waiting to rip apart travellers and misbehaving children - Suckling infants turn into monsters and devour their mothers - Hunger is associated with greed – greed causes people to accumulate wealth far beyond what they need - Also associated with immortality – human desires create conflict and destruction that can quickly get out of hand, people must work together to prevent and control conflict before it threatens to destroy the group - People who hoard food, are hoarding souls – preventing the return of it from the spirit world - Believe that greed , conflict and child rearing can be solved by controlling hunger - Food must be handled and generously given to others to avoid accusations of greed - Wealthy people are said to vomit food – a life giving substance The Metaphors of Contemporary Witchcraft and Magic - Sustaining metaphors work to reinforce belief systems and world views o A good example is witchcraft and magic o Modern magic is based on the assumption that mind and though can affect matter without the intervention of the thinkers actions o Embedded in modern witchcraft and magic Is that the universe is divided into a complex collection of entities and beings, each of which exists on different “planes” or “levels” o The plane of material life being the lowest o After death, the soul doesn’t die but it goes to another plane, some remaining in contact with the material world o The properly trained human mind can actually, by imagining it, create forms on the “astral plane” that may in turn affect things in the material world - A tarot deck consists of 78 cards that comprise an elaborate and complex system of metaphor associations linking various domains of experience that range from an understanding of the planets and other celestial objects to colours, material objects, emotions, personal qualities and other mythological beings - Aleister Crowley, one of the founders of modern magic and witchcraft and a designer of the modern tarot deck says that each card in a sense is a living being - Provides ways for people to interpret their lives o A symbolic map with which to interpret and understand themselves as they transfer the meaning of the cards to their lives and experiences o In associating themselves with a particular card, people also associate themselves with a specific planet or colour - The transfer of meaning creates meaning - There is no natural connection between the domains that people draw metaphors from and the domains to which they apply them o No natural connection between commodities and time, war, health, eating - Many can be applied to a specific experience and one domain can never be the exact replica of the other - We need to explore what cultural means people are convinced that by controlling one domain of experience they can really control another Question 3.2 How Does Symbolic Action Reinforce a Particular View of the World? - We participate in activies that express a particular view of the world and that reinforce particular beliefs about the way that the world works - Symbolic actions o Ritual, myths, literature, art, games and music o Carry bundles of meanings that represent public displays of a culture o Render particular beliefs and views of the world in a way that makes them seem correct and proper The Kwakwaka’wakw Hamatsa Dance - The cannibal dance is a 4 day spectacle that serves as the highlight of the Winter Ceremonial, a period of celebration and ritual observation in which all the wordly activities cease - Filled with powerful beings and animal spirit, interacts with the real world - The initiate plays the role of the cannibal dancer o Call back the cannibal to the human world from his sojourn in the realm of the Man Eater, one of the most important Supernatural beings in the pantheon spirits - The hamasata is frantically in the woods searching for human flesh to devour - Sing and recite prayers to entice the hamasata into the house, sending men to see if he is approaching the village - He arrives dressed in branches of the hemlock tree pushing asie roof boards and jumping down among the celebrants o Jumping off the roof depicts coming from spirit world into the real world - During the 4 days, they try to entice him into coming into their homes and give up his craving for human flesh and accept normal food - Each time he bites someone he dashes into a secret room and vomits, an act that is repeated various times - They subdue him by bathing him in smoke of ceder bark that his been soaked in menstrual blood - The initiate and the Cannibal society go to another house and eat normal meal, the final symbol that he has been tamed - The hamasata is the ultimate projection of hunger and his desire for human flesh is a manifestation of the forces that detroy society - By taming him they are asserting their moral responsibility to control greed and conflict - Children come from the spiritual world and enter the physical world naked – they have a female assistant their mother who feeds and socialize them - All humans are cannibals who must be tamed by swaddling, ritual fasting, denial of food – their parents transform them into moral human beings The Ritual of Contemporary Witchcraft and Magic - Rituals are special occasions that not only involve the enactment of key metaphors but also serve as special events set aside from everday existence, events that draw participants into an emotional involvement with the metaphors - People are carried away with the symbolism, the music and the social communion with others o It is easy to believe that it is not the ritual itself that produces these feelings, but the forces or powers that the ritual is believed to summon or embrace - Put great emphasis on placed on visualization and meditation as part of the ritual o Ex. People actually experience the salt spray on their face or the pitching of the sea o It reinforces the metaphors and teaches the participants to experience the world as if the forces, gods, spirits were truly real o Teaches us how to feel within the universe we create – “one with the universe” Zombies Are “Good to Think With” - Myths are accounts that explain the past from a particular point of view - Theme of witchcraft in today’s popular culture (books) o Contain key scenarios that potray certain values and beliefs - Can be said to act out the scenarios contained in their myths and histories - “good to think with” – humans use aspects of the material world as a reservoir of metaphorical and symbolic meanings - “zombie apocalypse” – contain key scenarios that embody how we think about our world today o Zombies are barely unrecognizable humans o Mindless wanderes, tireless and are uncontrollably contagious o Have much to do with the “the implosion of neoliberal capatilism at the end of the 20 century” o Tap into our fears of “millennial capitalism” o Zombies work without ceasing and for little reward o A zombie pandemic like SARS or H1N1 – makes both the intimate contact with and global flows of people and goods dangerous, even deadly o Are a metaphorical exploration of our fears and desires in our global, capitalist economy Question 3.3 How Does the Way we Live Affect Our Beliefs and Rituals? - Sahlins – it is too easy to point out that people create gods in their own image or that “God is name for society” - Need to understand how our beliefs and the manner in which we act them out serve to maintain certain patterns of social, political, and economic relations and how these beliefs and acts serve to reproduce these relations - Jean-Guy Goulet wrote about a world view very different from the one he learned as child o In northen Alberta learning comes only direct experianc e o An adult cannot teach a child how to hunt or cook or to perform a ritual by verbal instruction o Must learn by observing and by doing or imitating what they see when watching others o “define truth on the basis of what a man can see with his own eyes” o If one interferes with anothers direct experience, she or he is seen to be infringing on the right of the other to gain knowledge properly o Ex. Euro-Canadians – setting an inforcing a bedtime is considered good parenting  But for the Dene Tha this is sign of an irresponsible parent who is blocking the childs access to knowledge and personal autonomy o When Dene think of power they think of powerfulness inherent in plants, animals or other substances, which can affect human beings knowingly or unknowingly o Distinguish between two lands, plants and animals in the bush are manifestations of the other land in our land o Must be respect of all forms of life, human and nonhumane - The Cree believe that animals are shy and difficult to see at times - To “get” an animal is to receive it – the animal must agree to give itself to the Cree hunter and the hunter must agree to reciprocate with gifts to other Cree and to the spirits o Burn a small piece of meat in a fire so that the smoke goes up to where the spirits will receive it - Must never waste the animal they are given and must kill the animal clearly - The land interacts directly with the other land – the animal helpers of Dene Tha healer felt let down because a patient did not bring proper gifts and covered the village with low clouds and drizzle for three days - Animals are important because they share power
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