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Chapter 1

AN101 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Ethnocentrism, Cultural Relativism, Hominidae

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Victor Gulewitsch

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AN101 – Chapter 1: The Anthropological Perspective on the Human Condition
Explanations of the Human Condition
Dualistic, Idealistic, and Materialistic Explanations of Our World
-Most North Americans would answer that human nature has 2 parts: mind and matter, soul
and body, spirit and flesh
Dualism: Philosophical view that reality consists of 2 equal and irreducible forces
-Greek philosopher Plato said that the drama of human existence consists of the internal
struggle between the body (drawn naturally to base, corruptible matter) and the mind or soul
(drawn naturally to pure, unchanging forms)
-Christian theology incorporated view that each human being consists of soul that seeks God
and physical body that is tempted by material world
Conflict Dualism: Struggle between spirit and flesh
-Idealism: Philosophical view that ideas – or the minds that produces ideas – create the essence
of human nature
Human beings have physical bodies but true nature is spiritual
-Materialism: Philosophical view that activities of our physical bodies in the material world
constitute the essence of human nature
To put spiritual values above bodily needs would go against human nature
-Determinism: One/few simple forces causes/determines complex events
Idealists claim human nature is determined by the casual force of mind or spirit
Materialists claim human nature is determined by causal force of physical matter
-Essence: Unchanging core of features that are unique to things of same kind and makes them
what they are
-Some believe human beings come into the world with no fixed essence – we are shaped by
various forces encountered throughout our lives
Holistic Explanations
-Holism: Perspective on human condition that assumes that mind and body, individual and
society, and individual and environment interpenetrate and even define one another
-Assumes no sharp boundaries separate mind from body, body from environment, individual
from society, my ideas from yours, or their traditions from ours
-Holism allows us to consider human nature as the result of a co-evolution
-Co-Evolution: Relationship between biological processes and symbolic cultural processes in
which makes up an important part of the environment to which the other must adapt
Human beings are creatures whose bodies, brains, actions, and thoughts are equally
involved in learning, co-determining, and co-evolving
The Anthropological Perspective: The Cross-Disciplinary Discipline
-Anthropology: Integrated study of human nature, human society, and human history
-Darnell notes: Anything can be anthropology if only one views it from the anthropological
Anthropological perspective: draws on findings of other disciplines and attempts to fit
them together with its own findings in order to understand how these data collectively
shape human life
-To generalize from humanity requires evidence from wildest possible range of human societies
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-Comparative: Characteristic of anthropological perspective that requires anthropologists to
consider similarities and differences in a wide range of human societies before generalizing
about human nature, human society, or human history
It’s not enough to observe only our own social group, and must compare to others
All social groups deserve equal treatment and respect, and they reject terms such as
exotic, primitive, and savage to describe practices that differ from ours
Anthropological study involves gathering data from many cultures, comparing those
data to derive informed and testable hypotheses about humans
-Biological Evolution: Evolution of resources for human development provided by our genes and
other elements that make up our physical bodies
Paying attention not only to human origins but also to patterns of biological variation in
living human populations
May study past cultures, tracing how elements of culture have changed over time
-Cultural Evolution: Evolution of beliefs and behaviours we incorporate into human
development through experiences of teaching and learning
-Evolutionary: Characteristic of the anthropological perspective that requires anthropologists to
place their observations about human nature, human society, or human history in a temporal
framework that takes into consideration change over time
Biological Anthropology
-Biological/Physical Anthropology: Looks at humans as biological organisms and tried to
discover what characteristics make us different from and/or similar to other living things
-Observe features of human populations like skin colour, hair, and body type  facilitated
classification of all peoples into unambiguous categories based on distinct sets of biological
-Races: Social groupings that allegedly reflected biological differences
-People trying to assign racial categories were non-Europeans under increasing political and
economic domination by colonizing European and European-ancestry capitalist societies
Were different from white Europeans  had their own languages and customs and they
possessed technologies that were no match for industrialized West
-Racial categorization noted individuals’ physical characteristics and made judgments on mental
and moral attributes and races were ranked in terms of these attributes
-Racism: Systematic oppression of members of 1+ socially defined ‘races’ by members of
another socially defined ‘race’ that’s justified within the ruling society by the rulers’ faulty belief
in their own biological superiority
Influenced official social policies in Western nations into the 20th century
-Anthropologists learned about inner biological attributes of human populations and realized
that races with distinct and unique sets of such attributes didn’t exist
-Biological anthropologists focus on patterns of variation within human species as whole
-Primatology: Study of non-human primates, closest living relatives of humans
-Paleoanthropology: Study of the fossilized remains of human beings’ earliest ancestors
-Forensic anthropologists use knowledge of human skeletal anatomy to aid law enforcements
and human rights investigators
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