SocioculturalAnthropology – Notes from the Textbook
Chapter 1: TheAnthropological Perspective on the Human Condition
Explanations of the Human Condition:
Dualistic, Idealistic or Materialistic Explanations:
Dualism: philosophical view that reality consists of two equal and irreducible forces
Idealism: philosophical view that ideas or the mind that produces these ideas constitute the essence of
human nature (Plato)
Materialism: philosophical idea that the actions of our bodies constitute the essence of human nature
Determinism: the philosophical idea that one force (or many) causes/determines complex events
Essence: Unchanging core of features that is unique to things that are the same and makes them what
they are (chairs, cows, people etc.)
Philosophers have agreed that there is a human essence they don't necessarily agree what it is. The
essence is shaped by varying forces that we encounter.
19 century – Materialism
Karl Marx – forces in the economic production and the class structure
Extreme idealist – no fixed essence when born but they become a certain human based off of their ideas
Scholars – humans are wholly moulded by forces that are out of their control and everything that
humans could have become is restricted by the enviro, socio-historical and cultural determinisms.
Holism: perspective on the human condition that states that mind and body, individual and society are
factors that interpenetrate and define each other.
Co-evolution: the relationship between biological and symbolic/cultural processes that make up
important parts of the environment to which the other has to adapt.
Basically, holistic perspective determines that there aren't any set lines that separate the human
mind/body, body/environment, individual/society etc. This is an appealing idea to people that believe
that there should be a theory that is as rich as the human condition. Society consists of the sum of the
actions of its counterparts and not just the actions of an individual. They grow as a group and grow
together, becoming different people then they would have been had they grown up in isolation.
Co-evolution is when the people grow together thanks to these cultural experiences but also because of
the physical growth that they're doing. Though we face tough times, we are able to move past them
thanks to our ability to understand the circumstances thanks to culture.
TheAnthropological Perspective: The Cross-disciplinary Discipline
Anthropology: study of human nature, society and history
What is it to be a human?Anthropologists learn about different ways of life and learn from societies
from our past. They focus on many aspects of human life, writings, art, history, language etc. The anthropological perspective is formed by taking all of these factors and putting them together, as well
as with other findings, in order to determine the human life. Studies of human life are considered to be
superficial unless the anthropologist recognizes that the human life is also forced to deal with issues of
family, power and meaning. The “whole” human life is better than the “parts” of which it consists of.
Holistic views show that people, as long as they are alive, are going to be influenced by outside factors.
Anthropology is also comparative. It is very important to compare multiple cultures against each other
or else you will have conclusions that may be true about one part of human society, but not all (i.e bug
eating). The goal is to try and find anything to be said about the human condition that stays true over
Some anthropologists study only the biological evolution of humans. Looking at the variations of the
human origin but also patterns of biological variation in living in human populations. It is crucial to be
able to determine the difference between biological evolution and cultural evolution. Cultural
evolution is the evolution of human development thanks to teaching and learning.
Primatology: Study of non-human primates
Paleoanthropology:study of fossilized earliest remains of human beings
Focuses on finding the things that separate humans from other living things. Started with the
exploration of new lands and the different physical traits between peoples. People were separated into
categories based off of their physical traits called races. Not only did they differentiate humans based
off of their physical attributes thy also did so based off of their mental/moral attributes. People that
were closer to the “whites” and the Europeans were obviously at the top while everyone else fell below.
This lead to racism. Eventually, humans bean to research things such as blood types and quickly
realized that we were all the same on the inside but race was created by humans to sort people into
Study of human beings through material remains. They need to be able to identify plant and animal
remains as well as be familiar with the technology as well as the area in which they are conducting the
dig. Frequently becomes a common interest with paleoanthropology.
Example: Dakleh in North EasternAfrica. See page 9.
Anthropologists have long understood the connection between human beings and language and were
the first people to transcribe non-Western languages and create dictionaries. The contemporary
linguistic anthropologists study the different languages in each region and how they differentiate with
race, gender and class. Linguistic anthropologists receive loads of training in cultural anthropology and
linguistics and work to save dying languages. Cultural Anthropology:
Informants: people who inform others about their lives, some anthropologists rejct this term and also
call them partners or teachers
Ethnography: customary cultural behaviours of an identifiable group
Ethnology: comparative study of two or more such groups.
Focusses on sets of learned behaviours and ideas that humans acquire as members of a society.
Aka the study of common sense where the definition of “sense” is based off of which culture you're
from. Very vast subject, people usually specify in one domain or another. i.e arts, history, language etc.
The difference between sociology and anthropology is that when you compare cultures, it becomes
anthropology. Cultural anthropologists often study socio-cultural factors in post-colonial cultures and
see how they affected the people (i.e internet, email). They also tend to specify in one specific time
period. They are also always taking notes on what the informants are saying either by hand, in
photograph or films.
The use of information from other anthropological specialties that are used to solve problems either
within or between cultures. Commonly dealing with issues of genocide and crime cases but can also be
used to set health practises into place that will be accepted by the people, drawing on the traditional
knowledge to find land for refugees to settle on or integrate Western farming techniques to help
improve the farmer's crops.
Anthropology and the Concept of Culture:
Culture is central to answering the questions why we are what we are and why we do what we do.
People act in a certain way because they are taught to do so, not because it is biological. Many
anthropologists view humans as bio-cultural organisms. Humans' way of thinking differs from other
beings seeing as we are a) capable of intricate thought processes and b) capable of manipulating matter.
Because we are able to think intricately, we are able to express ourselves through symbols (think
alphabet, burying people and table manners).
Foundation of Culture!
1. Transmission: copy behaviour via observation/instructions
2. Memory: remember new behaviour and allowing traditions to develop
3. Reiteration: being able to reproduce actions or information
4. Innovation: invent/modify behaviours
5. Selection: Knowing what to keep and what to discard
6. Symbolic Coding: using symbols.
7. Complex Symbolic Representation: communicate freely about past/present/future/imaginary
8. Institutional Development: create complex forms of social organization
Being able to understand complex symbolic representations is what differentiates us from apes and
institutional development teaches us things such as where it is safe to sleep and what to eat thanks to
contact with our peers (habitus). We can also notice that some things are patterned, i.e English and
French being spoken in Canada thanks to colonization. Remember not to assume conformity over time,
cultures are always changing but there will also always be traditional culture (First Nations). Anthropology and Culture/cultures: Critique and Response
- Being able to create and imitate symbolically - Particular learned way of being able to belong to
patterned ideas and activities. a group of specific human beings.
- Leads to the survival of the species - Elicited most objections: highlights differences
- Edward B. Taylor: blurs the lines between rather than the shared humanness and suggests
“culture” and “civilization” as well as producing lingering racism in the field
the idea that “primitives” were “capable” and had -Assumes the members of the groups accept and
“habits” that deserved respect are willing to continue the traditions/differences
- Disagreeing could be considered cultural treason
The Challenge of Cultural Differences
Ethnocentrism: the opinion that one's own way of doing things is natural or correct, the only way of
being fully human.
Biggest issues arise when people decide that the other people that they are observing are doing things
wrong and attempt to convert them to their ways of being. If they reject the conversion it becomes an
active dualism “we vs. they” which can lead to war or genocide – ethnic cleansing. Excuses for doing
so throughout history have been economical and political gains.Away to cope with this would be to
approach the ideas with a holistic approach, meaning that you understand that everything is meshed
together, including the relationships with “us” and “them”. Learning about other cultures forces us to
accept the idea that there are many versions of “truth”, depending on what culture you're a part of.
Cultural Relativism: all cultures are equally valid and can only truly be understood in their own terms.
Taking this approach when it comes to other cultures may help us understand something that would
otherwise appear to be impossible from an outsider's perspective. It could explain how genocide could
develop into a society. I.e the Holocaust. The reasoning behind the Holocaust can be traced back to the
patterns in GermanAnti-Semitic roots as well as nationalism in Germany.
If you were to take a deterministic approach to the Holocaust then you could argue that the German's
can not be blamed for committing a genocide because it is what their culture dictated. You could also
argue that the entire German population was to blame because they collectively created the culture that
lead to the genocide.
This sort of determinism assumes that 1) cultures have neat boundaries and are sealed off from one
another 2) every culture only offers people one way to interpret things and 3) people can only live in
the one cultural viewpoint their culture created, helpless to their own thoughts or ideas.
Cultural Relativism makes reasoning more complex but we don't have to abandon our values. It is an
argument against ethnocentrism. Culture, History and HumanAgency
Anthropologists disagree on how we should determine/measure human history. 19 century thinkers
such as Herbert Spencer thought it would be smart to do so based on class structures whileA. R.
Radcliffe Brown were not interested in people before his time, justifying his beliefs by stating that
societies that did not have written documents had no knowledge about previous cultures. Other
anthropologists had no interest in history because they thought of the future, a theme from the
enlightenment which allowed them to create perfectly working social structures without “wasting
Holistic approaches reject these clockwork models and believe that people can study themselves and
their own bio-cultural evolution thanks to our bio-cultural heritage. There are 2 opinions on how free
humans really are, either we have free will or are completely determined based off of our biology and
society. Many social scientists agree with Karl Marx when he stated that men make their own history
based off the history before them, not as they please. We are agents who are bound by historical
contexts or who are walking around a minefield trying not to blow ourselves up. The holistic approach
recognizes that humans have at least some control to exercise power over their lives, human agency.
Chapter 2: FieldworkAMeeting of Cultural Traditions
Fieldwork: extended period of close involvement with a specific group of people where the point is to
study them and when anthropologists collect most of their data.
Participant-Observation: method of researching anthropologists use in which they try and participate as
much as possible in the daily lives of their subjects.
Interaction in the Field:
Away that anthropologists conduct research is to create questionnaires or structured interviews. They
also do a lot of research before they head off to the location of interest as well as afterwards.Alot of
their research can't be contextualized and so they use participant-observation as a method of conducting
The Fieldwork Experience:
Anthropologists usually decide in grad school which culture they want to study as well as which field
within the culture they wish to do their research (history, language etc). The success of the research
project usually depends on how well the researcher is able to get funding from the government as well
as authorization to work in a particular place. Not only do they have to convince the government that
the research they wish to conduct is relevant in anthropology today they might also have to personally
finance parts of their trips or create grants.Anthropologists also have associations which help them
network there is the Canadian Society ofAnthropology (CASCA) as well as theAmerican
Modes of Ethnographic Fieldwork:AShort History
Anthropology aims to be scientific in the study of human nature and it has been proven that soft
sciences have more in common with the hard sciences than we thought. It is said to be that there are
multiple scientific methods and the developments allow us to view the world in “multiple logically
possible worlds”. The Positivist Approach:
The idea that there is a reality that is “out there” and it can be discovered through the use of our senses.
1. Explaining how the material world works in terms of material causes and processes our senses
2. Separating facts from values as a part of scientific methodology
They are only concerned with what is versus what ought to be. They don't care if their views offend
anyone for whatever reason because the truth lies in the truth and that's al there is to it. The most
ambitious positivists believe all scientific knowledge will be grouped into “The Theory of Everything.”
The main goal for positivists is to gain objective knowledge.
Applying Positivist Methods to Anthropology:
They had issues about recording facts as a third party observer but had to admit that they were
personally involved in order to get the facts.
Questioning the Positivist Approach:
When anthropologists began to write ethnographies they realized that people who were studying the
same culture often produced different knowledge about the same societies when they were working
from different assumptions but they also came to similar conclusions.Anthropologists begin to form
relationships with their subjects, something unique of the sciences seeing that in other sciences the
subject is intellectually below the researcher and they have no political or ethical ties to the subject.
Questioning posivitism is not taken lightly and those who do so are thought to be throwing scientific
reasoning out the window. By conversing for extended periods of time with their subjects,
anthropologists create intersubjective meanings which are the shared, public symbolic systems of a
The Reflexive Approach:
Reflexivity: critically thinking about the way that one thinks, reflecting on your own experience
Takes in a broader background of information than the positivist. They look at the political and ethical
contexts as well as the relationship with the informants (which are now public not private) and they
analyze the background of the researchers too. Once you understand yourself and where you are from
you are also going to understand your perspective and your situated subjectivity. This should allow
you to have something to tell the people that you are visiting as well as identify the limits you can
discover (being a female and not being able to attend certain cultural activities). Commitment to
reflexivity means that you have to tell everyone where you got all your info and you recognize that you
did not talk to everyone and do everything and that your conclusions are situated rather than universal.
They are considered to be better ethnographers than those who use the positivist approach.
The Dialectic of Fieldwork: Interpretation and Translation
You have to be wary not to offend your informant but also embrace your culture shock, if you see
something odd or irrational its not because it is a product of a savage culture in which nonsense is to
be expected, you just don't understand. These moments are seen as “rich points” because we can use
them to further our insight.
Interpreting Actions and Ideas:
Understanding the “cultural self” in relation to the “cultural other”. Together the informant and the
anthropologist can work together to understand each other and create a bridge of understanding called
the dialectic of fieldwork.After they have finished their discussion either through interpretation or translation the anthropologist is not required to remain in contact with the informant but instead works
with fellow scholars that were the only ones that were there for both discussions. Some people are
suggesting that we create a new association which consists of scholars and non scholars are working
together to gain anthropological knowledge. We also need to stop biases such as people of one country
researching the indigenous people of said country and seeing them as more primitive versions of their
Examples from the Field:
Briggs: Isolated in Northern Canada thanks to that canoe incident
Kumar:Adopted into a family of weavers in India, 6 attempt.
Wallerstein: The Modern World System which talks about how the Europeans made everything into a
market system during the 1400-1700's
Wolf: Europe and the People without History talks about how non-European people did in fact have
their own histories
These two works altered anthropology by making the anthropologists supplement their own data with
archival research from before. By the early 1990's there seemed to be a threat that all regular cultural
boundaries were going to dissolve thanks to the migration of people due to war and economic
dislocation. So now that Wallerstien isn't as right as he was before, how are anthropologists supposed to
create their ethnographies?
Multi-sited ethnography comes into play; ethnographic research on cultural processes that are not
contained by social, ethnic, religious or national boundaries in which the ethnographer follows the
processes from site to site often with people that were never subjected to ethnographic analysis.
Cons with multi-sited fieldwork are that it is not intense as single-sited fieldwork research projects and
some believe that the anthropologists are cutting their political ties with their primary informants.
Although these cons are true, they are not fatal to the research. Multi-sited fieldwork projects are
usually based in one field but also bringing in new information from other secondary sites.
The Effects of Fieldwork:
The Effect of Fieldwork on Informants:
It may make the informants more culturally aware of themselves and their group. It may change their
opinion that they have on themselves and their old self-image.
Effects of Fieldwork on the Researcher:
Many researchers have to learn to adapt to entirely new surroundings and many of them experience
culture shock which is the feeling of mental and physical dislocation or discomfort when surrounded
by a new or strange cultural setting. They also need to be able to create new friendships which mat
make them more vulnerable to hurt or betrayal.
The Humanizing Effects of Fieldwork:
We learn that there is no “primitive” there are just people living in their own modernity – their own
place. The Production ofAnthropological Knowledge:
Fact: a widely accepted observation, taken for granted item of common knowledge which becomes
intelligible in a place of context and meaning.
Who is telling us what the fact is is a very important thing to know because facts do not speak for
themselves. Anthropologists can disagree amongst themselves, so can informants and anthropologists
can disagree with informants but facts are remade within the field, through the re-examination of notes
and when fieldwork is redone. Multi-sited fieldwork makes it all the more confusing because having
multiple sites brings in new facts that were not otherwise known.
Anthropological Knowledge as Open-ended:
There is no such thing as purely objective knowledge and we must speak in terms of reflexivity rather
than objectivity. Reflexivity allows us to produce less distorted views of human nature.
Chapter 3: Anthropology in History and the Explanation of Cultural Diversity
Anthropologists in the 19 century separated people into groups based off of their similarities and
differences and over time these categories have been modified to reflect the wider world which is the
theme of this chapter.
The Roots of CanadianAnthropology:
Canadian institutions were late to the game although we had been doing cultural studies since the early
19 century. Sit Daniel Wilson was a part of