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Chap. 1: Intro to Cultural Anthropology
Chapter 1 of Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (212)
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In chapter one,
we deal with what is anthropology very broadly.
So we'll focus on the scope of anthropology,
the holistic approach used in anthropology,
the nature of anthropological curiosity,
the various fields of anthropology,
and specializations within those fields,
and finally the relevance of anthropology to everyday life.
If we consider the scope of anthropology,
anthropology is a discipline
of infinite curiosity about human beings.
It's broader in scope than most other disciplines,
and every part of the world containing human populations
is of interest to anthropological study.
This is important to realize,
in that if you take a course in political science
or sociology or even psychology,
most of the focus is on the West.
But anthropology has a much broader scope,
in that it includes all human populations,
even populations in very remote places,
such as the Kalahari Desert or the Amazon Basin.
And it also has a great deal of historic depth
through its interest in archaeology.
One of the important things that characterizes anthropology
is its holistic approach,
and so it's a unique discipline
because it employs a holistic, or multifaceted,
approach to the study of human beings.
So not only do we study their behavior,
but we study their biology,
the nature of the environment in which they live,
dimensions of their health,
what their past history was,
and perhaps even, in an evolutionary sense,
where they originated several thousand years ago.
Under the heading of Anthropological Curiosity,
traditionally anthropologists generally focus
on typical characteristics of a population,
such as traits or customs.
The advantage of this approach is
that you get a very kind of global, general view
of what's typical and, quote, "normal"
or common in a particular society,
but what it ignores
and what has now been more frequently focused on
is intra-cultural variation.
We know that because of different sorts of contact
particular people may have had with the outside world
or because they're living
in a different kind of environment,
that there is intra-cultural variation
in terms of how they adapt to that environment.
So intra-cultural variation
is becoming a much more important dimension
of basic anthropological research.
And one of the things that we like to do is
to look at different characteristics of human groups.
That is, we want to understand human diversity.
And one of the major ways of doing this is
to engage in cross-cultural comparisons,
which typically is the field of ethnology.
Although the authors in this text kind of conflate
cultural anthropology with ethnology,
but I like to reserve the term ethnology
to the practice of making cross-cultural comparisons.
There are three broad fields of anthropology,
biological or physical anthropology,
which studies a variety of things,
such as human variation
in body form,
how they adapt to different sorts of
to a hominid evolution.
That is the development of humanity
beginning with the hominids or bipedal apes,
originating about five to seven million years ago,
to the emergence of large-brained,
bipedal hominids that we call humans.
Cultural anthropology, on the other hand, deals with
current societies generally,
although we do some research in the past,
with a focus on beliefs and behaviors
and values and attitudes in a contemporary population.
Then applied or practicing anthropology deals with
the application of
anthropological methods to understand
what is going on towards the development of a policy
or the direct application of anthropological knowledge
governments or businesses
or non-governmental organizations
in their activities as they deal with people.
Here you see, on page five of your text,
a very complex
characterization of the various fields
and approaches in anthropology.
On the left-hand side, you'll see those dimensions
of anthropology that are devoted to understanding the past,
such as historical linguistics,
archaeology, or the study of material remains
of people who don't have a written record,
and physical anthropology, which is very frequently
the study of human fossil remains
and the kinds of characteristics
that these bony remains have
in terms of understanding activity levels, disease patterns,
relative health, diet, things of that nature.
And then if we look at the right-hand side,
it says recent, past, and present,
a descriptive or structural linguistics,
how languages operate today,
what are the principles
in terms of grammatical principles of organization,
sound system, et cetera.
Ethnology or cultural anthropology are the study of
by various peoples in different parts of the world.
And then physical anthropology in terms of human variation,
we ask questions, for example,
why do we see that there are different patterns of height
and body form around the world?
They seem to have a pattern or
patterns of human skin coloration.
Or physiological abilities, for example,
many human populations don't have the ability to digest
lactose in milk,
lactose is a milk sugar,
and that's because they cease the production
of lactase, which is an enzyme.
And some populations, this ability persists
well into adulthood and for the rest of their life.
But in other populations, the ability to produce lactase
stops around the ages of five or six.
And if more is consumed,
then it leads to gastrointestinal stress.
And then two layers in this big cake here,
one is basic research, which the kind of basic scientific
research that anthropologists do,
like any other form of research, it's curiosity-driven,
and then applied anthropology, which is essentially
the use of two things.
One is anthropological knowledge,
and the second thing is
the use of an anthropological approach
to understanding something about a different culture.
And applied anthropologists typically work for businesses.
They work for governments,
and they also work for non-governmental.
If you look at biological anthropology,
there are two primary focuses of study.
One is human paleontology,
and here we're looking at,
largely, although not entirely,
skeletal remains of humans that previously existed
anywhere from 100 years ago to
100, 150 thousand years ago and even beyond.
If you look at some of the other hominids
and their divergence from a common ancestor,
that one path led to humans, the other to chimpanzees,
about seven million years ago.
And then, in a more contemporary sense, human variation,
and that is the fact that, for example,
humans look slightly different
depending on where you are on the globe.
And so understanding the forces
that lead to the development
of different hair form, nose form,
head form, skin coloration,
physiological abilities that I mentioned earlier,
such as the ability to continue to drink milk
through the production of lactase,
these are all topics
fit for people who are in biological anthropology
or interested in studying human variation.
Then if we look at the field of cultural anthropology,
which is the subject matter of the text,
although we will talk a bit,
we mentioned archaeology early on
and biological anthropology.
After this chapter, we'll pretty much
leave those fields specifically
and focus mostly on cultural anthropology
and to some extent linguistics.
But culture refers to the customary ways that a
particular people or society thinks and behaves.
So it's a focus on patterns of thought and understanding
and patterns of behavior.
The three branches of cultural anthropology
are archaeology, linguistics, and ethnology.
And again, ethnology is a way of,
another way of saying cultural anthropology.
But let's take archaeology,
and archaeology is essentially
the study of past humans
and their patterns of behavior
and sometimes their patterns of thought.
And largely, archaeological populations are
those populations that have left no written record,
so we have to rely on the material record
to understand something about the cultures
of people in the past.
is essentially a study of the language patterns
of any particular group.
It can have historical dimensions.
We mentioned earlier about
how languages may have been related to one another
or how sound systems, for example, in languages change
to a contemporary understanding of grammar
and phonology or the sound system of a language today.
And again, ethnology is essentially
a synonym for cultural anthropology.
As we delve deeper into archaeology,
archaeologists try to reconstruct history
from the remains of human cultures.
And most studies deal with prehistory
because history proper is based on written records.
But sometimes archaeologists
engage in what we call historical archaeology,
or they use a combination of the material record
and written records to piece together
what went on in the past.
Anthropological linguistics is obviously
the anthropological study of language,
and it's divided into three components.
So one is historical linguistics,
and I talked a little bit about that before.
That's how languages change through time.
And then descriptive or structural linguistics,
which deals with the
sound system called phonology, P-H-O-N-O-L-O-G-Y,
and the grammatical system of a language
through the study of a syntax.
which is down to the word level kind of analysis
or the elements that carry meaning
in linguistic utterances.
Morphemes are equivalent
to words more or less.
And then finally the field of sociolinguistics,
which talks about the use of language in everyday life.
For example, all of us know the difference between
a kind of very formal way of speaking
to a very casual way of speaking.
And we use these different forms
depending on certain social cues that we receive.
And so sociolinguistics is the study of
how we essentially deploy language
in very kind of creative ways depending
on the social setting that we find ourselves in.
Ethnology is commonly referred to as cultural anthropology,
and ethnology's concerned with patterns
of thought and behavior.
And there are
three basic types of ethnologists.
One we call ethnographers,
and these are people who focus on a
And typically they like to get a very holistic,
complete account of that society.
And then we have ethnohistorians,
who use a combination of ethnographic research
and ethnohistoric research.
And by ethnohistoric research,
we essentially interview living people about
what went on in the past to get a
kind of a local picture
of the history of a particular group.
Then we have finally the field of cross-cultural research,
which is sometimes known as
and people who do that kind of research are ethnologists.
And here the goal is to try and understand variation
in a variety of practices cross-culturally,
whether we're talking about how people
differently conceive of
spirits and gods
and other supernatural entities,
or why certain people
raise their children in a kind of very punitive way,
and why other people raise their children
in a kind of very relaxed and permissive sort of way.
So cross-cultural research is, again,
an attempt to document and then understand
variation in behavior.
is essentially anthropology
as it is used in businesses,
by the government and in non-governmental organizations.
About half of all professional anthropologists
are applied, or practicing, anthropologists.
And by, what we mean by professional anthropologists
are people who've gotten an MA or a PhD in anthropology
and who don't go on to teach at a university.
So it has to do with the use of anthropology
in the, quote, "real world".
And it's important to understand that
applied anthropologists may be trained
in one or more subfields of anthropology.
It's just not cultural anthropology.
For example, if you look at a field called CRM,
or cultural resource management,
we find that these are archaeologists
who are called upon to do excavations
just before some major construction is put through
to determine whether there are any cultural resources
or remains of previous people
that are worth preserving and studying.
And so this is a very kind of practical applied field
that's closely associated with the business world.
Then if we look at the
field of ethnology or cultural anthropology,
we find that there are lots
of different kinds of specializations.
Economic anthropologists, for example, simple societies,
study production, consumption,
of resources that have been transformed,
like food or tools,
and how the economic system works in (mumbles) society,
and trading relationships that people may have with others.
study politics generally,
dispute settlement, how consensus is developed,
when a consensus
how conflict, even warfare, and feuding
proceed in a particular society.
Psychological anthropologists are interested in
how the mind works cross-culturally,
how people classify the physical or the spiritual world,
their ability to perceive the world
in terms of patterns of cognition.
And then we have cultural anthropologists
who study how the people
they're interested in adapt to the environment,
how they may adapt to a desert environment.
For example, I began my career as a cultural ecologist
while working in the Amazon,
studied two different native peoples there,
and looked at how things, such as the nature of
game resources, soil resources, a pattern, their
ways of making a living,
producing food in that environment.
Medical anthropologists, on the other hand,
might be looking at the kinds of parasite loads
a particular group has,
or they may want to study
the way in which shamans diagnose
and prescribe cures for various sorts of illnesses.
So these are just some of the specializations
that we find in the field of culture.
We need to talk about the relevance of anthropology,
in that in order to understand humans,
it is essential that we study humans
in all times and places.
The thing that really distinguishes anthropology
from the fields, for example,
of political science, sociology, and psychology
is that those fields tend to focus
on North Americans or Western Europeans,
and they tend to ignore
what goes on in the rest of the world.
that in order to understand
the full range of human diversity, we have to study
all people in different times and different places.
And anthropological studies can illustrate
why other people are the way they are
both culturally and physically, so we are kind of able
a cross-cultural test of
the kinds of variations that we see
in all humans in all times and all places.
To end this chapter, I want to talk about weird people.
And who are weird people?
Well, they are Western, educated,
industrialized, rich, and democratic.
And what this means is
that the kinds of research we have
in the fields of psychology and sociology
are based on
who are Westernized, educated, industrialized, rich,
and living in democratic environments.
And so, much of what we know about the world,
at least especially from a psychological
and a sociological perspective,
stems from studies
on these kinds of people.
this term, weird people,
devised by Henrich
in a recent paper in the brain behavioral sciences,
to point out that if you take a look,
especially at the psychological findings
of people who are weird,
you find out, indeed, they are weird
simply because they tend to be outliers in terms of their
responses to standard psychological tests
tend to be extreme compared to people who are non-Western.
They may not have much education,
who are living in a traditional rural environment,
who are not very rich,
and who may not be living under a democratic regime.
So I'd end this first segment
with noting that anthropology has
a set of powerful tools
to understand the full range of human diversity.
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