Anthropological Concepts

Anthropological Concepts
Fundamental Concepts & Principles
the whole picture, all facets of human life interrelated
small scale vs. large scale societies
holism & its boundedness
philosophical relativism
response to ethnocentrism
methodological relativism
linked to holism
dilemmas of relativism
relativism & comparison
Universal human rights
Female circumcision
Cross-cultural comparison & the comparative approach
Self-Other (us and them)
systems of relationships, organization, forms of associations
standardized modes of behavior
structure & agency
core concept of evolutionary perspective
any physical & behavioral characteristic that enhances the ability to pass on one’s genes
or the genes of one’s kin to the next generation (adaptive strategies)
process organisms undergo to achieve a beneficial adjustment to an available
environment and the results of the process
in cultural systems people make decisions about change
genetic evolution not subject to conscious choice
Malaria in Africa
Culture and Adaptation
Humans have adapted by manipulating environments through cultural means
All cultures change and adapt over time. Cultural adaptation serves to meets the basic
needs of a cultural group for food and shelter, procreation, and social order.
Humans have come to depend more and more on cultural adaptation
What is adaptive in one context may be seriously maladaptive in another
Problems with the Concept of Adaptation
Confusion of levels
Functionalist approach: Culture as instrumental
Maladaptive Cultural Change
Humans are animals with a difference - make culture
humans organize life into groups - society
animals organize life into groups - society
habitual activities, imprinted relationships
distinction between culture & society
Society is distinguished from culture in that society generally refers to the community
while culture generally refers to the systems of meaning
enculturation is the difference -- common cultural perspective transmitted through
"a partly conscious and partly unconscious learning experience whereby the older
generation invites, induces, and compels the younger generation to adopt traditional ways
of thinking and behaving" (Marvin Harris)
The Culture Concept: A Short History
Latin cultura -- cultivation or tending (agricultural)
civility & civilization (17th century)
18th century beginning of the universal histories & descriptions of "secular" processes
of the human condition
folk cultures
(19th cent.) E.B. Tylor - "culture... is that complex whole which includes knowledge,
belief, arts, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man
as a member of society.“
Clifford Geertz on Culture
(20th cent.) Geertz - "culture as... the fabric of meaning in terms of which humans
interpret their experience and guide their actions... "man is an animal suspended in webs
of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it
to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in
search of meaning."
Culture in the Making
Richard Fox (20th cent.)
culture is in a constant state of becoming/in-the-making
unitary set of rules & meanings continually are in-the-making through oppositions &
struggles among groups, where groups themselves & the rules that regulate their
interactions only develop in the process of ongoing social relations
culture always is, but it has always just become so
Diverse Definitions of Culture
Topical: Culture consists of everything on a list of topics, or categories, such as social
organization, religion, or economy
Historical: Culture is social heritage, or tradition, or custom that is passed on to future
Behavioural: Culture is shared, learned human behaviour, a way of life
Normative: Culture is ideals, values, or rules for living
Functional: Culture is the way humans solve problems of adapting to the environment
or living together
Culture is a complex of ideas, or learned habits, that inhibit impulses and
distinguish people from animals
Structural: Culture consists of patterned and interrelated ideas, symbols, or behaviours
Symbolic: Culture is based on arbitrarily assigned meanings that are shared by a
Features of Culture
Patterned, structured
Historically Charged
Big “C” or little “c”
Culture is open, receptive
Metaphors of Culture (and Society)
Culture/society as an organism
Culture/society as an economy
Culture/society as a system
Culture/society as a symbol
Culture/society as fractal
Other metaphors
As pattern, as fabric, shreds & patches
Vast instrumentality
As text