• 14th - 15th century we began to think about cultural difference

o Coincides with the age of exploration


  • Travel with explorers
  • Civilize the savages
  • Worked and lived among the people they were studying

o Very critical of the way the indigenous lived their lives

  • Thought the Western Way was right


  • Marco Polo
  • Zheng He
  • Ibn Battuta - 1304-1368

o Moroccan traveler for 30 years (120,000 km)

Social Philosophers:

  • 17th - 18th century
o Hobbes
o Locke
o Rousseau
  • Examined the moral order of Europe
  • Thought about how our European way of living was different than other parts of the world
  • Turned to missionaries and travelers tales

o Issue with relying on these tales: biased, ethnocentric, misunderstood o Big problem: relying on somebody else's work - second hand data (called armchair anthropology)

  • 19th century - ethnology

Ethnological Theory:

  • Early anthropologists (19th century)
  • Evolutionism (cultural evolutionism): view that cultural variation can be accounted for by different degrees of intellectual progress, leading to different levels of cultural achievement

o Lewis Henry Morgan (savage, barbarian, civilized)

  • Diffusionism: view that similarities in culture could be explained by borrowing from a common source

o Centers of innovation - Ancient Egypt (all the good things in the world started there and slowly spread to the rest of the world)

  • Both view cultural difference as the result of progressive development that is rooted in biology (Biological Determinism)

o Try to explain how people behave in terms of evolution, but they could not help the way they behaved, it was expected

  • Re-thinking culture and society - beginning of the 20th century

o Emile Durkheim

  • Social Structure: the integrated assemblage of formal groups and social roles that make up a society
  • Social structure is external to the individual they are studying, but impacts the individual
  • Viewed individuals as the product, rather than the producers of the cultural environment

Structural Functionalism:

  • The theory that social structure determines peoples thought and behaviour and that culture functions primarily to uphold the unity and continuity of society - developed by A.R. Radcliffe-Brown

o Society is a structure with interrelated parts

o Systems of Society: kinship, religion, economics, politics

  • Franz Boas (1858-1942) - Anthropologist

o Franz Boas - "...civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes.”

o Cultural relativism: an approach that stresses the importance on analyzing cultures in their own terms rather than in terms of the culture of the anthropologist

  • Don't be ethnocentric - don't compare to your own culture

o Historical particularism: the theory that each way of life is a unique result of its particular historical conditions

  • Each society develops in its own way

What are the Limits of Cultural Relativism?

  • Female genital mutilation?

o Circumcising women against their will

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

o Written by white people in the west

o All about western ideals as to what human rights are

  • Singapore?

o Death penalty for bringing drugs into their country

Modern Theoretical Perspectives:

  • Interpretive anthropology

o Culture as a system of symbols

o Multiple layers of meaning

  • Ethnosemantics

o Culture as a meaning system, classified through language

o Focus on linguist and cognitive categories

  • Materialist approaches (Emic and Etic)

o Emic - insiders perspective (about the people) - the “right” perspective

o Etic - outsiders perspective (observe and analyze)

o Cultural evolution - focus on technology

  • Classified based on food production and acquisition

o Cultural ecology - focus on environment

  • How the culture and people adapt to the local environment

o Ex: Roy Rappaport (anthropologist): Book: Pigs for the Ancestors -1968

  • Emic: offering the pigs to the ancestors
  • Etic: women in the society took care of the pigs, ever couple years there were too many pigs, and had to slaughter the pigs to maintain the ecological balance
  • Processual Approaches - Britain

o Agency: the way in which an individual reacts to and acts upon his or her culture and society

  • Marxism - analyzes culture, wealth and power

o Focus on the mode of production: social type that is defined by the way in which society is divided into classes based on ownership of the “means of production”

o World systems theory: (Wolf) Stresses division of the world into core nations and those on the periphery and the expansion of international capitalism

o Hegemony: dominance by one country or social group over others (Meillassoux - a neo-Marxist)

  • Ex: cultural hegemony: American culture dominating

Ethnography and Fieldwork:

  • Ethnography is a reaction to arm-chair anthropology

o Go interact with the people you want to study, don't rely on second have information

  • Ethnography involves collecting and analyzing information about culture

o Writing culture

  • Fieldwork involves living and interacting with the people or group under study

Doing Fieldwork:

  • Choosing a problem and site
  • Obtaining funding

o SSHRC - social science humanities research council

o Private Agencies

  • Preliminary research
  • Gaining permission for research
  • Arrival and culture shock...?
  • Finding a place to live
  • Working in a unfamiliar language
  • Gathering data

o Interviewing

o Participant-observation

  • Judgment sample: a sample of research informants selected according to how well they represent the larger population rather than on a random basis
  • Key informants: research subjects who are well versed in local cultural knowledge and representative of the larger community

Research in Large-Scale Societies:

  • Survey research
  • Formal questionnaires
  • Random samples
  • Urban anthropology
  • Not all research in large-scale societies is “urban”

o Ex: study of RVers of North America (Dorothy and David Counts)

The Anthropology of Anthropology:

  • Reflexive anthropology: the anthropology of anthropology, which focuses on the cultural and political bias in ethnographic research, the impacts of anthropologists on the people they study, and professional ethics

o George Marcus/James Clifford

  • Polyphony: the many voices of people from all the different segments and groups that make up a society; a quality of ethnographic writing today that present multiple views of a culture

Ethical Issues in Anthropology:

  • Professional guidelines (AAA code of ethics)
  • Respect for human well-being
  • Avoidance of harm
  • Informed consent
  • Transparency of research
  • Respect for privacy and confidentiality
  • Some anthropologists go further with ethical responsibilities:

o Continuing obligation to people and communities

o Advocacy rules

o Expert witnesses

Ethnographic Film: Cannibal Tours (1988):

Think about:

  • Anthropological curiosity
  • The directors “point of view”
  • How this type of film differs from other types of film
  • Are there “characters”?
  • Is there any type of bias in the presentation of the material?
Similar posts: