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Anthropology Week 1: Culture

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Richard Gere kiss
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Meant to inspire Hindus protesting against AIDs/HIV, drew backlash because he was not married to the actress whom he kissed and represents a cultural misunderstanding. Also represents how different factions of a country can have different cultures because while some people protested him, others supported the kiss
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kissing and touching/love and sex
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the world’s cultures have remarkably different ideas about these concepts. ten percent of people in the world don’t kiss at all. In Tahiti kissing was unknown until colonists introduced the practice. Brazilians kiss and hug with gusto. Faithful Catholics may kiss the pope’s ring. Parents kiss their children’s foreheads as a sign of blessing.
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culture
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a system of knowledge, beliefs, patterns of behavior, artifacts, and institutions that are created, learned, and shared by a group of people. it includes the norms, values, symbols, mental maps of reality, and material objects – as well as structures of power in which our understanding of the world is shaped, reinforced and challenged
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culture is learned and taught
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humans do not genetically inherit culture. we learn culture throughout our lives from the people and cultural institutions that surround us. some aspects of culture we learn through formal instruction: english classes in school, religious instruction, visits to the doctor, history lessons, dance classes. other processes of this term are informal and even unconscious as we absorb culture from family, friends and the media. many animals experience this too (wolves learning hunting strategies from their wolf pack, etc.) culture is taught as well as learned. humans establish cultural institutions for this purpose
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enculturation
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the process of learning culture
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culture is shared yet contested
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enculturation occurs as a group – no individual has his or her own culture. culture is a shared experience developed as a result of living as a member of a group. although it is shared by members of groups, it is also constantly tested, negotiated and changing.
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NOTE
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culture is never static
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culture is symbolic and material
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through enculturation, over time the members of a culture develop a shared body of cultural knowledge and patterns of behavior. though anthropologists no longer think of culture as completely separate, most argue that a common cultural core exists, at least among the dominant segments of the culture.
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norms, values, symbols and mental maps of reality
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four elements that an anthropologist may consider in attempting to understand the complex workings of a culture
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norms
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ideas or rules about how people should behave in particular situations or toward other people – what is considered ‘normal’ and appropriate behavior. this includes what to wear on certain occasions (weddings, funerals, etc.) some norms are assumed (unconscious) others are learned directly (conscious).
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values
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fundamental beliefs about what is important, what makes a good life, and what is true, right, and beautiful. they reflect shared ultimate standards that should guide people’s behavior, as well as goals that people feel are important for themselves, their families and their communities. US Values: freedom, independence, etc. Values are not fixed. can be debated and contested. ultimately, values are not simply platitudes about people’s ideas about the good life. they are powerful cultural tools for clarifying goals and motivating people to action
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symbols
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something that stands for something else. for example, language enables humans to communicate abstract ideas through symbols – written and spoken words as well as unspoken sounds and gestures. even money is symbolic of value guaranteed by the sponsoring government.
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mental maps of reality
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these are ‘maps’ that humans construct of what kinds of people and what kinds of things exist. because the world presents overwhelming quantities of data to our senses, our brains create shortcuts – maps – to navigate our experience and organize all the data that comes our way our mental maps are shaped through enculturation time is a mental map mental maps of reality become problematic when people treat notions of difference as being scientifically or biologically ‘natural’. ex: race
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ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, and human rights
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anthropology challenges the strong human tendency towards ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s own culture or way of life is normal, natural, or even superior. anthropology seeks to broaden one’s worldview, to enable people to see their own culture as one expression within the context of global diversity
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cultural relativism
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cross-cultural research done to counteract the effects of ethnocentrism from the work of anthropology this calls for the suspension of judgment while attempting to understand a group’s beliefs and practices within their own cultural contexts
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NOTE
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anthropologists seek to objectively, accurately and sensitively represent the diversity of human life and culture they also raise interesting questions regarding human rights: are there international human rights standards that should be available to all humans regardless of their particular culture or religion? what is a particular culture’s ability to meet the basic human needs of its people, or of a certain segment of a population that may be marginalized – needs for food, shelter, health, education, safety, and equal treatment under the law?
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AAA’s Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights
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Draws heavily on international principles as articulated in three United Nations documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. and the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. AAA’s statement also warns against an overreliance on the abstract uniformity of Western traditions.
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Edward Burnett Tylor, James Frazer, and Henry Morgan
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among the early leading anthropologists. sought to organize the vast quantities of data about the diversities of cultures worldwide that were being accumulated through colonial and missionary enterprises during the 19th centuries. these anthropologists were influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution.
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unilineal cultural evolution
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the early anthropologists suggested that all cultures would evolve through the same sequence of stages, known as this. they set about plotting the world’s cultures along a continuum from most simple to most complex. savage – barbarian – civilized. by arranging all of the world’s cultures along this continuum, the early anthropologists believed that they could trace the path of human cultural evolution, understand where some had come from, and predict where some were headed. succeeding generations rejected this as too Eurocentric
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Franz Boas and American Historical Particularism
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Boas rejected unilineal cultural evolution and instead adopted this approach. he claimed that cultures arise from different causes, not uniform processes. anthropologists could not rely on evolutionary formula to explain differences among culture but must study the particular history of each culture to see how it developed.
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diffusion
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the borrowing of cultural traits and patterns from other cultures to explain apparent similarities. used by boas
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Boas’ research with immigrants
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revealed remarkable effects of culture and environment on their physical forms, challenging the role of biology as a tool for discrimination
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Margaret Mead
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turned her attention particularly to enculturation and its powerful effects on cultural patterns and personality types. in her book Coming of Age in Samoa she explored the seeming sexual freedom and experimentation of young Samoan women and compared it with the repressed sexuality of women in the United States
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British Structural Functionalism
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British viewed anthropology more as a science and fieldwork experiment that could focus on the specific details of a local society. these anthropologists viewed human societies as living organisms and through field work sought to analyze each part of the ‘body’
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structural functionalism
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Under this, British social anthropologists employed a synchronic approach to control their science experiments – analyzing contemporary societies at a fixed point in time without regard to historical context. Early practitioners of this approach: Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 – 1942): Who employed an early form of functionalism in his ethnography of the Trobriand Islands.
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Culture and Meaning
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one predominant view within anthropology in recent decades sees culture primarily as a set of ideas or knowledge shared by a group of people that provides a common body of information about how to behave.
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intepretivist approach
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employed by Geertz who urged anthropologists to explore culture primarily as a symbolic system in which simple, seemingly straightforward actions convey deeper meanings.
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culture and power
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anthropologists have often separated culture from power. this field has often focused on culture as a system of ideas and power is viewed differently
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power
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ability or potential to bring about change through action or influence, either one’s own or that of a group or institution. power is embedded in many kinds of social relations.
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Eric Wolf
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urged anthropologists to see power as an aspect of all human relations
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stratification
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power in a culture reflects this, an uneven distribution of resources and privileges, among participants. some people are drawn to the center of culture, others to the borders (marginalized) some people are able to participate in culture more, this is not fixed, it fluctuates over time
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NOTE
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one key to understanding the relationship between culture and power is to recognize that a culture is more than a set of ideas or patterns of behavior shared among a collection of individuals. a culture also includes the powerful institutions that these people create to promote and maintain their core values
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ethnographic research
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must consider a wide range of institutions that play central roles
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muslim girls wearing headscarves
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in 2003 an intense debate erupted in France about Muslim girls wearing headscarves to public schools. although few girls actually wore headscarves, the controversy took on particular intensity in the aftermath of 9/11, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and terrorist incidents in Europe. For many people in France, wearing headscarves presented a grave danger to French society, particularly equality for women, ethnic assimilation and separation of church and state. Passage of a law banning headscarves signaled the country’s commitment to these principles. The law indicated that religious clothing was banned but it was clear headscarves were the target
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hegemony
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The Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci described two aspects of power. Material power includes political, economic or military power. It exerts itself through coercion or brute force. The second aspect of power involves the ability to create consent and agreement within a population, a condition Gramsci called this
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hegemony in the US
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many in US culture see interracial marriage as unthinkable and undoable. there were 60 million married people in 2010. of these a very low percentage were interracial marriages (see reading for percentages) clearly, although the US has no formal rules on whom one can marry, cultural norms still powerfully inform and enforce our behavior. As this example shows, views against interracial marriage do not require legal sanction to remain, dominant, hegemonic norms.
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human agency
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although hegemony can be very powerful, it does not completely dominate people’s thinking. individuals and groups have the power to contest cultural norms, values, mental maps of reality, symbols, institutions and structures of power – a potential known as this Example: a village in northwest Malaysia in James Scott’s book that has undergone rapid economic change as a result of technological changes in the rice-growing process. the changes have benefitted the village elite and thrown many landless farmers out of work. Scott asks why the poor farmers (who are the majority) do not revolt. he suggests through subtle protests and processes of contestation they could demonstrate agency and change their social status
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Jena High School
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connecting meaning and power white guys in hs hung nooses, connects to cultural meaning of whites lynching blacks in US history. they signaled to african americans that although they may have won certain legal rights and protections, they should not consider themselves safe: not everyone in society would obey the law, and some would take violent action outside the law to enforce the cultural norms they considered appropriate. the acts in Jena were not a random act but one that employed the deep, symbolic meaning of the twisted and knotted rope to send a message about what some students thought were the proper relations of power in their school and community.
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biology and culture
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the most basic human activities such as eating, drinking, sleeping and defecating are carried out in different ways across cultures. all humans must do these things, but shared traditions of doing them are different.