Cultural Anthropology/History of Anthropological Theory
- 1 History
- 2 A Look Into History
- 3 Historic Cultural Anthropologists
- 4 Chapter Glossary of Key Terms
- 5 References
Early Cultural Studies
Herodotus could be considered one of the earliest anthropologists in Western tradition, and his work can be regarded as some of the earliest anthropological studies. He “sought to understand other people and cultures by traveling far and wide.”  Even though he did not practice anthropology like it is practiced today, he created a rather unbiased, truthful recording of other cultures’ legends and lifestyles by using second-hand and third-hand accounts relating to his primary subjects, as well as traveling throughout the Mediterranean.
“Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvelous deeds- some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians- may not be without their glory.” –Opening sentence, The Histories, Herodotus
In his nine scrolls known as The Histories, written in the later period of his life (430 BCE), Herodotus describes the conflict between the Greeks and the Persians, but he often digresses from his topic to describe what he had learned through interviews of the Scythians, who lived near the Black Sea. He learned about and recounted information on how the Scythians lived, and he also learned about nomads who lived further north than the Scythians. Even though the information he recounts was translated many times before transcribed, artifacts similar to the ones he describes have been found in modern excavations in Russia and Kazakhstan.
A Look Into History
Modern cultural anthropology has its origins in, and developed in reaction to, 19th-century "ethnology", the comparative study of cultures; it presents analytical generalizations about human culture. Scholars like E.B. Tylor and J.G. Frazer in England worked mostly with materials collected by others – usually missionaries, traders, explorers, or colonial officials – this earned them their current sobriquet of "arm-chair anthropologists".
Ethnologists had a special interest in why people living in different parts of the world often had similar beliefs and practices. In addressing this question, ethnologists in the 19th century divided into two schools of thought. Some, like Grafton Elliot Smith, argued that different groups must somehow have learned from one another, however indirectly; in other words, they argued that cultural traits spread from one place to another, or "diffused". This way of thinking could be better understood in the context of the school playground; everyone wants to be like the "cool" kid-they see what he has and they want it. This idea can be expanded to an entire culture, people see another group of people doing something better than them, and so they learn the new, more effective way of living.
Other ethnologists argued that different groups had the capability of inventing similar beliefs and practices independently. Some of those who advocated "independent invention", like Morgan, additionally supposed that similarities meant that different groups had passed through the same stages of cultural evolution. Morgan, in particular, acknowledged that certain forms of society and culture could not possibly have arisen before others. For example, industrial farming could have been invented before simple farming, and metallurgy could have developed without previous non-smelting processes involving metals (such as simple ground collection or mining). Morgan, like other 19th century social evolutionists, believed there was a more or less orderly progression from the primitive to the civilized.
20th-century anthropologists largely rejected the notion that all human societies must pass through the same stages in the same order, on the grounds that such a notion does not fit the empirical facts. After witnessing such a broad development of human society, we now have the knowledge that cultures change at different rates due to environmental causes, economic resources and educational development. Some 20th-century ethnologists, like Julian Steward, have instead argued that such similarities reflected similar adaptations to similar environments.
Others, such as Claude Lévi-Strauss (who was influenced both by American cultural anthropology and by French Durkheimian sociology), have argued that apparent patterns of development reflect fundamental similarities in the structure of human thought (see structuralism). By the mid-20th century, the number of examples of people skipping stages, such as going from hunter-gatherers to post-industrial service occupations in one generation, were so numerous that 19th-century evolutionism was effectively disproved.
In the 20th century, most cultural (and social) anthropologists turned to the crafting of ethnographies. An ethnography is a piece of writing about the customs of a people, at a particular place and time. Typically, the anthropologist actually lives among another society for a considerable period of time, simultaneously participating in and observing the social and cultural life of the group. This way of studying a culture is a much more unbiased view of the culture, as opposed to the previous method of armchair anthropologists throughout history, these scholars are there interacting with the people. As a way of learning about a culture, these ethnographies are a great resource.
However, any number of other ethnographic techniques have resulted in ethnographic writing or details being preserved, as cultural anthropologists also curate materials, spend long hours in libraries, churches and schools poring over records, investigate graveyards, and decipher ancient scripts. A typical ethnography will also include information about physical geography, climate, and habitat. It is meant to be a holistic piece of writing about the people in question, and today often includes the longest possible timeline of past events that the ethnographer can obtain through primary and secondary research.
Bronisław Malinowski (who conducted fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands and taught in England) developed this method, and Franz Boas promoted it. Boas's students drew on his conception of culture and cultural relativism to develop cultural anthropology in the United States. Simultaneously, Malinowski and A.R. Radcliffe Brown´s students were developing social anthropology in the United Kingdom. Whereas cultural anthropology focused on symbols and values, social anthropology focused on social groups and institutions. Today socio-cultural anthropologists attend to all these elements.
Although 19th-century ethnologists saw "diffusion" and "independent invention" as mutually exclusive and competing theories, most ethnographers quickly reached a consensus that both processes occur, and that both can plausibly account for cross-cultural similarities. But these ethnographers pointed out the superficiality of many such similarities, and that even traits spread through diffusion often changed their meaning and functions as they moved from one society to another.
Accordingly, these anthropologists showed less interest in comparing cultures, generalizing about human nature, or discovering universal laws of cultural development, than in understanding particular cultures in those cultures' own terms. Such ethnographers and their students promoted the idea of "cultural relativism", the view that one can only understand another person's beliefs and behaviors in the context of the culture in which he or she lived.
In the early 20th century socio-cultural anthropology developed in different forms in Europe and in the United States. European "social anthropologists" focused on observed social behaviors and on "social structure", that is, on relationships among social roles, (e.g. husband and wife, or parent and child) and social institutions (e.g. religion, economy, and politics).
American "cultural anthropologists" focused on the ways people expressed their view of themselves and their world, especially in symbolic forms (such as art and myths). These two approaches frequently converged (kinship, for example, and leadership function both as symbolic systems and as social institutions), and generally complemented one another. Today almost all socio-cultural anthropologists refer to the work of both sets of predecessors and have an equal interest in what people do and in what people say.
Today ethnography continues to dominate socio-cultural anthropology. Nevertheless, many contemporary socio-cultural anthropologists have rejected earlier models of ethnography which they claim treated local cultures as "bounded" and "isolated". These anthropologists continue to concern themselves with the distinct ways people in different locales experience and understand their lives, but they often argue that one cannot understand these particular ways of life solely from a local perspective; they instead combine a focus on the local with an effort to grasp larger political, economic, and cultural frameworks that impact local lived realities. Notable proponents of this approach include Arjun Appadurai, James Clifford, George Marcus, Sidney Mintz, Michael Taussig and Eric Wolf.
A growing trend in anthropological research and analysis seems to be the use of multi-sited ethnography, discussed in George Marcus's article "Ethnography In/Of the World System: the Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography"]. Looking at culture as embedded in macro-constructions of a global social order, multi-sited ethnography uses traditional methodology in various locations both spatially and temporally. Through this methodology, greater insight can be gained when examining the impact of world-systems on local and global communities.
Also, emerging in multi-sited ethnography are greater interdisciplinary approaches to fieldwork, bringing in methods from cultural studies, media studies, science and technology studies, and others. In multi-sited ethnography research tracks a subject across spatial and temporal boundaries. For example, a multi-sited ethnography may follow a "thing," such as a particular commodity, as it transfers through the networks of global capitalism.
Multi-sited ethnography may also follow ethnic groups in diaspora, stories or rumours that appear in multiple locations and in multiple time periods, metaphors that appear in multiple ethnographic locations, or the biographies of individual people or groups as they move through space and time. It may also follow conflicts that transcend boundaries. Multi-sited ethnographies, such as Nancy Scheper-Hughes's ethnography of the international black market for the trade of human organs. In this research she follows organs as they transfer through various legal and illegal networks of capitalism, as well as the rumours and urban legends that circulate in impoverished communities about child kidnapping and organ theft.
Sociocultural anthropologists have increasingly turned their investigative eye on to "Western" culture. For example, Philippe Bourgois, won the Margaret Mead Award in 1997 for In Search of Respect, a study of the entrepreneurs in a Harlem crack-den. Also, growing more popular are ethnographies of professional communities, such as laboratory researchers, Wall Street investors, law firms, or IT computer employees.
Historic Cultural Anthropologists
Lewis Henry Morgan
Lewis Henry Morgan was born on November 21, 1818, near Aurora, New York. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1840 and became an attorney by profession. Later, he studied the Iroquois people of western New York and gathered extensive data about the Iroquois Confederation. He is best known for his work on kinship and social structure, his theories of social evolution, and his ethnography of the Iroquois. Kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of most humans in most societies. Interested in what holds societies together, he proposed the concept that the earliest human domestic institution was the matrilineal clan, not the patriarchal family.
His book “League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois” (1851) is considered one of the earliest objective ethnographic works of native peoples. From the book, one of the most important pioneering achievements of the first order is the study of kinship systems. What he found was that the Seneca designate their kin in a manner different from that of the Western culture. Unlike Western culture, they merge collateral relatives, such as cousins, nieces, and aunts, into the direct line, like fathers, sisters, and daughters.
Edward Burnett Tylor
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), was born in Camberwell, London, England in 1832. He graduated from Grove House High School but, never received a university degree due to the death of his parents. Following their death, Tylor started having symptoms of tuberculosis. He decided to leave England and travel to Central America in search for a warmer climate. This is where he first started his research on anthropology. He is considered one of the early proponents of cultural evolutionism in Anthropology. He had awards and achievements which were Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1871, Honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of Oxford in 1875 and Knighted for his contributions in 1912.
His first book, aptly titled Anthropology (1881), is considered fairly modern in its cultural concepts and theories. In 1883, Tylor joined the University Museum at Oxford and became a professor of Anthropology from 1896 to 1909. Most of Tylor's work involved the primitive culture and the minds of the people, particularly animism. Animism is a philosophical, religious or spiritual idea that souls or spirits exist not only in humans and animals but also in plants, rocks and natural phenomena. His work has been the foundation of many universities' Anthropological major curriculum. Some of his later works include: Researches Into the Early History of Mankind (1865)and Anahuac (1861). His most important work, "Primitive Culture" (1871), which was partially influenced by Darwin’s theory of biological evolution. It developed the theory of an evolutionary, progressive relationship from primitive to modern cultures. It did this by defining "culture or civilization" as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society". This definition encouraged the idea that even primtives possessed capabilities ad habits that merited respect. Primitive stereotypes were thus changed. During his travels, he met a man named Henry Christy, who was also a Quaker interested in ethnology and archaeology, which influenced Tylor's interest in these areas.
Franz Boas, known as the Father of American Anthropology, was born in Minden, Germany in 1858. He earned a Ph.D. in physics with a minor in geography at the University of Kiel in 1881 and later became a professor and founded the first department of anthropology in the United States at Columbia University.
Boas is well known for his studies on the Native population in Northern Vancouver and British Colombia, Canada. Influenced by the writings of Charles Darwin, Boas developed the theory of cultural relativism; Cultural relativism is the interpretation of another culture using their own goals, values, and beliefs rather than our own to make sense of what people say and do, devoting much of his life’s work to discrediting the importance of racial distinction in the field. At a time when armchair anthropology and racial prejudices were rampant, Boas emphasized the importance of impartial data, the use of the scientific method in his research, and rejected the idea of Western civilization’s supposed “cultural superiority.” Boas gave modern anthropology its rigorous scientific methodology, patterned after the natural sciences. He originated the notion of "culture" as learned behaviors as well. His emphasis on research first, followed by generalizations, emphasized the creation of grand theories (which were only after tested through field work) Link: Boas. Boas was truly the first person to develop an ethnography which is a descriptive account of anthropological studies. A few of Boas’ students include anthropologists Alfred L. Kroeber, Margaret Mead, Jules Henry, and Ashley Montagu. Boas became Professor Emeritus in 1937, after serving over 40 years as Professor at Columbia University. He died in 1942.
Ruth Benedict was an American anthropologist whose work was greatly influenced by her mentor and teacher Franz Boas, the father of American anthropology. She was born in New York City on June 5, 1887 and died September 17, 1949. She graduated from Vassar College in 1909 and entered graduate studies at Columbia University in 1919, studying under Franz Boas and receiving her PhD in 1923. The central idea of her book Patterns of Culture (1934), which was translated into fourteen different languages and used in universities for many years, is that each culture chooses from the “great arc of human personalities” but, only dominant traits emerge in people’s characters as well as the overall character of society. Ruth Benedict expressed the idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny which holds that the growth or change of the individual is a reflection of the growth or change of the species. She desired to show that each culture had its own moral imperatives that could be understood only if one studied that culture as a whole. Benedict conducted fieldwork in New Mexico with the Native American Pueblo people and used data from Franz Boas and other colleagues like Margaret Mead to supplement her research.
Margaret Mead (1901-1979) was the oldest of five sisters. Mead was born on December 16, 1901 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Barnard College, she received her Ph.D. from Columbia University3. It was there where she met her greatest influences, the anthropologists Ruth Benedict and Franz Boas. She was married three times in her life, her first marriage with Luther Sheeleigh Cressman, an archaeologist. Her third and longest-lasting marriage (1936–1950) was to the British Anthropologist Gregory Bateson with whom she had a daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, who would also become an anthropologist. Margaret Mead focused mainly on child-rearing and personality traits in Samoa, New Guinea, and Bali. It was here she was able to take a positivist method to her research. Mead was also popular to mass media as a speaker and writer of her work.
In the 1930’s Margaret Mead used a method called controlled comparison, or taking hypotheses to different cultural settings. Each setting would match up to a separate experiment. This allowed anthropologists, such as Mead, to study human life by participant-observation instead of an artificial lab setting. Mead used this method when she studied four different societies in an attempt to discover the range and causes of gender role. It is still used today. Margaret Mead was known for introducing radical proposals and being an activist. One of her most memorable stances on issues was her outspoken advocacy on birth control.From her findings, she was able to produce many ethnographic writings, such as Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935)3.
Julian Steward was born on January 31, 1902, in Washington D.C. Steward attended the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell University, graduating with a B.Sc. in Zoology in 1925. He returned to Berkeley for graduate studies, earning his Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1929 with a thesis entitled The Ceremonial Buffoon of the American Indian, a Study of Ritualized Clowning and Role Reversals. Steward went on to establish an anthropology department at the University of Michigan, where he taught until 1930. The department later gained notoriety from the appointment and guidance of Leslie White, with whose model of "universal" cultural evolution Steward disagreed. Steward's career reached its apogee in 1946 when he took up the chair of the anthropology department at Columbia University - the center of anthropology in the United States. Steward quickly developed a coterie of students who would go on to have enormous influence in the history of anthropology, including Sidney Mintz, Eric Wolf, Roy Rappaport, Stanley Diamond, Robert Manners, Morton Fried, Robert F. Murphy, and influenced other scholars such as Marvin Harris. Many of these students participated in the Puerto Rico Project, yet another large-scale group research study that focused on modernization in Puerto Rico. Steward left Columbia for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he continued to teach until his retirement in 1968. There he undertook yet another large-scale study, a comparative analysis of modernization in eleven, third-world societies. The results of this research were published in three volumes entitled Contemporary Change in Traditional Societies. Steward died in 1972.
Steward is most remembered for his method and theory of cultural ecology. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, American anthropology was suspicious of generalizations and often unwilling to draw broader conclusions from the meticulously detailed monographs that anthropologists produced. Steward is notable for moving anthropology away from this more particularist approach and developing a more nomothetic, social-scientific direction. His theory of "multilinear" cultural evolution examined the way in which societies adapted to their environment. Steward's interest in the evolution of society also led him to examine processes of modernization. He was one of the first anthropologists to examine the way in which national and local levels of society were related to one another. He questioned the possibility of creating a social theory which encompassed the entire evolution of humanity, yet also argued that anthropologists are not limited to the description of specific, existing cultures. Steward believed it is possible to create theories analyzing typical, common culture, representative of specific eras or regions. In addition, he theorized there were decisive factors (technology and economics) and secondary factors (political systems, ideologies, religions, etc) that determine and influence the development of a given culture.
Ray L. was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1918, he went on to get his Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1951. Later in life, he began to teach at the Universities of Toronto, Louisville, and Buffalo. He then became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania where he pursued his interest in nonverbal communication and kinesics. Birdwhistell found most of his studies through observing people interactions in films. His observations concluded that people use eye movement, facial expressions, and their chest to convey information. Birdwhistell was the founder of Kinesics, the study of the human environment as culturally patterned visual communication, he released two texts on Kinesics, Introduction to Kinesics, and the better known Kinesics in context. Birdwhistell was a mentor to renowned folklorist, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. More onKinesics in the Communication and Language Chapter.
Marvin Harris (1927-2001), was born on August 18, 1927, in Brooklyn, New York. Harris joined the U.S. Army in World War II then attended Columbia University. After graduating, Harris became an assistant professor at Columbia University, his main focus of the study was ideological features of culture. Later Harris did fieldwork in Mozambique in 1957 and started focusing more on behavioral aspects. He is also well known for his explanation on Indian cultures ‘sacred cows’. Harris did most of his fieldwork in Brazil, Mozambique, India, and Ecuador.
Harris was an American Anthropologist known for his writing and influence on cultural materialism. Harris’ studies were mostly based on Latin America and Brazil. Harris used Karl Marx and Malthus’s information to help form his own opinions and ideas. Harris had over 16 books published. After Harris’ publication, The Rise of Anthropological Theory, the American Anthropological Association had lots of talk and criticism about his theory. Harris’ work has helped anthropologists learn and gain more information about his studies.
Napoleon Chagnon was born in 1938 in Port Austin, Michigan. He is an American anthropologist who is best known for his ethnographic work with the Yanomamö tribe of the Amazon between Venezuela and Brazil. He was a major player in developing to the evolutionary theory of cultural anthropology. He first documented the Yanomami tribe as savages who treated him very poorly. As time progressed he gained greater insight of the workings of the tribe, and the nickname of Shaki, meaning "pesky bee".
Through his research of the Yanomamö people, Chagnon gained information about the genealogies of these people in order to find out who was married, who was related, and cooperation and settlement pattern history. Through this research he was a pioneer in the fields of sociobiology and human behavioral ecology. He also pioneered in visual anthropology, by creating documentaries about the Yanomamö people and their society. His works include: The Yanomamo Series, in collaboration with Tim Asch, including 22 separate films on the Yanomamo Culture, such as The Ax Fight (1975), Children's Magical Death (1974), Magical Death (1988), A Man Called Bee: A Study of the Yanomamo (1974), Yanomamo Of the Orinoco (1987). He has also written a few books on the Yanomamö culture: Yanomamö: The Fierce People (1968), Chagnon, N. (1974), written at New York, Studying the Yanomamö, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Yanomamo - The Last Days Of Eden (1992).
Although much of his work was meant to document the growing of a culture, he has also been credited as a destroyer of the culture. According to Darkness in El Dorado, by Patrick Tierney, Chagnon aided the spreading of measles to the Yanomamo people. All claims by Tierney have been refuted, but it is a fact that due to exposure to other outside cultures, the people of this tribe were exposed to diseases that their bodies could not fight. Chagnon was not only known for his ethnography but he was also well known for criticism and controversy about his work and opinions.
Paul Farmer is a well recognized medical anthropologist and doctor. While working towards his graduate degree at Harvard University, he began working to provide health care to the poor populations. This initiated his lifelong focus on providing proper health treatment to poverty stricken populations around the world through nonprofit work and through an anthropological lens regarding the social change necessary to aid the countries. At Harvard, Farmer specialized in infectious disease and currently focuses on those that disproportionately affect the poor, such as tuberculosis. In 1987, Farmer helped put together a nonprofit called Partners in Health. To this day, the group treats 1,000 patients daily for free in the Haitian countryside as well as provides works to cure drug-resistant tuberculosis among prisoners in Siberia and in the slums of Lima and Peru. Farmer uses his anthropological knowledge and ethnographic analysis to create sustainable and practical health care services for those in need. He works to offset the negative effects in those societies caused by social and structural violence. Farmer is well known for the concept of "pragmatic solidarity", the idea of working to meet the needs of the victims while advocating for positive social change. Farmer has been awarded several honors; including the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, American Medical Association's International Physician Award, and the 2007 Austin College Leadership Award.
Chapter Glossary of Key Terms
- Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel.
- Dissertation Abstract
- Britannica Encyclopedia
- "Franz Boas". Colombia University. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/anthropology/about/main/one/boas.html. Retrieved 2009-03-02.
- 3. Del Monte, Kathleen, Karen Bachman, Catherine Klein, and Bridgette McCorp. "Margaret Mead." Celebrating Women Anthropologists. 26 June 1999. 9 Mar. 2009 <http://anthropology.usf.edu/women/>.
4. Absolute Astronomy. "Ray Birdwhistell" 9 Mar. 2009 <http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Ray_Birdwhistell>
5. NNDB: Tracking the Entire World. "Franz Boas." <http://www.nndb.com/people/861/000097570/> 6. “‘Sinful’ Songs of the Southern Negro.” Southwest Review XIX, 2 (Winter 1934): 105–131.