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Anthropology: the humanistic science


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Title: Anthropology: the humanistic science

Anthropology the humanistic science
  • Are you as interested as I am in knowing how,
    when, and where human life arose, what the first
    human societies and languages were like, why
    cultures have evolved along diverse but often
    remarkably convergent pathways, why distinctions
    of rank came into being, and how small bands and
    villages gave way to chiefdoms and chiefdoms to
    mighty states and empires?
  • --Marvin Harris, Our Kind

The four fields of anthropology
  • Anthropology is the science of humanity all of
    humanity, in all its complexity.
  • There are four field of anthropology
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Archeology
  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Biological Anthropology

Cultural anthropology
  • Cultural anthropologists study the variation in
    thought and behavior among people of contemporary

  • Archeologists also study the variation in human
    thought and behavior, but focus on past
  • Archeology, however, adds more than the dimension
    of time to the study of human cultural variation.
    It adds an enormous number of societies to the
    database of experiments that humans have
    conducted in social living.

  • Classical archeologists focus on the
    reconstruction of ancient literate civilizations.
    They get their training in departments of
    classics. The majority of archeologists in the
    U.S., however those who study ancient
    preliterate civilizations get their training in
    departments of anthropology.

Linguistic anthropology
  • Linguistic anthropologists study the variation in
    human languages, the roots of human languages,
    and the role of language in shaping human thought
    and behavior.

Biological anthropology
  • Biological or physical anthropologists are
    biologists who study humans as organisms.
  • Biological anthropologists show us how the
    capacity for culture itself has evolved and how
    that capacity, in turn, has influenced our
    biological evolution.

Applied anthropology
  • Applied anthropology is the application of
    anthropological knowledge to the solution of
    human problems.
  • Many anthropologists work in applications that
    is, trying to solve human problems.

Applied anthropology
  • Delivering better health care, producing better
    crops, teaching literacy more effectively these
    and other development programs across the world
    are enhanced by anthropological knowledge of
    local cultural patterns.

Applied anthropology
  • All four fields of anthropology have a
    basic-science and an applied-science dimension.
  • Forensics anthropology is applied biological
  • CRM, or cultural resource management, is applied
  • Bilingual education makes use of applied
    linguistic anthropology.

Medical anthropology
  • Medical anthropology, for example, is based on
    both cultural and biological anthropology.
  • Studies of health systems and studies of the
    cultural correlates of disease.

Some anthropological questions I
  • Biological anthropology
  • What is the relation between modern apes and
    humans? Who are the oldest humans and where did
    they develop?
  • What happened to the Neanderthals?
  • Are we still evolving?
  • What accounts for the different color of peoples
    skin around the world?
  • Are gendered behaviors genetic?

Some anthropological questions II
  • Archeology
  • When were plants and animals domesticated?
  • When did the earliest states arise, and how did
    complex societies evolve at all?
  • When did the first people come to America?
  • Why did complex states develop so much later in
    the Americas, in Europe, and in Africa than in
    China or the Middle East?

Some anthropological questions III
  • Linguistics
  • Are all human languages of equal complexity? Are
    some languages harder to learn than others?
  • How did language originate?
  • Are all the languages of the world related to one
  • Why is it so hard to speak a foreign language
    without an accent?
  • Does language shape thought or vice versa?

Some anthropological questions IV
  • Cultural and biocultural anthropology
  • Is violence and war inevitable in human society?
  • Why do people have different cultures?
  • Why is there economic and social inequality? Is
    it part of being human?
  • What accounts for differences in IQ scores around
    the world?
  • Are there innate behavioral and cognitive
    differences in men and women?

Why anthropology?
  • Partly, to satisfy our curiosity about the range
    of variation in human thought and behavior. This
    is a motivating force in all sciences.
  • Partly to shake the foundations of ethno-centrism
    and to create a respect for cultural diversity.
  • And partly to help ameliorate human problems.

  • There are three levels of method epistemology,
    strategy, and technique. At the epistemological
    level, there are two fundamentally different
    approaches in the social sciences.
  • One approach is rooted in the scientific, or
    positivist tradition the other is rooted in the
    interpretive, or humanistic tradition. (K1019)
  • More about these traditions later.

Humanism and science
  • The methods of humanistically oriented
    anthropology are the same as those used in all
    the humanities, particularly those used in the
    comparative study of literature and in history.
  • The methods of scientifically oriented
    anthropology are the same as those used in
    comparative sociology and psychology.
    (K10 20-23)

Strategic methods vs. technique
  • In the social and behavioral sciences, the
    scientific tradition in cultural anthropology
    has, in the past, represented the larger
    tradition of natural science.
  • Psychology has, in the past, represented the
    larger tradition of experimental science.
  • Sociologists have combined these two traditions
    in survey research. (K10327)

  • In other words, the strategic methods have been
    historically associated with particular social
    and behavioral sciences
  • experiments with psychology
  • questionnaire surveys with sociology
  • participant observation with anthropology
  • Each strategic method comprises many techniques.

Methodological convergence in the social sciences
  • Today, the dominant tradition in cultural
    anthropology is interpretivism the search for
    meaning rather than the search for cause
  • And, the social and behavioral sciences are
    becoming less identified by their methods of data
    collection and analysis and more by the
    theoretical and practical problems they address. 

Participant observation
  • Most people are familiar with the method of
    questionnaire surveys and with the method of
    experiments, including the idea of controls and
  • Most people are not familiar with participant
    observation, but this method has become part of
    the general social science toolkit in the last 30
    years. (K10324-326)

Participant observation
  • Participant observation involves immersion in
    another culture, including the learning of
    another culture's language. (K10324-326)

Participant observation
  • Participant observation is the strategic method
    that makes possible the collection of data
  • about things that people would ordinarily not
    talk about
  • about behavior that people cant intellectualize
    and talk about at all.
  • How far apart do we stand when we talk to one
    another? Whats the average?

Qualitative and quantitative data
  • Participant observation ethnography is often
    called a qualitative method, but actually, all
    sciences use qualitative and quantitative methods
    in different amounts, of course.
  • Long before the physics of avian flight were
    understood, ornithologists watched and took notes
    about how birds learned to fly.

Anthropologys strategic method
  • But for almost all cultural anthropologists
    those who advocate the humanistic or
    interpretivist approach and those who favor the
    scientific or positivistic approach alike
    participant observation is the strategic method
    for collecting data.

The qual-quant question
  • The first cut in the social sciences, then, is
    not qualitative or quantitative.
  • The first cut is can a question be answered
    with the scientific method?
  • Many questions can not be answered with the
    scientific method.

Key concepts in method and theory
  • Emic vs. etic data Patterned cognition vs.
    observable reality. (K10329)
  • Individual vs. aggregate phenomena the science
    in social science is a focus on aggregate
  • In contrast, the focus in the humanities is on
    more on understanding the individual.

Culture I
  • All of anthropology is tied together by the
    concept of culture the mechanism by which
    modern humans adapt to their changing physical
    and social environment. (K10ch13)
  • Culture comprises
  • the ideas for patterned behavior
  • patterned behavior and
  • the products of patterned behavior.

Culture II
  • Culture is (K10345-356)
  • Learned psychic unity of humankind
  • Shared enculturation by groups and subgroups
  • Integrated parts change together eventually
  • Particular, general and universal
  • Mediated symbolically language and artifacts

Culture III
  • Norms and variations within limits
  • We see this in all aspects of everyday life.
  • Ideal vs. real culture
  • We see this everywhere, too.
  • Culture is always changing.

Three paradigms
  • Sociobiologists look for evolutionary,
    biologically rooted explanations for human
  • Idealists emphasize the internal emotional and/or
    cognitive states of human beings in the search
    for the causes and consequences of variations in
    human behavior.
  • Materialists emphasize external conditions
    infrastructure and structure

  • If culture is the mechanism of human adaptation,
    we can see a culture as a set of adaptations.
  • Ethnography is the study of a culture.
    (K1010-25 324-326)

  • But cultures differ occur across space and across
  • A theory of culture must account for these
    differences in patterned ideas, behavior, and
    artifacts across space and time.
  • Ethnology is the comparative study of cultures.
    (K1010-25 324)

Cultural materialism
  • I support the cultural materialist paradigm as a
    way to find explanations for differences.
  • The cultural materialist paradigm was developed
    by Marvin Harris (19272001).

  • The emphasis is on aggregates and long-term
  • It is not a replacement for under-standing the
    unique in people or in societies.
  • The key concepts infrastructure, structure,

  • Infrastructure is the interface between nature
    and culture where nature includes the physical
    environment and the technology for production, as
    well as the biological and psychological
    constraints on reproduction.
  • Including the mode of reproduction is one key
    difference between Marxs and Harris materialist

Harris challenge
  • The etic behavioral modes of production and
    reproduction probabilistically determine the etic
    behavioral domestic and political economy, which
    in turn probabilistically determine the
    behavioral and mental emic superstructures.
    (Harris 197955-56. Cultural Materialism. The
    Struggle for a Science of Culture)

Structure and superstructure
  • The structure of society includes its the
    economic and political components.
  • The superstructure of a society is the ideology
    the internal states of values, beliefs, and
  • The superstructure is what provides humans with
    meaning, including disappointment and

Primacy of the infrastructure
  • The cultural materialist paradigm is based on the
    principle of infrastructural primacy.
  • This principle only works in aggregates and over
    a longer periods of time.
  • At any moment, the three components of society
    may be in flux.
  • In fact, the infrastructure may change as a
    consequence of human intervention.

Some generalizations
  • States only arise after agriculture.
  • Monotheism is found only in state-level
  • Ideas about sexuality, family size, and age of
    marriage follow changes in structure and may be
    facilitated by changes in the infrastructure.

Idealism I
  • Ideas can take a long time to catch up to changes
    in material conditions.
  • And so, despite the many examples of
    infrastructural determinism, this principle does
    not account for all changes in structure and

Idealism II
  • The idealist paradigm focuses on psychological,
    mental, and on the symbolism inherent in cultural
  • By contrast, materialism focuses on behavior as
    the expression of values and assumes that
    technoenvironmental forces shape both behavior
    and ideas.

  • We should, then, look first to the infrastructure
    when we try to explain broad changes in a society
    because that is where the explanation is most
    likely to come from.

And understanding
  • And we should look to the superstructure
    (idealism) when we want to understand the meaning
    of behavior and symbols to people in a society,
    because that is where the explanation is most
    likely to come from.

The biological substrate
  • Culture often trumps biology, so it is important
    to look for nonbiological alternatives in
    explaining human behavior.
  • We should, however, look to evolutionary forces
    (sociobiology) when we try to explain the
    long-term evolution of reproductive behavior, on
    a global scale.

Paradigms and theories
  • Sociobiology, idealism and cultural materialism
    are paradigms, not theories.
  • They are principles for finding theory for
    finding explanations of specific cases, of things
    that beg to be explained.
  • Example The small, important probability of
    step-children being injured or killed.
  • There are sociobiological, idealist, and
    materialist explanations for this phenomenon.

Sociobiological explanation
  • The sociobiological explanation for the battering
    of nonbiological children is appealing for
    aggregate, evolutionary phenomenathe big, big
  • A sociobiological explanation addresses the
    question What is the reproductive advantage of
    this behavior occurring at all?

The SB explanation
  • Maximize inclusive fitness
  • The reaction would be strongest for step-parents
    who support other biological children.
  • These frustrations will cause some people to
    become violent, but not others.

But why some?
  • The behavior is not inevitable
  • A sociobiological explanation cant explain why
    only some step-parents hurt their children.
  • At this level of analysis, we need a processual

Cultural materialist explanation
  • Some step-parents who bring resources to a second
    marriage become frustrated by the possibility of
    having their wealth diluted by their new spouses

Penn Handwerkers study
  • In Barbados step-parents were no more likely to
    treat children violently than were biological
  • But with the presence of a stepfather, women were
  • more likely to batter their daughters
  • less likely to batter their sons.

  • These women saw their daughters as potential
    competitors for resources available from their
  • They saw sons as potential sources of physical
    protection and income.

  • Women who had their own sources of income
    protected their children from violence.
  • In these families, sons also developed
    affectionate relationships with their biological

  • Men battered powerless women and the children of
    powerless women, and powerless women battered
    their own children.
  • Is there a sociobiological imperative for
    powerful spouses to batter powerless ones?
  • Or is this stimulated by material conditions,
    like poverty?
  • Apply Occams razor

  • In different cultures, the rare event of child
    battering is sometime more likely to be at the
    hands of the mother, sometimes at the hands of
    the father.
  • These are cultural differences.
  • They may be accounted for structural differences,
    but the content of culture is important to our
    understanding these phenomena.

Another example
  • Women everywhere in the world tend to have
    nurturing roles.
  • There are biological, cultural, and materialist
    explanations for this fact.
  • These competing paradigms are complementary
    depending on the level of analysis and the time

Nomothetic and idiographic theory
  • In 1977, the New Delhi police reported 311 deaths
    by kitchen fires of women, mostly young brides
    who were killed because their families had not
    delivered a promised dowry to the grooms family.

By 2001 …
  • By 1987, the government of India reported 1912
    such dowry deaths of young women.
  • By 1994 the number was 5199over 14 per day.
  • By 2001, it was over 7000
  • http//

Daniel Grosss theory of hypergamy
  • Theorized that the Indian kitchen fires were a
    consequence of female hypergamy and dowry.
  • Families try to marry off their daughter to
    someone of greater means by offering higher
  • This created a bidding war, as families of
    wealthier sons demand more and more for the
    privilege of marrying those sons.

  • Families of daughters go into debt to accumulate
    the dowries.
  • When they cant pay off the debt, some families
    of grooms murder the brides in faked kitchen
    accidents, where kerosene stoves purportedly blow
  • The problem intensifies with the advance of

Paredes study of the Poarch Creek Band
  • When he began his research in 1971, the Indians
    were a remnant of an earlier group.
  • They had lost the use of the Creek language
  • They were not recognized by the U.S. government
    as a tribe
  • They had little contact with other Indians for

Poarch Creek identity
  • How did the Poarch Creek maintain their identity?
  • There was a cultural revitalization movement
    since the 1940s, led by key people.

The value of unique cases
  • This is a single case, and the explanation is
  • But with other cases, we see the commonalities of
    people who make a difference in the maintenance
    of ethnic identity.

Grosss idiographic theory
  • Grosss explanation for the kitchen fires in
    India rings true but it doesnt explain why other
    societies that have escalating dowry dont have
    kitchen fires.
  • Nor does it tell us why dowry persists in India
    despite its being outlawed since 1961, or why
    dowrywhich occurs in just 7.5 of the worlds
    societiesexists in the first place.
  • Grosss theory is idiographic.

Paredes idiographic theory
  • Paredess theory doesnt explain
  • Why other Native American groups managed to
    maintain their identity or why some groups did
    not manage it.
  • Why other ethnic groups maintain or fail to
    maintain their identity in the United States.
  • Why ethnicity persists at all in the face of
    pressure from states on ethnic groups to
  • Paredes theory is idiographic.

Nomothetic theories
  • Nomothetic theories address questions like
  • So, what does account for the existence of

Boserups theory of dowry
  • Dowry should occur in societies where womens
    role in subsistence production is low.
  • She was right, but many societies where womens
    productive effort is low do not have dowry.

Steven Gaulin and James Boster add to it
  • Dowry exists in stratified societies that have
    monogamous or polyandrous marriage.
  • They tested this on a sample of 186 societies,
    the Standard Cross Cultural Sample (SCCS).

The SCCS, HRAF, and comparative research
  • The Human Relations Area Files at Yale
    University a million pages of ethnography.
  • Using cultures as units of analysis.

  • The Gaulin-Boster theory misclassifies fewer
    societies than Boserups, but still makes
  • 77 of dowry societies are, in fact, stratified
    and have monogamous marriage, but
  • 63 of monogamous, stratified societies do not
    have dowry.

Harris adds more…
  • Harris suggested that Esther Boserups model
    should work in societies where womens value in
    production and reproduction is low.
  • In those cases, we expect dowry as a compensation
    to the grooms family for taking on the liability
    of taking the bride into their family.

Kenneth Adams tests this …
  • In societies with plow agriculture and
    high-quality agricultural land, womens labor is
    of low value.
  • If those societies also have high population
    density, then womens reproductive role should be
    of low value.
  • In societies with both these characteristics,
    patrilocal residence would make accepting a bride
    a real liability and would lead to demand for
    compensationhence, dowry.

Nomothetic theory grows
  • Adams theory makes 25 fewer errors than the
    Gaulin-Boster theory does in predicting which
    societies in the SCCS have dowry.
  • This is how nomothetic theory grows.

Schlegel and Barry
  • Alice Schlegel and Herbert Barry predicted that
    women will be more respected in societies where
    they contribute a lot to subsistence than in
    societies where their contribution is low.
  • (Schlegel, A., Barry, H., III. (1986). The
    cultural consequences of female contribution to
    subsistence. American Anthropologist, 88, 142150)

To operationalize
  • In societies where women contribute a lot to
    subsistence, women
  • will be able to space their pregnancies
  • will subjected to rape less often
  • will have greater sexual freedom
  • will be worth more in bride wealth
  • will have greater choice in selection of a
  • All of their hypotheses supported by the SCCS.

John Whiting post-partum taboo and protein
  • Comparative studies use a statistical approach.
  • Whitings data are in a contingency table.

(No Transcript)
p-values for contingency tables
  • The p-value for Whitings table is
  • Accounting for falsifying cases
  • carrying infants in a high-protein society
  • recently adopting grain agriculture in a
    low-protein society culture lag
  • measurement error

Theories and probabilities
  • Why do societies that have low protein
    availability tend to have a longer post-partum
    sex taboo?
  • Recurring relationships and theories facts vs.