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Outlining anthropology and its various perspectives'


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Title: Outlining anthropology and its various perspectives'

Outlining anthropology and its various
  • Dr. Zubeeda Quraishy
  • Department of Informatics,
  • University of Oslo, Norway

What is Anthropology?
  • 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,1990.

What is Social Anthropology?
  • Social Anthropology is the comparative study of
    human conduct and thought in their social
    context. Societies around the world vary
    enormously in their social, cultural and
    political forms, and their individual members
    display an initially overwhelming diversity of
    ideas and behaviour. The study of these
    variations, and the common humanity which
    underlies them and renders them intelligible to
    sympathetic outsiders, lies at the heart of
    Social Anthropology.
  • Anthropologists acquire their information through
    a distinctive method termed participant
    observation. This means that they spend many
    months or even years living among the people with
    whom they are researching, sharing their
    experiences as far as possible, and hence
    attempting to gain a well-rounded understanding
    of that society and of the activities and
    opinions of its members

Definition of Anthropology
  • The word anthropology itself tells the basic
    story--from the Greek anthropos ("human") and
    logia ("study")
  • It is the study of humankind, from its beginnings
    millions of years ago to the present day.
  • Nothing human is alien to anthropology.
  • Indeed, of the many disciplines that study our
    species, Homo sapiens, only anthropology seeks to
    understand the whole panorama--in geographic
    space and evolutionary time--of human existence.

Various Sub disciplines of Anthropology
  • 1. Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • 2. Physical Anthropology
  • 3. Ethnology and Ethnography
  • 4. Archeological Anthropology
  • 5. Psychological Anthropology
  • 6. Political Anthropology
  • 7. Economic Anthropology
  • 8. Visual Anthropology

(Contd..) Sub disciplines of Anthropology
  • 9. Applied Anthropology
  • 10. Linguistic Anthropology
  • 11. Medical Anthropology
  • 12.Nutrition Anthropology
  • 13. Development Anthropology
  • 14.Molecular Anthropology
  • and the list continues

While it is easy to define,anthropology is
difficult to describe..
  • ..as its subject matter is both exotic (e.g.,
    star lore of the Australian aborigines) and
    common place (anatomy of the foot).
  • Its focus is both sweeping (the evolution of
    language) and microscopic (the use-wear of
    obsidian tools).
  • Anthropologists may study ancient Mayan
    hieroglyphics, the music of African Pygmies, and
    the corporate culture of a U.S. car manufacturer.

Why anthropologists are interested in studying
  • Curiosity
  • We all "do" anthropology because curiosity is a
    universal human trait.
  • We are curious about ourselves and about other
    people, the living as well as the dead, here and
    around the globe

Anthropological questions are often asked by all?
  • Do all societies have marriage customs?
  • Do all cultures have different ways of greetings
    and food habits?
  • As a species, are human beings innately violent
    or peaceful?
  • Did the earliest humans have light or dark skins?
  • When did people first begin speaking a language?
  • How related are humans, monkeys and chimpanzees?
  • Is Homo sapiens's brain still evolving?

If such questions are part of folk anthropology
  • practiced in school yards, office buildings and
    neighborhood cafes..
  • How does the science of anthropology differ from
    ordinary opinion sharing and "common sense"?

Comparative Method
  • Anthropology begins with a simple yet powerful
    idea any detail of our behavior can be
    understood better when it is seen against the
    backdrop of the full range of human behavior.
  • attempts to explain similarities and differences
    among people holistically, in the context of
    humanity as a whole.

Comparative method (contd)
  • Anthropology seeks to uncover principles of
    behavior that apply to all human communities.
  • To an anthropologist, diversity itself (seen in
    body shapes and sizes, customs, clothing, speech,
    religion, and worldview--)provides a frame of
    reference for understanding any single aspect of
    life in any given community.
  • It is essential to study in the context and
    compare against the different panorama

  • We anthropologists have been the first to
    insist on a number of things that the world does
    not divide into the pious and the superstitious
    that political order is possible without
    centralized power and principled justice without
    codified rules that the norms of reason were not
    fixed in Greece, the evolution of morality not
    consummated in England. Most important, we were
    the first to insist that we see the lives of
    others through lenses of our own grinding and
    that they look back on ours through ones of their
  • --Clifford Geertz

History of anthropological conceptions on culture
  • Culture is descriptive, inclusive, and
    relativistic John. H.Bodley,1994.
  • I use the term culture to refer collectively to a
    society and its way of life or in reference to
    human culture as a whole.

The modern technical definition of culture is
defined ..
  • as socially patterned human thought and
    behavior, originally proposed by the
    nineteenth-century British anthropologist, Edward
  • Created exhaustive universal lists of the content
    of culture, usually as guides for further
    research. Others have listed and mapped all the
    culture traits of particular geographic areas.
  • (Food habits, way of dressing, marriage customs,
    ways of greeting, working pattern, life style,
    values( family, work place, place of worship, at
    the house of relatives, strangers, men to men,
    women women, men women, elders towards
    children and vise versa acc to age and r.ship

Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, published a
list of 160 different definitions of culture in
  • the list indicates the diversity of the
    anthropological concept of culture. The specific
    culture concept that particular anthropologists
    work with is an important matter because it may
    influence the research problems they investigate,
    their methods and interpretations, and the
    positions they take on public policy issues.

Diverse Definitions of Culture
  • TopicalCulture consists of everything on a list
    of topics, or categories, such as social
    organization, religion, or economy
  • HistoricalCulture is social heritage, or
    tradition, that is passed on to future
  • BehavioralCulture is shared, learned human
    behavior, a way of life
  • NormativeCulture is ideals, values, or rules for

  • FunctionalCulture is the way humans solve
    problems of adapting to the environment or living
  • MentalCulture is a complex of ideas, or learned
    habits, that inhibit impulses and distinguish
    people from animals
  • StructuralCulture consists of patterned and
    interrelated ideas, symbols, or behaviors
  • SymbolicCulture is based on arbitrarily assigned
    meanings that are shared by a society

Culture involves at least three components
  • What people think
  • What they do
  • The material products they produce.
  • Mental processes, beliefs, knowledge, and values
    are parts of culture.

Important principles of culture
  • Process of learning, teaching and reproducing
    are essential characteristics of culture. Culture
    exists in a constant state of change.
  • Culture consists of systems of meaning -- members
    of a human society must agree to relationships
    between a word, behavior,(request you to eat food
    and take away the food rudely from front of you )
    or other symbol and its corresponding
    significance or meaning.
  • Culture is described in a relativistic way as
    different human societies will inevitably agree
    upon different relationships and meanings.
    (Object and a word-door and its meaning in

Properties of culture
  • Culture has several properties
  • shared (it is a social phenomenon)
  • learned (culture is learned not biologically
    inherited) how culture is taught reproduced is
    also crucial
  • symbolic (speech is a symbolic element of human
  • transmitted cross-generationally (Kroeber,1917
    and Leslie White,1949 treat culture as a
    superorganic entity).
  • adaptive, and integrated.

There are many who depart from the views
expressed and regard culture as
  • Objective reality
  • Not superorganic approach but has human carriers.
  • an observable phenomenon and peoples unique
  • People can be deprived of culture against their

  • From the different definitions it is known that
    there is much disagreement about the word and
    concept of culture.
  • So, an ongoing negotiation and conversation about
    what culture should mean is continuing.

Clifford Geertz(1926- present)
  • Clifford Geertz best known for his ethnographic
    studies emphasizes on the importance of the
    symbolic of systems of meaning as it relates
    to culture, cultural change and the study of
    culture. The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973
  • is best known for his ethnographic studies of
    Javanese culture

What cultural anthropologists are doing at Intel
  • Understanding alien cultures and finding out
    whats important in those cultures.
  • What people are doing in their daily lives?
  • What people are doing with technology?
  • How digital home differs from culture to culture?

What is society?
  • A society is any group of people (or, less
    commonly, plants or animals) living together in a
    group and constituting a single related,
    interdependent community. This word is frequently
    taken to include entire national communities for
    instance, comment upon some aspect of U.S.or
    Indian society.
  • Society can also be used to refer to smaller
    groups of people, as when we refer to "rural
    societies" or "academic society," etc.
  • Society is distinguished from culture in that
    society generally refers to the community of
    people while culture generally refers to the
    systems of meaning -- what Geertz calls "webs of
    significance" which govern the conduct and
    understanding of people's lives. (no clear diff
    between culture and society)

Anthropological perspectives
  • Evolutionary Perspective
  • Anthropology brings an explicit, evolutionary
    approach to the study of human behavior. Each of
    anthropology's four main subfields-socio
    cultural, biological, archaeology, and
    linguistic anthropology--acknowledges that Homo
    has a long evolutionary history that must be
    studied if one is to know what it means to be a
    human being.

Cultural Anthropology
  • The disciplines largest branch in N. America
    applies the comparative method and evolutionary
    perspective to human culture.
  • Culture represents the entire database of
    knowledge, values, and traditional ways of
    viewing the world, which have been transmitted
    from one generation ahead to the
    next--nongenetically, apart from DNA--through
    words, concepts, and symbols.
  • Cultural anthropologists study humans through a
    descriptive lens called the ethnographic method,
    based on participant observation, in tandem with
    face-to-face interviews, normally conducted in
    the native tongue.
  • Ethnographers compare what they see and hear
    themselves with the observations and findings of
    studies conducted in other societies.
  • Originally, anthropologists pieced together a
    complete way of life for a culture, viewed as a
    whole that is, in a holistic perspective.

Cultural anthropology (contd..)
  • Today, more focus is on a narrower aspect of
    cultural life, such as economics, politics,
    religion or art.
  • Cultural anthropologists seek to understand the
    internal logic of another society. It helps
    outsiders make sense of behaviors that, like face
    painting or scarification, may seem bizarre or

Cultural anthropology (contd)
  • Anthropology helps us to see our own culture more
    clearly by understanding the differences between

Comparative method Ethnocentrism
  • Comparative method helps an anthropologist to
    avoid "ethnocentrism," the tendency to interpret
    strange customs on the basis of preconceptions
    derived from one's own cultural background.
  • Cultural anthropologists not only study rain
    forest tribes in Brazil but growing numbers now
    study U.S. groups instead, applying
    anthropological perspectives to their own culture
    and society.

Linguistic Anthropology
  • "As you commanded me, I, Spider Woman, have
    created these First People. They are fully and
    firmly formed they have movement. But they
    cannot talk. That is the proper thing they lack.
    So I want you to give them speech."
  • So, Sotuknang gave them speech, a different
    language to each color, with respect for each
    other's difference. He gave them also the wisdom
    and the power to reproduce and multiply.
  • --Hopi Indian Emergence Myth

  • Hallmark of the human species holds a special
    fascination for most anthropologists
  • Has enabled Homo sapiens to transcend the limits
    of individual memory.
  • It is upon language that culture itself
    depends--and within language that humanity's
    knowledge resides.

  • Human record is written not only in alphabets and
    books, but preserved in other kinds of material
    remains-- cave paintings, pictographs, discarded
    stone tools, earthenware vessels, religious
    figurines, abandoned baskets found in tattered
    shreds and patches of ancient societies.
  • Fragmentary but fascinating record is interpreted
    to reassemble long-ago cultures and forgotten
    ways of life.
  • Studies have been extended in two
    directions--backward some 3 million years to the
    bones and stone tools of our proto human
    ancestors, and forward to the reconstruction of
    life ways and communities of 19th-century

Biological Anthropology
  • Biological (or physical) anthropologists
  • Looks at Homo sapiens as a genus and species,
    tracing their biological origins, evolutionary
    development, and genetic diversity.
  • Study the bio cultural prehistory of Homo to
    understand human nature and, ultimately, the
    evolution of the brain and nervous system itself.

Four main branches of anthropology
  • Cultural, Linguistic, Archaeology, and
  • Biological anthropology make anthropology whole.

Examples of Anthropological Perspectives
  • Perspectives in Anthropology brings together
    information about many diverse attributes of MAN
    in an attempt to understand him in its entirety.
    As the subtlety and complexity of anthropology
    becomes better understood, the issues emerging
    from the integration of biology, behaviour and
    culture inter alia human evolution, primate
    behaviour and human variation shall become
    increasingly relevant and interesting

Anthropological Perspectives on Palliative Care
(medical cultural anthropology)
  • Palliation is unique in different cultures. (For
    ex, Sepik Society).
  • Complex negotiations between biomedicine and
    culture frequently take place. (Navajo,
    Ethiopean, Sepik, Hindus and Islamic cultures)
  • Cultural anthropology helps us see dying as a
    social process.
  • It provides us with a number of important tools
    with which to understand this universal yet
    culture-specific process.

  • Anthropology asks us to look at the way in which
    the process of dying is organized in time and
    space as well as at the web of social relations
    in which the process takes place.
  • (From Concepts to Reality, Anthropological
    Perspectives on Palliative Care by GREGORY PAPPAS)

Anthropological perspectives on Health Care(for
ex, Global issues in midwifery)
  • A distressing cross-cultural trend is showing up
    in the growing body of anthropological literature
    about midwifery and birth in the developing
    world. Many instances can be quoted from
    different countries and cultures wherein how
    midwives and pregnant women are treated.
  • Robbie Davis-Floyd, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow
    in the Department of Anthropology at the
    University of Texas, Austin. Midwifery Today
    E-News (Vol 2 Issue 18 May 5, 2000)

Female Reproductive Health An Anthropological
Perspective - Medical Anthropology
  • Reproduction follows many patterns in different
    societies with varying consequences for health.
  • Anthropological research on optimal reproductive
    strategies from the cross cultural and
    evolutionary perspective.
  • By exploring the anthropology of variables such
    as trauma, abuse and infanticide anthropologists
    hope to show the foundations of modern day return
    to "alternative" reproductive health practices
    such as midwifery, physical therapies, and
    traditional nutrition including phytomedicines.

Anthropological Perspectives on Kinship (contd..)
  • Anthropological Perspectives On Kinship by
    Ladislav HolyChanges in the conceptualisation of
    kinship brought about by new reproductive
    technologies and the growing interest in
    culturally specific notions of personhood and
  • The extent to which western assumptions have
    guided anthropological study of kinship in the
  • In the process, a growing sensitivity on the part
    of anthropologists is revealed to individual
    ideas of personhood and gender, and encourages
    further critical reflection on cultural bias in
    approaches to the subject.

Anthropological perspectives on migration and
migration history
  • Migration is a key social phenomenon
  • Migration has considerably contributed to
    changing perceptions of immigrants and as well
    the host cultures.
  • Mass character of immigrants and their complexity
    has affected the adaptation processes and social
    interaction .
  • Important to conduct the historical and
    anthropological/ethnographical case studies on
    migrant movements, migrant incorporation/exclusion
    and migrant representation etc. in both sending
    and receiving countries.

Ethnicity and NationalismAnthropological
  • Anthropology has the advantage of generating
    first-hand knowledge of social life at the level
    of everyday interaction.
  • To a great extent, this is the locus where
    ethnicity is created and re-created.
  • Ethnicity emerges and is made relevant through
    ongoing social situations and encounters, and
    through people's ways of coping with the demands
    and challenges of life.
  • From its vantage-point right at the centre of
    local life, social anthropology is in a unique
    position to investigate these processes.

  • Anthropological approaches also enable us to
    explore the ways in which ethnic relations are
    being defined and perceived by people how they
    talk and think about their own group as well as
    other groups, and how particular world-views are
    being maintained or contested.
  • The significance of ethnic membership to people
    can best be investigated through that detailed
    on-the-ground research which is the hallmark of
  • Social anthropology, being a comparative
    discipline, studies both differences and
    similarities between ethnic phenomena provides
    a nuanced and complex vision of ethnicity in the
    contemporary world.

Anthropological Perspectives on Gender
  • Examines the cultural constructions of
    femininities and masculinities from a
    cross-cultural perspective.
  • Our discussions will examine how individuals
    and societies imagine, negotiate, perform and
    contest dominant gender ideologies, roles,
    relations and identities. (share own experiences
    personal backgrounds)

What does it mean to be human?
  • While the question may never be fully answered,
    the study of anthropology titled as "immense
    journey" by Loren Eiseley has attracted some of
    the world's greatest thinkers, whose discoveries
    forever changed our understanding of ourselves.

Information Systems from Social Science
Perspective (Anthropology)
  • While technological determinism can be
    applicable and useful in situations that are
    characterized by high degree of control and short
    time frames, it has limited value in dynamic and
    complex situations that unfold over longer
    periods of time.
  • Technological determinism cannot adequately
    account for the interactions between ICT, the
    people who design, implement and use them, and
    the social and organisational contexts in which
    the technologies and people are embedded. (Kling
    et al. 2000 p.49-50) (relation-ship between
    technical and social factors in working processes)

(Contd..) Information Systems Anthropology
  • Bansler (1987) describes Høyers theory in these
  • It is insufficient to look at an enterprise as a
    technical system, as humans play a key role in
    the enterprises function, and because humans
    have certain needs and behaviour, that must be
    taken into account.
  • The system engineer has to consider these needs
    when he designs and implements a computer
    system. (Bansler 1987 p. 90, Ole and Johens

IS .. Perspective - Walsham explains the
concept of Web Models
  • .. draw broad boundaries around the focal
    computer system and examine how its use depends
    upon a social context of complex social actions.
    The models define this social context by taking
    into account the social relations between the
    information system, the infrastructure available
    for its support, and the previous history within
    the organisation of commitments made in
    developing and operating related computer-based
    technologies. (Walsham 1993 p.55)
  • With respect to the social relations as
    considered in web models, it is important to note
    that participants include users, system
    developers, the senior management of the company,
    and any other individuals or groups who are
    affected by the computer-based information
    system. (Walsham 1993 p.55).

Information Systems Anthropology..
  • The social systems perspective helps to
    understand the importance of the context and
    particularly IS in developing countries must be
    context sensitive, for example, participation,
    may not be regarded the same in a developing
    country context as in a developed country.
  • Participation needs to be approached more
    critically and without the assumption that it
    will always and necessarily bring benefits.

Information Infrastructure Theory
  • Information infrastructure is a vast field that
    covers all kinds of use and use areas. It
    involves political, social, organisation, human
    aspects and issues from the development of
    industrial at national, regional or even the
    global level(Hanseth and Monteiro,1997)
  • An infrastructure is a socio-technical network,
    which includes more than just technological
    components .It includes actors, knowledge, use
    situation and procedures around them.
  • Infrastructures are heterogeneous in the sense
    that they include elements of different
    qualities, humans and computers.
  • IIs are open and scaled(Hanseth,2002)

Actor Network Theory
  • As a methodological theory is generally used to
    understand information infrastructures (IIs) .
  • Provides a framework for the socio-technical
    aspects and views the technology as an actor on
    par with other actors
  • Provides theoretical concepts for documenting a
    complex and heterogeneous socio-technical work
    practice with many actors.
  • Brings forth to light how new technology affects
    and interacts with the various actors and vice
    versa indicating a mutual interaction process.
  • Has the advantage of viewing both the human and
    non human actors as linked elements in the
    networks (heterogeneous actor networks) and more
    so rather than focusing separately on each
    element the focus is on the interplay and
    relations between these elements.
  • As pointed out by Latour (1987) these
    heterogeneous actors in the network are
    constituted by various concerns, different
    degrees of power and different perceptions
    towards the technology and its benefits.

Action Research
  • Action research is inquiry or research in the
    context of focused efforts to improve the quality
    of an organization and its performance.
  • It typically is designed and conducted by
    practitioners who analyze the data to improve
    their own practice.
  • Action research can be done by individuals or by
    teams of colleagues.
  • The team approach is also called collaborative

Action Research.
  • Has the potential to generate genuine and
    sustained improvements in the work or research
  • Gives implementation team new opportunities to
    reflect on and assess their work.
  • To explore and test new ideas, methods, and
  • To assess how effective the new approaches were
  • To share feedback with fellow team members
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