What is Anthropology

I think what is probably the most interesting about anthropology as a study of culture is that, despite misconceptions, it can as easily be a study of someones own society as some tribe in a far off country. Connected to this is the idea of anthropology as a single discipline, rather than a broad field of study that involves not only the study of the past but also the present. When its broken down into the four major U.S. fields of anthropological study - socio-cultural anthropology, biologicalphysical anthropology, archeology, and linguistics (American Anthropological Association) - it becomes much more complex. Of the four I find socio-cultural to be the most interesting to me because of the concentration on how cultures change and evolve and, in particular, how people live within these cultures (American Anthropological Association).

While other fields of study can help to enhance this, I think from the perspective of understanding human beings that the socio-cultural is at the center. While linguistics can help approach the culture through understanding the nuances of languages and archeology helps us understand the past, socio-cultural anthropology is approaching that culture head-on. As Jurarte Baranova notes in looking at the practical applications, it emphasizes cooperation with national, confessional, as well as local communities, non-governmental organizations and clubs, specialized groups of consumers and subcultures (2005, p. 364). Baranova goes to explain that this emphasis is used to solve specific civil problems (2005, p. 364), illustrating that not only does it help us to better understand different cultures but it can help us to make a difference in our own as well.

Week 2 Seeing the World Through An Anthropological Lens
 Looking at how anthropology has changed over the centuries, from travel literature to fieldparticipant observation studies, its easy to see the culture and growth of modern society itself. Just like Western civilization, it progressed from very prejudiced and ethnocentric roots from Herodotus in ancient Greece to Edward Tylor in the 19th century, with his cultural evolutionism (Metcalf 2005, 6)to a slowly broadening and non-judgmental field of study. As Peter Metcalf points out 20th century anthropology has developed into a kind of research designed to avoid as far as possible the pitfalls of prejudice, provide the basis of the modern discipline (2005, p. 1) However, I wonder if it is not just anthropology keeping pace with the history of Western civilization but also anthropology that has helped Western society broaden their ideas of people and other cultures. If you look at early American accounts of the native Americans, such as John Smith from Jamestown, he looked at the native culture through European eyes. To Smith, the equivalent of a native American chief was a King (1642, p. 112)  and thats how he saw chief Powhatan. In the same way, Smith saw Powhatans men not as braves or warriors, as they probably saw themselves, but courtiers (p. 111) I think now though, with the advancement in the way we view cultures because of anthropology, we may try more understand another cultures perspective.

Week 3 Ethnographic Research 
Though anthropological research may not be as clearly defined as other types of scientific research, with controlled studies and clear-cut objectives, there are certain components of ethnographic research that are a necessity. However, as opposed to a laboratory scientist testing the effects of light stimulation on a carefully selected control subject, the anthropologist cannot approach the fieldwork experience with narrow objectives or their unlikely to get very far. Like Laura Bohannan discovers in trying to relate Hamlet to the Tiv tribe of West Africa and prove that an understanding of the tragedy is universal, drawing conclusions before fieldwork is just drawing assumptions instead. Rather than learning that Hamlet is universal, she discovers that many of the major plot tools Shakespeare uses are irrelevant to the Tiv men. As Schultz and Lavenda note in their chapter on fieldwork, sometimes the gulf between self and other may seem unbridgeable (2005, p. 37). However, Bohannans adaptation of the story to the facts she discovers about the Tiv and their beliefs, illustrates the flexibility of a research that depends not only on hard facts but the understanding of those facts in the perspective of the culture itself. In many ways, I think, Bohannans experiences reveals how our individual cultural perspectives color the world around us and how most of us, like the Tiv men and Bohannan before her storytelling experience, tend to forget that ours is not the only perspective.

Week 4 Explaining Cultural Phenomena 
What I found most interesting in looking at the cases of headhunting in Southeast Asia is, like in some of our other readings, how history has changed not only our perspectives toward other cultures but the tools used to study them. Where once headhunting was seen as a purely violent and barbarous act by early explorers and colonists, as anthropology as a field has grown so too has the understanding of the practice. Each new approach, from McKinleys application of structuralistcosmological view that illustrated the mystical benefits of headhunting (Russell) to Michele Rosaldos study of the role emotions and life cycles (Russell) played in the practice for the Ilongot of the Philippines. Each of these studies has drawn attention to the different social, environmental, and psychological motivations behind ritualized violence such as headhunting. In a review of Janet Hoskins book on headhunting, Gregory Forth (1998) points out a fourth dimension to the role of headhunting in cultures. Not only can  a practice such as headhunting be used by a culture to express their religious, ideological, social, or emotional values but it has equally been used a political tool. As he notes though, unlike what is revealed in McKinley or Rosaldos studies of the practice as an expressive ritual, it can be used as a tool against their beliefs as well. With rumors of state-sponsored headhunting (1998, p. 136), governments and other power figures can manipulate cultural phenomena such as ritual violence to stir up superstitions and fear.

Week 5 What is Culture
In Sidney Mintzs (1996) brief examination of human beings relationship to food in A Taste of History, I think Mintz illustrates how culture itself has built upon not only historical factors but also geographical, biological, and economic issues as well. Even when we think of culture in the most general sense, we usually think of it partially in terms of its food. As Mintz notes, food is a very important part of who we are. It sustains us but also, in the regional and dietary differences from culture to culture, dietary behaviors have come to be reflected in not only in what kind of food we eat but the rituals and customs that surround it. Mintz mentions the uniquely human capacity to create a symbolic world, and then both to call it reality and to treat it as real (1996, p. 80) as a unifying idea in the way human approach our food. In his book, Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, Marvin Harris points out how often buried under that symbolic world of religious or ethnic custom there is a practicality. In particular, Harris notes how the custom of not eating pigs practiced and banned by Judaism can be traced back to the limitations of raising pigs in a desert environment in the first place (1989, p. 37).  However, when in the 19th century trichinosis was discovered to be caused by uncooked pork, rabbis toted it as scientific justification for their religious edicts (Harris 1998, p. 38). If find this the most interesting because it shows how individual interpretations and the manipulations of cause and effect by that interpretation effects how cultures develop


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