PERSPECTIVES: AN OPEN INTRODUCTION TO CULTURALANTHROPOLOGYSECOND EDITIONNina Brown, Thomas McIlwraith, Laura Tubelle de González2020 American Anthropological Association2300 Clarendon Blvd, Suite 1301Arlington, VA 22201ISBN Print: 978-1-931303-67-5ISBN Digital: o.org/This book is a project of the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges (SACC)http://sacc.americananthro.org/ and our parent organization, the American Anthropological Association(AAA). Please refer to the website for a complete table of contents and more information about thebook.
Perspectives: An Open Introduction to Cultural Anthropology by Nina Brown, Thomas McIlwraith, Laura Tubelle deGonzález is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except whereotherwise noted.Under this CC BY-NC 4.0 copyright license you are free to:Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or formatAdapt — remix, transform, and build upon the materialUnder the following terms:Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. Youmay do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
1INTRODUCTION TOANTHROPOLOGYKatie Nelson, Inver Hills Community ara Braff, Grossmont [email protected]
4PERSPECTIVES: AN OPEN INTRODUCTION TO CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGYLearning Objectives Identify the four subfields of anthropology and describe the kinds of research projects associated with each subfield. Define culture and the six characteristics of culture. Describe how anthropology developed from early explorations of the world through the professionalization of the discipline inthe 19th century. Discuss ethnocentrism and the role it played in early attempts to understand other cultures. Explain how the perspectives of holism, cultural relativism, comparison, and fieldwork, as well as both scientific and humanistictendencies make anthropology a unique discipline. Evaluate the ways in which anthropology can be used to address current social, political, and economic issues.The first time I (Katie Nelson) heard the word anthropology, I was seventeen years old and sitting atthe kitchen table in my home in rural Minnesota. My mother was stirring a pot of chili on the stove.My dog was barking (again) at the squirrels outside. Her low bawl filtered through the screen door leftopen on the porch. It was the summer before I was to start college and I had a Macalester College coursecatalog spread out in front of me as I set about carefully selecting the courses that would make up myfall class schedule. When I applied to college, I had indicated in my application that I was interested instudying creative writing, poetry specifically. But I also had a passion for languages and people: observing people, interacting with people and understanding people, especially those who were culturally different from myself. I noticed a course in the catalog entitled “Cultural Anthropology.” I did not knowexactly what I would learn, but the course description appealed to me and I signed up for it. Severalweeks later, I knew what my major would be– anthropology!Like Katie, I (Lara Braff) started college with a curiosity about people but no clear major. In mysecond year, without knowing what anthropology was, I enrolled in an anthropology course called“Controlling Processes.” Throughout the semester, the professor encouraged us to question how socialinstitutions (like the government, schools, etc.) affect the ways we think and act. This inquiry resonatedwith my upbringing: my mother, who had immigrated to the United States in her twenties, often questioned U.S. customs that were unfamiliar to her. At times, this was profoundly disappointing to me as achild. For example, she could not understand the joyous potential of filling up on candy at Halloween, aholiday not celebrated in her country. Yet, her outsider perspective inspired in me a healthy skepticismabout things that others take to be “normal.” As I took more anthropology courses, I became intriguedby diverse notions of normality found around the world.If you are reading this textbook for your first anthropology course, you are likely wondering, muchlike we did, what anthropology is all about. Perhaps the course description appealed to you in some way,but you had a hard time articulating what exactly drove you to enroll. With this book, you are in theright place!
5WHAT IS ANTHROPOLOGY?Derived from Greek, the word anthropos means “human” and “logy” refers to the “study of.” Quite literally, anthropology is the study of humanity. It is the study of everything and anything that makes ushuman.1 From cultures, to languages, to material remains and human evolution, anthropologists examine every dimension of humanity by asking compelling questions like: How did we come to be humanand who are our ancestors? Why do people look and act so differently throughout the world? Whatdo we all have in common? How have we changed culturally and biologically over time? What factorsinfluence diverse human beliefs and behaviors throughout the world?You may notice that these questions are very broad. Indeed, anthropology is an expansive field ofstudy. It is comprised of four subfields that in the United States include cultural anthropology, archaeology, biological (or physical) anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Together, the subfields providea multi-faceted picture of the human condition. Applied anthropology is another area of specializationwithin or between the anthropological subfields. It aims to solve specific practical problems in collaboration with governmental, non-profit, and community organizations as well as businesses and corporations.It is important to note that in other parts of the world, anthropology is structured differently. Forinstance, in the United Kingdom and many European countries, the subfield of cultural anthropologyis referred to as social (or socio-cultural) anthropology. Archaeology, biological anthropology, and linguistic anthropology are frequently considered to be part of different disciplines. In some countries, likeMexico, anthropology tends to focus on the cultural and indigenous heritage of groups within the country rather than on comparative research. In Canada, some university anthropology departments mirrorthe British social anthropology model by combining sociology and anthropology. As noted above, inthe United States and most commonly in Canada, anthropology is organized as a four-field discipline.You will read more about the development of this four-field approach in the Doing Fieldwork chapter(chapter three).WHAT IS CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY?The focus of this textbook is cultural anthropology, the largest of the subfields in the United Statesas measured by the number of people who graduate with PhDs each year.2 Cultural anthropologistsstudy the similarities and differences among living societies and cultural groups. Through immersivefieldwork, living and working with the people one is studying, cultural anthropologists suspend theirown sense of what is “normal” in order to understand other people’s perspectives. Beyond describinganother way of life, anthropologists ask broader questions about humankind: Are human emotions universal or culturally specific? Does globalization make us all the same, or do people maintain culturaldifferences? For cultural anthropologists, no aspect of human life is outside their purview. They studyart, religion, healing, natural disasters, and even pet cemeteries. While many anthropologists are at firstintrigued by human diversity, they come to realize that people around the world share much in common.Cultural anthropologists often study social groups that differ from their own, based on the view thatfresh insights are generated by an outsider trying to understand the insider point of view. For example,beginning in the 1960s Jean Briggs (1929-2016) immersed herself in the life of Inuit people in the cen-
6PERSPECTIVES: AN OPEN INTRODUCTION TO CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGYtral Canadian arctic territory of Nunavut. She arrived knowing only a few words of their language, butready to brave sub-zero temperatures to learn about this remote, rarely studied group of people. In hermost famous book, Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family (1970), she argued that anger and strongnegative emotions are not expressed among families that live together in small iglus amid harsh environmental conditions for much of the year. In contrast to scholars who see anger as an innate emotion,Briggs’ research shows that all human emotions develop through culturally specific child-rearing practices that foster some emotions and not others.While cultural anthropologists traditionally conduct fieldwork in faraway places, they are increasingly turning their gaze inward to observe their own societies or subgroups within them. For instance,in the 1980s, American anthropologist Philippe Bourgois sought to understand why pockets of extremepoverty persist amid the wealth and overall high quality of life in the United States. To answer thisquestion, he lived with Puerto Rican crack dealers in East Harlem, New York. He contextualized theirexperiences both historically in terms of their Puerto Rican roots and migration to the U.S. and inthe present as they experienced social marginalization and institutional racism. Rather than blame thecrack dealers for their poor choices or blame our society for perpetuating inequality, he argued thatboth individual choices and social structures can trap people in the overlapping worlds of drugs andpoverty (Bourgois 2003). For more about Bourgois, please see the interview with him in the learningresources, Anthropology in Our Moment in History.WHAT IS CULTURE?Cultural anthropologists study all aspects of culture, but what exactly is “culture”? When we (theauthors) first ask students in our introductory cultural anthropology courses what culture means tothem, our students typically say that culture is food, clothing, religion, language, traditions, art, music,and so forth. Indeed, culture includes many of these observable characteristics, but culture is also something deeper. Culture is a powerful defining characteristic of human groups that shapes our perceptions, behaviors, and relationships.One reason that culture is difficult to define is that it encompasses all the intangible qualities thatmake people who they are. Culture is the “air we breathe:” it sustains and comprises us, yet we largelytake it for granted. We are not always consciously aware of our own culture.Furthermore, cultural anthropologists themselves do not always agree on what culture is. In definingculture, some anthropologists emphasize material life and objects (e.g. tools, clothing, and technologies);others emphasize culture as a system of intangible beliefs; and still others focus on practices or customsof daily life. We propose a broad definition of culture.3Culture is a set of beliefs, practices, and symbols that are learned and shared. Together, they form an all-encompassing, integrated whole thatbinds people together and shapes their worldview and lifeways.To say that a group of people shares a culture does not mean all individuals think or act in identicalways. One’s beliefs and practices can vary within a culture depending on age, gender, social status, andother characteristics. Yet, members of a culture share many things in common. While we are not bornwith a particular culture, we are born with the capacity to learn any culture. Through the process ofenculturation, we learn to become members of our group both directly, through instruction from ourparents and peers, and indirectly by observing and imitating those around us.
7Culture constantly changes in response to both internal and external factors. Some parts of culturechange more quickly than others. For instance, in dominant American culture, technology changesrapidly while deep seated values such as individualism, freedom, and self-determination change verylittle over time. Yet, inevitably, when one part of culture changes, so do other parts. This is becausenearly all parts of a culture are integrated and interrelated. As powerful as culture is, humans are notnecessarily bound by culture; they have the capacity to conform to it or not and even transform it.In the definition above, belief refers not just to what we “believe” to be right or wrong, true or false.Belief also refers to all the mental aspects of culture including values, norms, philosophies, worldview,knowledge, and so forth. Practices refers to behaviors and actions that may be motivated by belief orperformed without reflection as part of everyday routines.Much like art and language, culture is also symbolic. A symbol is something that stands for somethingelse, often without a natural connection. Individuals create, interpret, and share the meanings of symbols within their group or the larger society. For example, in U.S. society everyone recognizes a redoctagonal sign as signifying “stop.” In other cases, groups within American society interpret the samesymbol in different ways. Take the Confederate flag: Some people see it as a symbol of pride in a southern heritage. Many others see it as a symbol of the long legacy of slavery, segregation, and racial oppression. Thus, displaying the Confederate flag could have positive or, more often, negative connotations.Cultural symbols powerfully convey either shared or conflicting meanings across space and time.This definition of culture – shared, learned beliefs, practices, and symbols – allows us to understandthat people everywhere are thinkers and actors shaped by their social contexts. As we will see througho