Western Culture

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What is Anthropology?

Anthropology (from the Greek word άνθρωπος = human) consists of the study of humankind. It studies all humans at all times, and with all dimensions of humanity. Central to anthropology is the concept of culture and that our species has evolved a universal capacity to conceive of the world symbolically, to teach and learn such symbols socially, and to transform the world (and ourselves) based upon such symbols. A primary trait that traditionally distinguished anthropology from other humanistic disciplines is an emphasis on cross-cultural comparisons. This distinction has, however, become increasingly subject of controversy and debate with anthropological methods being commonly applied in single society/group studies.

Anthropology is divided into the following fields and subfields:

  • Biological anthropology (also called Physical anthropology) studies primate behavior, human evolution, and population genetics.
  • Forensic anthropology provides evidence in criminal cases. A forensic anthropologist can determine the type of weapon or tool used in an attack, or to dismember a body after death, by examining the marks left upon the bones. Even cremated remains can provide a surprising amount of information about the deceased individual.
  • Paleoethnobotany is the archaeological sub-field that studies plant remains from archaeological sites. The major research themes are recovery and identification of plant remains, the use of wild plants, the origins of agriculture and domestication, and the co-evolution of human-plant interactions. Paleoethnobotanists use a variety of methods to identify and recover plant remains.
  • Cultural anthropology (also called social anthropology in the United Kingdom and now often known as socio-cultural anthropology). Areas studied by cultural anthropologists include social networks, diffusion (migration, etc), social behavior, kinship (biological descent) patterns, law, politics, ideology (“a way of looking at things”), religion, beliefs, patterns in production and consumption, exchange, socialization, gender, and other expressions of culture, with strong emphasis on the importance of fieldwork, i.e living among the social group being studied for an extended period of time;
  • Applied anthropology tries to use the practices and theory of anthropology to solve immediate problems about human beings and their culture;
  • Cross-Cultural Studies is a specialization in anthropology that uses field data from many societies to examine the scope of human behavior and test hypotheses about human behavior and culture. Unlike comparative studies, which examine similar characteristics of a few societies, cross-cultural studies use a sufficiently large sample so that statistical analysis can show relationships or lack or relationships between the traits studied. These studies are surveys of ethongraphic data. Cross-cultural studies, sometimes called Holocultural Studies, have been used by social scientists of many disciplines, particularly, Anthropology and Psychology;
  • Ethnography (from the Greek ethnos = nation and graphe = writing) refers to the qualitative description of human social phenomena, based on months or years of fieldwork. Ethnography may be "holistic," describing a society as a whole, or it may focus on specific problems or situations within a larger social scene. Cultural anthropology grew up around the practice of ethnography.
  • Ethnomusicology (from the Greek ethnos = nation and mousike = music), formerly comparative musicology, is the study of music in its cultural context, cultural musicology. It can be considered the anthropology or ethnography of music. It is the study of "people making music". It is often thought of as a study of non-Western musics, but often includes the study of Western music from an anthropological perspective. Ethnomusicology as western culture knows it is actually a western phenomenon. While musicology contends to be purely about music itself (almost always western classical music), ethnomusicologists are often interested in putting the music they study into a wider cultural context.
  • Medical anthropology is concerned with the application of anthropological and social science theories and methods to questions about health, illness and healing. Some medical anthropologists are trained primarily in anthropology as their main discipline, while others have studied anthropology after training and working in health or related professions such as medicine, nursing or psychology. Medical anthropologists conduct research in settings as diverse as rural villages and urban hospitals and clinics. They may teach medical anthropology in university anthropology departments, medical and nursing schools and in community-based settings.Themes and questions in medical anthropology include: (1) Development of systems of medical knowledge and health care; (2) Patient-practitioner relationships; (3) Integrating alternative medical systems in culturally diverse environments; (4) The interactions between biological, environmental and social factors influencing health and illness at both individual and community levels;
  • Political anthropology concerns the structure of political systems, looked at from the basis of the structure of societies;
  • Anthropology of religion involves the study of religious institutions in relation to other social institutions, and the comparison of religious beliefs and practices across cultures.
  • Visual anthropology is a blanket term for a concern within cultural anthropology with the visible aspects of culture. Visual anthropology developed out of the theory and practice of ethnographic filmmaking, but it also encompasses the anthropological study of representation, including areas such as performance, museums, art, and the production and reception of mass media.
  • Linguistic anthropology studies variation in language across time and space, the social uses of language, and the relationship between language and culture;
  • Anthropological linguistics is the study of language through human genetics and human development. This strongly overlaps the field of linguistic anthropology, which is the branch of anthropology that studies of humans through the languages that they use.
  • Synchronic linguistics (also called Descriptive linguistics) is the work of analyzing and describing how language is actually spoken now (or how it was actually spoken in the past), by any group of people.
  • Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time, by means of examining languages which are recognizably related through similarities such as vocabulary, word formation, and syntax, as well as the surviving records of ancient languages. Historical linguistics aims to classify the world's languages by their genetic affiliations and to trace the historic development of languages. Modern historical linguistics grew out of the earlier discipline of philology, the study of ancient texts and documents. In its early years, historical linguistics focused on the well-known Indo-European languages; but since then, significant historical-linguistic work has been done on the Austronesian languages and various families of Native American languages, among many others.
  • Ethnolinguistics is a field of linguistic anthropology which studies the language of a particular ethnic group. Ethnolinguistics is frequently associated with minority linguistic groups within a larger population, such as the Native American languages or the languages of immigrants. In these cases, ethnolinguistics studies the use of a minority language within the context of the majority population, and it also studies the perception of the language by the majority population, for example whether the ethnic group receives state support to keep their language alive.
  • Sociolinguistics is the study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used.
  • Archaeology or archæology or sometimes in American English archeology (from the Greek words αρχαίος = ancient and λόγος = word/speech) is the study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of cultural and environmental data, including architecture, artefacts, biofacts, human remains, and landscapes. The goals of archaeology are to document and explain the origins and development of human culture, culture history, cultural evolution, and human behaviour and ecology. It is the only discipline that possesses the method and theory for the collection and interpretation of information about the pre-written human past, and can also make a critical contribution to our understanding of documented societies.

In the United States, anthropology is traditionally divided into the following four fields:

  • physical anthropology, which studies primate behavior, human evolution, and population genetics; this field is also sometimes called biological anthropology.
  • cultural anthropology, (called social anthropology in the United Kingdom and now often known as socio-cultural anthropology). Areas studied by cultural anthropologists include social networks, diffusion (migration, etc), social behavior, kinship (biological descent) patterns, law, politics, ideology (“a way of looking at things”), religion, beliefs, patterns in production and consumption, exchange, socialization, gender, and other expressions of culture, with strong emphasis on the importance of fieldwork, i.e living among the social group being studied for an extended period of time;
  • linguistic anthropology, which studies variation in language across time and space, the social uses of language, and the relationship between language and culture; and
  • archaeology, which studies the material remains of human societies. Archaeology itself is normally treated as a separate (but related) field in the rest of the world, although closely related to the anthropological field of material culture, which deals with physical objects created or used within a living or past group as mediums of understanding its cultural values.


Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropology, also called social anthropology or socio-cultural anthropology, is one of four commonly recognized fields of anthropology, the holistic study of humanity. It reflects in part a reaction against earlier Western discourses based on an opposition between "culture" and "nature," according to which some human beings lived in a "state of nature." Anthropologists argue that culture is "human nature," and that all people have a capacity to classify experiences, encode classifications symbolically, and teach such abstractions to others. Since culture is learned, people living in different places have different cultures. Anthropologists have also pointed out that through culture people can adapt to their environment in non-genetic ways, so people living in different environments will often have different cultures. Much of anthropological theory has been motivated by an appreciation of and interest in the tension between the local (particular cultures) and the global (a universal human nature, or the web of connections between people in distant places). Click here to find more about anthropology: http://www.answers.com/anthropology

 Brief History

Modern socio-cultural anthropology has its origins in 19th century "ethnology." Ethnology involves the systematic comparison of human societies. Scholars like E.B. Tylor and J.G. Frazer in England worked mostly with materials collected by others – usually missionaries, explorers, or colonial officials – and are today called "arm-chair anthropologists." Ethnologists were especially interested in why people living in different parts of the world sometimes had similar beliefs and practices. Ethnologists in the 19th century were divided: 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." Others argued that different groups were capable of inventing similar beliefs and practices independently. Some of those who advocated "independent invention," like Lewis Henry Morgan, additionally supposed that similarities meant that different groups had passed through the same stages of cultural evolution. Cultural evolution is the structural development (change) of a society over time. In this sense, it is the cultural equivalent of biological evolution, though the mechanisms invoked can be different.

20th century anthropologists largely reject the notion that all human societies must pass through the same stages in the same order. Some 20th century ethnologists, like Julian Steward, have instead argued that such similarities reflected similar adaptations to similar environments. Others, like Claude Lévi-Strauss, have argued that they reflect fundamental similarities in the structure of human thought.

By the 20th century most socio-cultural anthropologists turned to the study of ethnography, in which an 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 method was developed by Bronislaw Malinowski (who conducted fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands (the Trobriand Islands are a small archipelago off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea. The population is approximately 12,000) and promoted by Franz Boas (who conducted fieldwork in Baffin Island (Baffin Island is one of the Arctic Islands in the north of Canada). 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 were plausible explanations for cross-cultural similarities. But these ethnographers pointed out that such similarities were often superficial, and that even traits that spread through diffusion often changed their meaning and functions as they moved from one society to another. Accordingly, these anthropologists were less interested in comparing cultures, generalizing about human nature, or discovering universal laws of cultural development, than they were in understanding particular cultures in their own terms. They and their students promoted the idea of "cultural relativism," that a person's beliefs and behaviors could only be understood 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 the United States. European "social anthropologists" focused on observed social behaviors, and "social structure", that is, 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 (e.g. art and myths). These two approaches frequently converged (e.g. kinship is both a symbolic system and a social institution), and generally complemented one another. Today almost all socio-cultural anthropologists refer to the work of both sets of predecessors, and are equally interested in what people do and what people say.

Today socio-cultural anthropology is still dominated by ethnography. Nevertheless, many contemporary socio-cultural anthropologists have rejected earlier models of ethnography that treated local cultures as bounded and isolated. These anthropologists are still concerned 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 in the local context; one must analyze them in the context of regional or even global political and economic relations. Sociocultural anthropologists have increasingly turned their investigative eye on to "Western" culture. More about anthropology: http://www.answers.com/anthropology.


 Home Assignment


Please study the following websites and prepare to speak about

(1) Cyber anthropology: http://www.answers.com/topic/cyber-anthropology?hl=anthropology

(2) Social anthropology and Cultural anthropology: http://www.answers.com/anthropology

(3) Forensic anthropology and Medical anthropology: http://www.answers.com/anthropology





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