Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology


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An ethnography is a piece of writing about a people, at a particular place and time. Typically, the anthropologist lives among people in another society for a period of time, simultaneously participating in and observing the social and cultural life of the group. Numerous other ethnographic techniques have resulted in ethnographic writing or details being preserved, as cultural anthropologists also curate materials, spend long hours in libraries, churches and schools poring over records, investigate graveyards, and decipher ancient scripts.

A typical ethnography will also include information about physical geography, climate and habitat. It is meant to be a holistic piece of writing about the people in question, and today often includes the longest possible timeline of past events that the ethnographer can obtain through primary and secondary research. Boas' students such as Alfred L. Kroeber , Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead drew on his conception of culture and cultural relativism to develop cultural anthropology in the United States.

Simultaneously, Malinowski and A. Whereas cultural anthropology focused on symbols and values, social anthropology focused on social groups and institutions. Today socio-cultural anthropologists attend to all these elements. In the early 20th century, socio-cultural anthropology developed in different forms in Europe and in the United States. European "social anthropologists" focused on observed social behaviors and on "social structure", that is, on relationships among social roles for example, husband and wife, or parent and child and social institutions for example, religion , economy , and politics.

American "cultural anthropologists" focused on the ways people expressed their view of themselves and their world, especially in symbolic forms, such as art and myths. These two approaches frequently converged and generally complemented one another. For example, kinship and leadership function both as symbolic systems and as social institutions. Today almost all socio-cultural anthropologists refer to the work of both sets of predecessors, and have an equal interest in what people do and in what people say. One means by which anthropologists combat ethnocentrism is to engage in the process of cross-cultural comparison.

It is important to test so-called "human universals" against the ethnographic record.

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Monogamy, for example, is frequently touted as a universal human trait, yet comparative study shows that it is not. Since , its mission has been to encourage and facilitate worldwide comparative studies of human culture, society, and behavior in the past and present. The second database, eHRAF Archaeology , covers major archaeological traditions and many more sub-traditions and sites around the world. Comparison across cultures includies the industrialized or de-industrialized West.

Cultures in the more traditional standard cross-cultural sample of small scale societies are:. Ethnography dominates socio-cultural anthropology. Nevertheless, many contemporary socio-cultural anthropologists have rejected earlier models of ethnography as treating local cultures as bounded and isolated.

These anthropologists continue to concern themselves 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 from a local perspective; they instead combine a focus on the local with an effort to grasp larger political, economic, and cultural frameworks that impact local lived realities. Looking at culture as embedded in macro-constructions of a global social order, multi-sited ethnography uses traditional methodology in various locations both spatially and temporally.

Through this methodology, greater insight can be gained when examining the impact of world-systems on local and global communities. Also emerging in multi-sited ethnography are greater interdisciplinary approaches to fieldwork, bringing in methods from cultural studies, media studies, science and technology studies, and others. In multi-sited ethnography, research tracks a subject across spatial and temporal boundaries.

For example, a multi-sited ethnography may follow a "thing," such as a particular commodity, as it is transported through the networks of global capitalism. Multi-sited ethnography may also follow ethnic groups in diaspora , stories or rumours that appear in multiple locations and in multiple time periods, metaphors that appear in multiple ethnographic locations, or the biographies of individual people or groups as they move through space and time. It may also follow conflicts that transcend boundaries.

An example of multi-sited ethnography is Nancy Scheper-Hughes ' work on the international black market for the trade of human organs. In this research, she follows organs as they are transferred through various legal and illegal networks of capitalism, as well as the rumours and urban legends that circulate in impoverished communities about child kidnapping and organ theft.

Sociocultural anthropologists have increasingly turned their investigative eye on to "Western" culture. Also growing more popular are ethnographies of professional communities, such as laboratory researchers, Wall Street investors, law firms, or information technology IT computer employees. Kinship refers to the anthropological study of the ways in which humans form and maintain relationships with one another, and further, how those relationships operate within and define social organization.


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Research in kinship studies often crosses over into different anthropological subfields including medical , feminist , and public anthropology. This is likely due to its fundamental concepts, as articulated by linguistic anthropologist Patrick McConvell:. Kinship is the bedrock of all human societies that we know.

All humans recognize fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, husbands and wives, grandparents, cousins, and often many more complex types of relationships in the terminologies that they use. That is the matrix into which human children are born in the great majority of cases, and their first words are often kinship terms.

Throughout history, kinship studies have primarily focused on the topics of marriage, descent, and procreation. There are stark differences between communities in terms of marital practice and value, leaving much room for anthropological fieldwork. For instance, the Nuer of Sudan and the Brahmans of Nepal practice polygyny , where one man has several marriages to two or more women. The Nyar of India and Nyimba of Tibet and Nepal practice polyandry , where one woman is often married to two or more men.


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The marital practice found in most cultures, however, is monogamy , where one woman is married to one man. Anthropologists also study different marital taboos across cultures, most commonly the incest taboo of marriage within sibling and parent-child relationships. It has been found that all cultures have an incest taboo to some degree, but the taboo shifts between cultures when the marriage extends beyond the nuclear family unit. There are similar foundational differences where the act of procreation is concerned.

Although anthropologists have found that biology is acknowledged in every cultural relationship to procreation, there are differences in the ways in which cultures assess the constructs of parenthood. For example, in the Nuyoo municipality of Oaxaca , Mexico , it is believed that a child can have partible maternity and partible paternity. In this case, a child would have multiple biological mothers in the case that it is born of one woman and then breastfed by another.

A child would have multiple biological fathers in the case that the mother had sex with multiple men, following the commonplace belief in Nuyoo culture that pregnancy must be preceded by sex with multiple men in order have the necessary accumulation of semen. In the twenty-first century, Western ideas of kinship have evolved beyond the traditional assumptions of the nuclear family, raising anthropological questions of consanguinity, lineage, and normative marital expectation. The shift can be traced back to the s, with the reassessment of kinship's basic principles offered by Edmund Leach , Rodney Neeham , David Schneider , and others.

This shift was progressed further by the emergence of second-wave feminism in the early s, which introduced ideas of marital oppression, sexual autonomy, and domestic subordination. Other themes that emerged during this time included the frequent comparisons between Eastern and Western kinship systems and the increasing amount of attention paid to anthropologists' own societies, a swift turn from the focus that had traditionally been paid to largely "foreign", non-Western communities.


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Kinship studies began to gain mainstream recognition in the late s with the surging popularity of feminist anthropology, particularly with its work related to biological anthropology and the intersectional critique of gender relations. At this time, there was the arrival of " Third World feminism ", a movement that argued kinship studies could not examine the gender relations of developing countries in isolation, and must pay respect to racial and economic nuance as well.

This critique became relevant, for instance, in the anthropological study of Jamaica: race and class were seen as the primary obstacles to Jamaican liberation from economic imperialism, and gender as an identity was largely ignored. Third World feminism aimed to combat this in the early twenty-first century by promoting these categories as coexisting factors. In Jamaica, marriage as an institution is often substituted for a series of partners, as poor women cannot rely on regular financial contributions in a climate of economic instability.

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In addition, there is a common practice of Jamaican women artificially lightening their skin tones in order to secure economic survival. These anthropological findings, according to Third World feminism, cannot see gender, racial, or class differences as separate entities, and instead must acknowledge that they interact together to produce unique individual experiences.

Kinship studies have also experienced a rise in the interest of reproductive anthropology with the advancement of assisted reproductive technologies ARTs , including in vitro fertilization IVF. These advancements have led to new dimensions of anthropological research, as they challenge the Western standard of biogenetically based kinship, relatedness, and parenthood.

According to anthropologists Maria C. Inhorn and Daphna Birenbaum-Carmeli, "ARTs have pluralized notions of relatedness and led to a more dynamic notion of "kinning" namely, kinship as a process, as something under construction, rather than a natural given". There have also been issues of reproductive tourism and bodily commodification, as individuals seek economic security through hormonal stimulation and egg harvesting, which are potentially harmful procedures. With IVF, specifically, there have been many questions of embryotic value and the status of life, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing of stem cells, testing, and research.

Current issues in kinship studies, such as adoption, have revealed and challenged the Western cultural disposition towards the genetic, "blood" tie. Kinship, as an anthropological field of inquiry, has been heavily criticized across the discipline. One critique is that, as its inception, the framework of kinship studies was far too structured and formulaic, relying on dense language and stringent rules.

Schneider proposes that kinship is not a field that can be applied cross-culturally, as the theory itself relies on European assumptions of normalcy. He states in the widely circulated book A critique of the study of kinship that "[K]inship has been defined by European social scientists, and European social scientists use their own folk culture as the source of many, if not all of their ways of formulating and understanding the world about them". Polish anthropologist Anna Wierzbicka argues that "mother" and "father" are examples of such fundamental human concepts, and can only be Westernized when conflated with English concepts such as "parent" and "sibling".

A more recent critique of kinship studies is its solipsistic focus on privileged, Western human relations and its promotion of normative ideals of human exceptionalism. In "Critical Kinship Studies", social psychologists Elizabeth Peel and Damien Riggs argue for a move beyond this human-centered framework, opting instead to explore kinship through a "posthumanist" vantage point where anthropologists focus on the intersecting relationships of human animals, non-human animals, technologies and practices.

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The role of anthropology in institutions has expanded significantly since the end of the 20th century. The two types of institutions defined in the field of anthropology are total institutions and social institutions. The types and methods of scholarship performed in the anthropology of institutions can take a number of forms. Institutional anthropologists may study the relationship between organizations or between an organization and other parts of society. In all manifestations of institutional anthropology, participant observation is critical to understanding the intricacies of the way an institution works and the consequences of actions taken by individuals within it.

Common considerations taken by anthropologists in studying institutions include the physical location at which a researcher places themselves, as important interactions often take place in private, and the fact that the members of an institution are often being examined in their workplace and may not have much idle time to discuss the details of their everyday endeavors. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans. For the publication, see Cultural Anthropology journal.

Outline History. Archaeological Biological Cultural Linguistic Social. Social Cultural.

Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology
Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology
Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology
Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology
Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology
Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology
Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology
Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology Stories of Culture and Place: An Introduction to Anthropology

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