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In early , a volume by historian Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn was published. Race Experts, Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution examined the racial-problem industry and racial-solution industry that have flourished and have had difficulty acknowledging that any differences between people may be superficial compared with what they have in common.
The concept of race also avoids discussion of class and inequality associated with poverty. Such social-engineering is deeply interested in difference as a problem. The pursuit of homogeneity by state structures is something that has been observed all over Europe and the western worlds, especially at the contemporary moment when refugees are pouring into western countries from North Africa and the Middle East. With European colonization of peoples around the globe, more anthropological research around the planet began to happen. A Polish anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski — , is often credited with setting the standard for ethnography with wide-angled vision.
A Brief History of the Culture Concept
Although he was a Pole, he was allowed to remain in the Trobriands. He had to learn the language—had to because the local people were his only companions. He moved among native people, speaking to them in their language. He studied their gardens, magic, science, law—all with the tools of participant observing. Malinowski wrote a number of ethnographies based on his work there: Argonauts of the Western Pacific on trade and the economy involving multiple sites, The Sexual Life of the Savages about kinship and sexuality, Coral Gardens and their Magic on gardens and farming, and Crime and Custom in a Savage Society dealt with problems of law and social order.
Malinowski set a very high standard for participatory ethnographic fieldwork that stands to this day, a standard in which ethnography was theory, not mere description. The ethnography itself, as well as its explanatory uses, is a theoretical endeavor, a combination of loose and strict thinking. The invention of new technologies facilitates new frontiers of ethnography. Similarly, geographic information systems, so important to archeologists and ecological anthropologists, are also used to locate the people we study.
In the process, fieldworkers have lost the possibility of immersion in other cultures with little contact from home sites. Technological innovations connect us all, for better or for worse. By the mid-twentieth century, the major concepts were in place for the discipline— culture , comparison , and ethnography as participation fieldwork.
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The organizing concept is area studies. Anthropology departments commonly organize their curriculums around area studies courses taught about Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, China, Latin America, Europe, and so forth. Students learn about the geography and history and delve into specific topics such as religion, kinship, minorities, and language—subjects that equip them for a general understanding of a particular geographic area.
Area specialties are useful for gaining funding, job searching, and hires especially in large departments. In more recent times, critical research has investigated the origins of area studies in museums and in association with the military. Area studies are useful, but they can cause intellectual blindness that limits the anthropological analysis and imagination. At times, those who go beyond the boundaries of a region have been censored, raising the question: Can we be both area scholars and comparativists searching for similarities and differences between cultures, or even diffusionists who study the spread of cultural ideas from one area to another.
The study of the colonized and not the colonizers still haunts our work. In , Sir Edmund Leach had to reiterate that social systems are open, not bounded. We live in a globalized world, and, as Sidney Mintz reminded us in his distinguished lecture to the American Anthropological Association, we have been globalized for a very long time. The subject matter of anthropological research was expanding from isolated locales to the urban ethnography of cities such as S. It was time to use the study of others to examine their own cultures and to test assumptions that might be ethnocentric.
Margaret Mead had already published Coming of Age in Samoa in which she examined the adolescence problem as originating in culture, not as a physical and inevitable result of hormones as commonly thought in the United States at the time. Thus, through the comparative method we may learn that while human populations face some common problems, such as growing up, each addresses those problems in different ways.
As Ruth Benedict pointed out in her bestselling Patterns of Culture , people of different cultures interpret life differently. Her observation implied that one cannot judge one culture as superior to another. Both Boas and Malinowski elaborated on cultural relativism.
Race, Nature and Culture: An Anthropological Perspective
The fight against ethnocentrism—what in the United States today is sometimes called exceptionalism we are always better —is what motivates anthropologists to examine assumptions commonly used by Americans for example, or even embedded in the work of anthropologists themselves. Indeed, as fieldworkers, anthropologists must understand themselves, understand the eyes doing the recording of others.
Does an aversion to conflict affect the record, the choice of research interests? Do the bilingual or bicultural characteristics of anthropologists increase sensitivity in the field? The ethnographies that we produce are, in the final analysis, the theory of what we do and why, and what the people we study do and why: a Mirror for Man. A frequently cited example of analyzing the underlying premises is E.
Evans-Pritchard — , a British anthropologist who published Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande , a work of ethnography as theory. His study of the Azande of the southern Sudan was meant to indicate why and how Azande beliefs in magic and witchcraft made perfect sense according to Azande premises and to many peoples everywhere who wanted to understand human ills such as disease and death.
The main reason the Azande work is so much cited is that the main discovery is that we are all caught in our premises, our unchallenged assumptions. Although there was general agreement in anthropology, scholars in academia were hesitant to deal with the phenomenon of power in anything but abstract terms. By the s, the unease in American academia began to be affected by the Civil Rights Movement, the war in Vietnam, the American Indian Movement, and sexual and gender liberations.
Dell Hymes edited a book called Reinventing Anthropology which called anthropologists to a revised or reinvented anthropology, one that took into consideration race, newly independent states, and what might be called the vertical slice.
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Today, some anthropologists study up while others study up, down, and sideways simultaneously. Moving into the twenty-first century, anthropologists had major intellectual interests in political economy, gender, representation, the Cold War, the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act NAGPRA , the anthropology of science, colonialism, tourism and more. The story of how the study of humankind advanced over a century does not move in steady progression.
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Science is prickly and contentious, and anthropology, more than most disciplines, is not only contentious but also self-reflexive. Indeed, the self-critical tradition has helped us adapt to the incoherent conditions of accelerated history and the new technologies that have come with it. In addition, anthropology has increasingly become a worldwide discipline. About years ago, the first major colonization movements by western Europeans were a result of Portugal, Spain, and England looking for new resources. Colonies were implanted in Africa, Asia, and the New World. A second major colonial movement arose after the Industrial Revolution, motivated in part by a search for cheap labor and resources.
Especially in Britain and France, ethnographic research was encouraged as a function of colonialism.
Thus, well into the s, anthropologists were employed by colonial offices. The demise of colonialism and emergence of new independent states gave rise to issues such as plundering of resources, and the new nations produced their own ethnographers whose approaches to anthropology were different from the approaches used by the Euro-American colonial powers. Anthropologists from Mexico, Brazil, and the Indian subcontinent primarily studied their own people. Colleagues outside of the Anglo-American world have criticized our biases and ethnocentrisms.
Their polite admonishments underscored the need for self-awareness and the calibration of the instrument—in this instance, the anthropologist. The French fieldwork tradition sees research as inherently fraught with power relations. Our foreign colleagues are raising questions about scientific validity. The small social groups that classical anthropologists examined as stable or static units are now recognized as part of larger worlds that reconstitute them and are reconstituted in turn: The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA and trade deals with Europe and the Asian-Pacific.
Ahmed is also a poet, a playwright, a film producer, and an inexhaustible public speaker. He is what some call a public anthropologist—someone whose work is accessible to anthropologists as well as to the public in general. In his book, Ahmed includes the tribal peoples, the state, the American empire, and technology to understand the problems that began with European colonization and continued through the post-colonial period of nation-building, when the periphery became attached or connected to a state that gave them few rights.
Thus, he includes not only the tribes, but also Osama bin Laden, the president of Pakistan, the president of the American empire, and the agonies of the anthropologist who discovers the horrors and hurts. Ahmed is a humanist anthropologist arguing for mutual respect and co-existence. Ahmed concludes that drone strikes and cruel invasions by the central government will not work towards peace and mutual respect given that brutal revenge attacks from the periphery will continue in reaction to state and empire aggressions.
Experts on terrorism ignore both culture and historical context. When anthropologists have dealt with the periphery, we have too often supported state assimilation, maneuvered the creation of reservations, and sometimes closed our eyes to mass killings. The new dimensions mentioned above must not detract from the solid contributions of anthropologists of the British functionalist schools to our understanding of political and social processes in Africa, New Guinea, Burma, and elsewhere. In Africa, they were the first to address problems of order in societies of tens of thousands of people with no government, no police, and no constabulary—places where social control was achieved by means of social relationships.
The concept of cross-linkage was used to understand African modes of maintaining peace through feuding, another piece of the picture of order in stateless societies that might be useful to the United Nations. The British focus was more on the concept of social organization than culture, on the colonized rather than the colonizers. On the contrary, Barth argued that political systems were generated by individual actors seeking to maximize their positions. In his ethnography on the Swat Pathans in northern Pakistan, Barth was moving away from the functionalist equilibrium analysis toward examinations of processes of change.
Others followed suit in their arguments. According to Talal Asad, the notion that individuals strategize to maximize power is a distortion of history. Control is both political and economic. Anthropology can now be said to be a cosmopolitan dialogue. As the number of anthropologists expanded so did the number of specialties, especially in large departments.