Anthropology Historical Foundations of Anthropology Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Gift giving creates a bond between the giver and the receiver. Mauss felt that to reject a gift, was to reject the social bond attached to it. Likewise, to fail to reciprocate is viewed as a dishonorable act in some cultures. Gift giving is a means to create social cohesion among the group.

What Distinctive contributions did Weber make to social theory?

Weber used his work to attempt to understand the differences between traditional cultures and modern western society. He disagrees with organic theories and placed more emphasis on the individual's contribution to the whole (Weber, in Anthropological Theory, 1922: 112-113). Weber contributed the idea that religion changes the motives of the individual. Therefore, religion played a constructive role in the development of society. Weber felt that individuals in traditional societies selected and followed leaders based on their personalities, or out of tradition. He felt that individuals in Western society follow leaders because they are legal. Weber sees western culture as a double-edged sword. On one side, individuals can experience improved material lives. On the other hand, they have become disconnected from each other on an emotional level.

Early 20th Century Anthropology

Commonalities of Boas's Historical Particularism

Boas rejected the cultural evolutionary model proposed by 19th century anthropologists. Rather than parallel development, Boas heralded the argument that every society is a result of its own collective history (Boas, in Anthropological Theory, 1920: 122). Boas demonstrated that societies could reach a similar level of cultural development in many different ways. Mechanisms of development include their exposure to other cultures through trade and their environment (Boas, in Anthropological Theory, 1920: 123). Accidents of history also resulted in certain cultural traits that may be similar from one culture to another.

Boas broke tradition by attempting to explain the development of culture through individual mechanisms, rather than through a single, all-encompassing theory. Boas criticized cultural evolution based on a lack of evidence. Boas concentrated on the development of more reliable field data collection methods. He did not believe that all human cultures were subject to the same general laws and thought systems (Boas, in Anthropological Theory, 1920: 124). He did not believe in the "ranking" of society according to the level of civilization. He felt that societies have to be considered based on their own merit (Boas, in Anthropological Theory, 1920: 128).

How did Radin and Kroeber illustrate the extremes of the Boasian school?

The Boasian school had many advantages over the cultural evolutionists, in that its theories could be observed and demonstrated in the field. Every culture was judged against itself, rather than against unrelated societies with different cultures. Boas later took these concepts to an extreme and became radical speaker against racism and a staunch proponent of intellectual freedom for all cultures. The Boasian school became associated with radical ideas and racial activism.

Albert Kroeber was one of Boas's students. He was primarily an archeologist and was famous for intertwining the disciplines of anthropology and archeology in order to gain a deeper understanding of the culture. Kroeber's ideas differed from those of both Radin and Boas. He considered the division between and individual and civilization to be a boundary (Kroeber, in Anthropological Theory, 1915: 132). Civilization began where the individual ended.

Paul Radin diverged from the thought patterns of Boas. Radin's work on the Winnebago is regarded as one of the best written to date. Radin felt that the facts should be presented as the informants conveyed the information and that the reader should be able to make their own judgments and to draw their own conclusions (Radin, in Anthropological Theory, 1927: 136-137). Some of his work was considered "rough" as the original language of the informant was preserved in the final text. Radin disagreed with Boas's unwillingness to generalize concepts to an entire culture. For Radin, society comprised a cluster of individuals. Culture represented the abstraction of individual ideas (Radin, in Anthropological Theory, 1927: 139). Boas felt hat collectivism played a more important role in the development of culture.

How did Whorf, Benedict, and Mead link the individual to his/her culture?

The relationship of the individual with society is a key point of contention among anthropologists. This question is much like the old adage about which came first the chicken or the egg? The question centers on where the individual ends and society begins and how much influence once has over the other. This point represents a major division among Boasian students.

Benedict's work highlighted the constraints placed on individual psychology by their culture. This theory placed much more emphasis on how culture shaped the individual, than on the influence of the individual on society. Benedict focused on larger patterns in a culture that were the collective results of individual attitudes and actions. Benedict searched for patterns in culture that helped to distinguish it from other cultures. Benedict sought to understand the core values of the culture (Benedict, in Anthropological Theory, 1930).

Whorf sought to understand the influence of the individual on the development of human language. Their work attempted to discover the conceptual categories found within the language of the culture. Mead differed from Boas in her interpretation of the individual's role within the culture. She concentrated on how socialization of the individual worked to maintain the cultural norms of the society (Whorf, in Anthropological Theory, 1939: 154). For instance, she concentrated on the psychological processes at work in the development of the individual. For instance, the cultural actions that parents taught their children and the manner in which they related to each other. Boas studied culture in a regional context and the individual identities of the various cultural divisions.

What is British Social Anthropology?

British social anthropology differed significantly from American anthropology in its development. America had a wealth of raw material available in the Native American cultures that inhabited the continent. However, British anthropological theory was not as experiential in its development. The development of British anthropology depended on reading, not fieldwork. Much of the data was not collected first hand through the use of informants and observation. British anthropology relied on ancient writings, texts, journals from travelers, and the works of other anthropologists. It is not surprising that American and British anthropology is different and that they arrived at different theories and conclusions.

The works of Tylor played a much more significant role in the development of British anthropology than American anthropology. Like American social anthropology, British anthropologists became dissatisfied with the wholesale categorization of cultures and cultural development proposed by Tylor and his contemporaries. They began to search for new ways to carry out fieldwork that would provide better answers than the current theoretical framework would allow.

In what ways did British social anthropology contribute to the method and theory of anthropology?

One of the greatest contributions of British anthropologists is the improvement of methodology used in anthropological research. British anthropologists became more interested in how societies functioned in the present than how they functioned historically. One of the key changes in method was a shift towards long-term fieldwork, and a multi-disciplinary approach. Sending teams of specialists including botanists, linguists and others became the norm for large British field research undertakings.

Several key researchers contributed to the development of British anthropological theory. Bronislaw Malinowski was stranded in New Guinea by the first world war. During that time, he developed an intensive method for fieldwork, striving to get an insider's view of the native population. His method of participant observation became a standard that is still used today in ethnographic research (Malinowski, in Anthropological Theory, 1922: 168).

Another important British anthropologist is a.R. Radcliffe-Brown. His early work reflected the old historical reconstruction method of research. However, influenced by the work of Durkheim and Mauss, he developed a method called structural functionalism (Radcliffe-Brown, Anthropological Theory, 1940: 180). He focused on how various societies work to balance the social system so that equilibrium is reached that keeps it functional and stable. Gluckman introduced Marxist theory to the study of social anthropology with an emphasis on how the individual resolved conflict with the structure of the society (Gluckman, in Anthropological Theory, 1956: 199).

Methodologies developed by British anthropologists had a significant influence on the American methodology as well. Application of British methodology advanced the anthropological methods around the world. Several key players are responsible for the largest changes and had the greatest impact on the development of the field. Although there are many others who contributed to the development of British Anthropological thought, Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown were responsible for the most sweeping reforms.

Mid-Century Anthropology

What caused some anthropologists in the 1940s to return to evolutionary approaches?

Tylor and Morgan led were the first to suggest that societies developed from simple to complex and that one could determine a society's stage in evolution by its characteristics. This was largely abandoned by Boas and his school in favor of a more individualized theory of development. World War II heralded the return of evolutionists and a more generalized approach to…

Sources Used in Document:


Boas, Franz. 1920. The Methods of Ethnology. In Anthropological Theory: An Introductory Theory. Fourth Edition. R. McGee and Richard Warms. McGraw Hill.

Douglas, Mary. 1966. External Boundaries. In Anthropological Theory: An Introductory Theory. Fourth Edition. R. McGee and Richard Warms. McGraw Hill.

Durkheim, Emile. 1895. What is a Social Fact? In Anthropological Theory: An Introductory Theory. Fourth Edition. R. McGee and Richard Warms. McGraw Hill.

Durkheim, Emilie. 1893. The Division of Labour in Society, the Free Press reprint 1997

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