In a anthropology class I was asked to write an essay on the principals of Anthropology. It was a decent paper I got a B+ on it. I happened to have it still in my hard drive so what the heck I’ll post it on my blog
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor provided a very broad definition of culture that stated culture was basically everything humans do with in a society: “Culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” (Tylor 1871). He suggested that culture evolves with time, and that native peoples are just as intelligent as British, the difference being education which was the cumulative knowledge and methodology that takes thousands of years to acquire. Tylor went on to say culture and civilization is a method of survival particularly religion. he perceived religious belief in God as a “survival” of primitive ignorance, because science could explain the phenomena previously justified by religion (1). Anti-religious ideals growing more typical in the age of the enlightenment Tylor had many critics, however many of his theories survived into today’s Anthropology.
Haviland had a different yet handsome addition to the definition of culture: “Cultures around the world share four common characteristics: culture is shared, it is learned, it is based on symbols, and it is integrated. (Haviland, 2001). The members of a culture share a set of ideals, values, and standards of behavior, and this set of shared ideals is what give meaning to their lives, and what bonds them together as a culture. (p. 34).” This theory illustrates how culture evolves, complimenting Tylors definition nicely. Haviland continued to define several aspects and roles found within any culture including Gender, Subcultures, Integration, Social Structure, Adaption, Cultural Relativism, etc. These aspects of culture lay the foundation for how an anthropologist should approach a study as well as what to look for within that study.
The Amish is an excellent subcultural variant example. Briefly, the Amish are a group of people in Pennsylvania (and surrounding areas), who choose to remain living as in the 16-1800’s. A related subculture would be Mennonites whom are less resistant to modern technology. Both groups contend that electricity and electronics are distractions and refuse, or minimize, the use of technology. Amish culture lives alongside modern American culture maintaining strict Christian practice and old fashioned lifestyle. The language Pennsylvania Dutch originates from Germany, and while the Amish speak fluent English they also speak PA Dutch mostly during religious prayer or church. (Smith, p. 511.) While the rest of Americans are focused on placing more emphasis on Woman’s role in the home, the Amish maintain woman as the housekeeper and companion. However, the wife is not limited to the house; she is also helpful in trading items at the market while the husband works, in that wives’ have an equal contribution in the home. Modern woman may see this as just having a different role relative to them. Amish communities are organized by hierarchy consisting of bishops and elders, whom maintain the laws of the community. (Kraybill 1994, p. 3 ) Variants are not limited to Mennonites; every community has a different set of bylaws and values, roughly the same, some being more open to change then others, some stricter or less strict, etc. Being a minority of Americans maintaining a life outside America’s modern lifestyle it is easy to classify the Amish as a subculture by its literal meaning, and within that subculture comes variants. Reception of the Amish Is mixed among most Americans; largely they are a ‘Mild Curiosity’.
Subcultures can and cannot be well received by the rest of a society. In America It is extremely easy to find a subculture of one kind or another. Hippies in the 60’s were mostly college students protesting the draft of the Vietnam war, of which many Americans at the time felt was a ridicules war anyway. Hippies today are beloved by most Americans, however at the time free love, open drug use, New Age ideology, and Communistic traits of idealism made Hippies very controversial figures – despised by Republican and Democratic politicians alike. Today America has a community for everything including: Punks, Emo, LGBT, Libertarians, Silver Stackers, Bikers, Nerds, RPG, etc. Each subculture is almost always controversial (some more than others) and has a mixed reception by the whole of society.
Most people in America generally like the Amish as opposed to another subculture known as ‘Speak Easy Culture’. During the 1920’s there was a big divide between the Cities and rural areas in America – Cities having most of the money, and rural areas having most of the population. The Democratic voters in rural areas (mostly Southern states) pushed congress to amend the constitution with a ban on Alcohol in 1917(2). Speak Easy’s popped up rampantly throughout Americas urban landscape as underground bars for men and woman. Jazz music and swing was the first unsettling thing, followed by Blacks sharing in the same fun as whites. Men and Woman dancing with each other ‘provocatively’ whereas before women were not supposed to drink- or more the point, be in a bar with men. Speak Easy’s were often raided by police yet for every new raid it was estimated 10 more would pop up. By the end of the 20’s influential people would hold discussions on the radio or news against Jazz and Liquor yet turn around to their bootlegger. Even President Harding had a bootlegger on call to the white house (3). Prohibition was ended on the basis of Organized Crime, wasted court time on harmless criminals, fear of police state, and the nation was becoming more and more hypocritical. Throughout the 20’s there was much conflict between the rigid Democrats and free spirited Republicans- Rural America screaming decadence, and City dwellers having a ball. In contrast the Amish are never as controversial of a subculture as other subcultures; it is particularly noticeable by Speak Easy Culture of the 1920’s.
The history of Kapauku Papuans integration into Indonesian government has not been an easy one. Starting with Dutch imperialism a takeover of western New Guinea by the natives in an event called “Third World Conflict”. (Vickers , p. 139). Later in 1969, The UN supervised the “Act of Free Choice” in which the Indonesian government took a consensus of elders, deeming Paupans to be ‘too primitive’ to work within a democratic system. (McDonald, 1980). However, the region became the 26th province of Indonesia with full UN recognition. Rebel movements continued on with the natives against the government, and military strikes against the natives throughout the end of the century. It could be surmised to say there is a struggle against a group of people resistant to change (Kapaku natives), and another group forcing change (Indonesian government). The Kapauku Papuans demonstrate that native cultures can find it very hard adapting to modern lifestyle. Most activists of the natives perpetuate seemingly meaningless complaints, yet for them the Indonesian government proposes concepts they refuse to, or don’t, understand. Additionally the Indonesian government does not feel like working with 1100 different elders in public debates that comes with democracy for policy making. The government is right to have their convictions, as too many chiefs in the kitchen and nothing will be accomplished. Ultimately, the province was granted “Special Autonomy” , and in 2003 was named West Paupa. Most of the taxes collected are reinvested back into the region.
Muslim Extremist groups are an example of Ethnocentrism at its finest. Jihadist range and are not limited to the Middle East. The UK has seen a stirring rise of extremist groups acting as a subculture. While Parliament continues to avoid the topic all together, the BBC often sends investigative journalist into areas of the UK dominated by these groups. According to BBC Reports Luton, England has a whole underground free from local law acting on Sharia. Reports of Sharia courts condoning the abuse of woman, child molestation, and other awful things concern many people in England- some convinced Muslim’s may be taking over the country. Protests of the groups are very clear they shout “Death to Jews” “Death to Democracy” “Death to Infidels” ”Death to America” in the streets either ‘peacefully’ or burning down buildings. “The arrogance of these people coming into my country, telling me I need to switch to their laws is appalling” says a man to BBC reporter Niki Cardwell (4). The basis of this controversy is the extremist belief that Islam is the only right religion and everyone else deserves to die, and that Sharia is superior. Muslim extremist are the best example of ethnocentrism of today.
Cultural Relativism is the ability to look at another culture without one’s own preconceived ideas, to be open minded to another culture based on their interpretations of daily life. This is a code of ethics for anthropologists, as well as helps the observer make clearer observations of the culture they are studying- as is required by any science abiding by the scientific method. People do all kinds of things from Britney Spears kissing Madonna on stage at the VMA’s to eating cats. One must not say “all of American woman are lesbians”, or “Chinese people are so hungry they have to eat the family pet”. By looking at the culture within its context an observer can see Britney is an attention hungry brat and Americans like controversy, or perhaps cats just taste good. Cultural Relativism is a professional methodology of anthropologist to ascertain a study based on the scientific method.
The comparison between Ethnocentric or Cultural relativism may sound like two extremes that can never fit. However, all people are a little bit of both naturally. In example, It is very common for nearly every American not in West Virginia to consider West Virginians as inbreed, hillbilly red necks, without much question. Yet at the same time anyone who’s been to West Virginia can see they’re just like anyone else with an accent and most are not inbreed, and about half call themselves hillbillies. The reason for this is because as people we judge other people whether its good or bad, knowledge or not. Adlai E. Stevenson jr. once said; “If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is no barking dog to be tethered on a ten-foot chain.”
(1) (Strenski, Ivan. “The Shock of the ‘Savage’: Edward Burnett Tylor, Evolution, and Spirits.” Thinking About Religion: An Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006. 99.)
(2) “The Economics of War Prohibition”, pp. 143-144 in: Survey Associates, Inc., The Survey, Volume 38, April–September, 1917.
(3) Behr, Edward (2011). Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America
(4) Cardwell, Niki. “Is Luton a breeding ground for terrorists?” BBC (December 15, 2010)