Introductionto Cultural Anthropology.
Introductionto Cultural Anthropology.
TheAnthropological Theory is an academic journal which is reviewed bypeers all over the world. It publishes Anthropology field papers. Theanthropology theory has undergone several stages with each stagehaving different explanations and assumptions. The theory explainscertain concepts which are important in anthropology, the argumentsof certain theories, investigates metatheory, explores traditions andtheorists, and examines the history of creation of theoreticalpositions. The most crucial stages of anthropological theory includeunilineal evolution, historical particularism, and Britishfunctionalism. (Peoples&Bailey, 2014).
Theunilineal evolution is also called the theory of theNineteenth-century Evolutionism. This theory argues that societiesgrow according to a single universal direction of cultural evolution.The theorists came up with the universal evolution phases and groupeddifferent societies as barbarian, savagery and civilization. TheEvolutionists of the Nineteenth century obtained data from tradersand missionaries. They rarely visited the societies which they wereanalyzing. They applied the second hand data they had obtained togeneralize the theory to all societies. The Western societies wereput at the highest ranks of civilization since they had greattechnology advancements. (Peoples& Bailey, 2014).
TheEvolutionists had two main assumptions which formed the theory.First, they suggested that there was psychic unity this assumed thatall human minds have similar traits all over the world. Secondly,they assumed that Western societies are more superior to the othersbecause they had more economic and military power unlike the othersocieties. (Erickson&Murphy, 2013).
Thetheorists made vital contributions to anthropology because they gavethe first systemic ways which could be used to think about andexplain the societies of human beings. The theory was insightfulbecause it could explain the technologically advanced societies asadvanced and the others as simple. The system however leavesimportant aspects such as religions, kin systems and customsregarding child bearing. (Erickson& Murphy, 2013).
Twomain theorists who supported this theory were Edward Burnett Tylorfrom Great Britain and Lewis Henry Morgan from the U.S. Edward wasthe founder of cultural anthropology he adopted the biologicalevolution theory by Charles Darwin. Tylor explained that societiesevolved like biological organisms, from the most primitive to themost civilized ones. Lewis claimed that societies grow according toone universal direction of cultural evolution. He believed that thereis order of growth from “savagery” to “Barbarism” to“civilization.” (Peoples& Bailey, 2014).
TheHistorical Particularism suggests that every society has its ownhistorical development which is unique and which must be understoodaccording to its own particular environmental and cultural context,mostly its historical process. The historical Particularists heavilycriticized the unilineal theory claiming that it was non-specific.They claimed that they were not under any ideas which werepreconceived. They collected large amounts of first-hand data bycarrying out ethnographic fieldwork. They described certain culturesbased on the raw data and did not create general theories for all thesocieties. They heavily relied on history and fieldwork as the mainmeans of cultural analysis. (Peoples& Bailey, 2014).
Themain theorists in Particularism were Franz Boas from the Germany-USand Alfred Kroeber. They differed on their views on the significanceof people in the society. Frantz explained that every person was theunit component of the society. He collected data from individualsources and considered such data significant enough to be used incultural analysis. Kroeber did not see people as the basic elementsof the society. According to him, the society evolves depending onits internal rules that did not come directly from the people.(Peoples& Bailey, 2014).
TheBritish Functionalism defines culture as an integrated whole and nota combination of different traits. Just the way the human body iscomposed of various organs which are interconnected to functioncorrectly, so is the society it is a system of integrated componentswhich make it to function effectively. The Functionalists explainedhow certain cultural components were interrelated with other cultureaspects and how they affected the whole society system in theircause, words and effect.
Thetheorists used fieldwork and direct society observation. Theanthropologists in this theory were to explain different culturalinstitutions which created a society, define their function socially,and demonstrate the part they play in the overall society stability.The approach was widely criticized because it did not consider thechanges in culture in the traditional societies. The two main schoolsof thought which existed under functionalism are BronislawMalinowski’s bio-cultural approach and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown’sstructural-functionalism approach. (Peoples& Bailey, 2014).
BronislawMalinowski is well remembered with the bio-cultural Funtionalismwhich defines culture as an integrated whole and not a composition ofdifferent traits. It is based on his fieldwork in different placesall over the world especially the Trobriand Islands which are locatedin New Guinea. Alfred Radcliffe-Brown is famous for his StructuralFuncionalism that describes certain systems in the society in a widercontext of various societies. He was more concerned with what makesthe societies to continue falling apart regularly. He discoveredsimilar traits in different societies. (Peoples& Bailey, 2014).
Thenewer theoretical orientations include structuralism and symbolicanthropology. The structuralist theory explains that the humanthought process structure is similar in all cultures and the mentalprocesses occur in the form of binary oppositions. The SymbolicAnthropology makes the assumption that there is no culture beyondindividuals, rather culture is found in people’s interpretations ofthe occurrences and things in their surroundings. People givemeanings to their experiences and shape the patterns of theirbehaviors according to the signs and symptoms established by thesociety. Therefore, its main aim is to analyze the way people assignmeanings to their life realities and how these realities are shown bytheir cultural symbols. (Erickson& Murphy, 2013).
Inmy view, cultural anthropology is a humanistic discipline and notscience. This is because the theories are based on people’sobservations, opinions and arguments. There are no scientific methodsused in coming up with the theories. The methods used in creating thetheories cannot be proved and thus they are not scientific. It ishumanistic because the methods used are more social than scientific.
Erickson,P. A., & Murphy, L. D. (Eds.). (2013). Readingsfor a history of anthropological theory.University of Toronto Press.
Peoples,J., & Bailey, G. (2014). Humanity:AnIntroduction to Cultural Anthropology.Cengage Learning.