Anthropological Thought Essay

Pages: 23 (7138 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Anthropology

Anthropology

Historical Foundations of Anthropology

How do the methods of 19th Century Evolutionists explain the development of marriage, family, political organization, and religion?

The development of the evolutionary theory of societal development arose from the precept that all cultures arose in a uniform manner. Early theorists believed that various cultures represented different stages along the path to development. Evolutionary anthropology arose from encounters with cultures that were different Theorists such as Tylor and Morgan developed opposing viewpoints on the development of society.

Tylor disagreed that groups, such as the Native American population, were a degenerated culture (Tylor, cited in Anthropological Theory, 1871:30). He felt that culture from simple to complex and that it progressed through three distinct stages. Tylor argued that civilization progressed from savagery through barbarism into civilization (Tylor, cited in Anthropological Theory, 1871:38). All cultures were capable of becoming advanced civilizations. This is different from Morgan's idea, which had more subdivisions than Tylor's theory, but agreed with the basic premise that culture developed in a uniform fashion (Tylor, cited in Anthropological Theory, 1871:37). Tylor believed that clues to primitive religion lie in magic, astrology, and witchcraft (Tylor, cited in Anthropological Theory, 1871:)..

Morgan felt that the family evolved in six stages (Morgan, cited in Anthropological Theory 1877:44-45). The first stage was contained no constraints or bonded pairs. The next stage was where a group of brothers was married to a group of sisters and brother-sister mating was permissible. The third stage also included group marriage, but brothers and sisters were not allowed to mate. The fourth stage involves a loosely paired male and female that still lived in a group of other people. The fifth state is a patriarchic family where the husband may have more than one wife at a time. In the final stage is the monogamous family where one wife and one husband are equal in status. According to this model, the family became progressively smaller and smaller.

Morgan's theories on family development are not supported by modern ethnographic evidence. "Primitive" societies today do not practice group marriage, as could be expected by Morgan's theory. Sir James George Frazer was considered a classical evolutionist. He theorized that magic was the root of religion. He promoted the idea that magic evolved into religion and religion evolved into science (Frazer, 1890).. This change was slow, but eventually represented complete transition. Frazer also felt that superstition was important in the evolution of culture, as it strengthened respect for the idea of private property, strengthened the ideals of marriage, and included adherence to strict rules of sexual morality (Frazer, 1890). Sir John Lubbock differed from Frazer and considered the evolution of religion to progress from atheism, to nature worship, to shamanism, to idolatry, and finally to monotheism (Lubbock, 1872).

Comparative Method.

Comparative method stems from fields such as archeology and paleontology where evidence from the past is compared with existing societies and species to form hypotheses as to what they were like. The comparative method in anthropology uses a similar method. This method of exploration holds the premise that the sociocultural systems of today bear a certain resemblance to cultures of the past. However, this method draws both supporters and criticism.

Morgan saw these similarities in sexual customs, kinship relationships, and territorial customs. He felt that they are present in areas of home life, architecture, and through progress in the individual ownership and inheritance of property Morgan, cited in Anthropological Theory 1877:44-45). This method contends that the simpler methods of societal customs are also the older ones. Morgan's use of comparative method supports his own ideas, that family units became smaller in time. However, these hypotheses do not have a high degree of academic support. If Morgan's hypotheses were true, one could expect to find artifacts of group marriage and brother-sister marriages in remote cultures today. However, no society is known to exist today, which indulges in these practices. Comparative methods cannot explain many of the things that are seen in today's society.

Organic Analogies

Organic analogies are similar to comparative methods, only instead of comparing modern society to evidence of the past, society is compared to organic beings. In this analogy, human society it viewed as a complete organism. According to this theory, humans are divided into groups and have distinct functions within that society. This theory contends that the society is much like a living organism, where the various individual parts must be viewed for their function in the whole. According to this theory, family issues, religion, and other aspects of the society must be viewed in terms of what they contribute to the whole of society.

Psychic Unity

The theory of Psychic Unity holds that the human mind is similar and that this created the tendency to develop in parallel paths, according to their innate potential. According to this theory, all cultures will eventually arrive at the same end, but only a few will be able to advance further. Some will remain primitive, although there are parallels in their early development.

How are Marx's ideas similar to and different from other 19th century theorists?

Karl Marx saw parallels between Morgan's theory of evolutionism and his own theories of societal development. Marx and Engels hypothesized that the social institutions of monogamy, private property, and the state were responsible for exploitation of the working classes in modern industrialized nations (Marx and Engels, in Anthropological Theory, 1845-1846). However, they felt that eventually the process would be reversed and that society would eventually return to the communist structure of the early stages of development.

What did Durkheim mean by social fact?

Social facts are the norms and cultural constructs that define a society, but which lie beyond individual actions. According to Durkheim, the job of the social scientist was to discover and define these social facts within a particular culture (Durkheim, in Anthropological Theory, 1895: 73). Once these elements were defined, one could then judge the society as being either healthy or pathological. Durkheim divided into material and nonmaterial. Material facts have to do with physical social structures, ones that can be touched with the hands and senses. Nonmaterial facts have to do with cultural norms, beliefs and other things that cannot be touched or experienced physically (in Anthropological Theory, 1895: 73).

Durkheim applies these concepts to compare different societies to one another. However, these methods are scrutinized for their data collection methods. Various cultures may define a certain action differently. Where one may call an action a murder, another may call it an accidental death. One has to be careful when applying Durkheim's concepts to social science. It is difficult to obtain scientifically valid results when comparing two different societies. There are many variables within the societies that can skew the results.

What is mechanical and organic solidarity?

In Durkheim's work, the Division of Labour in Society, two distinct ways are mentioned in which solidarity is achieved within a society (1893:Chapter 2). Mechanical solidarity is defined by a small, isolated, but homogeneous population. Members of the society have no specialization within the group. The society uses a cooperative labor system in which everyone works for community goals. Mechanical solidarity uses a system where social linkages are defined by custom, social obligation and emotion. Traditional systems of law prevail in a society displaying mechanical solidarity. The needs of the individual are less important than those of the social group. People with this type of solidarity feel connected through their similarities in work, religion, and lifestyle.

In a society that demonstrates Organic solidarity, there is a complex division of labor (Durkheim, 1893: Chapter 6). This type of society usually consists of a larger population spread over a larger geographic area. In this society, individual members cannot supply all of their needs. They must depend on others to help them get the things that they need. The individual has many more legal rights and individual freedoms. In a society that shows organic solidarity, an individual's status is determined by the job they perform, rather than their kinship ties. Those in a society with organic solidarity through their interdependence on each other for their individual survival.

What is collective consciousness?

Collective consciousness refers to the shared beliefs that are the unifying force within a particular society. In traditional societies, Durkheim presented the hypothesis that religions represented the collective consciousness of the people (Durkheim, in Anthropological Theory, 1895: 73). The attitudes and beliefs of the individuals are shared in common with other members of the society. Collective consciousness creates mechanical solidarity through the mutual beliefs and similarities among various society members.

What is Mauss's notion of gift giving?

Mauss felt that gifts are never truly free and that there is an expectation of reciprocity at some point in the near future (Mauss, in Anthropological Theory, 1925:94-97). The idea of a gift is that it goes beyond the physical and spiritual meaning associated with the object. The giver is giving a part of himself to another. The meaning of the gift goes deeper than the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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