Anthropological Thought Essay

Pages: 11 (3363 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Anthropology

Spencer, Herbert. 1860. The Social Organization. The Westminster Review. In Anthropological Theory: An Introductory Theory. Fourth Edition. R. McGee and Richard Warms. McGraw Hill.

The purpose of Spencer's article is to introduce the concept that social structure is similar to a living organism. It is an attempt to explain how the individual fits into society as well as how society is a result of the individual components within it. The theory presents the development of society using a living organism as an analogy to help explain the key concept.

Spencer introduced several key concepts into the analogy. The first concept is that societies are not created, but rather they grow into their adult form, much like a living organism. Spencer believed that social evolution, like the evolution of species, was a slow process that occurred in small steps over time. He believed that societies grew from simple to complex. Thus, one could tell the age of a society by its point in development. Those that were more complex represented the older and more highly evolved societies. He felt the development was unidirectional. Like the living organism, all of the sections of society have a specialized function and that function contributes to the anatomy of the whole.

Although, it is the hope of many that Spencer's ideals do not exist in today's world of increasing equality. Traces of Spencer's attitudes can be found in familiar terms such as "developing nations" and "industrialized nations." A developing nation is usually considered to be lacking in complexity, simple and primitive. While and industrialized nation is associated with advanced technological development and a more sophisticated system of trade, commerce, and government. The term "developing nation" does not tell us anything about potential for the country to develop in the future; it only tells us where they are compared to "industrialized" nations. These two terms and their current connotations are remnants of Spencer's theories regarding the development of societies.

Summary 2:

Tylor, Edward B. 1871 [2008]. Primitive Culture. In Anthropological Theory: An Introductory Theory. Fourth Edition. R. McGee and Richard Warms. McGraw Hill.

Edward Tylor's most important contribution to the field of cultural anthropology was the ability to put the theory of degeneration of cultures to rest. One of Tylor's key purposes was to demonstrate through a lack of evidence that there are no societies that have been proven to have "degenerated" from a higher form of cultural evolution. His work supported that of Spencer and others who felt that societies developed from low to high culture.

Tylor contributed one of the most popular definitions of culture. He wrote that culture 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, 1871:1). This definition remains the most widely accepted definition of culture today. Tylor felt that the driving force behind evolution was the increasing progress of rational thought. Tylor introduced the concept of "survivals" as evidence that complex societies were once more primitive. Superstitions and traditions that no longer serve a purpose in society are examples of "survivals." Tylor taught us to look to them for clues to the past.

Tylor felt that superstition was evidence of more primitive cultures, even in advanced societies. Although many of Tylor's attributions of superstition and later considered to be inaccurate representation, his work still makes the modern anthropologist step back and examine a culture from a different perspective. The most important contribution of Tylor that can be applied to modern anthropology is the necessity to step and back ask the question, "why" certain customs exist. He encourages us to take clues from the presents and look backwards for their origins. Many times this method of examination will open doors and lead to conclusions that would have been elusive using any other method of examination.

Summary 3:

Mauss, Marcel. 1925. Excerpts from the Gift. In Anthropological Theory: An Introductory Theory. Fourth Edition. R. McGee and Richard Warms. McGraw Hill.

Marcel Mauss studied comparative religion. Mauss was a socialist who promoted equality, his anti-racism attitudes can be seen throughout his work. In the Gift, Mauss examines the concept of gift giving and expectations of reciprocity. He examines the emotional attachment associated with gift giving and demonstrates that the material object is not the most important element of the exchange. He examines gift giving from a personal perspective and the emotional attachment associated with the receiving and giving of material objects.

Mauss used primitive cultures to examine how the act of gift giving creates a social bond. The giving of gifts creates the need to reciprocate on the part of the receiver. Failure to reciprocate means to devalue the person. Rejecting a gift is to reject the social bond that is created by it. Mauss considered gift giving to be the basis of social cohesion and societal solidarity.

As one reflects on the many occasions where gifts are "expected" in our society, if one considers them in the light of Mauss's arguments, one has to wonder if gift giving still has the same meaning as it did in earlier days. One can look at the expectation of receiving gifts from loved one at birthday and consider the repercussions of gift giving. When one is invited to a birthday party, or a Christmas celebration, there is an unexpressed expectation that one should bring gifts. One spends much time and effort shopping for just the right gift, spending more than they can afford, without regard to future consequences, just so that they can make certain that the person who gets the gift is appropriate and will be well received.

It is an awkward situation when it is obvious that the gifts are not of equal value, or inappropriate. Although, we do not think about it often, Mauss's social rules of gift giving still apply in our own society.

Summary 4:

Radcliff-Brown. a.R. 1940. On Joking Relationships. In Anthropological Theory: An Introductory Theory. Fourth Edition. R. McGee and Richard Warms. McGraw Hill.

Radcliff-Brown explored social relationships and conflict resolution. His purpose was to explore the social boundaries of the Joke and its role in creating social bonds. Brown used primitive tribes for his studies, but intended to develop theories that were universal and could be applied to any culture.

Radcliff-Brown found that the "rules" regarding joking relationships were dominated by social rules that defined relationships. For instance, in some South African tribes, a form of ritualized banter existed between a man and his maternal mother-in-law. This joking relationship was a social expectation according to the unwritten social rules of the tribe. Radcliff-Brown considered joking to be a form of formalized language that was designed to help avoid social conflict. Joking also serves to help in the development of social bonds.

One only needs to turn on cable television to find that joking still plays a major role in relieving societal stress. Comedians often take serious social situations and try to make people laugh about them. This is a form of stress relief that is not unlike the joking between a man and his maternal mother-in-law. It is now considered common knowledge that laughter releases endorphins, which play a role in relieving stress. Laugher is often part of the prescription for relieving harmful stress in a person's life.

Shows that make people laugh, often by making fun of another person, are big business. The situation comedy often demonstrates social situations where one member can make fun of the other without negative social repercussions. Like Mauss's gift giving rules, there is an element of expected social reciprocity in joking relationships. One does not have to sit back and take it without the ability to retaliate. Joking is still an important part of modern social bonds.

Summary 5:

Morgan, Lewis H. 1877. Ethnical Periods. In Anthropological Theory: An Introductory Theory. Fourth Edition. R. McGee and Richard Warms. McGraw Hill.

The purpose of Lewis Morgan's, Ethnical Periods was to demonstrate the crudeness of mans' early development. It was to demonstrate how man has evolved from its most primitive beginnings to become "civilized" in the strictest sense of the word. Morgan attempted to demonstrate through the construction of phases of societal development that man progressed from primitive to civilized in an orderly fashion.

Morgan used the development of his categorical classification as "evidence" of the methods used by man to achieve the ends. Morgan's classification scheme developed the idea that one could determine the relative age of a civilization by comparing its current stage a westernized ideal of civilized society. Morgan used archeological evidence to demonstrate and support the classification of various primitive societies into his classification scheme.

By modern standards, Morgan's arguments could be considered racist. They used Western society as the "standard" against which to measure other cultures. This ideal that places one culture above another in this manner is considered obsolete and we now understand that these ideals have no place in cultural anthropology. Anyone who attempted a similar classification… [END OF PREVIEW]

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