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Anthropological Concepts
Fundamental Concepts & Principles
 the whole picture, all facets of human
life interrelated
 small scale vs. large scale societies
 holism & its boundedness
 Important proposition for holistic perspective
 Social institutions, behavior, cultural logic
operate to satisfy human needs – have a
Primary & secondary needs
 Function within a total system
 Integrated system & equilibrium
Ethnographic Example:
Holism and Function
 The Tsembaga of PNG & their Pigs
 Pigs seldom eaten, serve other functions, keep
residence clean, prepare soil for planting
 Pigs require minimum maintenance
 Pig herds grow large, not enough tubers, feed human
food, intrude on garden crops, invade neighbors
gardens – feuds
people move & distance themselves (carrying capacity
of the land)
 Elaborate ritual system - pig meat redistributed, pig
herds decreased, lessen conflict, needed protein into
diet, lubricate social relations
The Tsembaga Model
The Tsembaga Model
 philosophical relativism
response to ethnocentrism
 methodological relativism
linked to holism
 dilemmas of relativism
relativism & comparison
Universal human rights
Female circumcision
 Cross-cultural comparison & the comparative
 Self-Other (us and them)
 systems of relationships, organization, forms of
 standardized modes of behavior
 structure & agency
 core concept of evolutionary perspective
 any physical & behavioral characteristic that
enhances the ability to pass on one’s genes or the
genes of one’s kin to the next generation (adaptive
 process organisms undergo to achieve a beneficial
adjustment to an available environment and the
results of the process
 in cultural systems people make decisions about
genetic evolution not subject to conscious choice
 Malaria in Africa
Culture and Adaptation
Humans have adapted by manipulating environments through
cultural means
All cultures change and adapt over time. Cultural adaptation serves
to meets the basic needs of a cultural group for food and shelter,
procreation, and social order.
Humans have come to depend more and more on cultural
What is adaptive in one context may be seriously maladaptive in
 Humans are animals with a difference - make
humans organize life into groups - society
animals organize life into groups - society
habitual activities, imprinted relationships
 distinction between culture & society
Society is distinguished from culture in that society
generally refers to the community while culture
generally refers to the systems of meaning
 enculturation is the difference -- common
cultural perspective transmitted through learning
 "a partly conscious and partly unconscious
learning experience whereby the older generation
invites, induces, and compels the younger
generation to adopt traditional ways of thinking
and behaving" (Marvin Harris)
The Culture Concept: A Short History
 Latin cultura -- cultivation or tending
 civility & civilization (17th century)
 18th century beginning of the universal histories
& descriptions of "secular" processes of the
human condition
folk cultures
Diverse Definitions of Culture
 Topical: Culture consists of everything on a list of topics, or
categories, such as social organization, religion, or economy
Historical: Culture is social heritage, or tradition, or custom that is
passed on to future generations
Behavioural: Culture is shared, learned human behaviour, a way of
Normative: Culture is ideals, values, or rules for living
Functional: Culture is the way humans solve problems of adapting to
the environment or living together
Mental: Culture is a complex of ideas, or learned habits, that inhibit
impulses and distinguish people from animals
Structural: Culture consists of patterned and interrelated ideas,
symbols, or behaviours
Symbolic: Culture is based on arbitrarily assigned meanings that are
shared by a society
 (19th cent.) E.B. Tylor - "culture... is that
complex whole which includes knowledge,
belief, arts, morals, law, custom, and any
other capabilities and habits acquired by
man as a member of society.“
Clifford Geertz on Culture
 (20th cent.) Geertz - "culture as... the fabric of
meaning in terms of which humans interpret
their experience and guide their actions...
"man is an animal suspended in webs of
significance he himself has spun, I take
culture to be those webs, and the analysis of
it to be therefore not an experimental science
in search of law but an interpretive one in
search of meaning."
Culture in the Making
 Richard Fox (20th cent.)
 culture is in a constant state of becoming/inthe-making
 unitary set of rules & meanings continually are
in-the-making through oppositions & struggles
among groups, where groups themselves &
the rules that regulate their interactions only
develop in the process of ongoing social
 culture always is, but it has always just
become so
Features of Culture
 Learned
 Shared
 Habitualized
 Patterned, structured
 Adaptive
 Historically Charged
 Big “C” or little “c”
 Culture is open, receptive