"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."




(and, prefatory to Chapter 1 of A SHINING AFFLICTION.  A STORY OF HARM AND HEALING IN PSYCHOTHERAPY, by Annie G. Rogers, Ph.D)





Psychological Anthropology

Fall semester 2006


Steven Piker(Kohlberg 244, x-8111, spiker1, office hours TTh 8:30 - 11, or by appt.)





Table of Contents of the Syllabus


I)      Introduction, class procedures

II)    Organization of subject matter outline, and narrative overview of the course

III)   Readings

IV)   Schedule of class meetings, with topics, schedules of class activities, and readings correlated

V)    Required work

VI)   Paper assignments

VII)  Final exam

VIII) Terms and concepts







  And now permit me briefly to introduce myself.  I'm Steve Piker, an anthropologist.  Earlier in my career I did field work in the Thai rice village of Baan Oi, where I lived for two years with my spouse and - for the second of the two years - with our infant son, Josh.  The field work focused on issues central to this course, how meaningfulness arises in life history perspective(socialization of infants and children), and is expressed by religiousness, which in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism.  More recently I've worked with religious conversion in the United States.  I've been teaching anthropology at Swarthmore for a long time; and for the past several years my Swarthmore work time has been divided between teaching and working with the College's semester/year abroad program.


  What you can expect of me:  You can expect me to be informal, friendly, always welcoming of your contributions(including suggestions about the course), responsive to your questions and expressed interests, and accessible.  I will be glad to see you out of class, either during office hours or by other arrangement, and will be glad to hear from you by e-mail.


  What I expect of you:  The specifics of what the course calls upon you to do are set forth, below.  Generally, I expect you to be unfailingly considerate of your fellow students in the work that we will be doing together during the coming semester; I expect you to produce your work for this course in the manner suggested by the syllabus; I expect you to be punctual, in the production of your work and in unfailingly getting to class on time.  In other words, I expect you to be adults.


  Our class meetings will be devoted to a mix of full group discussion, small group(buzz group)projects, and lecture.  You will be called upon, especially with the buzz group assignments, to produce work in conjunction with other students.  Generally, class meetings occur so that we can help each other in our exploration of psychological anthropology.  Cooperation, informality, and participation should be our watch words.


  And.........I expect to be sending you a lot of e-mails as the semester unfolds.  Mainly, I will be using e-mail for two interrelated purposes:  to identify issues for you to pay attention to in your reading for our next class meeting, and to comment upon what we have been doing in class.  In other words, this will be like lecture, except that it will be coming at you electronically and not orally.  You are responsible for being familiar with the content of all of the e-mails that I send to you.


  And.......some of you will(I hope !)want to use all class e-mail for, e.g., raising questions or sharing thoughts or observations or identifying germane and interesting outside stuff(e.g., books or articles, movies, events), this for the benefit and interest of the rest of us.  Doing so will be most welcome, it will be a service to us all.  There are two easy ways for you to do this by e-mail: either you can send it to me, and I'll all-class it; or, if you prefer, I can(I think)provide you with the e-mail address list for the class.





A)  Introduction.  Anthropology, psychological anthropology, and distinctive perspectives of the latter upon meaningfulness.

B)  Meaningfulness and its acquisition through growing up(1):  misogyny.

C)  Meaningfulness and its acquisition through growing up(2):  religiousness

D)  Evolutionary perspectives on human meaningfulness.

E)  Summation and suggestions


  Anthropology emerged as a distinctive discipline in the last half of the 19th century.  Especially American anthropology, for almost its entire history, has emphasized a holistic understanding of humankind, in pursuit of which it early on developed a four fields approach:  1)  Cultural(or social)anthropology has been dedicated to the comparative study of extant cultures.  2)  Archeology(or prehistory)has been dedicated to the study of extinct cultures, insofar as the archeological record permits.  3)  Linguistic anthropology has been dedicated mainly to the study of speech, which anthropologists(along with others)early on took to be a - some would say, the - distinctive behavioral feature of our species; and has studied living languages as well as the history of languages.  4)  Biological(or physical)anthropology studies human biology, especially as germane to culturally elaborated human behavior; human adaptation; human evolution; and non-human Primates.


  Psychological anthropology(earlier often called culture and personality)came together as a sub-field of cultural anthropology in the period between the two world wars.    It is largely just a part of American anthropology, although it has important immediate European antecedent figures, e.g., Bronislaw  Malinowski, a giant of pre WW II British social anthropology, and Sigmund Freud.  Between-the-wars intellectual exchanges between American cultural anthropologists and(more or less)eclectic psychiatrists were importantly implicated in the emergence of the field.   Perhaps the most important figure in these exchanges, because he founded the original school of culture and personality, was the psychiatrist Abram Kardiner.


  This course does not attempt a whole or partial intellectual history of the field(although two optional papers, authored by yours truly, do take a stab at this for any members of the class whose interests may so incline).  Rather, the course focuses on, arguably,  the core issue of the field, viz.,  the psychological mediation of the individual/culture relationship(or, in our lingo, meaningfulness).  And it asks:  A)  Of what does meaningfulness consist?  B)  How does meaningfulness arise ontogenetically?  And, C) going beyond the work of recognized psychological anthropologists, how might human meaningfulness have arisen phylogenetically?


  Week 1 begins our attempt to construct 'meaningfullness' by introducing the psychological concept of projection.  Here we also introduce central emphases of all of cultural anthropology(including psychological anthropology), viz.,  A)  field work as the suite of empirical methods par excellence by which anthropologists learn about living cultures;  B) as regards culturally elaborated behavior, the seemingly endless variability of human lifeways from time to time and place to place; and, C) the challenges entailed by seeking to comprehend other cultures.


  Approximately the next two thirds of the course looks at two cross culturally universal and important instances of meaningfulness:  misogyny and religiousness.  For each, relying upon ethnographic studies, we ask:  How do culturally distinctive instances of the general phenomenon arise and become established in the lives of natives of specific cultures?  How does the specific meaningfulness(whether misogyny as a vital feature of male gender definitions and male/female relationships, or religiousness) inform natives' involvement in their cultures?  In trying to puzzle this out, we will be looking in detail at specifically relevant ethnographic case studies which will - inter alia - also provide us with the wherewithal to think about ethnography(or field work)as a distinctive way of learning about human lifeways generally and meaningfulness specifically.


  The final part of the course looks at our species in both cross-species and evolutionary perspective; and explores how the meaningfulness, which everywhere suffuses human lifeways and imparts distinctive flavor and content to them, may have arisen phylogenetically; and also explores, in an evolution science frame of reference, the adaptive significance of patterns of meaningfulness(especially morality)for our species.  This will, inter alia, give us the chance to explore alternative strategies of evolutionary interpretation, especially with reference to evolutionary perspectives on human nature and cultural elaboration of same.  So also will this section introduce us to the foraging band lifeway as the basic human pattern.


  And......this course has its share of theoretical and conceptual and interpretive content.  But most of our readings are either ethnographic case studies, arising from field work(please see 'terms and concepts' section of the syllabus for 'field work'); or are grounded in such studies.  This is because, for anthropology, ethnographic description of cultures is - finally - where it's at.   All of anthropology's theoretical and conceptual and interpretive content, and there is plenty of same, finally does, or should, come back to the ethnographic record.  So we will look at alot of ethnography; and our intention should be really to roll up our collective sleeves and delve deeply and thoroughly into these ethnographic materials.





  The following volumes, each of which is assigned in its entirety, are available for purchase in the College bookstore.  Multiple copies of each will also be available on general reserve in McCabe.  You are not required to buy any books, and I don't think that you need to do so to get the reading done on time.





Gananath Obeyesekere.  MEDUSA'S HAIR






  As well,  the following articles will be assigned. Copies of each will be handed out to all members of the class.


Clifford Geertz.  "The impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man."

________  "From the native's point of view:  on the nature of anthropological understanding."

Horace Miner.  "Body ritual among the Nacirema."


Gananath Obeyesekre.  "Psycholcultural exegesis of a case of spirit possession from Sri Lanka."

________  "Depression, Buddhism, and the work of culture in Sri Lanka."

Richard Lee.  "Reflections on primitive communism."

S. J. Gould and R C. Lewontin.  "The spandrels of San Marco and the panglossian paradigm:  a critique of the adaptationist programme."






8 September.  INTRODUCTION.


Topics:  Meaningfulness in cross cultural perspective; cultural diversity; field work; course procedures.




Clifford Geertz.  'The impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man.'

________  'From the native's point of view:  on the nature of anthropological understanding."

Horace Miner.  'Body ritual among the Nacirema.'




Buzz group exercise:  menstrual taboos


  Menstrual taboos occur in many, perhaps most, cultures of the world.  They range from fear and loathing of menstrual fluids and menstruating women, to elaborate avoidances of menstruating women, to complete social and physical isolation of menstruating women.  Thus, in rural Thailand, a menstruating woman should not prepare food for others; nor should women's skirts ever be washed in the same tub as men's clothes, because the skirts may have come into contact with menstrual blood; nor should anyone walk under a clothes line on which women's skirts are hung, for the same reason.  In many Melanesian cultures, women during their menstrual periods are expected to isolate themselves from all others in specially constructed huts, which are well removed from villages and fields.  And in many traditional European cultures menstruating women refrained from participation in subsistence activities, lest the products of these endeavors be ruined.  The beliefs, which for natives render menstrual taboos compelling, although variable from culture to culture, largely agree in assigning unique powers and dangerousness to women.


  The buzz groups are asked to see what they can come up with by way of an explanation for the occurrence of menstrual taboos.



Discussion issues:


1)  Geertz, in "The impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man," has a point to make, one might say, an axe to grind.  What is his point?  Why is it important to students of humankind and human lifeways?


2)  Geertz, in "From the native's point of view....,"  has a point to make, specifically about the doing of field work.  What is his point?  Why is it important to field workers(or ethnographers)and therefore, by implication, to anthropology?


3)  Miner's paper is, transparently, a spoof.  So also does it contain content and emphases that are important, especially to those who seek to comprehend other cultures, e.g., anthropologists.  Of what do the content and emphases consist?



15 September.  MISOGYNY.


Topics:  Introduction to misogyny; the Sambia case;  sex antagonism; Herdt's inquiry agenda; Herdt's ethnographic methodology, for the pursuit of his agenda; person centered ethnography.








Discussion issues:


1)  What is misogyny?

2)  What is person centered ethnography?  Geertz, in "From the native's point of view...,"  sets forth what he considers to be a good psychological posture, if you will, for the field worker to adopt in his association with natives.  How does Herdt's person centered ethnography measure up, by Geertz' criteria?

3)  Sambia boys, approaching and during puberty, undergo an extended rite of passage to culturally defined and valued adult masculinity.  What is a rite of passage?  How are rites of passage different from other rites, e.g., midnight Mass on Christmas eve, or Yum Kippur services, or weekly services for worship in one of the American faiths?

4)  Masculinity and femininity everywhere compliment and, therefore, depend upon each other.  How do Sambia masculinity and femininity, respectively, compliment and depend upon  each other?



22 September.  MISOGYNY(continued)


Topics: Misogyny as a cross cultural universal; the explanation of the occurrence of mysogyny.








Buzz group exercise:  Sambian and American misogyny


  Misogyny occurs among both the Sambia and among middle class Americans.  The groups are asked to compare and/or contrast the two misogynies.



29 September.  MISOGYNY(continued)


Topics:  Misogyny as a cross cultural universal; the explanation of misogyny(continued)








Buzz group exercise:  Gilmore's explanation of the occurrence of Misogyny.


  The groups re asked, first, to summarize Gilmore's explanation and, second, to take a stab at evaluating Gilmore's explanation.  Taken literally, this last is a big order, which you all are not competent to carry out.  Let's  see if we can whittle it down.  So far, re misogyny, we have consulted Gilmore's book, which contains his explanation of misogyny.  And we have consulted Herdt's book, which contains a detailed and contextual and circumstantial description of a hyper-misogynous culture(and, in the bargain, a culture to which Gilmore alludes in his discussion of misogyny).  Take a  stab just at using Herdt's  book to evaluate Gilmore's explanation.   And(not coincidentally) this is essentially your first short paper topic.



6 October.  MISOGYNY(continued)


Topics:  Mehinaku and Sambian misogynies.








Buzz group exercise:  Sambia and Mehinaku conceptions of women


  Misogyny, by definition, comprises beliefs about and feelings toward women, pre-eminently on the part of men. Sambia and Mehinaku cultures, respectively,  are each hyper-misogynous.  The groups are asked to compare and/or contrast the conceptions of women which prevail in these two cultures.



Discussion issue:


  Sambia and Mehinaku misogynies are grounded in beliefs about women which are untrue.  Yet, arguably(e.g., our two ethnographers, Herdt and Gregor, so argue), the actual experiences that Sambia and Mehinaku males, respectively, have with women are importantly implicated in the processes by which these same males become hyper-misogynous adults.  How so?



13 October.


  No class meeting for this week.  Rather, each member of the class will have a scheduled conference with SP to discuss the first short paper.







20 October.  FALL BREAK



27 October.  FIELD WORK


Topics:  The Achuar(yet another hyper misogynous culture);  the strengths and limitations of field work





Gananath Obeyesekere.  "Psychocultural exegesis of a case of spirit possession from Sri Lanka."

________  "Depression, Buddhism, and the work of culture in Sri Lanka."


Buzz group exercise:  field work


  Our general conception of field work(Terms and Concepts section of the syllabus)emphasizes that the field worker typically merges his or her life in socially important ways with the natives about whom he or she is learning.  Especially Herdt and Descola write at some length about this aspect of their field work.  On the basis of what Herdt and Descola have to say on this score,  the groups are asked to consider:  How does this particular feature of field work influence what can be learned from field work?  Re especially the kinds of things that Herdt and Descola(and Gregor)are interested in learning about, does field wok confer some distinctive advantages?  If so, what are they? And, how much confidence can we have in what is learned by field work.  It's open season:  Please feel free to consider both plusses and minuses.



Discussion issues:


1)  Laboratory research and field work research each emphasize the empirical study of the object of inquiry.  Let's compare and/or contrast the methodological similarities and differences of the two approaches.  And, especially as regards differences, let's consider implications of same for the kinds of knowledge promised by the respective approaches.


2)  Looking toward the next couple of weeks.......   Introduction to Theravada Buddhism and Buddhist Sri Lankan culture.





Topics:  Religiousness; emic and etic perspectives on religious meaningfulness





Gananath Obeyesekere.  MEDUSA'S HAIR



Buzz group exercise:  The meaning of religious ritual


  Obeyesekere presents a detailed case study of a young Sinhalese woman, Somavati, who underwent an episode of possession, crowned by a rite of exorcism.  Sambia boys, on the threshold of puberty, undergo rites of passage to male adulthood.  The groups are asked to compare and/or contrast the meanings of these rites to, respectively, Somavati and Sambia boys.  Please n.b.,  our readings present two sets of meanings for the rites at issue:  The meaning contained in the native's understanding and experience of the rite; and the meaning contained in the author's interpretation of the rite.



10 November.  RELIGIOUSNESS(continued)


Topics:  The performance of the work of culture; religion as a projective institution.




Gananath Obeyesekere:  MEDUSA'S HAIR



Buzz group exercise:  The performance of the work of culture


  Obeyesekere(MEDUSA'S HAIR, "Psychocultural exegesis....")presents a number of biographically flavored case studies of individual religiousness.  For any one of the women, as well as for Tuan the hook hanger, the groups are asked to show how the religiousness depicted by the case studies illustrates the performance of the work of culture.


Discussion issues:


1)  The success and failure of the work of culture


2)  Religiousness is universal to human cultures.  Religiousness everywhere performs the work of culture.  Why is this work universally needed?





Topics:  Intro to human evolution; bio-evolutionary perspectives on human nature and cultural elaboration of same; chimpanzee social morality








Discussion issues:


1)  Following de Waal, what does it mean to be moral?


2)  de Waal considers that both chimpanzees and human are, perhaps inter alia, moral.  How does he understand the roots of morality in members of these two species?


3)  As a Primatologist, de Waal is most certainly an evolutionist.......which means that he seeks evolutionary interpretations or explanations for that, e.g., morality, which interests him in Primate(non-human and human)species......... which means, finally, explanations or interpretations which are in significant part biological.  Of what does de Waal's understanding of human morality consist?  Can we sensibly, or correctly, think about human morality in terms of a frame of reference that is in part biological?  Many have answered 'no.'  Why?



17 November.    READING WEEK.


  Reading week is scheduled here, instead of immediately prior to exam period, with the intention that members of the class will use this time to prepare draft essays for a number of the final exam questions.   This will leave sufficient time for full review of these draft essays with yours truly, and revision as indicated toward final drafts.  And, members of the class are strongly encouraged to get started, this week, on Robert Wright's THE MORAL ANIMAL, although it is not assigned as a basis for class discussion until the week of 8 December.  Wright's thesis on social morality is the focus of the second short paper assignment.  You will be expected, for this paper, to use the rest of the readings for the third - Evolution - section of the course to evaluate this thesis.  So it will be useful to you to have this thesis in mind while you are doing these other readings.  Please see the second short paper assignment(section VI of the syllabus, below)for guidelines as to what parts of Wright's book are most germane to the paper.








Topics:  The human foraging band way of life as the basic human pattern






Richard Lee.  "Reflections on primitive communism."



Buzz group exercise:  Ape and human social morality


  de Waal discusses social morality among chimpanzees.  Brody and Lee discuss social morality among human foragers.  Evolution science teaches us to expect behavioral as well as biological similarities among closely related species.  As regards specifically social behavior, can we plausibly see a non-human Primate very much like de Waal's chimpanzees to be the most recent common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans?  Differently put, in what ways and to what extent are  de Waal's chimpanzees and the foragers depicted by Lee and Brody significantly similar, as regards social behavior and, especially, social morality?


Discussion issues:


1)  Now that we have looked at foraging band materials, let's return to the question:  what is morality?


2)  Brody and Lee consider that social morality  is highly developed among foragers.  Forager social morality, further, would appear to be highly specific to forager lifeways.  Our lifeways are vastly different from those of foragers.  Is the forager kind of social morality possible for us?  If not, what - if anything - are the alternatives?


3)  Do the perspectives of Lee and Brody on forager lifeways contain, or suggest,  a critique of our lifeways?  If so, of what does the critique consist?





Topics:  Evolutionary foundations of human morality





Robert Wright.  THE MORAL ANIMAL

Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin.  'The spandrels of San Marco...'



Buzz group exercise:  evolutionary perspectives on morality


  For Robert Wright, of what does social morality consist?  Why does it exist?  Why is the second question an important question for evolutionists(such as Wright, and evolutionary psychologists, generally)?



12 December.  WRAP UP


  Please n.b.,  this class meeting, which occurs on Tuesday, replaces the Friday 24 November class meeting that we miss because of Thanksgiving break.


  We will devote this class meeting to summation, and discussion of the final exam.








A)  Since it is intended that a main part of this course will be working with and helping each other, and since class meetings are the obvious main venue for such occurrences, class attendance is required.  There will be grade penalties for unexcused absences.  A scheduled  extra curricular activity which conflicts with some or all of our regular class time will not warrant an excused absence.  And, for each week, it is expected that you will have completed the assigned reading for that week by the time of our class meeting.  Our in class discussions will presuppose this.


B)  When we are producing work, at the early stage what we can put on the table is, necessarily, rough and partial and tentative.   We've only just taken our first swipe at it.    At this stage, it is especially helpful to be able to share our preliminary impressions and questions with others who are working on the same project.  Building on this, we realistically hope and expect that later on we will come up with a polished and complete and worthwhile product.  The point is, the first,  rough, preliminary stage is a vital and valuable way station on the road to the later polished final draft stage.


Our required work is intended to give you experience with both stages.


1)  Of course, our in class discussions will be prime stage one stuff.


2) And, in somewhat more focused fashion, so also will the buzz group exercises.  These are scheduled in section IV(just above), and will unfold as follows:  a) The assigned buzz group topics are in section IV of the syllabus, for those weeks when we will do buzz groups.  b)  In class on those days, the class will be divided into buzz groups of four or five students each; and each group will spend about fifteen or twenty minutes discussing the assigned topic.  c)  We will then reassemble as a class, and each group will report, orally and briefly, to the rest of the class on the gist of its discussion; and this will be the basis for entire class discussion of the topic.  The buzz group projects will be ungraded.  Their topics, however, lead into and help you prepare for the paper assignments and some of the final exam essays.


3)  For more polished, final draft work, we look to the two short papers and the final exam essays, assigned in sections VI and VII, just below.  These will be graded.  The two papers, combined, will be half of your course grade, and the final exam will be the other half.  And, you can improve - but not harm - your course grade by participation in class discussions.


4)  Happily two writing associates(WAs) will be working with us on this course.  For the first short paper, you are required to produce a WA draft on your way to the final draft.  Not so for the second short paper, or the final exam essays.  You are, however, encouraged to review your second short paper and final exam preparation with the WAs.


5)  For the first short paper, I will not be available to review your preparation with you before you submit the final draft.  For the second short paper, as well as the final exam essays, I will be glad to review your preparation with you at the rough draft stage.





First paper.  Final draft due 10 October, noon.  WA draft due 1 October, 6 p.m.


David Gilmore has attempted a general interpretation of misogyny.  Gilbert Herdt has presented a detailed case study of a very misogynous culture, the Sambia.  You are asked to use the Sambia case to evaluate Gilmore's general interpretation of misogyny.



Second paper.  Final draft due 11 December, 6 p.m.


Robert Wright, and evolutionary psychologists generally, posit that human nature was forged and refined in the crucible of what those folks call the environment of evolutionary adaptation(EEA)or, sometimes, the ancestral environment.  The EEA is the world of foragers, which is how all human lived for by far the longer part of human history, until very recently by the evolutionary clock.  From these evolutionary premises, Wright and other evolutionary psychologists derive a picture of human nature which prominently features a conception of human morality.  Vide the title of Wright's book.  You are asked to evaluate Wright's thesis on human morality.  The materials you should consult for this are the books by Brody and de Waal, and the paper by Lee and, for hardy souls, the paper by Gould and Lewontin.


And a procedural suggestion:  Wright's big book covers an awful lot of ground.  You don't need to read it carefully from cover to cover to do this short paper well.  I expect that if you spend just a few hours with this book - guided, say, by the introduction and especially the index references to 'ancestral environment' - you can attain sufficient traction with relevant parts of Wright's thesis to do real well with this paper.



For both papers:  5-7 pages(double spaced), title page, abstract, main body, conclusion, numbered pages, references, bibliography, to be submitted on paper - not electronically - at my office.  For a suitable and easy to use referencing and bibliography system, please consult any article in any recent issue of the journal, American Anthropologist.  If, however, you regularly use another standard referencing system, that should be just fine.





Below, please find a list of final exam questions.  At the beginning of the scheduled three hour exam time for this class, during final exam period in December, three from this list will be specified for you to answer.  Completed exams will be due at the end of the three hour exam time.




1)  Two and a half to three pages(double spaced)per essay; referencing not required except for direct quotes; completed exams to be submitted on paper - not electronically - at my office.


2)  I will be glad to review your preparation with you


3)  You are encouraged to do your preparation in small groups, cooperatively.  If you do so, following brief discussion with me, you may if you wish submit group exams.


4)  The final exam will be discussed further in class



Exam Questions


1)  What is ethnography(or field work)?  Why is this a good method for studying meaningfulness?  Please answer this with reference to Descola, and either Obeyesekere or Herdt.


2)  Gilmore considers misogyny to be a major league misfortune.  So also does he consider amelioration, if not a full cure, to be possible.  What scenarios for improvement does he posit?  Please evaluate this part of Gilmore's overall argument.  In doing so, please attend to the consistency issue, viz., given his understanding of why misogyny is so widespread and deep, are his palliatives realistic?  Might we not better argue, on the basis of the rest of the book, that misogyny is here to stay?


3)  One of the knowledge dividends, many say, paid by anthropology is that the study of the other helps us to attain perspectives on ourselves and our own ways of life that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to attain.  Evidently, Brody and Descola suppose this to be so.  And, in seeking out 'others' to study, each went about as far from us on the cultural spectrum as it is possible to go in our times.  You are asked to compare and/or contrast the perspectives on ourselves that each author gleaned from his study of the other.


4)  'It could be said that Herdt has taught us how Sambia men become misogynist in their culturally specific way, and that Obeyesekere has taught us how Somavati became religious in her culturally specific way."


Please discuss and evaluate.


5)  The misogyny of the Sambia, as described by the anthropologist Herdt, is - for the Sambia - motivationally compelling and morally correct, indeed, imperative.  It is integral and fundamental to their culturally grounded lifeways.  The anthropologist Gilmore insists that, in any and all of its culturally specific flavors and textures, misogyny is a malady.  Can these two viewpoints be reconciled?  If so, how?  If not, where does this leave us?


6)  Please compare and/or contrast the culturally valued adult male identity of the Sambia and the Mehinaku, respectively.  In so doing, please be sure that you take into account, in each case, how male identity is defined in significant part by references to cultural conceptions of the female.


7)  A quote from George Eliot's MIDDLEMARCH heads the syllabus for our course.  The intention is that the quote evokes ideas and emphases which are central to the subject matter of our course.  Please write an essay which illustrates how this is so.







The following terms and concepts will be important to us throughout the semester.


1)  Culture.  Anthropologists use the term 'culture' in at least the following two ways:


A)  General and evolutionarily.  Culture is the mode of adaptation of the human species.  All human groups, now and in the past, are fully cultural.  The cultural mode of adaptation prominently features, e.g., speech, technology, learned and diversifiable social relationships, and religion, each of which presupposes capacity for symbolization.  In cross species perspective, it is evident that culture in this sense is not an all or none matter.  Many species - extant and extinct - other than the human species are cultural to significant extents and in different ways.


B)  Specific and contemporary.  A specific culture - e.g., Sambia, Mehinaku, Achuar, Sinhalese, Inuit - is the lifeway of a particular human group.  Human cultures are highly diverse.  Please N.B., this does not entail that any specific culture must be a neatly bounded, self contained entity.  i)  Distinct cultures share traits.  ii)  Cultural boundaries are permeable:  both people and traits cross them.  iii)  Many 'named cultures - e.g., American, Creek Indian - are actually historically recent amalgams of several disparate cultures.  iv)  All cultures, by virtue of the ubiquity of the diffusion of culture traits, adopt and adapt and incorporate exogenous culture traits.  v)  All cultures change.  vi)  An individual may have a multi cultural identity.



2)  Cultural relativism.  This expression has many uses.  Here we note two of them.


A)  World views - how people think about and experience the world, especially life as we live it day by day - are to a significant extent specific to cultures.  This is an empirical proposition.  It is indisputably true(although the limits to the proposition implied by, '...to a significant extent...' are debated).


B)  Because, inescapably, we think about things in terms of the symbols and meanings provided for  us by our culture(A, just above), universal, cross culturally valid, timeless truth is not possible.  This is a philosophical  issue.  The truth of (A) does not, on logical grounds, address this issue.


  Taken in conjunction, (A) and (B) can often, for anthropologists and others, be vexing.  Thus, accepting (A), as most anthropologists do, we are disposed to respect cultural practices and the natives who enact them, even if the practices are alien or even obnoxious to us.  But sometimes we find the practices - e.g., what the Nazis did, or female genital mutilation - to be so abhorrent that we feel obligated morally to condemn them.  When this occurs, we often find ourselves groping for a universally valid ethical principal to justify our moral condemnation.  Impressionistically, these gropings often have recourse to the device of 'self evident truth' - either negatively, through use, e.g., of the term 'evil,' or positively, e.g., by positing inalienable human rights.



3)  Religion.  A definition of religion widely adopted by anthropologists goes like this:  'Religion is an institution consisting of culturally patterned interaction with culturally postulated(and anthropomorphized)superhuman beings.'  Accepting this definition, we can think sensibly of a particular religion, e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, native American shamanism, without knowing anything at all about anyone who embraces the religion.  We would do so by thinking about, e.g., the beliefs and symbols and icons and rites of the religion.  Alternately, we can focus on religiousness, which refers to religion as lived and experienced by individuals and groups.  Anthropologists interested in studying religion focus mainly on the latter, religiousness, the lived experience of interaction and association with anthropomorphized superhuman beings.  Since the anthropomorphized superhuman beings who populate the pantheons of the religions of the world are so variable in their characteristics, and since the needs and hopes that natives bring to their association with these superhuman beings are also variable(both within and across cultures), religiousness is enormously variable from time to time and place to place.


4)  Ethnography(or field work).  For our understanding of ethnography, or field work, in the book review article for week 1 by yours truly, read the paragraph which begins on the bottom of pg. 227('Field work is the main empirical method...'), and the following paragraph.


  And.............  Anthropologists purport to study culture.  So also do the members of a much newer field of inquiry called cultural studies, most members of which are not anthropologists.  Are the two fields studying the same thing?  To make useful headway with this question we have to go beyond the term 'culture,' which the two fields commonly deploy; and ask, when members of the respective fields say they are studying culture, what are they actually looking at?  For anthropologists, culture as the object of empirical study is embodied par excellence in local life, as understood in the book review article just alluded to.  For cultural studies folks, on the other hand, culture as an object of empirical study is embodied mainly in, e.g., texts and films and styles,  and works of art or music or design or architecture or technology.  In other words, when anthropologists study culture, mainly they are studying real human beings in naturalistic everyday situations.  When cultural studies folks study culture,  mainly they are studying disembodied expressions of culture, not real people.  Hence, the correct answer to our initial question is, substantially, 'no.'  Sometimes the cultural studies folks seem to be unaware of this.


5)  Reductionism, reductionist explanation or interpretation.  This is another one that has a number of widely used meanings.  One widely adopted use, and one that is directly germane to our course, goes like this:  One can conceive of the universe in terms of levels of organization, the lower ones of which are necessary for and constitutive of the higher ones.  Thus, physico-chemical, biological, psychological, socio-cultural levels.  Reductionist explanation involves understanding or interpreting something from a higher level in terms of what goes on at one or more lower levels.  Thus, psychological anthropology, which is a largely reductionist field,  is heavily into understanding socio-cultural phenomena(e.g., menstrual taboos, sex antagonism, demon possession)in significant part in terms of the psychological properties of the individuals who are involved in these phenomena in specific cultures; and it is also interested in how these psychological properties arise in these individuals.  Social history, on the other hand, is a (mainly)non-reductionist field, and is heavily into understanding sociocultural phenomena(e.g., the rise of modern capitalism)in terms of other socio-cultural phenomena(e.g., certain forms of early Protestantism, along  with, e.g.,  certain kinds of political institutions, systems of book keeping and  monetary exchange, level of technological development, literacy, travel and communication infrastructure)




A)  Typically, a successful explanation or interpretation, whether reductionist or non-reductionist, answers only some, but not all, of the important and interesting questions about the object of analysis.


B)  Explanation of both types can yield worthwhile knowledge.  Thus, most or much interpretation in, e.g., psychological anthropology or psychobiology of biochemistry is reductionist.  Most interpretation in, e.g., history or political science or economics(to mention three other fields devoted to the systematic empirical study of humankind)is non-reductionist(although a bit of psychology may creep in).


C)  A field may prominently feature both modes of explanation.  Vide linguistics.  The historical linguists have developed sophisticated understanding of how languages  change, as well as of the relationships between languages and language families, without knowing anything whatsoever about any individual speaker of any language anywhere, now or in the past.  On the other hand, much of post-Chomsky linguistics is dedicated  to understanding in part the design features of speech in terms of psychological and biological properties of speakers.


D)  Now, and especially in the past, some folks have posited(typically on a priori, sometimes cosmological, grounds)that, finally, valid explanation can ONLY be reductionist or can ONLY be non-reductionist.  What should we do with this?  We can engage these folks on their own a priori-istic terms; but such discourse is likely to be inconclusive.  Flying on a lower plane, we can turn the debate into an empirical question, we can say in effect that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  We can inspect explanations of both types and ask, do either or both significantly illuminate what we are interested in?  Of course, to do this effectively, we must be working from satisfactory prior criteria for brighter and dimmer illumination.


6)  Emic and etic.   these funny sounding paired terms refer to two different perspectives on the same thing, the perspective of the insider(native)and of the outsider(researcher, e.g., anthropologist).  They come from descriptive linguistics, where the 'same thing' is a speech sound.  For any speech sound, phonetics describes the sound in physical terms.  You have to be a trained linguist to do phonetics; natives typically cannot do phonetic analyses of their own speech.  Phonemics, on the other hand, treats what makes the sound(s) meaningful to native speakers.  Whereas phonetics is not grounded in a speaker's understanding of his or her speech, phonemics is expressly grounded in the speaker's understanding of what his or her own speech means, it embodies the speaker's perspective on his or her own speech.


  Let's take this to some real cultural case material.  During our field work in a Thai rice village, we came to know an elderly lady who had been bed ridden for weeks with the following symptoms:  abdominal pain, sometimes severe; nausea and vomiting; appetite loss; weakness; episodic disorientation; weight loss.  The emic, the native, perspective on her situation said that she was possessed by a specific type of predatory ghost who was eating out her insides, and that she should receive the locally appropriate exorcism for this specific affliction.  An etic perspective on the same thing, which would be sensible to us and is grounded in biomedicine, would posit that she is afflicted by a serious gastro-intestinal disorder, would name the disorder, interpret its etiology, and recommend a very different kind of therapeutic rejoinder.  Or, from the readings of the week of 27 October,  Gananath Obeyesekere presents for us the case of Somavati, a Sinhalese woman who is also afflicted.  Obeyesekere gives us the emic perspective on Somavati's affliction(she is possessed by a spirit), as well as a psychologically flavored etic perspective grounded in the field of psychological anthropology, in which he is an esteemed scholar.


  Further:  A)  For our two examples of affliction, the respective emic and etic perspectives certainly disagree.  Which is correct?  Almost always, for the anthropologist, this is not a useful question, we shouldn't spend time on it.  Thus, I expect that most anthropologists don't believe in the existence of ghosts and spirits and demons.  But it is not part of our anthropological calling to treat native beliefs(and practices rationalized by them)as empirical propositions to be tested according to the procedures and criteria of Western science.  Rather, it's our job, first, fully and accurately and contextually to describe the usages which are important in the lives of the natives that we are learning about; and, second, to try to figure out why, in the contexts of these lives, these usages are compellingly sensible to the natives.  B)  It is increasingly commonplace, as literacy overtakes even the most remote parts of the third world,  for natives to read studies of them produced by outsiders.  Often these studies contain etic perspectives on native life and culture.  Sometimes native readers criticize these etic perspectives on the grounds that, as natives, they know the significance of the usages of their own culture; and, if the native knowledge disagrees with the outsider's knowledge, the outsider is ipso facto wrong.  What about this?  The point to remember is this:  Emic and etic are disjunctive frames of reference.  The validity of etic knowledge is properly judged within the frame of reference which generates it.  Of course, if we don't think that a frame of reference is valid, then we won't be interested in any of the knowledge that it generates.  Thus, modern chemists don't have much time for anything that comes from alchemy.  C)  Much of anthropology addresses the meaningfulness to natives of local life.  If we wish to interpret this etically, as does Obeyesekere,  it is imperative that we first learn and faithfully describe the emic perspective, as does Obeyesekere.  The emic perspective - e.g., Somavati's understanding and experience of her possession episode and its sequalae, as well as much in her life that came before this - is what Obeyesekere wants to interpret.  If he doesn't have this in proper focus, he can't get anywhere, no matter how valid his etic interpretive frame of reference may be.


7)  Ontogenesis and phylogenesis.  Both of these terms refer to developmental processes.  Ontogenesis refers to development in individual life history perspective.  Thus, embryology studies ontogenetic processes, as do schools of personality development or language acquisition.  Phylogenesis refers to the evolutionary development of species.  Evolution science is the field par excellence of phylogenesis.  Human evolution is the branch of evolution science which treats, specifically, the phylogenetic development of the species homo sapiens from an ancestral ape species which lived about six million years ago. 


  And, a caveat.......  We often hear or read the expression, 'social evolution.'  'Social evolution' and 'history' are effectively synonomous.  Like ontogenesis and phylogenesis, history is a developmental process.  But many, including yours truly, fear that it can be misleading to refer to historical process by the expression 'social evolution,' because the underlying mechanisms which fuel history and phylogenesis, respectively,  are completely different.  And this is not just an abstract concern.  E.G., in the latter part of the 19th century, attempts to model human  history on a phylogenesis eventuated in some real bad history.


8)  Native.  We are all natives.  We differ from each other according to what culture(s), and/or sub-cultures,  we are natives of.



"It rains on both the just and the unjust fella


But it rains mainly on the just, because the unjust has stolen his umbrella"