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Anthropological Theory. Part II. Paradigm IV. Functionalism. In Britain a very different reaction to 19 th C. evolution took place Shift from change (evolution) to how societies maintained themselves, or stayed the same Unlike Boas’ historical perspective, functionalism was synchronic.

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Anthropological Theory

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Anthropological theory l.jpg

Anthropological Theory

Part II

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Paradigm IV. Functionalism

  • In Britain a very different reaction to 19th C. evolution took place

  • Shift from change (evolution) to how societies maintained themselves, or stayed the same

  • Unlike Boas’ historical perspective, functionalism was synchronic

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Context for Functionalism

  • The world had been carved up into colonies

  • Now the problem was how to rule the peoples within them

    • This required practical knowledge of their social & political structures

    • Research focused on explaining how social systems function

    • This information served the purposes of colonial administration

  • The concern was with maintaining order & stability

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Britain – Social Anthropology

  • Social Structure = an enduring pattern of relationships between individuals & groups

  • Function: Society is like an organism, the parts function together to maintain the whole system

  • Emphasis was on equilibrium; change would upset the equilibrium

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#1 – Bronislaw Malinowski

  • 1915 WW I broke out & Malinowski was a Pole in English territory

    • He was forced to remain in New Guinea the duration of the war

    • Lived with the Trobriand Islanders & became one of the most noted fieldworkers

  • 1922 Argonauts of the

    Western Pacific

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    • Biopsychological Functionalism

      • Malinowski saw society as a structure that functioned to meet the needs of the individual

      • Every human has biological needs

        • Food, shelter, reproduction

      • Instrumental needs

        • Institutions that meet biological needs

      • Integrative needs

        • Religion, symbolic aspects that encode values

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    Trobriand Kula Ring

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    • HOLISM: Kula is an exchange system that relates to Trobriand politics & alliance formation, prestige, feasting, economic trade, & magic

    • It contributes to the

      integration of society

    • Ethnographic work

      must deal with the totality—an anatomy of culture

      • To study only religion (or technology) cuts an artificial field of inquiry

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    Making the Strange Familiar

    • “Ethnology has introduced law & order into what seemed chaotic & freakish. It has transformed for us the sensational, wild & unaccountable world of “savages” into a number of well-ordered communities, governed by law, behaving & thinking according to consistent principles”

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    • “The individual, both in social theory & in the reality of cultural life, is the starting point & the end. Culture remains sound & capable of further development only in so far as a definite balance between individual interest & social control can be maintained. If this balance be upset or wrongly poised, we have at one end anarchy & at the other brutal dictatorship”

    • Key: Society exists to fulfill the needs of the individual

    • Set Fieldwork Standards

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    #2 – A.R. Radcliffe-Brown

    • Structural Functionalism

      • Structure – organized arrange-

        ment of the parts of society

      • Function – the contribution of

        the parts to the maintenance

        of the whole

    • Made anthropology a positivist science—objectivity

      • A materialist approach

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    • Key – People exist to meet the needs of society

      • Individuals are cogs in the social system

    • Malinowski: Funeral meets psychological needs of the individual

    • Radcliffe-Brown: Funeral creates social solidarity of the group

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    • “I conceive of social anthropology as the theoretical natural science of human society, the investigation of social phenomena by methods essentially similar to those used in the physical & biological sciences. While I have defined social anthropology as the study of human society, there are some who define it as the study of culture. It might be thought that this difference is of minor importance. Actually it leads to two different kinds of study”

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    • “In a hive of bees there are the relations of association of the queen, the workers & the drones. These are social phenomenon; I do not suppose that anyone will call them cultural phenomena. Let us consider what are the concrete, observable facts with which the social anthropologist is concerned. We can observe the acts of behavior of these individuals. We do not observe a culture since that word is but an abstraction. I use the term “social structure” to denote this network of actually existing relations”

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    Strengths & Weaknesses

    • Strengths:

      • Established the concept of cultural integration (holism)

      • Emphasis on social context

      • Refined fieldwork methods

    • Weaknesses:

      • Treats subjects of study as objects

      • Ignores assumptions researchers bring to the field

      • Did not account for history or change

      • Political implications

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    Paradigm V. Cultural Materialism

    • The context for paradigm change:

      • 1940-50s post-WW II breakup of colonial empires, civil rights movement

      • World conflicts over economic resources, expansion of the world market system

    • Anthropologists observed the impact of colonialism & capitalist expansion on indigenous peoples

      • Interest shifted to how the drive for material resources, political & economic power affected people

      • Shift from equilibrium (synchronic) to change (diachronic)

      • Emphasis on positivist approach—testing hypotheses, measurable, quantifiable data

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    Key = Adaptation to the Environment

    • Cultural materialists assumed the way people organize to make a living from the environment determines their technology, social & political organization, belief system

    • This is a materialist approach drawn from Karl Marx

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    Marxian Model





    Economic Base

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    #1 – Neoevolution(Cultural Materialism)

    • Neoevolutionists created typologies to explain change in the social system over time

    • Based on technological complexity

      • Band

      • Tribe

      • Chiefdom

      • State

    • But less ethnocentric

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    #1 A – Leslie White(Neoevolution)

    • General Evolution

      • Basic Law of Cultural Evolution:

        Culture evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is increased, or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of putting the energy to work is increased

      • “The primary function of culture is to harness & control energy so that it may be put to work in man’s service”

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    White’s Basic Law

    • E X T = C

    • 3 Factors:

      • Energy harnessed per capita

      • Technological efficiency

      • Amount of goods produced

    • C = cultural development

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    Is there a problem with White’s model?

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    The Assumption of Neoevolution

    • Technological improvement is the prime mover of sociocultural change; it results in PROGRESS

    • Scissors, rocks, paper

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    Hint: remember these cartoons

    Before paper and scissors

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    #2 A – Julian Steward(Neoevolution)

    • Specific or Multilineal Evolution

    • Steward worked with the Shoshoni, noted the influence of the environment on culture

      • Cultures in similar environments were organized similarly

      • Cultures in different

        environments were organized differently

    • Founder of cultural ecology

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    Steward: The Patrilineal Band

    • The cultural type of the patrilineal band is found in similar environments throughout the world

      • South Africa

      • Australia

      • Tasmania

      • Great Basin

    • Patrilineal, patrilocal, exogamous bands

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    White vs. Steward

    • White:

      General Evolution

    • Steward:



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    • Steward rejected universal stages

    • Objective: to find an acceptable view of evolution without neglecting the uniqueness of individual cultures

    • Culture Core: traits directly related to exploitation of the environment

    • Secondary Features: irrelevant to adaptation to the environment

    • Environmental Possibilism

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    #3 B – Marvin Harris

    • Harris was a staunch cultural materialist (but not neoevolutionist)

    • India’s Sacred Cow

      • Interest in how each culture uses resources, but no interest in ranking

      • Explains how “exotic” customs & beliefs are influenced by the

        economic base

    • Technology & Environment

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    Strengths & Weaknesses

    • Strengths:

      • Methodological rigor, measurable criteria, explanatory theory

      • Examined change over time

      • Less ethnocentric than 19th C. evolutionists

      • Attention to the relationship of sociocultural systems & environment

    • Weaknesses:

      • Progress & ranking are implicit

      • Material determinists (reductionist)

      • Ignore symbolic aspects of culture

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    Paradigm VI. Political Economy

    • Marxist theory in anthropology

    • Structural functionalism assumed an orderly world, but conflict is endemic

    • Context: Post WW II struggles for independence & capitalist expansion

    • Marx’s life work was a

      critique of capitalism

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    Marx’s Theory:

    • I. Dialectical Materialism

      • A materialist theory that accounts for historical change

      • Conflict between opposing forces

      • Class struggle is a dialectical process over control of the means of production

      • Out of conflict arises something new

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    • IIPolitical Economy

      • The roots of capitalism are in the private ownership of the means of production

      • Labor is key; labor power as a commodity

      • Bourgeoisie & Proletariat

      • Exploitation – the worker creates value, the capitalist appropriates surplus value

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    • III. Historical Materialism

      • History develops through a series of class conflicts

      • The unequal distribution of wealth & power creates conflicts

      • Cultural evolution is a history of the evolution of modes of production

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    Modes of Production

    • Forces of Production

    • Relations of Production

    • Means of Production

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    Evolution of Modes of Production

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    Why is Marxist Theory Important to Anthropology?

    • Anthropologists began to examine the impact of colonialism & capitalism on local communities

    • Unlike functionalists who viewed communities as isolated, Marxists address how they are inserted into the global system

    • They take history into account—communities are a product of centuries of global economic & political processes

    • Concern is with exploitation, the widening gap between rich & poor

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    #1 - June Nash

    • Devil Worship & Bolivian Tin Miners

      • Miners are incorporated into the capitalist relations of production

      • They are exploited,

        low wages,

        dangerous working

        conditions, dynamite

        blasts kill many

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    • Tin miners

      worship the devil, “Tio”

      • Make offerings to Tio in Ch’alla

        rituals so Tio won’t let accidents

        kill them; Tio is ruthless, gluttonous, powerful

      • Dynamite blast: “Tio is eating us”

      • Tio owns the mine; the ore is the “crop” of the devil

      • Ritual to transform exploitive relations

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    Strengths & Weaknesses

    • Strengths:

      • Attempt to understand the impact of economic & political power on powerless people

      • Concern with inequality

      • Emphasis on history

    • Weaknesses:

      • Exploited people are often viewed only as passive victims

      • Often ignores environmental issues, gender, ethnicity

      • Evolutionary view (of modes of production)

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    6 Major Paradigms

    • Unilineal Evolution

    • Historical Particularism

    • Culture & Personality

    • Functionalism

    • Cultural Materialism

      • Neoevolution

    • Marxist / Political Economy

      Most divisive: idealist - materialist

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