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Friday, 11 June 2010

Social and Cultural Anthropology

Cultural and social anthropology are distinguishable if not entirely seperated intellectual or academic traditions. The use of the terms "cultural" and "social" to draw the distinction became common in the 1930s, but the divergence arose earlier, most directly from the differences between the studies advocated by Franz BOAS (1858 1942) in the United States from the 1890s, and the new directions anthropology had begun to take in England around that time at the initiative of R. R. Marrett (1866 1943), C. G. Seligman (1873 1940), W. H. R. RIVERS (1864 1922), and Alfred Haddon (1855 1940).
Today the two terms do not denote a precise division of approaches and for this reason some anthropologists have dispensed with the distinction (e.g., R. Barrett 1984: 2). For many others, however, the difference remains important, at least as a shorthand way of characterizing ethnographic styles.

Definitional issues:
The rubric "cultural anthropology" is generally applied to ethnographic works that are holistic in spirit, oriented to the ways in which culture affects individual experience, or aim to provide a rounded view of the knowledge, customs, and institutions of a people. "Social anthropology" is a term applied to ethnographic works that attempt to isolate a particular system of social relations such as those that comprise domestic life, economy, law, politics, or religion give analytical priority to the organizational bases of social life, and attend to cultural phenomena as somewhat secondary to the main issues of social scientific inquiry.

National and international influences:

Cultural anthropology continues to be the dominant tradition in the United States; social anthropology in Britain and the Commonwealth. The two traditions do not, however, correspond precisely with this division. The British anthropologist Edward TYLOR (1832 1917) is more clearly a forerunner of cultural anthropology, and the American anthropologist Lewis Henry MORGAN (1818 81) become a central figure in British social anthropology. Other anthropologists Bronislaw MALINOWSKI (1884 1942), for example defy simple categorization.

Malinowski, with Trobriand Islanders.
Malinowski is cosidered to be one of the pioneers to make fieldwork as integrated part of doing anthropology.
Moreover, the genealogy of these traditions only partially reflects their national character. Social anthropology drew from nineteenth-century British theorists such as Henry Sumner MAINE (1822 88), William Robertson SMITH (1846 94), and J. F. McLennan (1827 81), but also from such important figures as J. J. Bachofen (1815 87), who was Swiss, Carl Starcke (1858 1926), who was Danish, Edward Westermarck (1862 1939), who was Finnish, Arnold van GENNEP (1873 1957), who was Dutch, and above all from Emile DURKHEIM (1858 1917) and other French ethnologists of the Année sociologique circle, including Marcel MAUSS (1872 1950) and Robert HERTZ (1882 1915). Cultural anthropology at the beginning of the century looked as much to the tradition of such German historical geographers as Karl Ritter (1779 1859) and Adolf Bastian (1826 1905) as it did to the contributions of Morgan, Henry Schoolcraft (1793 1864), and the fieldworkers associated with the Bureau of American Ethnology under the directorship of John Wesley Powell (1834 1902).

The usage:
Social anthropology has been more strongly associated with the contributions of A. R. RADCLIFFE-BROWN (1881 1955) than with those of Frazer. In 1923, Radcliffe-Brown distinguished between ethnology as "the attempt to reconstruct the history of culture" and social anthropology as "the study that seeks to formulate the general laws that underlie the phenomena of culture" (1958: 8, 25). He illustrated his idea of ethnology by citing the work of BOAS and Boas's students. Radcliffe-Brown's emphasis on typology and rigorous abstraction also entered into the connotation of "social anthropology," if not into the practice of all social anthropologists.
"Cultural anthropology" is a more diffuse term. Boas himself did not place his studies under this heading, referring to his approach simply as "anthropology." Some of his students, however, noted the lack of a term to distinguish investigations of culture per se from physical anthropology, and, to a lesser extent, from ARCHAEOLOGY and LINGUISTICS. These students, including Clark Wissler (1870 1947), Alfred KROEBER (1876 1960), Robert LOWIE (1883 1957), Paul Radin (1883 1959), and Edward SAPIR (1884 1939), were clear about the focus on "CULTURE," but did not settle on a single nomenclature until the late 1930s. Sapir (1916) early on referred to "cultural anthropology" in its current sense. But the term did not immediately stick. In his 1929 textbook, Introduction to social anthropology, Wissler, for example, defined his field as "social anthropology" because:
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our concern will be with the social life of man, rather than with his anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Sometimes we speak of this social life as civilization, but in social anthropology, the term culture is preferred; and culture, when used in this technical sense, includes all the group activities, or conventionalized habits, of a tribe or a community. (pp. 11 12)
Paul Radin's (1932) textbook, Social anthropology, continued this usage. The term "cultural anthropology" appears to have gained prominence first from the title of Lowie's (1934) text, An introduction to cultural anthropology, in which he declared: "The general goal of anthropological study is to understand the whole of culture in all periods and ages, and to see each humblest fragment in relation to that totality" (pp. 384 5). Lowie nonetheless remained rather circumspect about the term, acknowledging in 1936 that the discipline "has been variously ticketed 'culture history,' 'ethnography,' 'ethnology,' or 'cultural anthropology,"' (1960: 391). In any case, by the end of the 1930s, American anthropologists whose studies focused on culture and whose work was largely informed by Boas's teachings generally called themselves cultural anthropologists.

Barfield, T. (Ed.).(1997) The Dictionary of Anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell publications.

Blogger's comment: I find this dictionary exceptionally helpful for students to build up initial concepts in anthropology along with list of references to work out later. However, currently the book is not available in markets but one can always go to library.

Social anthropology: an alternative introduction. Read the first chapter "theoretical underpinnings" Click here

Anthropology, by Robert Marett. To find the book click here

1 comment:

  1. This material is very helpful. Thank you!