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Related: human - culture - Cultural Studies - history - sociology

Key people: Franz Boas - Emile Durkheim - Clifford Geertz - E.B. Tylor


Anthropology is the study of humankind. It is holistic in two senses: it is concerned with all humans at all times, and with all dimensions of humanity. Central to anthropology is the concept of culture, and the notion that human nature is culture; that our species has evolved a universal capacity to conceive of the world symbolically, to teach and learn such symbols socially, and to transform the world (and ourselves) based on such symbols.

In the United States, anthropology is traditionally divided into four fields: physical anthropology, which studies primate behavior, human evolution, and population genetics; linguistics, which studies variation in language across time and space, the social uses of language, and the relationship between language and culture; archaeology, which studies the material remains of human societies; and cultural anthropology, also called socio-cultural anthropology, which studies social behavior and beliefs (among phenomena studied by cultural anthropologists are kinship patterns, social networks, politics, patterns in production, exchange, and consumption, and religion). Around the 1990s, some U.S. Anthropology programs began dividing into two, one emphasizing the humanities and critical theory, the other emphasizing the natural sciences and positivism. In Great Britain, archeology is often treated as separate from anthropology. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropology [Sept 2003]

Cultural anthropology

Cultural anthropology, also called social anthropology or socio-cultural anthropology, is one of four commonly recognized fields of anthropology, the holistic study of humanity. It reflects in part a reaction against earlier Western discourses based on an opposition between "culture" and "nature," according to which some human beings lived in a "state of nature." Anthropologists argue that culture is "human nature," and that all people have a capacity to classify experiences, encode classifications symbolically, and teach such abstractions to others. Since culture is learned, people living in different places have different cultures. Anthropologists have also pointed out that through culture people can adapt to their environment in non-genetic ways, so people living in different environments will often have different cultures. Much of anthropological theory has been motivated by an appreciation of and interest in the tension between the local (particular cultures) and the global (a universal human nature, or the web of connections between people in distant places).

Modern socio-cultural anthropology has its origins in 19th century "ethnology." Ethnology involves the systematic comparison of human societies. Scholars like E.B. Tylor and J.G. Frazer in England worked mostly with materials collected by others – usually missionaries, explorers, or colonial officials – and are today called "arm-chair anthropologists." Ethnologists were especially interested in why people living in different parts of the world sometimes had similar beliefs and practices. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_anthropology [Feb 2005]

Anthropology and postmodernism

In the late 1980s and 1990s authors such as George Marcus and James Clifford pondered ethnographic authority and how and why anthropological knowledge was possible and authoritative. This was part of a more general trend of postmodernism that was popular. Currently anthropology focuses on globalization, medicine and biotechnology, indigenous rights, and the anthropology of Europe. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropology#Anthropology_after_World_War_Two [Apr 2005]

Today socio-cultural anthropology is still dominated by ethnography. Nevertheless, many contemporary socio-cultural anthropologists have rejected earlier models of ethnography that treated local cultures as bounded and isolated. These anthropologists are still concerned with the distinct ways people in different locales experience and understand their lives, but they often argue that one cannot understand these particular ways of life solely in the local context; one must analyze them in the context of regional or even global political and economic relations. Notable proponents of this approach are Arjun Appadurai, James Clifford, Jean Comaroff, John Comaroff, James Ferguson, Akhil Gupta, George Marcus, Sidney Mintz, Michael Taussig, Joan Vincent, and Eric Wolf. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_anthropology [Apr 2005]

The Anthropology of Consumption

Dick Hebdige is a cultural critic and scholar who has written extensively on popular culture and design issues, the anthropology of consumption, and media and critical theory.


Ethnology (greek ethnos: (non-greek, "barbarian") people) is a genre of anthropological study, involving the systematic comparison of the beliefs and practices of different societies. Among its goals are the reconstruction of human history, and the formulation of laws of culture and culture change, and the formulation of generalizations about human nature. --a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnology">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnology [May 2005]

Mondo films [...]


  1. Accursed Share, Vol. 1: Consumption - Georges Bataille [Amazon US]
    Bataille, a leading writer in France from the 1930s to his death in 1962, offers here nothing less than a new theory of civilization. Economists usually emphasize scarcity: limited means must be carefully allotted to serve conflicting ends. Bataille dissents: in his view, much more energy lies available than societies can use. The surplus energy must be dissipated; historically, this was accomplished through war and spending on luxuries. Though Bataille's eye for vivid detail is evident, his theory appears more valuable as a framework for his dazzling literary skills than a contribution to knowledge. Probably of greater interest to students of French literature than to economists or historians. David Gordon, Bowling Green St. Univ., Ohio Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

    Most Anglo-American readers know Bataille as a novelist. The Accursed Share provides an excellent introduction to Bataille the philosopher. Here he uses his unique economic theory as the basis for an incisive inquiry into the very nature of civilization. Unlike conventional economic models based on notions of scarcity, Bataille's theory develops the concept of excess: a civilization, he argues, reveals its order most clearly in the treatment of its surplus energy. The result is a brilliant blend of ethics, aesthetics, and cultural anthropology that challenges both mainstream economics and ethnology.

  2. The Origins of Music (1999)- Nils L. Wallin (Editor), Björn Merker (Editor), Steven Brown (Editor) [Amazon US]
    What biological and cognitive forces have shaped humankind's musical behaviour and the rich global repertoire of musical structures? What is music for, and why does every human culture have it? What are the universal features of music and musical behaviour across cultures? In this book, musicologists, biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, ethologists and linguists come together for the first time to examine these and related issues. The book can be viewed as representing the birth of evolutionary biomusicology -the study of which will contribute greatly to our understanding of the evolutionary precursors of human music, the evolution of the hominid vocal tract, localization of brain function, the structure of acoustic-communication signals, symbolic gesture, emotional manipulation through sound, self-expression, creativity, the human affinity for the spiritual, and the human attachment to music itself.

  3. Picturing Culture: Explorations of Film and Anthropology - Jay Ruby [Amazon US]
    Here, Jay Ruby - a founder of visual anthropology - distills his 30-year exploration of the relationship of film and anthropology. Spurred by a conviction that the ideal of an anthropological cinema has not even remotely begun to be realized, Ruby argues that ethnographic filmmakers should generate a set of critical standards analogous to those for written ethnographies. Cinematic artistry and the desire to entertain, he argues, can eclipse the original intention, which is to provide an anthropological representation of the subjects. The book begins with analyses of key filmmakers (Robert Flaherty, Robert Garner and Tim Asch) who have striven to generate profound statements about human behaviour on film. Ruby then discusses the idea of research film, Eric Michaels and indigenous media, the ethics of representation, the nature of ethnography, anthropological knowledge and film, and lays the groundwork for a critical approach to the field that borrows selectively from film, communication, media and cultural studies. Witty and original, yet intensely theoretical, this collection is a major contribution to the field of visual anthropology.

  4. The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal (1967) - Desmond Morris [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    "A startling view of man, stripped of the facade we try so hard to hide behind." In view of man's awesome creativity and resourcefulness, we may be inclined to regard him as descended from the angels, yet, in his brilliant study, Desmond Morris reminds us that man is relative to the apes--is in fact, the greatest primate of all. With knowledge gleaned from primate ethnology, zoologist Morris examines sex, child-rearing, exploratory habits, fighting, feeding, and much more to establish our surprising bonds to the animal kingdom and add substance to the discussion that has provoked controversy and debate the world over. Natural History Magazine praised The Naked Ape as "stimulating . . . thought-provoking . . . [Morris] has introduced some novel and challenging ideas and speculations." --From the Publisher

The Golden Bough (1890) - James George Frazer

Golden Bough (1890) - James George Frazer [Amazon.com]

The title was taken from an incident in the Aeneid, illustrated in this painting The Golden Bough by the British artist Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851): Aeneas and the Sibyl present the golden bough to the gatekeeper of Hades to gain admission. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Bough [Mar 2005]

The Mothers (1927) - Robert Briffault

The Mothers (1927) - Robert Briffault
[ cover shown here is of the abridged, 1959 edition ]
image sourced here. [Mar 2005]

[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Old Fashioned Quality Research
The three volumes that form this work are an incredible source of information. Briffault, more or less an amateur yet with lots of time on his hands during WW1, went about his study of cultural institutions, rules and taboos like a loving stamp collector. He carefully documented his sources; and therefore his footnotes and bibliography alone make this work a gold mine. That his outlook was refreshingly less patriarchal and judgmental than that of most his colleagues of the time, for example Sir J.G. Frazier and his famous Golden Bough (1922), makes him all the more readable.

From the Mysteries of Eleusis to tribal fertility dances, from defloration customs to ritual prostitution, from strange marriage ceremonies to circumcision, "The Mothers" is a major source for "Dirty Laundry" from all over the globe. --http://www.yoniversum.nl/blissbooks/review/briffmother.html [Mar 2005]

Robert Briffault, novelist, social anthropologist, and surgeon, was born in Nice, France in 1876. He was educated at the University of Dunedin and Christ Church University and began medical practice in 1901 in New Zealand. In May 1896 he married Anna Clarke; the couple had three children, Lister, Muriel, and Joan, born from 1897 to 1901. After service on the Western Front during World War I, he settled in England, his wife having died. In the late 1920s he married again, to Herma Hoyt (1898-1981), an American writer and translator, best known for her English translations of modern French literature. The Brifffaults became clients of the literay agent William Bradley and were befriended by his wife, Jenny. Briffault is the author of several books, including The Mothers (1927) and Europa (1935). He died in Hastings, Sussex, England on 11 December 1948. --http://library.mcmaster.ca/archives/findaids/fonds/b/briffaul.htm [Mar 2005]

Scatalogic Rites of All Nations (1891) - John G. Bourke

Scatalogic Rites of All Nations (1891) - John G. Bourke [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
1891. A dissertation upon the employment of excrementitious remedial agents in religion, therapeutics, divination, witchcraft, love-philters, etc. in all parts of the globe. This work is based upon original notes and personal observation, and upon compilation from over one thousand authorities. The subject of Scatalogic or Stercoraceous Rites and Practices, however repellent it may be under some of its aspects, is none the less deserving of the profoundest consideration, if for no other reason that that from the former universal dissemination of such aberrations of the intellect, as well as of the religious impulses of the human race, and their present curtailment or restriction, the progress of humanity upward and onward may best be measured.

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