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Friday, January 13, 2006

Essay die Zweite

Boas und Nachfolger

Charakterisiere den Ansatz der durch Boas inspirierten, Nordamerikanische Anthropologie der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Wodurch zeichnet sich eine relativistische Haltung in der anthropologischen Forschung aus und wie versuchten die Nachfolgerinnen dieser Richtung diesen Ansatz weiterzuentwickeln.

Cultural anthropology, a particular development of the discipline, has been invented in the United States by Franz Boas, that is often called its founding father. Cultural anthropology answers to the questions posed from the cultural relativism, and it formulates its theories starting from the techniques, from the objects and the behaviors of the different civilizations, to convey to a synthesis of the social activity. Cultural anthropology underlines the importance of the transmission phenomena of the culture itself. [1]

Boas (July 9, 1858 – December 22, 1942) was born in Westphalia, in Germany, from an active liberal Jewish family. Influenced also by Enlightenment ideals, he received a various education. He obtained a doctorate in physics in 1881 and then he started to train in geography, undertaking an expedition to research on the impact of the physical environment on Eskimo’s migrations. During this study, he lived among the members of the population. This relevant experience led him to acquire more interest on cultural human behavior. [2]

After having completed his post-doctoral work, in 1886 he conducted a field investigation to study the Indians on the British Columbia coast. He precisely examined Kwakiutl culture, describing just about every aspect of the life of this community, including its religion, art, language, and the physical characteristics of the people. In 1888 his linguistic findings on the Kwakiutl were published in the essay “On Alternating Sounds”, setting the basis of what would become cultural relativism. [3]

After this significant work, he decided to emigrate to the United States, where he married and started to work at the journal “Science”, in New York. He then became instructor for anthropology at the Clark university and assistant at the Chicago Natural History Museum. He later obtained a post as a lecturer at the Columbia University and was soon after (in 1899) promoted as its first anthropology professor. Over the years he played a key role on the creation of the American Anthropological Association, which resulted to be fundamental for the rising of the discipline in the United States. [4]

In his work, Franz boas studied any single culture as a whole, analyzing everyone of its distinct aspects. Boas, taking diffusionism into consideration, proposed to reflect on the causes of the cultural traits’ loans, on the modalities of incorporation in the traits of the receiving culture and on the internal changes within cultures. He practiced field research and was skeptic regarding generalization. By this starting point, he tried to recreate all the past events that led to the present organization of the examined culture; accordingly, he claimed that diversities of human cultures are determined primarily by the environment, and not by heredity. [5]

Furthermore, he denounced the limits of the comparative method and destroyed the theories that attributed to different people the same undue origins starting from similar traits, establishing a new concept of culture and race: cultural relativism assumed that the differences between people were determined by their history, by their physical environment and their social organization, so that every ethnic group was equal to the others in matters of culture and race. This concept has been well developed in his book “Race, language and culture” (1940). [6]

The anti-evolutionist critique started with Boas (as he focused on historical particularism, rejecting the idea of orthogenesis developed by Morgan and Tylor) and the four-field structure came with him too. This consisted in the four varieties of anthropology which grew up in the North-American contest; specifically cultural, linguistic, archaeological and physical (or biological) anthropology. As already mentioned, the father of American anthropology played also the role of an “institution builder” of the discipline, in museums, universities and associations.

Franz Boas formed the generation of the first half of the twentieth century - anthropologists; nevertheless these assumed different positions towards his thinking, and sometimes with strong critiques. We can split his students into three main age groups:
- The first one, which followed the historical thread of Boas’ work, includes those trained before the First World War;
- The second one, arisen in the 1920s, which followed instead the psychological part of Boas’ thinking;
- The third one, formed during the 1930’s, a mix of the both threads, focusing more on actual events. [7]

The most important among the students of the first generation are Alfred Kroeber and Edward Sapir. Kroeber, using formal historical methods, extended in his studies the concept of cultural relativism (and determinism) promoted by Boas, moving towards for example to the total exclusion of external factors or roles in a culture’s evolution. Sapir, instead, specialized in anthropological linguistics. He worked, together with his scholar Benjamin Whorf, on a project regarding the consequences of the language on thought and culture. This concept has been re-elaborated recently in the field of linguistic relativity. [8]

The younger second generation, called the “culture and personality school” because took into consideration sociology and psychology, took Sapir, with his interest on the individual, as a guiding figure. These researchers built up was it is called “the strong cultural relativism”, that constantly sees every culture comprehensible only within its own terms, symbols and aspects, in opposition to the Boasian “weak” one, that makes use of this scheme just during the first step of observation. This generation involved many women, the more relevant of them are Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict.

Mead worked, as a graduate student, on adolescence and sex roles in Samoa, and although the results of her research didn’t initially find the appreciation of the shocked readers, and later the critique of Derek Freeman, this was almost certainly the first American ethnography based on participant observation. Benedict, in her bestseller “Patterns of culture” (1934), articulating her belief in strong cultural relativism, describes every culture as giving emphasis on a few aspects or characteristics, which can be found in the personalities of the people living within this background.

The Boasian’s cultural relativism is not only an anthropological theory, as this concept, considering race, language and culture as not interdependent, influenced a liberal political thought against racism as well; and in those ages in particular against Nazism and Fascism (it is not to forget that Boas decided to move to the United States also because he was a Jew). For this reason his innovative point of view is still today embraced and developed.


[1] Rivière, 1998: S. 14



[4] Ember, 1998: S. 19

[5] Rivière, 1998: S. 41


[7] Silverman, 2005: S. 257-260

[8] Silverman, 2005: S. 265-267

[9] Gingrich, 1999: S.178-182


Barth, Frederic; Gingrich, Andre; Parkin, Robert; Silverman, Sydel:” One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology”. The Halle Lectures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2005: S.257-274

Gingrich, Andre. “Erkundungen. Themen der ethnologischen Forschung”. Wien: Böhlau. 1999: S. 176-182.

Claude Rivière. „Introduzione all’antropologia“. Il Mulino, Universale Paperbacks, 1998: S. 14, 41-42

Carol R. Ember; Melvin Ember: „Antropologia Culturale“. Il Mulino, Prentice Hall International, Bologna 1998. S. 19-23,87-88.


Saturday, December 10, 2005


4. Welche Spezifika seines Werkes machen Durkheim zu einem wichtigen Einflussgeber der anthropologischen (bzw. sozialwissenschaftlichen) Theorienbildung des 20. Jahrhunderts? Worin bestehen die Neuerungen im Denken Durkheims, die spätere Forschungsrichtungen inspirierten?

The French sociologist Èmile Durkheim (Epinal, 1858 - 1917) is not only one of the greatest founding figures of sociology, since he established it as a proper university discipline, but also of anthropology, which in France had developed within the sociological school.
È. Durkheim’s new paradigm had created a bridge with the evolutionist theory, and his work changed the vision of social sciences in Europe. With his new approach he intended to explain social through social, considering societal facts as things. His style in dealing with the subject was however not only rational and scientific, but a unique combination of empiricism and logical links between facts; he thought they were both indispensable to make sense, and this as been seen as a turning point in the social field.

A reply to an old question of J. J. Rousseau (1712-1778), which had been articulated in the masterpiece “Le contracte social”, and regarding the meaning of society and the cohabitation of men in it, was found by È. Durkheim.
He assumed that collective life and social order within societies could be maintained only by division of labor. In particular, he underlined the discrepancy between different kinds of societies: in modern (or industrialized) societies, stability and balance were preserved through organic solidarity, and that means by necessary interdependence of the individuals, due to the increasing specialization of work and specific tasks within occupations. Meanwhile, in traditional (or non-industrialized) societies, where religion still played an important role, equilibrium was maintained by mechanical solidarity, i.e. a sense of common relation among people who shared the same faith, rituals, and same the work (this notion was later worked out, and criticized, by his nephew M. Mauss).
Thus, Durkheim explained, throughout the model of industrialized society, the existence in it of different opposite parts, affecting each others as regards the function they served in keeping it balanced. The conception of different functions was perceived as the cause for the development of adaptation, organization and integration, because societal organization played the major role in the lives of humans. His idea of “fragmented society” conducted to the conception of functionalism, whose Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown were leading figures and whose T. Parsons was one of the greatest exponents.
This Durkheimian’s archetype has also been re-elaborated in the 20th century by Ernest Gellner (1925- 1995), a philosopher and social-anthropologist who studied and widened especially the concepts of hierarchy, social conflicts and cyclic processes.
Furthermore, according to Durkheim, modern societies, because of increasing complexity rose from the division of labor, leaded to separate the people and to weaken social bonds. This created a condition of lack of regulation, called “anomie”. On his book “Le suicide” (1897), he treats anomie as one of the reasons for deviant behaviors (the violation of social norms) and for committing suicide, as society fails to support the individual’s crises, because a lack of bonds is present within the community.

Maybe the main topic on which È. Durkheim focused in his anthropological work is religion, to which he attributed a social function. Before his assumptions religion was conceived as true only if its transcendental beliefs were considered to be true; then, with Montesquieu, came out the idea of the possibility of false religions; with Durkheim religion was only to be seen as true, as being an expression of human needs.
Durkheim thought it was possible to find the essence of the religious phenomena in its elementary, archaic and primitive form (where the dichotomy sacred and profane lays at the main basis), as he assumed that beliefs and rituals were dominated from three main ideas:
The “mana”, a generating impersonal and anonymous power. It is diffused in a multitude of things and being present in the human beings too, it is also a sacred product of the society;
the “totem”, a word coming from “ototem”, in Ojibuna language “he belongs to my kinship”. It is a sacred representation, emblem of the clan since it symbolizes an animal or plant species that assigns the name of the clan itself. To have the same totem’s name, means to share the same belongings – this explain the cult and the feeling of belonging to a kinship;
The “taboo”, a ban, from the Polynesian “tapu”, it embodies a sacred prohibition and at the same time the quality of anything stroked from prohibitions, being sacred or impure. Its function is to protect the value of fragile goods or human beings, submitting the individual to the communitarian law and order (relationship individual and society, another dichotomy) .
This aspects, reported in Durkheim’s masterpiece “Le formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse” (Paris, 1912), are the fundamental concepts that define collective representations (a product of religious thinking, i.e. norms, symbols, myths, values, or collective elaborations of men of the world). These, in primitive forms of religion, not only ensure continuity and cohesion within the society, because they spread out the power of the society over the individuals, but are the depiction of the society itself as well. That’s why the great thinker thought that religion influenced and conditioned society, by instilling in ourselves a sense of responsibility towards the others, and by giving us the “eyes” to draw categories and orders. And again, being so religion a social fact, it could only be explained by other social facts. But as we have already noticed, in industrialized societies, labor assumed more importance in ruling than the sacred, due to social stratification and to division of work, accompanied by the creation of organs such as, for example, the state.

Many of his subsequent authors took inspiration from Durkheim’s work.
Starting of course from Marcel Mauss (1872-1924), who, although criticizing some aspects of his theory, studied also non-industrialized societies on his well-known “Essay sur le don”, and moving to Frazer (identifying various types of taboo), to A.P. Elkin (he defines 4 kinds of totemism in Australia), to Lévi Strauss (his structuralism is a development of Durkheimian tradition and he makes use of the concepts of taboo and totem) and to Freud (the taboo is a condition that limits our desire).
Furthermore, many of the mentioned ideas of the sociological functionalism of this French thinker on the rules of religious life (“Le formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse”, 1912), and his contribution to the discipline of method (“Les règles de la méthode sociologique”, 1895) can still be considered to be partly valid, and they are essential to understand sociology today.


- Claude Rivière “Introduzione all’antropologia” Il mulino, Bologna 1998 Pages 150-152
- G. Filoramo, M. Massenzio, M. Raveri, P. Scarpi, “Manuale di storia delle religioni”, Bari 1988 Pages 99-106
- Andre Gringrich “Erkundungen” Bohlaw, Wien Pages 182-185
- Barth, Parkin, Gringrich, Silverman “One discipline, four ways. British, French, German and American Anthropology” Chicago 2005 Pages 171-181



Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Essay fuer 25.11.

Welche Hauptfragen und -anliegen kennzeichnen den Funktionalismus eines Malinowski oder den Strukturfunktionalismus eines Radcliffe-Brown? Diskutiere die Beiträge in Theorie und Methode, die die beiden Gründerfiguren der britischen Anthropologie in die Wissenschaftstradition einbrachten.

Functionalism emerged early in the twentieth century as a reaction against the excesses of the evolutionary and diffusionist theories of the nineteenth-century and the historicism of the early twentieth century. There was a shift in focus from the speculatively historical study of customs and cultural traits as "survivals" to the ahistorical study of social "institutions" within functioning societies.
Two versions of functionalism developed between 1910 and 1930: biocultural, or psychological, functionalism, the approach promoted by Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942), and structural- functionalism, the approach advanced by A.R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955), two anthropologists that had the greatest influence in this development in Great Britain at the time (in particular, Radcliffe-Brown in the US anthropological academy of the twentieths).

Main starting points
Functionalism started from three main general theoretical concepts: utility (what do you use it for?), causality (for what reason?), system (interconnections within a system), in particular:
Malinowski suggested that individuals have physiological needs and that social institutions develop to meet these needs. There are also culturally derived needs and four basic "instrumental needs" (economics, social control, education, and political organization), that require institutional devices. Each institution has personnel, a charter, a set of norms or rules, activities, material apparatus and a function. Malinowski believed that uniform psychological responses are correlates of physiological needs. He argued that satisfaction of these needs transformed the cultural instrumental activity into an acquired drive through psychological reinforcement.
The primary starting points of Malinowski's theorizing included 1) understanding behavior in terms of the motivation of individuals, including both rational, 'scientifically' validated behavior and 'irrational', ritual, magical, or religious behavior, 2) recognizing the interconnectedness of the different items which constituted a 'culture' to form some kind of system, and 3) understanding a particular item by identifying its function in the current contemporary operation of that culture.
Essentially, he treated culture as everything pertaining to human life and action which cannot be regarded as a property of the human organism as a physiological system, that is, as a direct manifestation of biologically inherited patterns of behavior. Culture is that aspect of behavior that is learned by the individual and which may be shared by pluralities of individuals, and transmitted to other individuals, along with the physical objects associated with such learned patterns and activities. (confront: Malinowsky against Freud’s Edipo classical theory)
Malinowski considered institutions to be "the concrete isolates of organized behavior." Since such behavior always involves a plurality of persons, an institution in this sense is therefore a social system, which is a subsystem of society. Though functionally differentiated from other institutions, an institution is a segmentary cross-section of culture that involves all the components included in Malinowski's definition of culture. Malinowski believed that the central feature of the charter of an institution is " the system of values for the pursuit of which human beings organize, or enter organizations already existing. As for the concept of function, he believed it is the primary basis of differentiation of institutions within the same culture. In other words, institutions differ in that they are organized about different functions. Indeed, for Malinowski, the primary reference of the concept of function was to a theory of the biological needs of the individual organism. He believed that culture is always instrumental to the satisfaction of organic needs. Therefore, he had to bridge the gap between the concept of biologically basic needs of the organism and the facts of culturally organized behavior. His first major step was to set up the classification of basic needs which could be directly related to a classification of cultural responses which could then in turn be brought into relation to institutions. Next, he developed a second category of needs, referred to as derived needs, which he inserted between his basic needs and the institutional integrates of collective behavior.
Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski's accent on individuals, considered individuals irrelevant and focused his attention on social structure. He was in fact influenced by the French sociological school. This school developed in the 1890s around the work of Emile Durkheim (and Auguste Comte) who argued that "social phenomena constitute a domain of reality that is independent of psychological and biological facts, and therefore, they must be explained in terms of other social phenomena, as they function to maintain the solidarity of social structures”. Radcliffe-Brown, that conducted fieldwork in the Andaman Islands and western Australia, shared this idea of studying the conditions under which social structures are maintained. He also believed that the functioning of societies, like that of other natural systems, is governed by laws that can be discovered though systematic comparison. He also established an analogy between social life and organic life to explain the concept of function. His emphasis on examining the contribution of phenomena to maintaining social order, and his disregard for individual needs, is apparent in this analogy. He suggested that human beings, as essential units, are connected by a set of social relations into an integrated whole. Like a biological organism, the continuity of the social structure is not destroyed by changes in the units. Although individuals may leave the society by death or other means, other individuals may enter it. Therefore, the continuity is maintained by the process of social life, which consists of the activities and interactions of individual human beings and of organized groups into which they are united. The social life of a community, then, is the functioning of the social structure. The function of any recurrent activity is the part it plays in the social life as a whole and thereby, the contribution it makes to structural continuity.

Contributions to the discipline
Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski pushed for a paradigm shift in British anthropology. This theoretical change gave rise to functionalism. Although they formulated distinct versions of functionalism, but both viewed society as structured into a working unity in which the parts accommodate one another in a way that maintains the whole. In their analysis, they attempted to interpret societies as they operated at a single point in time. This was a consequence of their belief that very little reliable information could be secured about the long-term histories of primitive peoples. Their rejection of the conjectural reconstructions of the evolutionists and the diffusionists was based largely on this conviction. Even if by the 1970's functionalism was declining, it's contributions continue to inspire anthropologists today. Functional analysis gave value to social institutions by considering them not as mere custom, but as active and integrated parts of a social system. Though Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown differed in their approaches to functional interpretation, they both contributed to the push for a shift in the assumptions of ethnology, from a concern with isolated traits to the interpretation of social life.
Malinowski's functionalism was highly influential in the 1920s and 1930s. As applied methodology, this approach worked, except for situations of social or cultural change. The general form in which he developed functionalism toward the end of his life, a theory of culture based on the satisfaction of primary and derived biological needs, did not survive intact, though elements of it persist.
However, Malinowski made his greatest contribution as an ethnographer. Intensive fieldwork, involving participant observation, was established as the constitutive experience of social anthropology. He emphasized the importance of studying social behavior and social relations in their concrete cultural contexts. He considered it crucial to consider the observable differences between norms and action, that is, between what people say they do and what they actually do. His detailed descriptions of Trobriand social life and thought are among the most comprehensive in world ethnography and his Argonauts of the Western Pacific is one of the most widely read works of anthropology. Malinowski's enduring conceptual contributions lay in the areas of kinship and marriage (e.g., the concept of "sociological paternity"); in magic, ritual language and myth (e.g., the idea of "myth as social charter"); and in economic anthropology (notably the concept of "reciprocity", from his study of “kula”).
Radcliffe-Brown suggested that a society is a system of relationships maintaining itself through an interconnected feedback, while institutions are orderly sets of relationships whose function is to maintain the society as a system. He was a founding father of functionalism associated with the branch known as structural-functionalism, developed later also by Levi strauss. Radcliffe-Brown particularly focused on the institutions of kinship and descent and suggested that, at least in tribal societies, they determined the character of family organization, politics, economy, and inter-group relations.

Sources and Bibliography
• G. Filoramo, M. Massenzio, M. Raveri, P. Scarpi, Manuale di storia delle religioni, Bari 1988.
• Carlo Tullio-Altan, Antropologia. Storia e problemi, Milano 1985.
• Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1944. A Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.
• Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. 1952. Structure and Function in Primitive Society: Essays and Addresses. London: Cohen and West.
• Barth, Gringrich, Parkin, Silverman. One discipline, four ways, 2005

Relevant Web Sites

Sunday, October 23, 2005


New blog! Created for geschichte ksa tutorium..

Saturday, October 22, 2005

chel chi..

...a le´ staat creaat dome par sante scugne! par se che a mi lu an domandat di falu, no parse chi vevi voe!