Some Concepts and Recaps Useful for the First Exam:
Culture is the set of shared, morally forceful understandings that are socially transmitted and which influence behavior and interpret experience.
There are three types of cultural understandings: world view (descriptive understandings), procedural understandings, and values (evaluative understandings). This is a cognitive view of culture, and one that is at odds with definitions of culture that include physical objects and/or behaviors. In my view, then, the term material culture is an oxymoron.
Not all understandings are cultural understandings, since some understandings are not socially transmitted, and some understandings are not shared.
Emics and Etics
Recall that these terms come from Ken Pike's usage of phonemics and phonetics as two different ways of investigating language. For anthropological purposes, we can investigate behaviors other than language using the emic ("insider") and etic ("outsider)" perspectives.
In short, the emic perspective is peoples' own understandings of what they are doing and (somewhat less) why they are doing it. The etic perspective is that of a dispassionate, objective observer. For our purposes, the emic-etic distinction maps nicely onto the idealist-materialist distinction.
In efforts to answer the two anthropological questions--Why do people do what they do?; and Why do different people do things differently?--the answers are bound to be either idealist or materialist. Mentalist answers to these questions are those that invoke culture, experience, "nurture," socialization, enculturation, education, and other ways of referring to understandings, beliefs, worldview, and the like. Materialist answers are all of those that are not mentalist. For purposes of this class, the emic-etic distinction addresses two ways of looking at and describing behavior, while the materialist-idealist distinction addresses two ways of explaining behavior.
Malinowski's claim that the goal is "to understand life from the native's point of view" is very much another way of re-stating the emic view. For some (idealist) anthropologists, this is the end of the line when it comes to answering the anthropological questions. For others of us, cultural beliefs are just another thing--in addition to behavior--that need to be explained, and this is typically done with non-cultural, non-idealist materialist explanations.
There are three kinds of cultural relativism, all of which are opinions inferred from the fact of cultural variability:
Descriptive (or "Methodological") Cultural Relativism: cultural variability is expressed in ways that minimize the use of non-local distinctions, values, and emphases. Differences are articulated without prejudice or favoritism, and cultural features are described in a way that would be easily recognizable to a member of that culture's society.
Normative (or "Moral") Cultural Relativism: cultural variability implies that ethical and moral norms are arbitrary and that there are no universal standards, such as what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, or right and wrong.
Epistemological Cultural Relativism: cultural variability is so profound that no one can ever really know what it is like to have grown up in a different cultural context; in other words, it is impossible to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes." Note that the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is consistent with this form of cultural relativism.
Disclaimer | Updated 26 May 2009 09:45 | Send Email | Copyright © 2005 College of DuPage
Bolyanatz Home Page