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Cultural Anthropology

What is Culture

Culture can be defined as the total system of ideas, values, behaviours, and attitudes of a society commonly shared by most members of society. [1] Thus, cultural anthropology is the branch of anthropology concerned with the study of human societies, cultures and their development. It is in contrast to social anthropology, which perceives cultural variation as a subset of the anthropological constant

-Culture is a result of NURTURE rather than NATURE


-the influence of inherited biological characteristics


-the process of training & influencing a child through learning

Nature vs. Nurture debate

Understanding Cultures

Social customs are an important concept to understand when analyzing culture. Social customs are the expected & ideal behaviours of a society demonstrated by individuals. Social customs are:

- One of the most obvious differences among cultures - Learned through socialization (the process of learning social customs)

Subculture is a small group within a larger group that shares a common system of values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, & lifestyle distinct from those of the larger group. - As a layer of culture, subculture is often made up of differences in religion, socioeconomic status, and even race.

Rites Of Passage

A rite of passage is a ceremony or ritual of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. Rites of passages can be characterized by:

- Mark a change in life or social status

- Marked by a ceremony, ritual, or event

- Major life events such as birth, adolescence, marriage, or death

- May vary between males & females

Three stages:

1. Segregation (separation from old status/society)

2. Transition (the process of becoming)

3. Incorporation & Reintegration (society recognizes the person’s new social status)

Take a look at the Google Tour to view Rites of Passages Around the World

Rites of Passage Tour Around the World [2]

Schools of Thought

School of Thought Definition

1. Cultural Relativism -Franz Boas

-Cannot compare 2 cultures because each culture has its own internal rules that must be accepted

-People see other cultures through the lens of their own culture

-Ethnocentric: believing that one’s own culture is superior to all others

2. Functional Theory -Bronisław Malinowski

-Believed that societies could be objectively measured & compared

-The idea that every belief, action, or relationship in a culture functions to meet the needs of individuals

-Noticed this in WWI when he discovered the Kula Ring

-Exchange between individuals in the Trobriand Islands

-Increased social status and was highly ceremonial

3. Cultural Materialism -Marvin Harris

-Materials or conditions within the environment (climate, food, geography, supply) influence how a culture develops, creating the ideas and ideology of a culture

-Society develops on a trial & error basis

Fieldwork Methods

In anthropology, there are several types of fieldwork methods that are used while conducting research. Below will go more into depth with several fieldwork methods that are used.

Observational Methods

Minimally instrusive observation

The observational method is viewed as the least invasive method where the anthropologist minimally integrates themselves into the society they are studying and gathers data through verbal communication while attempting to remain non-intrusive of the culture.

Participant Observation

Immersive Observation technique

This method requires that an anthropologist participate in a social event that is part of a specific culture. This includes, but is not limited to, observing members of a culture by taking notes, eating the food that is provided, and participating in festivities. The goal of participant observation is to be involved in the culture like a member of that society, all while observing and studying the culture.

Ethnographic Method

Representation of adapting and integrating oneself in the culture

Ethnography is the systematic study of people and cultures. It is designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study. The following video goes in-depth on how an ethnographic study is conducted. [3]