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Anthropology Exam, Term Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1399

Term Paper

1) Within anthropological theory, the phenomenon of cultural reproduction can be viewed as existing at the boundary-line between of cultural continuity and cultural change. Namely, the human animal is not itself a static object, its unchanged essence always given to mere empirical investigation, but is instead dynamic: human anthropology in relation to culture is something that undergoes shifts, it is constituted by difference. This explains the gap between existing cultural forms and also the historical differences between practices: the social paradigm of today is clearly not the same as the one of one hundred or even fifty years ago. At the same time, there must be an underlying constancy to the anthropological object of study for it to be defined as such: there must exist a certain continuity between paradigms so that they can be viewed as bearing such a family resemblance. Cultural reproduction is thus a concept that identifies this dialectic of change and continuity essential to the human.

Following Lassiter’s definition, culture itself can be defined as one of these constant aspects of the human: it is not the given content of a culture which is constant, but rather the forms of culture itself, how culture functions irrespective of a given time or place. In this sense, a phenomenon such as cultural reproduction addresses the interpretative strategies that create a particular form of life. Furthermore what underlines these same interpretative strategies are, from the perspective of the concept of cultural reproduction, the constant need for humans to adapt to the context which they inhabit: this can be viewed as a constant theme of adaptation and change that is one of the foundations of anthropology itself, following from the Darwinian influence on the latter in terms of the theory of evolution. Hence, adaptation delineates from an anthropological perspective these precise interpretative strategies that are used to relate to the surrounding world, a world that is constituted by various demands that is places upon the human being. These demands can take the form of basic biological functions, the need for shelter, while also, as human relations become more complex, can take the form of the need to adapt to the changing structure of human existence itself, for example, increases in human population which therefore require their own specific corresponding strategies, such as increase in food production. Change in this sense is the complimentary concept to adaptation: the necessity to adapt finds as a consequence the changes in the anthropological form of life, as certain adaptative strategies, according to their functional success, become norms that mark radical differences between previous arrangements of life.

In order to clarify this synopsis, more concrete examples can be given. Hence, Fratkin recounts the specific case study of the Ariaal tribe located in Kenya. Because of environmental conditions that produced famine the Ariaal tribe, traditionally organized around a nomadic culture, were forced to make the radical break to a settled people. With the Ariaal, therefore, the adaptative strategies they have historically employed are clearly determined by their surrounding world. As a nomadic people, this adaptative strategy was the result of a scant number of resources in a particular area: the nomadic lifestyle arises from the relation to the surrounding environment and the need to survive. However, when the nomadic strategy no longer functions, as Fratkin details in his text, it therefore becomes necessary to shift to a settled adaptative strategy, whereby one adapts the material conditions of the surrounding world. Here, change is complimentary to adaptation, insofar as the necessary to adapt alters the traditional way of life of the Ariaal: they experience the radical shift in culture towards a settled people. This change is the result of the contingency of nature: hence, Fratkin notes that “until very recently, pastoralists in Africa survived drought and famine better than agricultural populations.” (80) However, a host of factors such as natural famines and political and economic changes forced adaptation and thus change: these forms of life are therefore determined by contingent changes in the surrounding world, changes that are both environmental and socio-political in nature.

In the context of Haiti, Smith provides a further example of these concepts. With an analysis of the sosyete people, Smith endeavors to show how this particular group has demonstrated a “long-term success at structuring and organizing communal labor tasks in an ever more challenging environment cannot be understood without acknowledging the ways they have combined seemingly incongruent characteristics – hierarchy with egalitarian values, long-suffering work with fun-loving play, and performance with worship.” (112) What is of import here in Smith’s reading is that once again cultural reproduction finds itself determined by contingent changes in the surrounding world: the “ever more challenging environment” means the context in which the sosyete live presents numerous challenges, from the purely environment to the socio-political, challenges towards which the sosyete must answer so as to survive. Furthermore, Smith underscores the complexity of the adaptive strategies employed, constituted as they are by seemingly contradictory notions. Any notions of human essentialism are negated by the example of the sosyete, as their form of life is one that is in flux, negotiating contradictory poles so as to survive. In comparison with the examples of Fratkin, one can therefore detect the importance of the contingency of the environing world that thereafter triggers the particular strategies, as humans endeavor to cope with these material conditions. Humans are not bound to a singular form of life, however traditional and ancient the latter may be.

Hence, cultural reproduction is not merely a series of exact replications throughout time. Rather a dynamic process of change defines our adaptive strategies. The study of concepts such as adaptation and change from the anthropological perspective are precisely heterogeneous and dynamic concepts.  What remains constant to the human being is, paradoxically, these changes and adaptations, these differences themselves.

1) When considering the human-nature gap that has constituted modernity and is arguably the cause of the ecological catastrophes we currently face, a clear positive of foraging societies lies in the notion that they bear a certain equilibrium with the surrounding environment. Namely, the search for food resources is determined by what the surrounding environment itself yields. Foraging societies, therefore, do not create their own environments, such as for example in the factory farming paradigm of the industrial and post-industrial eras, but rather find themselves forced to conform to the environment itself: from the perspective of the overall health of the ecosystem, this is clearly important. Yet this type of conformity does not preclude the possibility of change. Rather, conformity in fact can create change. This is because the surrounding world is dynamic and contingent, as opposed to stable. Natural catastrophes and encounters with other human groups force changes in adaptive strategies. Foraging societies thus become fundamentally committed to diverse ways of learning, so as to survive. In this regard, foraging societies are not examples of primitive forms of life, but rather reflect the dynamism of nature itself in the acquisition of cognitive skills needed to survive this same dynamism.

2) The decision for marriage cannot be essentialized. Namely, it is a mistake to view marriage as itself a constant of human life, insofar as this belies the clearly evidenced changes in human adaptive strategies, which call for different forms of life. Hence, as Yuan and Mitchell note, discussing the Mosuo tribe in Southern China, this is a “society where marriage is absent. As a matrilineal group, women take lovers.” The structure is therefore one of an “extended family.” (236) In contrast, “in India, almost all marriages are arranged.” (106) This suggests the idea that marriage is a crucial aspect of Indian culture, insofar as the community gathers to decide on marriage pairings. Furthermore, from my own background, which is Christian, marriage is also important, although with an autonomy of choice that perhaps emphasizes the individual’s will as opposed to the community’s. Yet these different cases clearly underscore that there are cultural particular approaches to marriage, such that the decision for the latter is determined by the dominant social discourses in which the individual lives and the extent to which these discourses are respected. Marriage in this case is merely another particular adaptive strategy whose logic is to be studied by anthropologists.

References

Fratkin, Elliot M., “Two Lives for the Ariaal”

Nanda, Serena. “Arranging a Media in India”

Smith, Jennie. When the Hands are Many. Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 2001.

Yuan, Lu and Mitchell, Sam “Matrilineal Kinship: Walking Marriage in China”

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