These areas of interest are important not only for the training of anthropologists but also for the more general appreciation of different models and forms of social behaviour in an increasingly pluralistic society and interconnected world. While much of our emphasis in this course will focus on the description of social forms within various cultures, we must also be concerned with a number of analytical constructs and issues. The simple description of social and cultural practices is, of course, a fascinating activity, but it falls short of yielding an understanding of the most important issues in social life—how its various parts are interconnected into larger wholes, how and why its forms have come to differ, and how contemporary forces are leading to changes within our own and other societies.
To accomplish these tasks we must start with some important theoretical considerations:. Cultural anthropologists approach their investigation of human experience and behaviour sing the core concept of culture. Culture can be defined as the basic system of beliefs, values, artifacts, and procedures that groups of people develop to understand and interact with their surroundings. While anthropologists attempt to analyze cultures in terms of unitary wholes as much as possible, cultural elements are generally compartmentalized into five basic subsystems that have developed into separate specializations:.
These systems and the culture traits and elements from which they are constructed constitute standardized and often binding mechanisms for guiding people in their dealings with their immediate physical environments; with the other people who make up their communities; and with the desires, fears, and imaginings that constitute their inner worlds. They reflect universal attributes that result from some common denominators of human nature.
However, specific cultural elements are learned rather than innately programmed into our biological makeup and are widely variable, sometimes in seemly capricious and arbitrary ways. Accordingly, cultural and social variation stand as the major subject matter for anthropological analysis. The anthropological approach to society and social organization involves a number of ambiguities and complications. Congregations of people constitute a major component of the surroundings to which cultural rules are applied.
They become structured into an ordered society according to standardized norms that shape the way people interact and behave in social settings. However, society is not merely a product of culture. It also stands outside of it. The social order is a prerequisite for cultural development. Cultural traditions are socially defined and transmitted, and their authority is reinforced by public pressures and often by explicit social sanctions. These complex interrelations between culture and society are treated differently in North American and British traditions of.
Whereas social institutions are considered as one of several cultural components within North American cultural anthropology, British social anthropology takes the society as its primary subject matter. It considers cultural features mainly insofar as they serve to define and support the social order or express specific collective interests.
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Because of the complicated connection between culture and society, anthropologistsw often use them interchangeably and coincidentally. They specify a society as their object of study and identify it in terms of a distinct and unique culture that distinguishes it from other social units and provides a framework for social order and continuity. At the same time, they treat it as a separable entity. In effect, two different conceptualizations are involved. One is based on a material definition involving a consideration of demographic features.
The other follows a structural theme focusing predominantly on cultural considerations. According to a materialist perspective, a society is an aggregation of individuals that we might term a natural population. As such, it assumes a number of characteristics that depend upon basic demography. Demographic features include population size, density, and natural increase, which are in turn determined by birth, death, and migration rates.
They also include sex ratios and age distributions. All of these factors can be influenced by cultural practices, such as subsistence techniques, marriage rules, birth spacing, gender-specific infanticide, trade relationships, and warfare, to name only a few. However, they are independently subject to purely environmental forces such as terrain, rainfall, seasonality, soil fertility, and disease. These non-cultural elements will affect not only demography but will also have implications for cultural development.
For example, the urban sociologist, Louis Wirth, believed that larger population densities lead to the weakening of family and traditional communal ties Wirth , Anthropologists such as Eugene Hammel maintain that the age pyramid strongly influences marriage and residence patterns Hammel Consequently, society, as a demographic structure, can be viewed as standing outside of culture and exercising an influence on it. In contrast to a materialist definition, society can alternatively be viewed in terms of structural characteristics that are cultural in nature.
In this regard, we can formulate a conceptualization of society not in terms of isolated individuals but in terms of the social positions that they occupy and the groups to which they belong. These institutions maintain their character and force independent of the personalities and wills of their occupants and members. They exert a strong influence on their behaviour and ensure continuity over time by being passed on to new generations upon death or retirement of the previous ones. Accordingly, people intrinsically are transient and ephemeral except insofar as they are carriers of the understandings and rules that make up society.
The structural perspective on society involves two slightly separate units of analysis: social. Societies can be typified, classified, and distinguished on the basis of the functions of their major component groups, the number and sizes of groups, the ways in which individuals become group members, the degree to which larger groupings are subdivided into smaller ones, and the degree to which separate groups organize similar or different activities.
For example, group structures of the case studies we will cover in this course differ in many ways. Membership is based on kinship and marriage ties, but is quite flexible so that group composition changes from season to season and year to year. During one time of the year several camps will group together into larger units of up to The Igbo live in larger more permanent farming settlements. People are integrated into society through their membership in patrilineal descent groups whose members are co-resident within several neighboring households.
Several such family wards constitute a village of up to 1, people.
Villages in turn are organized into village groups, the widest level of social identity and co-operation in traditional society. These basic family and territorial units are further crosscut by associations based upon age and title taking. The Turkish village is similar to the Igbo one insofar as it is organized into patrilineal wards but differences are.
Turkish women generally marry within their natal villages, while Igbo women must marry outside of them. Turkish villages are not integrated into village groups and assume a hostile attitude towards neighboring settlements. They have a long history as a part of the agricultural peasant sector within a complex empire that has included diverse classes and ethnic groups. Structural considerations are not only important in considering the division of society into groups but also its wider boundaries.
In consideration of the relatively continuous distribution of population on the landscape, societies cannot be easily delimited in terms of natural features. Aside from some obvious geographic barriers, such as rivers, oceans, and mountain chains, the dividing line between one society and another is determined by how group members identify themselves and distinguish themselves from outsiders.
Social and political boundaries that are, in essence, culturally and ideologically constructed are significant for the estimation of demographic variables, such as size, and even to some extent of population density. Roles, can be understood as formal social positions that individuals occupy and that guide their activities and interactions.
A role incorporates a title; a set of functions, duties, obligations, and other expectations; as well as rights and rewards.
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Together these role attributes constitute the norms of behaviour , to which the role occupants are formally expected to adhere. Examples can be drawn from many social frameworks. Roles not only define the social positions of individuals but they also establish the basic interrelationships that are perhaps the more important building blocks of society. Thus, fatherhood involves a set of relationships with children, kingship is premised upon the presence of subjects, and a professorship involves obligations to students.
Role structures typify societies in several ways including role content, number and range, and recruitment processes. Societies are distinctive and differ from one another insofar as they contain several specific roles, whose content is not universally shared. Aside from possessing different roles, societies will also vary according to the normative content that they attach to similar ones. In regard to number and range, some societies will have more roles than others, and will accordingly attach a narrower and narrower range of functions to them.
This difference can be evoked to differentiate between general purpose and specialized role structures. Differences in recruitment patterns how people are selected to fill roles leads to a final distinction between ascribed roles , which are taken on as a matter of birthright, and achieved roles , which an individual can attain through his or her own efforts.
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Our considerations of the makeup of culture and society lead us to the concept of social organization. Social organization refers to the regularly anticipated and repeated patterns of behaviour that are widely observable in social interactions.
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To some extent, these regularities are due to the formal rules according to which individuals are placed into culturally defined groups and roles which we have already considered. Its critical features may be explicitly outlined in a legal code or more indirectly enshrined in religious belief and in traditional values proscribed by parents, community elders, and peers.
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In another vein, social organization can refer to what people actually do, as opposed to the norms that are supposed to govern their motivations and actions. In doing so, they follow strategies that result in social regularities of a different kind from those that stem from moral commitment.
Several attempts have been made to provide a terminology for this distinction between normative and strategic aspects of social organization. Raymond Firth introduced a distinction between social structure and social organization, which remains ambiguous since social organization is widely used in both senses Firth Other sociologists and anthropologists have variously attempted to distinguish between ideal and real behaviour , formal and informal organizational patterns, and structure and antistructure.
However, this finding must be assessed against a curious result from a village census. Thus the statistical norm was different from the ideological norm. The real and ideal were divergent. This discrepancy is explained by a simple demographic fact: the male age pyramid was imbalanced because of the World War II losses of many men who would have been in the 40 and older categories. Consequently, many of to year olds were living neolocally because they had lost their fathers, and their children were yet not old enough to marry and bring in wives.
While the Turkish example reflects the distortion that demography creates for the expression of social values, the North American example is more closely dependent upon how individuals cope with economic hardship. The North American norms of domestic relations differ from the Turkish ones and favour the formation of neolocal households. This pattern accounts for somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of North American domestic units, and has been increasingly common over the past generation.
Within some communities, especially African Americans, it constitutes over half of all family households. While there is some controversy over whether or not increasing matrifocality is the product of changing social norms, many observers conclude that it is not. It is merely a consequence of unemployment, poverty, and the inability of men to regularly support a family.
Under the right conditions, the prevalence of neolocal families will be re-established. Matrifocality is merely a strategic solution to the absence of resources, not an expression of social values.