Boxed and Labeled


Idiographic study is looking at individual facts and evaluating these facts on a much deeper level. This is the way Boas did how much of archeological work. He wanted very precise work to be done not only for his own personal studies but for his student’s studies as well.

I think that archeological work today might be a bit different if it wasn’t for Boas and his inventive new ways of thinking about people in the world not just as things that needed to be categorized and labeled, but as human beings with different thoughts and ideas about everyday life. In Boas’ time archeological work being done tended to be more about just placing people in certain categories, these categories contained people and cultures that were grouped together based off of certain similarities. “Culture is a thing, a thing in itself that cannot be reduced to other factors of life.” (Moberg:145) This simple yet effective quote tells of culture being something that is bigger than it seems, we as a society cannot group and categorize cultures especially the people in those cultures and try to place them into small boxes.

Culture is an every changing phenomenon that cannot be contained. Boas took the standards of his time and flipped them upside down, instead of looking at nonwestern cultures as something strange and out of the ordinary, Boas looked at the nonwestern cultures with the same respect he held for his own culture. Each and every culture in the world is very different, from the people who participate in the practices, rituals, and beliefs to the anthropologist who is studying a culture. To explain the picture associated with this post, each of the masks are different and have their own special meaning. Just like the masks people are different in their own special way, thus meaning that we as a society need to look less at the outside but more on the inside to find a deeper meaning to the world around us.

-Helena Biehn


2 thoughts on “Boxed and Labeled

  1. (I immediately thought ‘classic’ cultural relativism when I read this.) I also believe that without the work of Boas, archaeological work today would have some differences. Another thing I thought about when I read this was of Boas and his tendency to not make generalizations about a culture. I think that having this viewpoint when learning about different cultures is important since the use of generalizations is to group things together as the same, and grouping cultures as the same when they may have a few significant differences would lead to inaccurate accounts of a societies culture.

    • I agree with you on having a different viewpoint when learning anything new is the best way to learn. While looking at different cultures it is important to always keep an open mind to ‘strange things’ that another culture might do that is different from our own.

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