Little White Lies

Structural-functionalism is primarily interested in the rules of society, it assumes the members of the society simply acted according to these rule and the exceptions to these rules were dismissed as “deviant”  (Moberg 2013, 208). This thinking didn’t consider that “deviant” behavior could be a regular behavior that exists within the society and should be seen as just as important in understand the behaviors of the individuals within (Moberg 2013, 207). In response to this school of thought, Sir Raymond Firth developed a theory regarded as “Anti-structure” according to Mark Moberg in Engaging Anthropological Theory: A social and Political History. This anti-structure finds it important to look at individuals actual behaviors within the society and not assume that they follow the rules. By doing this, he was able to identify that the “deviance” behavior should actually be seen as just as important in understanding a society as you would the structure of society. This theory the same structural-functionalist category of social structures which includes social rules, but added another layer called “Social Organization” which consists of the actual behaviors rather than the assumed behaviors (Moberg 2013, 208). Firth believes that the individuals within a society can and frequently if not regularly reinterpret and manipulate the structural rules to benefit them (Moberg 2013, 208). This theory makes the structure of society no longer rigid like the structural-functionalist viewed, but something more like Silly-Putty. The individuals within a society still have to act within the Silly-Putty, but it can be twisted, stretched, and squeezed into different amorphous shapes.

This manipulation of societal rules is something I found to be prevalent in American society as well. For example this practice can be seen in things as complex as legal matters such as marital practices, gun rights, and business law and as simple as a lying. As a general rule within American society lying is seen as deviant behavior and understood to be bad but there seems to always be exceptions and different ways to interpret what constitutes as lying. Lying is defined as “to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive” or “to create a false or misleading impression” by Merriam-Webster’s online Dictionary. The vague definition of this word allows individuals to frequently reinterpret what constitutes as lie. There are ways in which children and adults find to circumvent this rule and exceptions that our society has a tendency accepts overall. Examples of these include “little white lies”, “stretching the truth”, or equivocating. Little white lies are still seen as being untruthful but with harmless affects and often benefit both parties. Little white lies are seen as often necessary and wouldn’t be shamed to the same degree as a typical lie. I still remember first learning this and after years of being told not to lie and lying is bad, I found a loophole that many people follow.  A famous example that shows the purpose of white lies is the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” If the dress actually does, both parties would be hurt by an honest response so it’s considered socially acceptable to just say “no”  and spare everyone involved. This example was even used in the following Geico commercial:

Like Firth theorized, there is another layer that needs to be considered when understanding society which is that the individuals can and will play with the rules to benefit the themselves, and lying is just one of the many cases where this can be seen. The mere act of actively manipulating a social rule (like in the example above) validates the person as existing within the social structure —  a.k.a. the Silly-Putty — because they must first be aware of the society’s rules in order to reinterpret them for one’s self-interest. If all acts of lying were seen as deviant, it would lead to an incomplete understanding of the actual function of lying in American society. The ability for the individuals within the overarching culture to reinterpret and manipulate rules needs to be understand as well as the structure in order to better understand societies rather than dismissing all acts outside of the perceived structure as deviance.

References:

Moberg, Mark. 2013. Engaging Anthropological Theory: A Social and Political History. New York: Routledge.

-Jessica M. Hebert

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Abu-Lughold & Guests of the Sheik

Lila Abu-Lughold is an anthropologist from Columbia University who believes that ethnographies should as a story from the perspective of the anthropologist than generalizing an entire society (Moberg 2013, 322). By telling only from the perspective of the anthropologist and only stating what he/she has seen readers can see where the author is coming from when writing or stating certain scenes in certain ways.

When I was in my Cultural Anthropology class, we read an ethnography that followed Abu-Lughold’s method. The book was called, Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and in her introduction of her book she explains who she is. By doing so, before diving in the book, the readers can see where Fernea is coming from. She was a newly wedded wife who spent her first years of marriage in an unknown place.

Having no experience in Iraq, one can possibly say her feelings were genuine. Writing her book in first point of view, she also does make it like a story so when I was reading her ethnography, I was more engage than E.E. Evans Pritchard’s book, The Nuer. Both book have their pros to but, for me personally, it was easier to digest Fernea’s writing and what the culture of the Iraqi village was compare to Pritchard’s.

Reading her book, I felt that it was literally a story and if I did not know if an ethnography was I would of still thought this was a really well written novel. The way she wrote her book, in first point of view, it really connected me to her life experience living there than The Nuer. By having dialogue between her, the village women, etc. made it more believable in my point of view.

I think if ethnographies were to be told as a story than a third party perspective, it would be easier to connect to the author and their experience.

The Reification of Virginity

virginityblog

When taking into consideration the ways in which past structural functionalist such as Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski, and Evans-Pritchard have attributed particular elements of a society into their framework, it is necessary to remember that these models are not a real thing. They reiterate time and time again how people’s behaviors are motivated by the ‘needs’ of this so-called ‘social structure’. Several anthropologists have employed this structural functionalist abstract model for particular societies and have accepted this ‘logical fiction’ (Moberg 2013). This can be recognized as a form of reification. Reification can be defined as, “creating a concept that helps to understand a society and then attributing real force to that concept in peoples’ actions, even though they themselves are unaware of the concept” (Moberg 2013).  Structural functionalists make use out of this from an outsider’s perspective looking in on the ‘other’. This idea reification can also be attributed in a non-structural functionalist way and be applicable within a society where the ‘other’ could be peers.

Take the concept of virginity for example. Virginity is not a real thing (or a biological thing), rather it is a constructed idea meant to categorize people in society a particular way. Historically the concept of virginity was meant to serve as a social or religious marker that symbolized purity, chastity, and innocence. Disobeying particular societal norms about virginity could have lead to conflict or the ostracizing of people. The concept was rooted in personal beliefs that were reinforced by the group as well as stemmed from within that group’s ‘norms’. Unlike the previously mentioned definition of reification, in terms of virginity a society such as ours is aware of the concept. This idea however was taught and learned, along with any significance associated with it.

Today we still adhere to the reified concept of virginity. People continue to attribute real force to the concept and associate certain behaviors and actions with it. Our culture has taught us to place value and significance on virginity while simultaneously emphasizing the opposite of it. In this way we are our own structural functionalists. We found a ‘logical fiction’ and gave it meaning as a way to invisibly categorize ourselves and others in a form of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ perspective. Although we can divide people through this idea, we still view virginity as a very individualized thing, making it impossible to analyze it completely from the view points of anthropologists like Radcliff-Brown. The reification of virginity has given this concept power and made it ‘real’ for us.

Brianna Hayden

On The Limitations Of Pigeonholing Culture

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Many social theorists use society as the standard unit for determining the cultural characteristics of a group of people. But what exactly is ‘a’ culture. A simple definition of culture I will use here is learned and shared behavior by a group of people. First off, what is a ‘group’? This could be two individuals, a family, a society, or multiple societies, or even a mix between them. The following equation helps explain how some different cultures can exist:

A+B=C

A+C=D

Each letter represents a group of people who learn and share behaviors with each other. So, if culture ‘A’ interacts with culture ‘B’, and both cultures learn and share a particular behavior while interacting, them both cultures would create a new culture, culture ‘C’, combining cultures “A’ and ‘B’. Therefore, it seems that culture is by nature an abstraction and depends on where you draw the line for a ‘group’. That is, culture can take on multiple forms depending on the particular circumstances of an interaction. The problem with pigeonholing culture is that culture can have many levels, ranging from two individuals to the total global human population. The limitation of using society as the standard unit is that it pigeonholes culture to only one of these levels. The diagram above shows an example of a social theory (structural-functionalism) that utilizes only one these levels of culture. Why is society the standard and not the family, or cross-societies? Both of those levels also have a culture.

By acknowledging the abstractive nature of culture, we can see the limitations of certain social theories. Structural-functionalism did not see conflict as existing in a society because the view was that the culture of societies functioned to produce cultural cohesion. But when we look at cross-societal culture, it is difficult to argue that there has not been conflict between societies. Therefore, it matters how one defines culture in a social theory and that can reveal limitations to the theory itself.

Andreas

 

Walt Disney Meets Fredrik Barth

 

Kronk-on-rollercoaster-2
“Please remain seated and keep your arms and feet in at all times.” And now onto the blog post.

The end of the semester is upon us once again and so naturally, procrastination has begun to distract me from studying. Instead of changing my procrastination habits to stop watching Netflix and to work harder, I decided to work smarter. While streaming Netflix and trying to find something to watch, I decided on Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove. To my surprise and relief, I found that the characters fit well within the framework of what Fredrik Barth advocates for, called Transactionalism. Unlike British Structural Functionalists like Radcliffe-Brown, who see the people within a society as having a shared moral census, Transactionalism views social behaviors as transactions between individuals who are all pursuing their own self interest. Fredrik Barth believes that people are guided by their own wants and desires, not exactly following the rules of the society. New social rules are constructed by people for their own benefit. In that respect, Barth sees that what British Structural Functionalists see as deviant is actually normal. Additionally for Barth, the explanation of behavior in Transactionalism gives us a way to analyze things that a British Structural Functionalist could not. We can notice the variability of behavior, viewing how people can act manipulative and even break cultural rules instead of just obeying them. A key part to Transactionalism is that there is no equilibrium in society and there is a continuous change occurring, this change allows for strategic behavior from members of the society. Lastly, Barth assumes that each person in an exchange are receiving equal value from the interaction. This exchange and value from the interaction being called a prestation (any tangible or social reward from one person to another).

The first character that fits Transactionalism is Kuzco. Throughout the majority of the film, he is concerned with his own self interest and does not think about society as a whole whatsoever. He is only working toward his own benefit. For example, Kuzco has a man named Pancha, from the village, meet him at Kuzco’s palace to speak to him about the land Pancha lives on. This conversation between Kuzco and Pancha is directed towards Kuzco’s self interest of building a pool, Kuzcotopia, on that land and destroying village homes in the process. As for Pancha in this situation, he acts in his own interest trying to get Kuzco to not build Kuzcotopia where his home currently resides. Their interaction continues through the film. Once Kuzco is stranded with Pancha, Kuzco agrees to not build his pool where Pancha’s home is and Pancha agrees to help him back to the palace. Now, through a bit of manipulation on both their parts, they receive equal value from their interaction, Kuzco gets home and Pancha gets to keep his home from being turned into Kuzcotopia.

Throughout the film we also see Yzma acting towards her own self interest. The very first scene we see her in, she is acting as the Emperor, sitting in Kuzco’s throne and conversing with ‘mere peasants’, as she calls them. Kuzco fires her and to get revenge, she plans on killing him but her assistant, Kronk, screws up the poison and ends up turning Kuzco into a llama. The interactions between Yzma and Kronk are transactionalist because they are both taking part for their own self interests and receive equal value from the exchange. Yzma needs the help of Kronk because he is the strength behind her plans, and Kronk gains the respect from Yzma in the interaction. Another self interest that Kronk works towards is getting Yzma to like his spinach puff recipe.

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However, seeing that Yzma tells Kronk she has never liked his spinach puffs, it kind of goes against Barth’s statement that everyone receives the same value out of the interaction. Nevertheless, there are many instances in The Emperor’s New Groove where there are similarities to Transactionalism. In conclusion, the motives of Kuzco, Pancha, Yzma, and Kronk can be well explained using Barth and Transactionalism.

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-Maddie Baumeister

 

Just for fun…

kuzco emp

Why did Fredrik Barth cross the road? For his own personal self interest, and it didn’t hurt that there was a Train ‘Pre’station on the other side.

 

 

 

 

Why did Radcliffe-Brown cross the road? By Nicholas Angelici.

He didn’t, he was in his office.

This joke is meant to be a metaphor for the view that Radcliffe-Brown took to British structural functionalist theory. The question that I seek to answer in this blog post is whether or not participant observation is necessary. Obviously, to Radcliffe-Brown the answer is no. In contrast, Malinowski would state that the observation was important. Malinowski himself spent several years of of his life in the Trobriand islands doing participant observation research (Moberg 2013, 187). By comparing these two theorists, I hope to better understand the reasons for this difference, and determine which one is a more effective technique.

Let us first take a closer look at Radcliffe-Brown. He was born to modest means in Britain, but soon took on an aristocratic image (Moburg 2013, 186). He was one of the original theorists that created the British structural functionalist theory. This was built off of Durkheim’s, using the organic analogy. The main difference is that instead of using this analysis for industrial societies, he would focus on the less intensive societies, such as pastoral or horticultural societies (Moberg 2013, 179-180). This would be one of the reasons why Radcliffe-Brown had such an interesting view of culture.

Radcliffe-Brown had very little interest in studying culture. He considered it pointless to study. In his own words “Radcliffe-Brown contended that culture was only “thoughts”. Because “thoughts” can’t be observed, it would be impossible to formulate a scientific study of them… (Moberg 2013, 187)”. This is a vastly different view of how culture your functions, in comparison to someone like Boaz. To most anthropologists, culture can be easily studied by observing how the society interacts with itself. You can find out what someone is thinking. All you need to do is ask, and trust that the person knows the culture they reside in.

In contrast, Malinowski did a massive amount of participant observation. He did this in the Trobriand Islands for two years. This exile was not self-imposed. He had been forced to remain there with the outbreak of the First World War (Moberg 2013, 187). During this time, he studied the vast trading networks of the native Islanders. He was able to observe all of the different aspects of the male trading enterprise (Moberg 2013, 188). Something like this would have been impossible to theorize, such as Radcliffe-Brown would have done.

So, to truly answer the question we posed at the beginning, you should look at the differences in these two theorists. With Radcliffe-Brown, culture was unimportant. It was merely the nonsense that people came up with in their head. It was impossible to study scientifically, therefore it was useless. I believe that this misses the point about culture. Malinowski demonstrates why theorizing from an armchair is not helpful. One cannot simply come up with every possibility that a person can create. Without his long observation on the islands of the South Pacific, there would have been no possible way someone would have come up with a system as complex as the one he observed. This is why participant observation is so important. Reality is often stranger and more amazing than the fiction we create in our head.

 

Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory: A Social and Political History. (London: Routledge, 2013.)

Under the Sea and Society

Little Mermaid Eric and ariel

Julian Steward brought together the study of cultural ecology into a different light. Cultural ecology is the way of viewing the cultural practices around a society and seeing how the individuals of the society alter their previous behavior to their newly changed environmental surrounds. Julian Steward says that cultural ecology “distinguishes different kinds of sociocultural systems and institutions, it recognizes both cooperation and competition as processes of interaction, and it postures that environmental adaptations depend on the technology, needs and structure and on the nature of the environment.” (Moberg 2013:229) With this in mind we can recognize that Steward looks at the environmental factors that could shape our way of adapting to new areas. This can be applied to many different situations, especially in Disney movies.
I like to relate Stewards work to Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”, as ridiculous as this sounds, let me just explain…the easiest way to view Stewards work is to look at Ariel’s transformation from mermaid to human. She desperately wants to change so she can be with her beloved Prince Eric and experience everything that human’s experience. So what does she do? She makes a deal to get legs, but at the cost of her own voice. I can say that this can also be related to many choices that people make while changing their environments, they might get what they want, but in the end lose something else in its place. It was Ariel’s culture to live in the sea even though she changed environments she still had to adapt to the land. With her new surrounding Ariel had to learn now to walk, dress and eat like a human. Ariel adapted well to her new surroundings, well after a few issues with getting her voice back, but all in all I believe this a good comparison to use with Stewards theory.
Steward also stated that the culture core of a society has an affect on the society, as well as the cultural ecology. The culture core is looking at “…two societies that have adapted to similar environments with similar culture cores, other aspects of their environment should be similar as well.”(Moberg 2013:220) Back to the Ariel, the different environments she was apart of both have similar parts, although one is underwater and the other is on land, both ecosystems have individuals living and using the environment for survival.

Although I sure Steward didn’t intend for his work to be associated with a Disney movie, it’s a comparison that can be used to explain his theory from a more recent time and generation, plus it’s just fun to watch Disney movies in general!

*Helena Biehn

Why did Steward cross the road?………Due to the environment he had to culturally adapt to a migratory pattern!

eric and arialReference-

Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory: A Social and Political History.

London: Routledge, 2013.