Historical Particularism

Boas in Legoland!


So, trying to express my creative juice in real life figures in Legos, I have decided to explain what I gathered from the Boas readings and his work in this Lego “artwork” (though I tried merging them into the same document but could not get the two to cooperate so I just took a photo of my photos) .  Boas’ work challenged the existing frameworks that anthropologists had worked with; previously cultures were seen to have a unilinear progression, an evolution from simple to complex and Paleolithic to Industrial practices.  The most left photo represents the unilinear progression previously excepted by anthropologists, that all cultures strive to become more complex (even though all cultures are complex in their own way), and Boas’ view of the complex branches of cultures and how all cultures progress differently than others.

The next pair of creations are based on Boas’ critique of cross cultural comparisons.  Boas was highly critical of comparisons between cultures, especially the material culture; he felt that it was creating links between cultures that were not there.  One example he made, was the comparison between masks in two cultures; it would be inappropriate to say that two cultures are similar because they use masks in ritual as one culture may have the masks in ritual to honor the dead ancestors while another may be to protect the mask-wearer from evil spirits.  To represent two cultures that should not be compared, I scoured my house to find a non-Lego piece (something that may be similar to a Lego but is not a Lego) to “compare” to a Lego block.  It would be inappropriate, in a Boasain approach, to compare a Ken-ex piece to a Lego piece, even though they connect to other pieces of their own kind and similarities can be seen in both by their connective abilities.  In the other photograph, I have an arch piece and a square block, once again they share similarities but should not be compared as the same piece.

Lastly, one of Boas’ points was the combination of diffusion and independent invention in cultures that shared geographic areas.  Here he says that just because a culture has similar or the same practice or trait, such as architecture, we cannot determine whether or not the culture invented it themselves or if the trait was diffused from a larger culture or shared via trade and networking.  Here Boas focuses on the individual histories of cultures and how they came across this trait in their own terms; he does not want to focus on a shared history between cultures, rather each history is individual and separate.  This last pair of photos tries to relate the concept that we are not able to always determine whether a trait has been diffused or if it came across through independent invention.  As you can see, I have tried to create different structures but each sharing arches and the smiley Lego piece.  Each have their own function but we cannot say which came first or if each independently created the traits.