The Importance to Studying the Nuer

In our class, as we read and study The Nuer by E.E. Evans-Pritchard, I am always left at the end of class time reflecting on my other classes I have taken and thinking about other tribes we have studied. The Nuer are by far the most interesting. Applying Durkheim’s theory to the functionality of the Nuer and their culture it is absolutely interesting how they function so well as a community.

With Durkheim’s theory,” He viewed industrial society as a stable, self-renewing entity.” The Nuer in order to function as a society, they all have their own jobs they do in order to thrive and function. The biggest way they function in their community is through their cattle. They raise their cattle, use their cattle to create products they will use, they tend to them on a day-to-day basis; they even use their cattle in trades when their children get married. The cattle essentially is the property of the man, but the woman/wife is to help tend to them, and through tending to them it is also theirs as well. While the men take them out to pasture, the women help maintain them, by getting the milk from them. Their cattle is what makes their whole world revolve.

In their society, they also believe they cannot force someone to do something, that the person should be convinced on their own free will to do what they believe is the right thing. Their society is so in tune with one another, it’s incredible. It makes you wonder why even in today’s modern society, why can’t we function like that? Durkheim placed a strong emphasis on “function” within a society, that the Nuer have perfected this functionality over the many years they have been around. They hunt together, eat together, they tend to every day tasks together that they have it truly down to a tee.

In our society, we take a lot for granted. It’s becoming harder and harder to come together as a community, when everyone seem’s to be divided. Unity is becoming a far gone entity in our society and meanwhile. Tribes like the Nuer and even the Yanomamo tribe in South America have figured out how to get along with one another through 100’s of years. In a society where we work ourselves to the bone and it seems rare that anyone has our back, we strive to be better, but we can’t seem to quite get it. Going to work becomes trivial and even calling to talk to a friend on the phone seems like a hassle.We unfortunately have become so use to the new and improved ways of life that we forget we are actually human beings and that we have a lot more in common then we think. Religions, where we come from, education ( a large majority of us), how we think about politics and so much more. Why is that tribes who have come in to contact with modern day people are still able to maintain their harmonious ways of life and show each other compassion and meanwhile, we are unable to work together to create a safer world when we actually created such a dangerous one?

Engaging Anthropological Theory: A Social  and Political History. Moberg, Mark. Published in 2013.

The Nuer. Pritchard, Evans, E.E. First Published in 1940.


Through the Looking Eyes

As we discuss anthropological theory we have on particular lenses that help us perceive our world around us. In order to perceive the theories and cultures we are immersing ourselves in we have to practice cultural relativism, not our standard bias of ethnocentrism.  Cultural relativism can be defined as the practice of perceiving another’s culture within their through their own eyes, not your own culture’s eyes. Unlike, ethnocentrism where we perceive another’s culture through our own biased eyes which have been submerged within our own culture. When observing another’s culture like Evans-Pritchard did within when he lived with the Nuer, he had to view their lives within the practice of cultural relativism, from their viewpoint, not his own.

The previous image of evolution is how I perceive the following quote from E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s  ethnographic book the Nuer.

“A man must judge his labors by the obstacles he has overcome and the hardships he has endured, and by these standards I am not ashamed of the result (9)”.

In its original context, this quote is in response to how Evans-Pritchard views his time and ultimately his understanding of the Nuer society. However, for me, I feel that this quote better relates to a possible mantra that society could follow.

In addition, when we look at images with our eyes whether or not we view the cultural objects in the cultural relativism or ethnocentric perspectives our brain analyzes and process them differently. Within Donald Hoffman’s TedTalk named Do we see reality as it is? we see states of images as our consciousness perceives them. Within our class we watched a documentary when Nuer men were making cuts on their faces, ultimately making scars on their faces. As an individual in your ethnocentric eyes you see him harming himself, you see pain and am unsure why anybody would do that. Your conscious self is confused. What you don’t see is that is a specific dynamic individualizing characteristic of the Nuer people.

Everybody on this planet comes from different backgrounds, yet we cannot begin to understand each other without looking first at where we came from and where we are going. We should all become less emerged in our own ethnocentrism and try to look at another’s culture through the practice of cultural relativism.


Evans-Pritchard, E. E. The Nuer: a Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.

“Cultural Evolution.” Theory Anthropology [Licensed for Non-Commercial Use Only] / Cultural Evolution, anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29531638/Cultural Evolution.

Hoffman, Donald. “Do We See Reality as It Is?” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, Mar. 2015, http://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman_do_we_see_reality_as_it_is/transcript.

In-text Citation

~Kate Grabowski


… Returning soon for the Spring 2018 semester!

Right on schedule, we’ll be exploring anthropological theory again starting in January 2018. Stay tuned for more insights from the students of ANTH 302 – yes, you read that right, it’s no longer SOCA 302. Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside now has its own designation. We’ve also merged with the Geography department and are searching for new faculty, so I’m pretty happy about that!

See you in about 6 weeks!


We’re on Hiatus because …

… this is a class web site. I’m offering the class again in Spring, so come back for more insights!

And thank you so much for your comments and pingbacks. The authors here are undergraduates studying anthropology, and these are often their first attempts at making sense of social theory. Your comments mean so much to me. I’ve send on links to the students (some of whom have graduated) because it matters that we are speaking to each other.

Sincerely – “Dr. Kate”


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


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


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:



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.