Anthropology Theory of Idealism

Jay Rasmussen


In the middle ages people believed that sorcerers could control the sun or dragons would eat the sun.  That god was angry at them when there would be a solar eclipse.  They would shoot flaming arrows into the sun to get it to restart.  Some believed this would help. There was a book and a movie that was called a Yankee in King Arthurs court that showed when the main character was going to be burned at the stake.  At the time there was going to be an eclipse.  He used this to pretend he was a sorcerer to help him get out of his circumstances.  The person that was the sorcerer was trying to correct what was happening to the sun however the original sorcerer was not able to do anything while the pretending sorcerer was able to make the sun appear.   Today we know that the earth travels around the sun in an elliptical manner.  The solar eclipse in 1991 people shot at the sun to chase the beast away so the only casualties where the people when they shot at the sun they hit people even though it was directed at the sun.  Individuals that are educated really know what it means when we have a solar eclipse.  It just means that the moon is between us and the sun.  Not a god being angry at us.  Some people think that when people get sick that this is caused by an angry god that you did something wrong.   People today still think that this is possible that god is out to get them and angry at them.  Even though we live in this modern medically advanced age and we have all these ways to diagnose.  We still have people thinking god will strike you down.  Looking at people “behavioral acts we can contrast Harris! Behavioral emphasis with the definition by Clifford Geertz, a major opponent of and idealist approach to anthropology”.  Levi-Struass nature -culture beliefs in looking at the symbols that people look at like the totem and totemism/family.   You need to have animal representation, the people with this is you must have cooperation, safety, and marriage This is a religious belief in totem animals that the ancestor is in the totem.  This is also like Durkhiem’s he is considered a structural functionalist he wrote the article 1912 cosmological systems about that you had to have three criteria for this on is that you had to have a representation of the totem or animal and the it could be a plant, animal you also had to have a group people.    Evans Prichard  is a Bristish Structionalist he wrote a book the Neur religion in this book talked about how the Neur people look at totem’s within the totems believe in the animal spirit that the ancestors can influence the totem.

We may think that these guys are primitive for looking at totem’s but our culture has its own types of totems in sports in our own religion are keeping us together.  Our education for our people still has a far way to come to educate people on superstition versus natural phenomenon’s.


Post-Modernism in Today’s Modern World

Within the fieldwork of post-modernism theory states that the individual’s own experience can never be replicated, also-known-as the crisis of replicability. Take for instance the image featured above of the blind men who are feeling each a different part of the elephant. Each man feels, smells, hears something different the person next to him. This same premise is done within field research, each and every person has the own unique understandings of the world around them. When conducting fieldwork, it is important to think about the voice of the individual(s) represented. In order to provide a good and accurate fieldwork, one has to triangulate, which is when you receive descriptions and explanations from all different viewpoints. In today’s society, you can produce triangulation just by going into social media platforms and read the comments from all different walks of life.

Take for instance the following the controversial post of Woods Cross High School, Utah student, Keziah Daum. Keziah posted on Twitter her prom dress which was a traditional Chinese dress even though she is not of Chinese descent. The vast amount of responses to this twitter post demonstrate how each and every person has their own unique viewpoints. One post supported Keziah’s dress and said that it is “cultural appreciation” (Chen). Another person said that their culture is not Keziah’s dress. These posts are examples of how one can triangulate through the use of social media. Thousands of comments can be made on just one image, one post, one song, and each comment is just one view of the content of which is happening.

As an anthropologist, you need to embrace the contradictions and controversial points of view in order to get a better and fuller understanding of the world around you. Not only can this be done by physically doing this in person but also through written documentation, such as history and news, but also in more recent times such as social media comments.

By Kate Grabowski

Works Cited

Chen, Stacy. “Teen Defends Chinese Prom Dress That Sparked Cultural Appropriation Debate: ‘I Would Wear It Again’.” Yahoo! News, Yahoo!, 2 May 2018, http://www.yahoo.com/gma/teen-defends-chinese-prom-dress-sparked-cultural-appropriation-110304598–abc-news-fashion-and-beauty.html.


“Knowledge is Power” or Power is knowledge?

One of the most perplexing ideas presented to me during my time as college student has been the conflict of “objective” versus “subjective”. Now I realize that these terms can be attached to a never ending amount of ideas but think of them in a philosophical sense. As did I for the first time, in a philosophy class, truly explore what these terms mean. In the world of science, subjective and objective mean a great deal in what is accepted as Truth with a capital T. In hard science there is a meticulous process that is used to verify scientific inquiries. In this way hypotheses that are tested which yield results that can be recreated repeatedly with minimal change in data, are eventually accepted as objective truths.

In contrast most scientific “truths” are anything but solidified in objective reality. For example, the theory of gravity is just that– a theory. Scientific experiments can yield replicable data to support the idea that gravity is a universal force which acts upon objects of mass.  Though it would be impossible to prove that gravity is a force that acts the same everywhere in the universe. Part of this explanation is made through Einstein’s theory of relativity. Gravity and its affect on the passage or perception of time are relative to the position and speed of the mass of which it’s acting upon. What does gravity, theories, and Einstein’s theory of relativity have to do with anthropology though?

Michel Focault presented the idea that knowledge is the means by which an individual or group achieve power over others. Not to say that attaining more knowledge will give this power, but rather controlling what is considered “knowledge” gives the power. There are many ways in which we are blind to the ways we are encultured and molded by what we are taught to be truths. Now how can we say what we know is not just the molded recreation of knowledge made by those who only wish to stay in positions of power? It is one of the main goals or responsibilities of anthropologists to practice cultural relativism and accept a cultures knowledge as valid within it’s own context. Which brings us back to the matter between subjective and objective truths. For example, societies that rely on farming or some type of gathering from the land rely on key knowledge passed down through generations, giving them key techniques to yield a sufficient amount of food. It is an objective truth that plants need sunlight and water to grow, yet the methods of how these needs are distributed, mainly water, are of subjective knowledge. A western or capitalist view of farming is of no use to people who have lived with their knowledge of how to grow their food. Though one cannot be better than one or the other because in their context they work.

To continue on the notion of controlling knowledge to gain power; It is not a new idea that “the winners write the history books.” The things we are taught from a very early age are but subjective interpretations of actual events from history. The only objective reality within those events are made by those who lived it. In sociology there are definitions for how we perceive ourselves as opposed to how others perceive us. Each of us exists in different ways defined by someone’s subjective experience of the world. This idea pervades in all aspects of life including anthropology. The Sapir-Wharf hypothesis, in simple terms, that the language one speaks directly affects their perception of the world. Knowledge is no less subjective than the way we view ourselves and our world through the lens of culture.

So then how can anything we “know” truly be knowledge? Despite the notion that objectivity is unachievable it is important to understand that each interpretation of a fact or recount of an event holds validity within it’s context. In the search of knowledge the only Truth is that there is no Truth at all. Everything must be examined with open eyes and an open mind and will be interpreted through the context in which it is learned.


Looking at the World Around Us

Growing up, everyone comes from different walks of life. Everyone has different perspectives on the way the world works and the people who make up the population of this planet. But are we limited to what we learn from within our own culture? Given that in America, we should be just one big culture, but we’re not. We are mixed with cultures from all over the world! Hermeneutics  is basically an individual’s knowledge of the world being conditioned by their own culture, their identities and their own social position, (Moberg PG.315) But, when you think about it in a sense of what cultures have given to the world, such as food, new inventions, old inventions and their languages, perhaps the idea of how we look at cultures is not so far fetched?!

The Italians gave us pasta, the French gave us pastries, Indian’s gave us incense or was it the Chinese? These are assumptions, but also facts about the world around us. These are things we either learned by going to restaurants, shopping at stores and we were taught in class. These are already implanted in to our brains about how we perceive a culture and their own worth. We watched the news or read the newspapers and it shows us the world around us is constantly at war with one another over something. A long feud that has been going on in the Sudan, with loss of life and hardships thrust upon people. Some people perceive the people of the Sudan to be helpless because they choose to be, but is it perhaps that they do not have the resources that some of the bad guys have? Tribes that reside in the South Sudan are suffering and being oppressed over what they have or because they won’t give in to the nasty attitudes of those who want to destroy what is left of their cultures. But, what someone might see here and I have heard it and read it, ” They can take care of themselves. Why should the American’s help them every single time? Let the government help them, that’s what they are there for.” These to me, are very ignorant answers and shows me that a person is not at all open minded or at all knowledgeable of the people and the world around them. The same could be said about Mexican’s and the assumptions of why they come up here to the U.S. illegally. What anyone ever see’s or hears is that Mexican’s are dirty, they bring disease, they offer nothing to society, but take freebie’s and bring drugs and gang violence here to the U.S. These are assumptions based off people’s experiences, what they have read in the news and possibly learned at home. However, just like any culture, you have the good and the bad people who set everyone back and some how, lumps everyone in together. In Mexico, there is already a huge cartel/drug problem, but most people actually do not know this. The cartel snatches people right off the street to work for them or to prove a point by killing them. There is a lot people do not know and sympathizing for other’s is really not some people’s strong suits.

Something to touch on about the South Sudan, is that they are going out of their way to put the children warriors they have caught back in to school. They want better for the children in South Sudan. The government is trying to bring these children back home to their families that they were separated from. This is a culture that does care and they are trying to do better for their children, no matter what the consequences might be.

When it comes to culture, I know I have been guilty of making assumptions in the past about people and where they come from. This being from bad experiences when I moved back to Wisconsin and lived in a very rough neighborhood. I watched a woman bite my mother’s finger off, she was black. For the longest time, I was angry and thought everyone from her culture was as bad as she was. That everyone did drugs like she did and stole like her children did. No, that was not the case at all. Not everyone is the same and there are people who can rise above those stereotypes about them and prove to the world that they are worth something and that they are here and they understand the world around them just as much as the next person. Assumptions about culture’s is something that is created through experiences and who you are surrounded by during the early stages of the learning process. The good news is! You can change your crappy attitude about people and become even more understanding of people and why they are the way they are. If you can’t, then that is your loss and maybe some day you can rise above it all and be a better person. Culture is something that reminds me of tradition, because everyone has tradition they learned while being a part of a culture!


Why It’s Hard to Get South Sudan’s Former Child Soldiers Back to School. Skaras, Merethe. May, 1st, 2018.

Engaging Anthropological Theory. Moberg, Mark.


The Management of Gender and Sexuality

As a gender non-conforming individual, I was always utterly confused at why there is such an effort to control gender and place it within the binaries of male/female and as a bisexual individual why there was an effort to control the sexuality of others. Today in theory class I had an “Aha!” moment when discussing Mary Douglas and her analogy of the body. The analogy of the body is so frequently used because it is universal, in a sense. Everyone has a body, everyone has experiences, emotions, and similar such things happen to them whilst in their body. Many of us have a basic knowledge of the inner workings of the body. The body is just the perfect model for society— except when it’s not.

Things that are outside the body (or the norms) are considered dangerous, in a sense, and thus must be regulated. This was my “oh, that’s why so many people think I can’t live my life the way I’d like… it offends their sensibilities” moment. Theory has opened my eyes to why so many different people think the way they think in politics and considering gender and sexuality are two personal interests of mine, I’ve learned more ways to apply theory to these specific concepts as well.

When I think of someone who wants limited government and is generally conservative my mind usually jumps to the image of the loud, spiritual, moral conservative. The one who wants the government to not interfere with their economy or tax them (and often still wants the benefits of public taxpayer-funded


Many K-pop artists use androgyny as part of their image/performance

utilities) but wants their government, which in principle should have minimal interference in people’s lives, to interfere with a select few people’s lives by controlling their lives. From banning gay marriage and transgender people from serving in the military to trying to control which bathroom people use to y’know, go to the bathroom, many of those who preach limited government really would like the government to overstep their limits into other people’s personal freedoms. To say the least, it irritates me.


Though my idea of presenting my own gender as neither fully male nor fully female does not affect anyone’s personal life but my own, and my desire to settle down and enjoy the legal benefits of marriage with my girlfriend in the future do not actually have any impact on other people’s “traditional” marriages it is outside of the binaries- male-female, straight-gay, etc and thus is constantly trying to be managed by those inside the “normal” body of society. They claim society will lose its stability, structure— and god forbid the sanctity of marriage if these things were allowed to occur. Yet, it hasn’t destroyed anything but the lives of those overly passionate about trying to police other’s rights.


The Kula and reciprocity in the rest of the world in a functionalist lens

kula ring

It would appear that the large span of geographic and social connections of the people of South pacific Asian island regions play a part in a larger social functionality and system. Unknowingly we too contribute and participate in systems like this daily. The Kula ring represents a system of trade, societal, and geographic connection between communities and cultures spanning hundreds of miles. These connections support a system of both economic and social traits. Not only is the system of trade of economic but it is critical to social connections and building relationships between kinships. 

In many ways this way of trade and social economic system in not much different in modern American culture. In contrast to the expansive networks peoples living in the Kula ring, we have those within our culture and kinship systems in which we practice a similar system of economic reciprocity. Friends and those we consider to be part of our own kin are usually the beneficiaries  of such a system. For example, the way in which we give more freely to people we consider close to us. This comes in the forms of large offerings such as an 18th or 21st birthday or a graduation party. The gifts given, often times money is expected to be reciprocated at some point for the children of the gifters family.

Even in smaller more insignificant settings the idea of sharing and providing services or gifting things to others bonds us together and grows kinship even among friends. These examples can be seen through gestures such as paying for ones food if you were to go out to eat with them. In most cases this gesture will be reciprocated equally if not more in the future as your relationship with that person grows.  In the same way that the Kula do not place the value of the gift in the item but in the gesture made by giving it. Buying someone lunch or a drink when you are out with them in our society could be comparable to that of the trade in the Kula Ring yet on a much smaller scale. It goes to show that reciprocation of favors is truly a bonding and essential part of social relationships.

Through these connections and relationships we can make an abstraction on the system in place that supports the trade between the Kula ring. Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski described functionalism in a way that came in a fatal contradiction with conflict and competition. In the Kula system the main competition is the ability to reciprocate what is being gifted. If one is unable to gift back something of equal value the debt will be held until the next time the two participants meet. In this specific system of trade functionalism seems to fit a plausible way of explaining how the system continues to work.




Mead and Activism

Margaret Mead was a feminist of her time, whether she considered herself one or not. Born in 1901, she studied with Franz Boas, her mentor, and Ruth Benedict, her romantic partner. During this time in the early half of the twentieth century, Margaret Mead developed many of her ideas. Her belief in cultural relativism,  passed down from Franz Boa, led most of her research in her journey to open the mind’s of American citizens. Her feelings of being different from most of society and her closeted relationship with Ruth Benedict created dissatisfaction with the gender role expectations in American society motivating her to make a change.

This dissatisfaction led to her study of gender roles in three primitive societies, which later turned into her ethnography, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. Within the book, Margaret Mead’s goal was to show sex-specific roles are not universal and that each society has equally valid patterns of life. The first society she described was the Arapesh. Men and women were more equal within this society. Stereotypes weren’t as gender-based due to both genders being thought of as acting similarly: gentle, responsible, and cooperative. The second society that Mead wrote about was very similar to the last society in regards to equality. The women and men of Mundugumor viewed each other as both violent, aggressive, jealous and competitive. The only inadequacy that was brought to the public eye was that women were not as physically strong as the men. The Tchambuli was the last society that Mead wrote about and the least similar to our culture in the United States. Tchambuli women are considered energetic, managers of households, uninterested in self-expression, and fishers or manufactures. The men in this society relate closely to the women in the United States as they are considered self absorbent due to their interest in art, dancing, carving and painting. These societies, explained by Mead, showed a large variation in gender role expectations throughout cultures hopefully leading to change within ours.

Mead’s study included the notion of configuration and deviance. Each culture has their own configuration that affects behavior within that culture. Mead and Benedict both explain this as approved rules in a society that motivates behavior. A good example of this is our culture in the United States. Throughout our history, the rights of members in the LGBTQ community have been ignored and dismissed. This has always been “justified” by close-minded members of our society using our cultural configuration against us -a cultural configuration that has put the expectation of “traditional” relationships ahead of our needs and feelings. This is where Mead and Benedict’s ideas of deviance come to play.  Yes, we have a cultural configuration in the United States that is strict and firm, but this does not mean we have no free will. Deviance is Mead’s explanation for the feminist activists,  movements, and LGBTQ rallies that have taken place since her time. This deviance make us strong, independent people grasping to our freewill in a binding cultural configuration filled with gender expectations that have forced many of us in the past to hide who we are.