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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.

References:

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

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Walt Disney Meets Fredrik Barth

 

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“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…

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Weber and his Possible Obsession with Shoes and Inspirational Quotes

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Though I am unsure of the origin of the sayings, I remember my mother always quoting things like “until you walk a mile in another person’s shoes”. And now aside from my mother, when I hear or read something similar, I think Weber. Maybe this is the reason I felt a likeness towards his ideas when I first read about Weber.

Let me explain. Weber focuses on naturalistic accounts of behavior, meaning he sticks to the naturalistic tradition, not the positivist. Naturalistic tradition is the belief that we cannot justify or explain another person’s actions or motives in ways that cannot be understood by human agent. He argues that a person’s explanation for their behavior cannot be thought of as incidental to the behavior. Unlike Durkheim, who believes society imposes behavior through a collective conscience (collective conscience being the shared values and beliefs of a society that influences the behavior of people), Weber stressed the importance of a person’s stated motives being included in part of the analysis. This belief leads to Weber not making generalizations about human behavior but instead, seeking Verstehen.

The idea of seeking Verstehen which Weber uses means obtaining a deeper, more empathetic, understanding of human behavior. Verstehen lead me to the idea of not judging someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Both ideas focus around empathetic tendencies as well as reaching an understanding for an individual’s behavior. I think they resonate well with each other because they imply that just because the same actions are executed by different people, does not necessarily mean both people had the same reasons behind their actions.          

Likewise to “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”, in Weber’s explanation as to why Protestants have a high work ethic, I made a connection to quotes like “see the ball, be the ball”.  The doctrine of predestination for Calvinist’s says that a person’s eternal destiny is decided even prior to birth and only a small number of people (the “elect”) are expected to go to heaven. Anyone who accepts this understands that there is nothing for them to do to change their fates. Weber argued that people have a desire to know whether or not they are part of the “elect” which leads people to look for signs of God’s favor. He also mentions that due to the uncertainty that the doctrine of predestination gives, people who follow it will be driven to find evidence of God’s favor. With looking for evidence came working hard as well as going to church and doing other good things. This makes sense because though a person would not be able to know if they are an “elect” or not, they do know an “elect” would do certain things like going to church, and in keeping their own chances of becoming an “elect” open, they too would do things an “elect” person does. I find that Weber’s explanation for the Protestant work ethic and quotes like “see the ball, be the ball” and “monkey see, monkey do” apply nicely to his idea since both the quotes and the Protestant work ethic have an underlying quality of idolizing something in order to be more like the person/object being idolized.

Lastly, while thinking about Weber’s explanation for the Protestant work ethic, I saw a similarity in how a student may work towards becoming an A student. In a similar way to a Protestant doing thing an “elect” would do in order have a possible better chance of becoming an “elect”, a student may emulate an A student, doing things an A student does (like studying more or asking questions in class, etc.) to have a better chance of becoming an A student.  

-Madeline Baumeister

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