Anthropology vs Sociology

I just read a great post on Anthropology vs Sociology from my friends at CoolAnthropology.


The Interpretive Turn

Clifford Geertz is very well known in the area of interpretive/symbolic anthropology.

Geertz has many quotes linked to him. This is likely his most quoted:

“Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun,”….“I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after, construing social expression on their surface enigmatical.”

Also, Geertz’ two most read/cited articles are the following:

-Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” (1973) 

-Clifford Geertz, Thick Description: Towards a Theory of Culture (1973) 

Symbolic/Interpretive Anthropology always seems to find its way into current discussions of anthropology.  Is it a post-modern thing?  The following classics, are great illustrations on the genre.

-Mary Douglas, External Boundaries (1966)

-Victor Turner, Symbols in Ndembu Ritual (1967)

See more here


Is anthropology:
an experimental science in search of law
an interpretative “science” in search of meaning?

Laura & Selena pose the following:
Q1: Geertz says at one point that the function of the cockfight is interpretive… Would this also make him a functionalist? Why or why not?
Q2: And what does he mean when he writes:
“For it only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually, it is men.”
Why was it that cock fights were so important to his study of the Balinese culture?

Anthropology and Gender:


Slocom Summary
making empire respectable: the politics of race and sexual morality in 20th-century colonial cultures A. Stoler)

1.  What advantages does Slocum think “Women the Gatherer” theory has over “Man the Hunter” theory?

2. How does the feminist critique and other components of critical theory work to reduce bias?

Evolutionary Psychology??

DISCUSS: Should Evolution be the foundation of Psychology?
DISCUSS: What are some of the interesting ways some of the sub-disciplines of psychology implement Evolutionary Psychology?

Cognitive Anthropology, Ethnoscience and Set and Setting

Read the following articles with these questions in mind.

  • Is “thinking like a native” an achievable goal? Would this way of seeing a culture truly create more accurate ethnographic descriptions?
  • Would the “psychic unity of mankind” be correctly hypothesized if cognitive anthropology refuses the belief of a unitary theory of culture?

Peyote: The Importance of Cultural Set and Setting for a Powerful Plant Hallucinogen


For this topic, I’m going to be very “structured”

STEP 1: READ: Sherry Ortner, Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? (1974)

STEP 2: Review these slides (props to Catelynn)

STEP 3: Respond to these:

1. What is binary opposition? Why do humans create these categories? How does this apply to Sherry Ortner’s Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?

2. What gender do you feel is closer to nature and which is closer to culture? Why do you think this? How do you think this applies to the inferior status of women pan-culturally? How does structuralism fit into this cultural devaluation of women?

Material Girls and Lumpenproletariat


Sometimes I think of myself as a “material girl” but then I remember I’m not young, I’m not a girl and I’m not fond of Marvin Harris. Harris was a material girl, in the sense that he argued, as Madonna said, “we are living in a material world and I am a material girl”. In other words, it all comes down to material culture for Marvin Madonna and Marilyn.

For Madonna, “only boys who save their pennies make my rainy day, ’cause they are living in a material world and I am a material girl”.
The music video for “Material Girl” (left) was inspired byMarilyn Monroe‘s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (right), from the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

sacred-cowFor Harris, the lyrics might have gone something like this:

“Only cows that pull and poop (and lactate) make my theory sway” (bonus points to any who can decipher that cryptic line).


ON OTHER HAND, Philippe Bourgois is cool, looks cool and has some very good points to make. Maybe his appellation caused this but he seems to be the least bourgois (i.e., in Marxist contexts, “upholding the interests of capitalism; not communist”) Bourgois I can imagine.

I am most impressed by Philippe Bourgois‘ resurrection of the word “Lumpen”. In his Lumpen Abuse: The Human Cost of Righteous Neoliberalism (2011), he states,

This chapter argues for re-framing Marx’s concept of class through a redefinition of the problematic but creative category of “lumpen” to develop a “theory of lumpen abuse under punitive neoliberalism.” To do this, we draw from Foucault’s understanding of subjectivity and biopower, Bourdieu’s concepts of symbolic violence and habitus, and Primo Levi’s insights on the invisibility of Holocaust-like gray areas in routine daily life and we re-define the lumpen as those vulnerable populations for whom biopower (the state-mediated forces and discourses of disciplinary modernity that are normally life- enhancing) has become abusive rather than productive. Our era’s economy, its structures of service provision, and the symbolic violence of individual achievement and free market efficiency condemns increasingly large proportions of the transgressive and unemployed poor to processes of lumpenization, which decimate bodies and amplify suffering. (2011:7)

The term “lumpen” comes from lumpenproletariat (lum·pen·pro·le·tar·i·at) or for the linguistically inclined, /ˈləmpənˌprōləˈte(ə)rēət,ˈlo͝om-/ . It is a noun in Marxist terminology and refers to the lowest of the lower classes. Those poor people that are so unorganized and unpolitical that they are unaware of their victimization. Consequently, they are on no use to Marx’s ideas about revolution and in fact, may be an impediment to it. In grad school, they made us read The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. This is the first and likely last time it will be of use to me!


Bronisław Malinowski


Malinowski is considered to be one of the “fathers of anthropology” and a leading innovator in what came to be known as “functionalism.” Born in Kraków, Austro-Hungary (now in Poland,) Malinowski spend many of his early years studying theories of exchange at the London School of Economics. Because of his Austro-Hungary citizenship, he was considered an enemy agent of the British when World War I began in 1914.

Initially in British-controlled Papua New Guinea during the outbreak of the war, he was not allowed to return to London. However, Malinowski was allowed to travel to the Trobriand Islands in Melanesia, where he conducted extensive studies of indigenous customs. Malinowski’s interest in exchange theory led him to take particular interest in the Kula Ring ceremony. During a certain time of year, groups from the various islands of the “ring” would travel around and give gifts to show their wealth and strengthen alliances. These observations would later influence French Sociologist Marcel Mauss’ The Gift, which proposed that there was no such thing as a “free gift.”

During his time on the Tobriand Islands, Malinowski lived among the people he studied and took part in their daily lives. Malinowski contributed to the role of participant observation among British anthropologist the same way Franz Boas and his students did here. Malinowski was surprisingly modern in his approach to understanding his subjects, wishing: “to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world.” His interest was in understanding the individual and his perception of his society. Malinowski combined this “data” with his own “analysis,” the outsider’s objective understanding of society as a whole. The methods of participant observation described in his introduction to Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922) remain central to modern ethnographers.

Equally important was Malinowski’s contribution to the theory of functionalism. Functionalism is, by its very simplest definition, the theory that social institutions in any given culture serve some purpose for the betterment of the individual. In essence, it is the idea that everything has a purpose. In the example of the Kula Ring, Malinowski observed natives giving gifts to people on other islands. He postulated that these “presents” served to show the wealth and generosity of the giver as well as cementing bonds between the islands. The functionalist theory has been used to explain the purpose of countless religious, political and social institutions since its foundation by Malinowski.

Alfred Radcliffe-Brown


Malinowski’s functionalism must be contrasted with his contemporary, the Englishmen Alfred Radcliffe-Brown. Radcliffe-Brown is considered the father of a powerful competing theory: structural functionalism. Radcliffe-Brown, an admirer of the work of Durkheim, believed that human societies functioned as “organism” through which the individual was the “cell.” This put him at odds with Malinowski, who believed that it was through the satisfaction of individual needs that societies function. Radcliffe-Brown’s beliefs on the matter can be succinctly identified in the following quote:

“Malinowski has explained that he is the inventor of functionalism, to which he gave its name. His definition of it is clear; it is the theory or doctrine that every feature of culture of any people past or present is to be explained by reference to seven biological needs of individual human beings. I cannot speak for the other writers to whom the label functionalist is applied by the authors, though I very much doubt if Redfield or Linton accept this doctrine. As for myself I reject it entirely, regarding it as useless and worse. As a consistent opponent of Malinowski’s functionalism I may be called an anti-functionalist.”

-A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. 1949. ‘Functionalism: A Protest, American Anthropologist 51(2): 320–321.

Like his rival, Radcliffe-Brown was also instrumental in expanding our understanding of anthropological theory. However, Radcliffe-Brown was far more focused on the group than Malinowski. This interest in the “societal organism” led him to focus on patterns of kinship which may be observed cross-culturally. Radcliffe-Brown would also later come to influence Lévi-Strauss through his work in analyzing myth structurally.


Read the following quote:

“Yet it must be remembered that what appears to us an extensive, complicated, and yet well ordered institution is the outcome of so many doings and pursuits, carried on by savages, who have no laws or aims or charters definitely laid down. They have no knowledge of the total outline of any of their social structure. They know their own motives, know the purpose of individual actions and the rules which apply to them, but how, out of these, the whole collective institution shapes, this is beyond their mental range. Not even the most intelligent native has any clear idea of the Kula as a big, organized social construction, still less of its sociological function and implications….The integration of all the details observed, the achievement of a sociological synthesis of all the various, relevant symptoms, is the task of the Ethnographer… the Ethnographer has to construct the picture of the big institution, very much as the physicist constructs his theory from the experimental data, which always have been within reach of everybody, but needed a consistent interpretation.”

Who said it? 

Read The Introduction to Malinowski’s (1932) Argonauts

Outdated and racist terminology aside, what point is this author trying to make?

Think of instances in your own daily lives, do you ever notice examples of this?

How does this concept of the individual clash with the “super-organic” proposed by other theorists?

Quotes to Ponder

An animal organism is an agglomeration of cells and interstitial fluids arranged in relation to one another not as an aggregate but as an integrated living whole. The system of relations by which these units ate related is the organic structure. As the terms are here used the organism is not itself the structure; it is a collection of unites (cells or molecules) arranged in a structure, i.e., in a set of relations; the organism has a structure. The structure is thus to be defined as a set of relations between entities. Over a period its constituent cells do not remain the same. But the structural arrangement of the constituent units does remain similar.

Who said this?

How can you apply the relevance of this author’s theoretical approach to a contemporary issue or problem?

Historical Particularism


Franz Boas distinguished American anthropology by challenging the tradition of unilinealism that was the long-standing theoretical model used by European anthropology. He discredited the method of evolutionary theories due their erroneous logic. He also fundamentally disagreed with the use of evolutionism to prove the racial superiority of Northern Europeans because he believed that all humans, regardless of their ethnicity and level of technological achievement, were equal. Boas’ viewpoint on the equality of humanity provided the model for cultural relativism, an attitude to be maintained by a researcher while conducting ethnographic research. In order to explain culture, Boas emphasized the need to examine it in its environmental and historical context. The latter was the most important influence on the development of a culture; it can be understood if we accept that societies could reach the same level of culture development through different paths. Boas was indifferent to theory and thought that it was a premature method of ethnography. Instead, he encouraged the use of inductive reasoning based on large amounts of data gathered from direct observation of a society to draw conclusions, which differed from evolutionists who tended to search for data that would fit their theories.

A Breakdown of “The Methods of Ethnology”

Boas begins by calling out the two forces in Anthropology that he felt needed to be contended with, Diffusion and Social Evolution. The former stating that Culture is not present naturally, but is imported from its root source; the latter, purports that cultures go through a series of classifications before they have reached that of the standard: European Societies. As you may recall, Boas believes in the equality of all persons and therefore all societies. It is important to note that Boas’ primary concern is the methods by which Ethnographic studies are conducted, not the theories behind them. As Boas would have it, ethnographers would collect data and interpret the data to form a conclusion, in direct contrast to the scientific method which calls for a theory or hypothesis that is to be tested, the text simplifies by calling Boas’ an inductive approach. The study of the Zuñi serve as a prime example of his concept of the supremacy of historical connections as the mold from which culture is formed.

A.L Kroeber was a student of Boas’ and expressed many of the same beliefs, like the necessity to have a historical perspective to understand culture and the equality of humanity. However, he differed from Boas in his assessment of the influence that the individual has on culture. For Kroeber, individuals did not play a significant role in cultural development and change; rather, historical trends and culture in society determined individual action. His concepts argued that culture cannot be reduced to individual psychology and that culture is a pattern that exceeds and control individuals which determines their human behavior.

A Breakdown of “Eighteen Professions”

In this reading, Kroeber outlined the items of belief that he believed should form the bedrock of anthropology.

1.) History is concerned with how social facts and society come together.

2.)Anthropology is not to  be concerned with the man, but rather what he has accomplished.

3.) Civilization, though a product of humanity, remains a superorganic, apart from humankind.

4.) Each subject has his own mind, but it should not be viewed as the source of his actions.

5.)History studies what an individual or group has done, its purpose is not to speculate as to the underlying causes.

6.) The individual serves no purpose to historical studies, not to say that they are invaluable, but they hold no truths for historical research.

7.) Civilization is not caused by geographic location. Kroeber uses agriculture to support this claim, agriculture is demanded by society, society decides how it is to be performed based on the specific environment, the environment did not spawn agriculture.

8-14.) In the intervening professions Kroeber states and restates the notion that despite their appearances, all societies have equal propensity for civilization, and each individual has the propensity to as educated or wise as the next. Therefore, there can be no stages of civilization, social standards, “ethnic minds”, or hereditary influence. This is an egalitarian perspective that is reminiscent of his teacher, Boas. The position that all

15.) Unlike the various sciences, there are no strict rules by which history must follow, the Illiad being a prime example of the age-old adage, ” all’s fair in love and war”, i.e. there are no rules. Paris can steal away a Grecian king’s wife for love, and countless men can lay down their lives and those that they laid low in the intervening conflict for the honor of “king/queen and country”, etcetera; Operation Iraqi Freedom, various other conflicts in the mid and far-East, and the “War on Terror” are no exceptions to this overarching theme.

16.) History is concerned, strictly, with what actually occurred with no interest given to what may have been the underlying causes of any specific event.

17.)From the 16th profession, it is apparent that what history lacks, as it should per Kroeber, is a study of the ultimate causes of any specific event.

18.) Kroeber ultimately rended a gap between History and the other sciences, saying that we could not be more different at a basic level of methodology and determination.

Discussion Questions

Contrast Boas’ approach to anthropology through historical particularism with the approach of cultural evolutionists, like L.H. Morgan. If the similar development of societies cannot be attributed to the existence of a universal, predetermined evolutionary pattern, then why, according to Boas, do these parallelisms appear?

What is Kroeber’s attitude toward the role and influence of an individual within a culture? How does it differ from Boas? What does it mean that society is “superorganic”?

Founders Dread

What is the differentiation of social fact vs. social current? And how did Durkheim come up with them? How did Suicide create Sociology? How is it different than Anthropology?


Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism

Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism

This was a period in science and human thought that affected great changes in how people understand the world and human development.

Notable people of this era include:
Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace,
Herbert Spencer,
Sir Edward Burnett Tylor,
Lewis Henry Morgan,
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Notable publications include:
-Herbert Spencer, The Social Organism (1860)
-Lewis Henry Morgan, Ethnical Periods (1877)
-Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook (1845-1846)
-Edward Burnett Tylor, Science of Culture (1871)


1. Herbert Spencer The Social Organism (1860)

2. -Lewis Henry Morgan, Ethnical Periods (1877)

The readings from this section share some similar tendencies, one among these is the idea of human interaction as an evolutionary process.  Spenser’s theory is very unilateral in suggesting that civilization progress, or evolve.  His writing gives an analogous view of civilization and human interaction as a biological organism, suggesting that the social factors of human interaction have evolved from simplistic to more complicated.  This is also intertwined with  authors such as Taylor, who also compare anthropology with the natural sciences, echoing the sentiments of Darwinian theory by applying the idea to human civilization.  Feuerbach takes this idea a step further with the productions of intercourse, adding more specific elements of human interaction into what is basically the same idea presented by Spencer and Taylor.   It is important here to focus on material and its role as a driving force in this evolutionary theory.

Based on this idea, and the more in-depth literature that supports it, we would like to discuss the following:

In the spirit of 19th Century Evolutionism:  Explain the evolution of culture in the terms of the evolution of life, or as an analogy of a living organism or body, or a progressive process of change, or as the development of mental capacities.  You may want to consider: the evolution of simple to complex societies, interdependency, class structure, religion, materialism, technology innovation or art, knowledge/ education, subsistence, roles and structure of the family, government,  division of labor, or speech.  How are all these ideas related, or how are all societies related to one another?  Is there a progression of society, and if there is, what is the ultimate goal of society?

Slides on Unilneal evolution(Mullooly)

Class and Busyness

Busyness is an understatement for the majority of people. Busyness can be overwhelming because it involves constantly moving from one place to another, formal and informal conversations, and thinking of what else needs to be checked off the list. Individual’s obligations to their family, school, work, organizations, and other activities define ‘busyness’ in Darrah’s book, “Busier than Ever!” The question remains: Is all obligations essential to living and functioning well if people are growing unconscious of their reasons for their busyness?

It is quite impossible to be consciously aware of all decisions and actions we do throughout the day. As creatures of habit, humans grow accustom to doing these in a particular way because they do not have waste time thinking why they do something a certain way. The habits were already reasoned to be beneficial and helps conserve time. The families found eating dinner together as essential for maintaining a healthy family; However, I argue that solitude is equally essential because it is important to have time to think, reflect and question on actions and decisions to prevent miscommunication with others and decompress from being overwhelmed. Many times families were aware of their structure within their family and their agency in choosing the activities they centralized their ‘free time,’ around. By stating their goals for their family and themselves which often were economic and social success, they assumed all their decisions and actions were towards their goals.

As a philosophy student, it is necessary to immerse myself into solitude. Introspection helps bring awareness of my actions, decisions, and desires. It allows me to refresh my mind of why I am doing certain things, what I am doing wrong and what can be changed? Should it be changed or is it something else distracting me? The time to deliberate and weigh out my priorities are extremely changing. Sometimes technology helps me stay on top of things. There are many productivity apps which I use to set reminders and make daily lists, but they are simply reminders not motivators. I can only motivate myself to do the right things, but it is difficult when the wrong distractions are constantly present.

There are always going to be distractions in life when you are busy with work, papers, classes, and other priorities. It has been a challenge for me to choose the right distractions when the wrong distractions are immediately pleasing. For instance, this semester I spent most of my days in the library or in the Philosophy’s department conference room. If I was tempted to go over a friend’s house I would have to think about it and when I saw one of my professors walk into the conference room it reminded me of what I should be doing since I know what is the right thing to do. Especially if I saw my professor for ancient philosophy after hearing the lectures and reading Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle there was a constant internal battle against my Reason and my Appetite that could not be ignored. By attending the Ethic Center lectures throughout the semester was a good distraction since many of the lectures helped brooding my understanding of issues discussed in my courses. By keeping busy I refrained from my inclination to do many non-educational and recreational activities.

There were many times in the semester I was unreasonably relaxed despite having tests to study for and papers due. The hardest thing was not driving to school, but getting out of my car and walking to class. I was busy working, studying, writing, but mostly deliberating over my actions. It was when I was consciously thinking about the right from the wrong actions that I usually made or attempted to make the right decision, because I remembered my goal: graduate school. Although, my weakness of will overruled my reasoning to go to class or spend more time writing I was and am continuing growing conscious of the necessary steps that leads to attaining a bigger goal.

Unlike the middle class families who centralize their schedules around their children sporting events, education, volunteering, other activities, and optimizing their time to spent as a family and technological devices is quite different from the scheduling in lower class families.

Being raised by a single mother, there was no ‘free time’ to spend on volunteering and other activities. My sister and I both struggled in school despite hiring tutors and occasionally helping us with homework my mother trusted the after school programs to help us. Eventually, I was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia in my early teens and was medicated for it which helped me in school and helped my mother out from worrying about my academia. My mother worked two jobs and relied on family and friends for assistance if my sister or I were sick at school, needed to get an appointment, dropped off at dance practice or make us dinner if she was working late. Most of the scheduling evolved around the time and place to meet my father to get the child support and where to drop us off and pick us up when it was my father’s weekend. It was a constant flow of chaos and miscommunication. In retrospect, they both agreed they could have been better organized to reduce the amount of stress, miscommunication, and overall busyness.

The material infrastructure helped my mother and we communicate easier with text messaging and navigation, but ironically it drifted us away from family dinners and from conversations. As social networking became popular, my sister and I spent much of our time at home on social media and created a closer bond between us. My mother was rarely home because of work or going out with friends so she would send a text message to inform us one of us needed to cook dinner. When we were all home, someone was busy on the computer or watching a T.V. show or busy text messaging that family dinners were practically nonexistent. The advantage was keeping close with geographically distant family through social networks. In addition, my mother was not awake at night from worrying about our whereabouts because we would quickly inform her if we were going to be out late or spend the night at a friend’s.

With the holidays near, this is the time where I find busyness to be utterly pointless. Do you know how important it is for some people to write holiday cards to everyone? They waste an obscene amount of time writing to people who they do not talk to except during the holidays via holiday cards. Some people feel compelled to purchase gifts for family members they do not even like nor care to get to know yet they will leave Thanksgiving dinner early to wait in line at stores for Black Friday to buy gifts for people they do not like. I understand we live in a capitalist society and consumerism is our specialty but it extracts the meaning away from what is essentially the reason people celebrate the holidays.

Being stressed out over giving gifts or receiving them could be avoided if people took some time to think what the fuck is the meaning of it all. There is no meaning if all that matters is making sure everyone gets a card or a gift. Personally, I do not believe in celebrating Christmas but the meaning in celebrating Christmas with family is something admirable. The intimacy of seeing family you went all year without seeing is something worthy to value but the emphasis on gift-giving is absurd. Suddenly, people feel obligated to make sure the Christmas tree is filled with plethora of gifts.

Fortunately, these families were trying to do the right things and sought to remain harmonious. They do not express the same moral and ethical afflictions I have experienced hearing from other people express. Most families and individuals I know are below the middle class families. Primarily, the working class families who do not utilize their time nor focus on the same activities and other things.

by Chelsee Jacinto

Dance My Way There

My parents were always busy working. Most of my childhood was spent with my siblings at our grandparents which lived next door. My parents’ busyness drove themselves far away from us, but they still nature us to their fullest. My mother was always rushing every weekdays. She would wake us up for school and drops us off, goes back home babysit the little one and do chores, picks us up from school, drop us off at our grandparents, leave to work immediately, comes homes at midnight, showers, and then sleep. While my dad, wakes up early in the morning to got to work, comes home late at noon, makes us dinner, and puts us to sleep.

The busyness kept my parents from spending family time with us. When they were home on the weekends, they were just too tired to do anything so they would stay home, otherwise, they help out the relatives like the usual with the religious parties. I always wonder why my parents had to work so long everyday. As a young child at that time, I came up with two thoughts. First one was they were worked hard everyday so that they would buy candies and toys just for us, and secondly, was so we can move into a nice new house with lots of room for our family. Obviously those were just part of the reasons, the real reason was to keep they family healthy and live through this new economy. Being immigrants was hard on the family because my parents lack writing and speaking English so finding jobs was hard. Us, the children, we were expected to do good in school so we could get a good job for ourselves and help them out. They never ask us how we were doing in school, especially when we needed help most because being immigrants they had little knowledge of the new world. Never really gave us the chance to understand one another. I wouldn’t blame my parents for not being able to spend time with us because being immigrants working your way up in the America was difficult. A new language, economy, government, stereotype, and discrimination were some of the many things they face as immigrants.

In the book Busier Than Ever of chapter two about the the Trans, it states, “Binh and Sheila knew from experience how hard life could be, and they tried to shield their children from suffering as they had. They did this by utilizing adult-sponsored activities for their children in the fervent hope that this would hide the economic straits this family fallen into. More important, they expected their guidelines to lead their children along a path of educational and economic success at the same time as they reinforced strong family bonds.” (39). The example of this biological family enforces that family was most important. the parents chooses what is important and they will work around it if they have to. Of course this will create many buffers for both the parents and children because of work, childcare, and economic issues they face everyday and the children have education, activities inside and outside of school. The family will have hardships but overcoming it is just on the individuals’ will to change for the better.

It was the fact that my parents busyness was driven by the main structure of being immigrants. The structure led to many things they had to cope with such as the economy but it soon became a buffer as well. Also driven by the structure of the “American Dream,” they push us to be successful and didn’t want us to suffer as much as they did before coming to the United States of America. My parents didn’t have strong enforcement on family bonding due to that but these are possible reasons why my parents too busy to spend time the family.

by Thai Vang

We Must Learn How to be Hmong American

The older generations of the Hmong people often say that the younger ones are forgetting their culture. They often criticize that we are not preserving it and because of that, we will forget about our culture and background. However, I disagree with this and I believe we, the younger generation of Hmong, are still doing our part in preserving our culture. We are just doing it differently.

I think the biggest reason why the younger Hmong generation is so much different is because we live in a much different environment. In their native country, the Hmong were agrarian. Much of their economy was based on agriculture and it usually required the help of the entire household to manage one field. In western society, we are forced to find a way to make a living differently. The standard of living is different and independently managing a private land for agriculture is difficult due to competition in the market. There are simply better and easier ways to make a source of income rather than focusing on agriculture. Today, we do not have to rely on the entire household to contribute in providing income.

This brings me to the idea of the difference in Hmong families today and back then. Having children was an important part in marriage. It was a necessity. Children demonstrated a household’s status and provided a future source of income. Sons would grow up to help in the fields which would provide food and finances and daughters when married allowed the family to receive money from the bride price. Sons would carry their family’s name and reputation as the culture is based on a patrilineal descent system. Basically having children meant that families had more wealth and power in their society. Today, it seems to be much different. The costs of managing a family are expensive. The Hmong are one of the poorest ethnic groups in America. As a result, the family structures of Hmong families today are much different. The need of having a large family is not as valued as it was back then.

Marriage in America in the Hmong culture is different than it was back in their native land. Traditionally in a Hmong marriage, the bride is usually married to someone the family approves of and in most cases, it is an arranged marriage. Often the bride is only about 15 years old and is married to an older man. However, it is different today as most marriages between couples occur when they are in their 20s. According to a census report by Hmong National Development in 2013, married couple-households were on a decline since 2000. This shows evidence that many Hmong today are getting married less or at am older age.

Another noticeable difference in the Hmong community is the religion. Religion plays a large part in the Hmong culture. It acts a way to connect to the ancestors and in some cases it acts as a remedy to fix problems such as sickness. Religious leaders are called shamans are responsible for leading the house when rituals occur. Many Hmong today still follow Shamanism but with the influence of western culture, many Hmong in America have converted to Christianity. There exists criticism from the traditional Hmong that many Hmong who have converted have given up on their culture. This creates a gap between the younger and older generation as the older generation often sees this as a threat to the continuation of the Hmong culture.

As a Hmong American, my honest say is that the younger Hmong generations are not losing our culture but we are simply preserving it differently. We are more modernized and have adapted better to the western world. We have seen the struggles of our parents and have learned to do what it takes to avoid the issues they faced in adapting to their new home. Maybe we are not living up to the same expectations of how they grew up but that is because we live in a much different environment. The biggest difference between our view and their view is that we have accepted that the society we live in now is constantly changing and whether it is good or bad, we must learn to adapt so our children can learn what it is to be Hmong American. We are not losing our culture but we are simply preserving in a different way.

by Kao Lee


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,789 other followers