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Spring 2011 Anthropology 104 Skits

The Skits from the 2011 Anthropology 104 class with Dr. Mullooly, have been posted on YouTube!!

Post-Modernism… (queue X-Files theme song)

The basic sense I get from post-modernity, is that all things are to be deconstructed or at least critiqued.

Vulgar Post Modernism -

“Sitting on the porch with your forty-ouncer complaining about all the cars that go by instead of building your own.”

- Unknown

Anthropology and Gender: The Feminist Critique; Slocum, Leacock, and Stoler.

Like all fields of Academia, Anthropology was a bastion for “good ol’ boys” ( as a certain professor  states in his oft-repeated caveat, “pardon my genitalia”). Even in the days of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, women “were marginalized, pigeonholed, and excluded from important aspects of the discipline.” It was not until the fifties that discussions of women were found in more than the “introductory textbook chapters on marriage, family and kinship.”

Skits for Theorits

Dear Anthro Theorits:

Here is the skit guideline that Hank developed a few years back. Students have gone beyond this considerably. Hence the term “guide”.
In the end, it should be fun and illustrate your synthesis of some person’s work.
PS. We meet on the Monday after the break. Mark your calendars.!!
Now off to Daytona Beach!! (just kidding)

Anthropology 104

This is an evolving assignment that dates back a few years. Here is the current semester version of it. You are free to make changes, and not all of these have to be done. However, everyone should have a role to play.

Form groups of 5 or 6 students to compose and perform an approximately 15 minute skit in which key theorists from the course are portrayed. Use a plot that facilitates the presentation of their ideas.

The plots of the skits could go in several ways. The key to all of them is that the theorists in question get a chance to express their views clearly in the dialogue. You might dream up a novel plot, or “rip off” a pre-existing plot; either way is fine. Standard plots that might work include:
• Guests attend a dinner party; one of the guests is murdered. Sorting out who done it would provide opportunities for a detective character to interrogate various guests and try to find the one with the best motive, maybe the one with the most theoretical differences with the murdered guest…
• A group of people is shipwrecked on a deserted island and must work out a way to survive the island, and each other. Better still, it turns out that there are “natives” on the island… “Survivor,” “Lost,” and so on are all open game!
• Etc..

Anachronism and general creativity will obviously be necessary, since most of the theorists involved in the skits were not contemporaries. Feel free to play around with the details of who, what, when, where, etc., but DO pay attention to representing the ideas of the theorists accurately. Costumes, props, etc., really help to convey the messages of your skits.

Group 1: Steward (cultural ecology) and Leacock (feminist anthropology)
Key tension: Steward was notorious for ignoring gender in his analysis, while Leacock and other feminist anthropologists maintain that gender is a central issue in any sociocultural analysis. On the other hand, both Steward and Leacock were materialists, so they do have some common ground.

Group 2: Morgan (unilineal evolutionism) and Boas (historical particularism)
Key tension: Morgan and other UEs envisioned a progression of societies from primitive to civilized, while Boas argued that such a scale is inherently evaluative and, anyway, not supported by the evidence. The tension is between a form of “ethnocentric anthropology,” and the father of modern cultural relativism.

Group 3: Wolf (political economy) and Geertz (symbolic anthropology)
Key tension: Wolf was a materialist and Marxist, while Geertz emphasized the primacy of “symbols and meanings” in defining and driving human life; he has been often criticized for lack of attention to the power inequalities that are central to political economy. Also, Wolf was interested in large-scale interconnections, while Geertz was known for a rather tight focus on particular cultures. There is a lot to work with here.

Group 4: Steward (cultural ecology) and a representative of post-modernism
Key tension: Steward had a strong commitment to anthropology as a science and to finding cause-effect relationships with a particular emphasis on materialism. Post-modernists (depending on the particular type) would question the assumptions that underlie a science of humanity, attack the certainty with which Steward drew his conclusions, and emphasize biases inherent in anthropological work.

Group 5: Mead, Ortner (structuralism and feminism), Leacock (anthro and gender) Lila Abu-Lughod (postmodernism), Aihwa Ong (postmodernism), and any one of the males we have studied.
Tension: Bearded or mustachioed, perhaps, but on this occasion outnumbered, he at lasts decides to listen, really listen, to what the women anthropologists have to say. Where are they? A desert island? A dinner party? Witnesses to a headhunter’s rage? Held hostage by religious radicals? Delegates to the Democratic Party National Convention? How do their differences play out? See if you can do this without making the male the center of attention—I think there are more tensions among the women, but they may argue it out using him as the audience.

Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology – Edward Wilson

Structuralism – Levi-Strauss, Ortner


Claude Levi-Strauss (b. 1908)

Linguistics and Anthropology

A Breakdown of the Reading

 In this article, Levi-Strauss discusses at length the multi-tiered nature of the notions of the relationship between language and culture. And it it his premise that if you study the Culture, than you will have an intimate knowledge of the  Language. This is the opposite of what is known as linguistic determinism as defined by the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. Instead of Language determining the culture, the culture determins the language. I see both as hard to prove empirically, but linguistic determinism seems harder to swallow. That each may influence the other ro a greater or lesser degree would appear more plausible to me.

According to Levi-Strauss, the relationship between language and culture can be broken down into three categories.

1.) The degree to which a language and culture are separable,

2.) The Relationship between Language and Culture as global concepts, rather than singular entities like English, French or Spanish and their respective cultures, and

3.) The Relationship between the studies of Linguistics and Anthropology.

He goes on to state that there are individual cultural ramifications of this relationship, which is particularly notes in cultural attitudes towards silence.

Another concept to note is that Language is the means by which Culture is transmitted, but both are visible manifestations of the same underlying mental processes, therefore Linguistics can be used as a tool to analyse culture.

This notion was particularly seductive to anthropology at the time of this publication, because it was before the widespread use of ethnographic work, and Linguistics had long since been steeped in empirical methods of fields concidered to be “more scientific”.

An example of this is the apparent disparity between the kinship systems of the areas considered Sino-Tibetan and Indo-European. The result is a seemingly dichotomous arrangement of terms for kin, the clan type of Sino-Tibetan cultures having many terms differentiating the maternal and paternal side of ego’s family( Paternal Grandfather: JOO-foo, Maternal Grandfather:wai-JOO-foo); whereas, the extended family type of Indo-European cultures that lack that level of differentiation, and maternal and paternal sides are only differentiated by gender (e.g. Aunt, Uncle, Grandfather, Grandmother).

Four Winnebago Myths: A Structural Sketch

A Breakdown of the Reading

This article is based on myths collected by Radin during his ethnography of the Winnebago. The myths that Levi-Strauss chose are all of the same genre, in that the protagonist must experience death in some form, but they each differ slightly from each other.

The first myth introduces us to the concept of  the the “capital of life” and that all people are entitled to a specific “quota of years” of life and experience. When someone dies before that quota has been fulfilled, the remaining life returns to the tribe. Additionally, Levi-Strauss dichotomizes the heroic and ordinary with regard to lives; the former being renewable, but short lived; whereas, an ordinary full life is non-renewable. A hellenistic example of this concept is found with the story of Achilles, embodies by Brad Pitt in 2004 box office hit Troy, when his mother told him he could live a full life and die known only to his children, who would after many generations forget his name; or,

Sherry Ortner (b.)

Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture

A Breakdown of the Reading

Neomaterialism – Evolutionary, Functionalist, Ecological, Marxist


Steward and White from the previous section laid the foundations of Ecological Anthropology materialistic cultural analysis,  but it wasn’t until the next generation of Anthropologists that these fields underwent true development.

As with all things, the course of the good ship Anthropology was sent in the same direction as the concomitant winds of scientific thought, with particular note to General Systems theory and the field of ecology.

General Systems theory - is the transdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems in all fields of research. The term does not yet have a well-established, precise meaning, but systems theory can reasonably be considered a specialization of systems thinking and a generalization of systems science. The term originates from Bertalanffy‘s General System Theory (GST) and is used in later efforts in other fields, such as the action theory of Talcott Parsons and the system-theory of Niklas Luhmann.

In this context the word “systems” is used to refer specifically to self-regulating systems, i.e. that are self-correcting through feedback. Self-regulating systems are found in nature, including the physiological systems of our body, in local and global ecosystems, and in climate.

Many early systems theorists aimed at finding a general systems theory that could explain all systems in all fields of science. The term goes back to Bertalanffy’s book titled “General System theory: Foundations, Development, Applications” from 1968.[6] According to Von Bertalanffy, he developed the “allgemeine Systemlehre” (general systems teachings) first via lectures beginning in 1937 and then via publications beginning in 1946.[16]

Von Bertalanffy’s objective was to bring together under one heading the organismic science that he had observed in his work as a biologist. His desire was to use the word “system” to describe those principles which are common to systems in general. In GST, he writes:

…there exist models, principles, and laws that apply to generalized systems or their subclasses, irrespective of their particular kind, the nature of their component elements, and the relationships or “forces” between them. It seems legitimate to ask for a theory, not of systems of a more or less special kind, but of universal principles applying to systems in general.[17]

Ervin Laszlo[18] in the preface of von Bertalanffy’s book Perspectives on General System Theory:[19]

Thus when von Bertalanffy spoke of Allgemeine Systemtheorie it was consistent with his view that he was proposing a new perspective, a new way of doing science. It was not directly consistent with an interpretation often put on “general system theory”, to wit, that it is a (scientific) “theory of general systems.” To criticize it as such is to shoot at straw men. Von Bertalanffy opened up something much broader and of much greater significance than a single theory (which, as we now know, can always be falsified and has usually an ephemeral existence): he created a new paradigm for the development of theories.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy outlines systems inquiry into three major domains: Philosophy, Science, and Technology. In his work with the Primer Group, Béla H. Bánáthy generalized the domains into four integrable domains of systemic inquiry:

Domain                                     Description

Philosophy              The ontology, epistemology, and axiology of

Theory                      A set of interrelated concepts and principles
applying to all systems

Methodology        The set of models, strategies, methods, and
tools that instrumentalize systems theory
and philosophy

Application           The application and interaction of the domains

These operate in a recursive relationship, he explained. Integrating Philosophy and Theory as Knowledge, and Method and Application as action, Systems Inquiry then is knowledgeable action.

- Wikipedia

It is also important to note that this is the basis for cybernetics.

Ecology – Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, “house”; -λογία, “study of”) is the scientific study of the relation of living organisms with each other and their surroundings.

- Wikipedia

Further development of the field moved the “units of analysis” to cultures rather that local populations. The resultant field, called ecological materialism, can be subdivided into two subfields: neoevolutionists, who revisit the writings of Lewis Henry Morgan, were interested in finding the origins of cultural phenomenae, particularly with respect to a pattern of stages (e.g. band-tribe-chiefdom-state) or with respect to social inequality (e.g. egalitarian-rank-stratified-state); neofunctionalists, like psychological and structural functionalists, are interested in the function and purpose of institutions, yet differing in their description of institution (in terms of adaptation), particularly in how these institutions serve to “maintain and reproduce populations.” (Archeology is of chief importance to this field)

Morton Fried (1923-1986)

As a graduate student and subsequent holder of a professorship at Columbia University, Fried’s “understanding of social evolution” was influenced by both professors (particularly Julian Steward, but also White and V. Gordon Childe) and fellow students (such names as Service, Diamond, Wolf and Manners).

On the Evolution of Social Stratification and the State

A Breakdown of the Reading

According to Fried, cultures will progress, in a pristine environment, in the following way:

Stage A (egalitarian organization) –>Stage B (rank society) –> Stage C (stratification society) –> Stage D (state society)

Egalitarian – group organizations with “as many positions of prestige … as there are persons capable of filling them.” Such groups are usually hunter-gatherer, participating in reciprocal exchange, with little in the way of significant harvest periods or food storage.

Rank – group organizations with “fewer positions of valued status than there are persons capable of handling them.” Such groups include rules of accession, rights to succession, and participation in a “redistributive economy.”

Stratification – group organizations with “differential relationships between the members of the society and its subsistence means.” These differential statuses lead to differential access to resources. There are two forms of resource access based on social status: priveliged and unimpeded, where access is unrestricted; the other is impaired, where a complex series of permissions are required for permitted levels of access.

State - group organizations with the “organization of the power of the society on a supra-kin basis.”

As the pristine environments found early in the Chinese and African river valleys no longer exists in the presence of so many modern states, the process has become more of an “acculturation phenomenon.”

The sequence of transitions from one stage to the next has never been documented. Also, when a society does transition, it is in an “inexorable” manner and done so without the cognizance of the “culture carriers.”

Marvin Harris (1927-2001)

Hailing from Columbia University, Harris was a student of both Boas and Steward (perhaps framing his later work) and was attracted to a paper by Leslie White that criticized Boasians, but it should be noted that he did not officially move to materialism until after his field work in Mozambique and his experience with Portuguese colonialism. His work carries the Marxist tenor of Leslie White.

The Cultural Ecology of India’s Sacred Cattle

A Breakdown of the Reading

Roy Rappart (1926-1997)

Ritual Regulation of Environmental Relations Among a New Guinea People

Eric Wolf (1923-1999)

Peasantry and Its Problem

Julian Steward – “The Patrilineal Band”

All quotes are taken from the reading unless otherwise noted.

After “the ‘mid-century collapse’ of Historical Particularism” a resurrection of the dearly departed “cross-cultural comparison” or evolutionary perspectives on culture, began to crop up. A good example of this is the following reading, where the author states that societies that occur in similar environments develop in the same ways. Defining cultural types as those sharing cultural features forming a “core” of practices associated with subsistence, ranging in complexity from family to multi-family and finally state, hi students later “refined” this series to the “now familiar classifications of band, tribe, chiefdom, and state.” Contrary to unilineal evolutionists, Stewart believed that “cultures could evolve in any number of distinct patterns depending on their environmental circumstances.” Despite being a student of Kroeber, he butted heads with his mentor by his interest in the causes of cultural traits, Krober being the author or “The Eighteen Professions” said many times that anthropology should not be concerned with teleology, in fact anthropologists should not be concerned with causation at all, needless to say the relationship was contentious. Steward’s text is a prime example of how he shows culture to be an adaptation to the environment.

A few definitions to get us started…

Patrilineality - “is a system in which one belongs to one’s father’s lineage. It generally involves the inheritance of property, names or titles through the male line as well.” -Wikipedia

Patrilocality – “is a term referring to the social system in which a married couple resides with or near the husband’s parents.” – Wikipedia
It is important to note that patrilocality is more readily visible through the examination of marriage practices.

Exogamy – In this context, “exogamy is the marrying outside of a specific group.” Particularly, avoiding incest by marrying outside of the immediate family, potentially cross or parallel cousins may be preferred marriage partners.

 A Breakdown of the Reading

It is important to note that a recurring theme that permeates Steward’s writings are far from the Historical Particularists of his day in that he is almost consumed with an interest in discovering “general laws of culture.” In this instance Steward is attempting to find a correlation between environment and the subsequent cultural construction. The result of this study is the notion of, as so termed by Dr. Mullooly, Environmental Determinism.

Right and Wrong (Paul Radin) post by Marcus Rockwell

A Reposting of Marcus Rockwell’s Comment on Historical Particuarism:

The title of this article provides excellent foreshadowing. Right and wrong. Ok then, in the realm of the relative, right and wrong exist. Start analyzing, right and wrong fall by the wayside in the realm of the ultimate. One cannot ignore the relative in favor of dwelling in the ultimate, as both have their place. Relative and ultimate exist in the mind. This work, undoubtedly finds its home in the realm of the relative.

The natives Radins studies, hold sacred some of the following morals… “It is always good to be good”, (good cannot exist without bad, it is not possible to be “always good” if one thinks in this way), “For the good you do, everyone will love you… be friendly with everyone and everyone will love you”, (it is unlikely that jealousy is non-existent among our natives, there are those who will not love you no matter what you do, if you try to make everyone love you, you can expect to become their slave), “Do not abuse your wife, women are sacred”, (elevating women to supernatural status is dangerous, women are no more or less sacred than men), “It is not good to gamble” (obvious, native economics is based overwhelmingly on the money dropped in its casinos, the people our author studied opened their newest “not good” attraction in 2004).

There is a tendency to conclude the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) natives are more socially evolved than we are. The pendulum has swung the other way from early ethnography; their ethics are somehow superior to our own. Let us stop the swinging altogether and consider values source as keeping in check pressing urges, made from psychological disposition unique to past environment, rather than moral maxims to be followed by those searching for truth in the circle of right over wrong.

Historical Particularism – Boas, Kroeber and Radin

All subsequent quotes are taken from the associated texts unless otherwise noted.

This particular method of research was the brain-child of Franz Boas. It was also the first school of anthropological thought that was born on American soil.

Franz Boas (1858-1942)

Historical  particularism is a method of research that was the brain-child of Franz Boas; the founding principle being, that which Boas wished to both “live and die” by, was the equality of rights for all. It was this sentiment that influenced Boas’ to ultimately move to America as  this nation in particular represented, in his eyes, the ideal in equality. Due to his training in the physical sciences, Boas’ approach to ethnographic research was an expectedly rigorous one. It was his belief that ethnographic fieldwork should consist of a three-fold approach; to include an assessment of environmental impact on the society in question, pertinent psychological factors, and what Boas deemed most important: Historical Connections, as it was his view that each society is a product of its own historical circumstances.  His consistent disavowal of social Darwinism could very well be linked to the notion that Boas may not have “fully understood or accepted…natural selection.”  In addition, Boas believed that the “sweeping generalizations of unilinear social evolutionists” were invalid from a scientific standpoint, stating that:

 “[C]ultures may have similar traits for a variety of reasons…independent of any universal evolutionary process. Thus, the existence of such traits could not be used as evidence for universal stages of cultural evolution.”

Boas can rightfully be credited with the pioneering of the concept of Cultural Relativism concomitantly with Historical Particularism. Despite his many influential perspectives on this field, Boas was stripped of his membership and ultimately censured by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) for 96 years from 1919-2005.

A Breakdown of the Reading

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 (1876-1960)

As a student of Boas, Kroeber shared the same basic view of Anthropology, that societies are shaped by their respective histories.

A Breakdown of the Reading

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.

Paul Radin (1883-1959

 Radin, also a student of Boas, to a different piece of his teacher’s body of work . Where Kroeber focused on the group and disregarded the ultimate importance of the individual, Radin focused on the individual to the point of fathering a more biographical or literary approach rather than scientific.

A Breakdown of the Reading

After many years of research, the enormous amount of data was sifted through and Radin chose 25 gems to represent the ideal in Winnebago society. These “unwritten” rules by which the Winnebago live, serve as a direct counterpoint to the common and academic view of the so-called savage in the concurrent era as a brutish figure ruled by his own passions. In these enumerated “laws” of the Winnebago, Radin has shown that those viewed as savages are governed by the same sort of laws that we observe; such as the “Golden Rule”, “honor your parents”, “Do not kill”, “keep your word”,etc.

Not to be idealistic, as these are the perfect conditions, and like our own society, conditions are hardly ever perfect, so it is not without warrant that we expect instances where these rules are not abided by. Subsequently, as with our own society, there are repercussions for acting outside of acceptable social behavior..

Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941)

This article was not covered in class and is not required, but there is a prezi to help cut thru the fluff.

The Foundations of Sociological Thought – Durkheim, Mauss, and Weber

The Foundations of Sociological Thought – Durkheim, Mauss, and Weber

All subsequent quotes refer to the corresponding text.

Sociology, a close sibling to Anthropology is based on many philosophical and scientific literatures. Therefore, both of these disciplines share many tenets of their basic theories and structures.

Émile Durkheim (1858-1917)

As a student of August Compte (the positivist philosopher) and Herbert Spencer (author of  The Social Organism), Durkheim believed that there existed certain laws that governed human society, anticipating a mimicry of those laws noted in physics and other hard sciences. After working in the psychological research labs of renowned German Psychologist, Wilhelm Wundt; Durkheim sought to scientifically study society.

A Breakdown of the Reading

Durkheim sought to carve a niche in that was imprecisely called “social” in order to fashion a study of what was truly sociological, defining its borders separating this area of study from that of the psychologist and biologist. In order for Durkheim to pose Sociology as a science, there needed to be laws that were the impetus for social activity. He calls these impetuses, “social” facts.”Social” facts as a tangible force has not been proven, though you cannot experience them in a vacuum, they can only be experienced through their effects. In the same vein the laws of magnetism, gravity and the force of wind may not be seen or held in your hand, but their effects are readily visible. Unlike these physical laws, “social” facts have repercussions for their violations. You may not even realize that they affect you until you eat filet mignon with your hands in a five-star dining establishment, or break some other social taboo at your peril. In this context we can see what begins as an adhesive force that forms what Durkheim terms “Social Solidarity”, coalesces through what he calls “Social Condensation” into a collective conscience. L’âme collective, embodies the concept as “soul”, “spirit”, “sentiment”, or “sensibility” of the superorganic group in question.

Returning to the concept of Social Facts, they are one of two influences that hold sway over the individual. The second influential factor Durkheim notes are “social currents.” These are the spur-of-the-moment feelings that power a mob, even overriding some “social facts”. A good example of this is the riots in Egypt, particularly in Cairo and Alexandria; poor, frightened Anderson Cooper. A historic example would be the French Revolutions, particularly The Reign of Terror. The only difference between “social facts” and “social currents” are the level to which they are crystalized, a  “social current” is strong but short-lived, whereas a “social fact” is much more secure through time and change; which is not to say that a “social current” may not solidify into a “social fact.”

Both “social” facts and currents are imposed on the individual, their influence can be readily seen in legislation (recently with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), customs (fear from dreaming that you are late for your University of Mars doctoral review board and realize that you left your clothes at home, thank you Futurama), religious practices (perhaps the golden rule is a good universal…).

Marcel Mauss (1872-1950)

Nephew of Durkheim…that pretty much sums him up as being in the same vein in more than just through lineage. It is also important to note that he is one of the students of Durkheim to survive World War I. and according to our reader, he “was considered one of the school’s leading thinkers.”

A Breakdown of the Reading

Mauss’ contribution to this section is notably an extension of his uncle’s previous work. The practice of gift-giving is, as he believes, a product of what he calls “total social phenomenon.”

Through his explanation of the potlatch of the American North-West, Mauss shows that the act of gift-giving in this context is not necessarily inspired out of the goodness of the heart, but as a cultural requirement of the individual that calls for a three step process:

1.) The Obligation to Give

As the essence of the potlatch, giving shows the society that the person holding the potlatch is favored by the deity/ies of that society. Favor is perceived by the amount of amassed fortune and how it is given away. The purpose of this giving is to humiliate those on the receiving end of the person providing the gifts, to put them “in the shadow of his name.”

2.) The Obligation to receive

It is a cultural imperative to accept the gift offered through potlatch, to refuse would be an insult that has the potential to incite war, in most cases it causes one to “lose face” in the eyes of the community. The instance where a refusal is permissable entails a previous potlatch given by the intended recipient as well as another potlatch to be performed and a ritual performed, in this way a refusal is seen as an assertion of victory and invincibility.”

3.) The Obligation to Repay

In addition to having to receive a gift through potlatch, the value of the gift must be returned to the original gifter. The return gift must also be accompanied with interest of sorts, a gift of a blanket requires two blankets in return. An inability to repay this kind of debt may do so through the loss of his status as a free man.

These kinds of gifts are often seen as members of the family, and their being given can be seen as the movement from one household to another. Some of the “most important articles” that can be given in the potlatch ar “decorated coppers.” Copper itself has significance as a central figure in myth and cult (in the anthropological sense, i.e. religion). The “coppers” are also seen as having “a virtue which attracts other coppers to them…wealth attracts wealth.”

Mauss shows that “‘total’ social phenomenon” are far-reaching and have many ways in which they affect the individuals in the society.

Karl “Max” Weber (1864-1920)

Fatima did a wonderful job with her presentation. So, I won’t insult her or bore the rest you by beating a necrotic horse.


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