Ethnoscience and Cognitive Anthropology

Harold Conklin

Harold C. Conklin used Sapir and Whorf Hypothesis that has to do with the relationship of language and thought. And together they came up with this idea that language not just a tool for communication but rather it a way they communicate base on the their perception of the world. So back to Conklin studies in Hanunoo, and use of color, is his way of proving weather Sapir and Whorf Hypothesis is true or not. In the study, they interviewed students about colors and relate back the how those color associate with thing that exist in their daily life or what it is they use to associate them with. Conklin came up with two levels of color distinctions that the people used in Hanunoo. Level one has to do with opposition between light and dark, then there was the opposition between dryness(desiccation) and wetness(freshness) that exist among the living component of the living environment. Then he had a third opposition that has to do with “colorless substance”, often associate with manufacture goods. Level II require more specification then level I. Level II will further explain the detail of level one color. Then there are different vocabulary or usage in the language base on who using it, men language can and will differ from women in Hanunoo.

In result Conklin determine that “what appear to be colot ‘confusion’ at first may result from an inadequate knowledge of the internal structure of color system and from a failure to distinguish sharply between sensory and from a failure to distinguish sharply between sensory reception on the one hand perceptual categorization on the other.” (Conklin 1926)

Stephen A. Tyler (can you guess which one?)

Previous theoretical orientation of Anthropology can be very general that are divided into two different type; One concerns with changes and development and those concerned with static description. Which they mere their experience on “speculative History” that conform base within the caparison system. This would only be a matter of time before a research formulates and defines the group, in particular way, and without the approval of a tribe by his definition of what he has to define them. As a result, many Anthropologists have become more and more particularistic rather than general and universal. Early attempt of ethnography was a way to discover ethnology fieldwork. Cognitive Anthropology is a way of studying base on the discovering how people organize and use their culture. Rather than focusing on the material he or she used, another way they approached it is based on the how an individual organizes the thought of men (human beings). So the question that they asked in doing cognitive approach is “what material phenomena are significant for the people of some culture; and how do they organize these phenomena?” There’re many ways that culture can be organize.

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  • elizabeth L.  On March 19, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Stephen A. Tyler suggests the validity of cognitive-cultural study that lie not in the way things are organized. For example, kinship types, economic types, house types etc, but rather in the cognitive schemas. He states, “…These materials are organized themselves, but in the way they are organized in the minds of men”. This showcase the social and cultural perspective that is beyond the physical realm of material construction but yet the cognitive perception of the individual and its given structure formed is by inner cultural forces.
    Cognitive Anthropology practices the find of unified and testable perceptive categories within a cultural realm. Older anthropological focused on finding a Theory of culture, while Tyler proposes the benefit of this movement would provide many Theories of Cultures. This perspective attempts to consider cultural positions and situations that can influence how a schema is organized and maintained within a social setting. Tyler suggests that other anthropologists use controlled eliciting to gain knowledge of a specific schema, and formal analysis to express it.
    Tyler believes that the field of cognitive anthropology is able to transcend the social variables of common cultural anthropology, for instance he states “data are mental phenomena which can be analyzed by formal methods similar to those of math and logic”. With this statement, Tyler is implying that this is a form of formal science that can thus be recordable and be understood in one self’s own light.

  • Martha T.  On March 19, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Conklin studied color perception and categorization in the Phillipines. While conducting his study, he noticed that there would be some overlap in his informants’ responses to items such as painted cards and dyed fabrics. A card that was identified as one color to one informant might be identified as another color by a different informant. What is interesting is that the overlap margin greatly decreased when the informants were asked to identify the colors of botanical items. This reminded me of something I had read about Japanese. In Japanese, the term for “green” is “midori” (think Midori Sours). “Midori” is used to refer to plants and very few other things. The Japanese term for “blue”, “ao” is used for most other things that would be categorized by English speakers as “blue” or “green”. For example, an American friend of mine flunked his Japanese drivers test because when asked “At what color light do you go?”, he responded “midori”, instead of “ao”. Green traffic lights in Japan are actually referred to as blue in Japanese!

    Conklin states that probably all humans have the same color discrimination despite their language, and that what differs between speakers is the categorization of colors. I am on the fence about this. When investigating color perception in relation to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothethis, I asked a few Native Japanese speakers about the green/blue distinction. I asked them if they think of green traffic lights as just another shade of blue, or if the term “ao” as a homonym used to label both “blue” and “green” things. Unfortunately, I got mixed responses.

    I found it interesting that the Hanunoo male informants had a more limited color vocabulary than the female informants, this is definitely true of English speakers as well. Try asking a guy what colors amaranth or ecru are and they will be utterly confused!

  • Dale H.  On March 20, 2012 at 8:06 am

    For me, cultural anthropology is a perfect hybrid of science and art. It seems that to be a well-rounded modern day anthropologist, one has to be knowledgeable in science. In addition, she/he also must be capable of interpreting and conceptualizing both general and abstract cultural practices. With the brain’s physical architecture studied by scientists, and the brain’s mental output studied by those interested in the human “mind” or the human thought process, it is becoming more and more evident (to me anyway) that cultural anthropologists must be artisans and combine science, meaning and behavior in the same way an artist approaches his/her work with a blank canvas, paint and brushes. Therefore, metaphorically, if I continue to “drive” down that road, I don’t see any “destination” I can arrive at that will, within the cultural anthropology field, assign me equality by science experts as a “scientist” within the traditional scientific community. Yet, I get the impression that many of the authors of our articles are still trying to obtain respect and status as scientists by attempting to prove that culture can be reduced to equations. I know that coming out of infancy and early childhood, anthropology suffered from low self-esteem, however, it is time to get past all that. At least, as our articles and theories get closer to modern times, they are getting better and coming closer to believability.

  • jesteenburns  On March 20, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Reading Tyler’s work was quite interesting however I felt like I was taking psychology all over again. I have to admit I really agree with most of what he is saying. I think it is very important to learn to speak the local language and understand cultural categories in order to understand a culture on their own terms. Although, as I believe he mentioned in his essay, even if one learns the language it still might not be enough, since it would be hard for us to even think about such things in our own native languages. I think that if one wants to really be able to grasp these concepts and be so emerged in the language one would have to spend more that the traditional ”one year abroad” route that many anthropologist take.
    I have to say that this is probably the first reading where I really felt I actually got advice from an essay. While many of the others talked about methods and their theories, this one actually advised on how to ask questions, something that I feel was directly helpful, and was not something I would have thought to do on my own if I were to go out and do fieldwork tomorrow.
    I think he needs to be applauded for his understanding and criticism of previous anthropologist lack of actually focusing on the culture they are studying, and focusing more on what anthropology was. Even though Malinowski did reference this in his own writings he did not live up to it fully. Perhaps before Anthropology was too new of a field and needed to be discovered, and that was why previous anthropologist focused so much on defining what anthropology was and how to go about doing it, that we finally see Anthropology as a field maturing with Tyler, in that it can now handle and examine things from different perspectives. Almost like as a child matures it is able to step outside of its egocentric view point and realize to see things through other people’s eyes, and understand that they too have a thought process and different ways of thinking of things.

    • TheAnthroGeek  On March 21, 2012 at 7:11 am

      HERE HERE: I have to say that this is probably the first reading where I really felt I actually got advice from an essay. While many of the others talked about methods and their theories, this one actually advised on how to ask questions, something that I feel was directly helpful, and was not something I would have thought to do on my own if I were to go out and do fieldwork tomorrow.

  • Arlyne Boyer  On March 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    I really enjoyed these readings but I had more fun viewing the slide show presentations on blackboard… so I will start by addressing the whole “beards as a status symbol” among anthropologists and I shall call my response “Women Without Beards”.
    I should warn you (the reader) right now that if you have not seen the slideshow for this section, this will not make any sense to you; on the other hand, even if you saw the show, this may not make any sense to you either…

    Women Without Beards

    At first, I laughed. Outloud. I questioned the seriousness of the slideshow before me. I questioned the sanity of the man who was responsible for said slideshow. The slideshow screamed the silent words “WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN?” I wondered where women fit into the mad professors schema. Next, I started thinking of the people I am interning with in Yosemite.

    Here is what I found:
    – 2 Anthropologist I work with have beards
    – 3 Anthropologist I work with have none

    – 2 Anthropologists I work are women
    – 3 Anthropologist I work with are men

    Here is what is interesting:
    The 2 beardless women anthropologists are of higher rank than all 3 bearded and unbeared anthropologists in Yosemite National Park’s Resource Management and Science Division. OH MY! What does this mean? Hmmm…

    The next slide was the various types of facial hair (old school for sure!) and I thought I might as well play along so I chose the type of facial hair I might sport if I “wanted to be taken seriously as an anthropologist”…you know, being a woman and all. I thought that the “Handle Bar and CHin Puff” might work well if I was to be taken seriously in an academic setting, but for my own personal amusement I would choose the Anchor, for it has a built-in pencil-thin mustache and I have always admired the Ricky Ricardo look.

    Now I have my beard(s) and I expect to taken seriously from this moment forward. In fact, maybe we should all make portable beards on ice cream sticks that we can produce whenever we feel we are not being taken seriously. Seriously.

    And all this led me back to the first slide in the show entitled …Ethnoscience

    I had fun with the descriptives on this slide and I reworked it just a bit…

    Ethnoscience ~ the cowgirls of science, riding on the back of linguistic advancements, boldly exploring strange new lands in search of local taxonomy and meaning, armed with nothing more than a semi-structured interview process, a tattered journal, and a fake beard – out, in the field, alone – on the never-ending quest to prove why anthropology is, in fact a science….

  • Roxie  On March 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    I am of the same mind of what has been said and what will be said.
    Well moving on, yes Arlyne i did read the ppt on bb. I totally agree that “beards” do differentiate between the “cultural” and “archaelogist” I thought that was hillarious. Just thinking about all the anthro people here at school. And most don’t have beards.
    “An Anthropologist without a beard is not an Anthropologist whose work is to be taken seriously” come on, does this really makes sense?
    I wonder about all the women who anthropologist, who have had their work taken seriously. (what would be said if they did have a beard).
    Ethnoscience or the new ethnography, “blends” science and ethnography, which in my opinion are together.Is any one reading this, James. Ethnoscience uses interviews (casual conversations) as the main tool in research. Isnt this basically what we do when doing ethnographies. thank you all, and good nite.

  • EarlP  On March 20, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Tyler’s article was a very interesting to me. I really enjoyed how he tried to call out the old breed of Ethnographers and theorists. He explained how every culture is different and you can’t research a culture using ideas from your own. At first I thought, how is he going to be able to understand something as complex as the human mind. I didn’t think he tried to pin down the individual mind, but more or less tried to explain that every mind is different and a “culture” within itself. I really believe that to be true. Each person may think a different way and understand a different way, so how can an outsider understand an entire culture if they don’t explore the mind of individuals. He tried to influence the way Anthropologist conducted field research. He tried to rally them to look at the individuals of a culture not just the culture as a whole. I did think it opened the minds of Anthropologist on possible new techniques that could be used to explain a culture and its people a little better. Even though it didn’t catch on I think it influenced the postmodernist thinking of a wider perspective of culture.

  • Bryan Swarts  On March 20, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    I pretty much agree with most of what is being said. Having said that, I do have a personal quirk about the opinion of the “outsider.” Yes, I do believe that in studying another culture, the anthropologist should be as unbiased as possible (as hard as that is to be perfectly honest). Yes, I do believe that having an insider view is important in learning about another culture. However, I also think that outsider view is important. Sometimes, the insider view can be biased and centric in its own right, and it can be important to consider the viewpoints of surrounding cultures. For example, the USA can be considered the most wonderful place on earth by some of its own citizens. But, looking at other cultures around and in contact with the USA may have different opinions. I’m not saying that the outsider’s opinion trumps the insider opinion, but having an understanding of the culture and what outsiders think of that culture will create a more of a well-rounded view of the culture. There are times when one is dominated over the other. Historians have “no idea” what the Taino thought of the Spanish when they decimated their people on Cuba because we have no real record of what they felt, but the Spanish say that they were volunteers for “progress.” Should we only take in the outsider opinion? On the flip-side, asking a Nazi soldier whether they thought the extermination of those not Aryan was right, that soldier would most likely justify the extermination. Should we only take in the insider opinion? Of course, when learning of insider opinion and outsider opinion, we should separate the studies respectfully, but it does not mean that one trumps the other. I know it’s a little early to be talking about post-modernism, but it seems to me that most post-modernists believe that everyone is biased in their thinking; therefore no one can be trusted. I take more kindly to the fact that everyone is biased, so all perspectives should be considered. With that, I partly agree with Dale about how a well-rounded cultural anthropologist should be both scientific and artful. However, I can see this as difficult to obtain, as both often contradict each other (and at times complement each other). Having the passion to develop an understanding of a culture is important, but can also lead to problems in itself. Distrust can be seen in both sides and the anthropologist may seem indecisive at times, and too much passion or too much rigidity can overpower each other. Aside from that, I do completely agree that it seems like we try to understand people through formulas and equations. To me it’s more like a salad bar. People like different things and add them to their plate, where some things are more important than others, and we can see different similarities that can create different groups. Whatever we look at being the target of similarity is where we see togetherness and eventually different ethnic groups. All this being said (are you getting bored yet; I’m almost done) I do think that there has been a dominance in the field and that we should strive to be more balanced. I’m not saying that male anthropologists are so dominant that we shouldn’t have to listen to what they say, or that all male anthropologists were chauvinistic pigs, just that we should work towards equity in the field.

    • TheAnthroGeek  On March 21, 2012 at 7:14 am

      HERE HERE: However, I also think that outsider view is important. Sometimes, the insider view can be biased and centric in its own right, and it can be important to consider the viewpoints of surrounding cultures.

  • Fiona  On March 21, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Being the incredibly resourceful student I am, I decided to google Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Being the equally lazy student I am, I went to it’s Wikipedia page, where it’s referred to as Linguistic Relativity. Apparently, there are supposed to be two versions to this theory: “(i) the strong version that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories and (ii) the weak version that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behavior.”

    Frankly, I can’t be sure which of the versions is more correct, or even if either of them is true. Of course, as time goes on that seems to be a theme that keeps popping up: we can’t really know anything for sure.

    Anyway, I’m of the opinion that both versions are partially true. It would be silly to think that human behavior could be melted down into these two sub-theories. If you get anything out of reading the theories in the class, I think it should be that the answer is never the extreme, but rather the grey area between two opposing sides. Perhaps language can determine thought in some cases, and merely influence it in others?

    Of course, it could be that no one actually believes that the answer is one of the extremes, but only takes that stance to “generate knowledge” and start a debate/discussion.

    I think I’m off-topic.

  • Arlyne Boyer  On March 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Ethnoscience and Cognitive Anthropology

    So back to why I liked these readings so much…

    (Note to self: In 1922 Bronislaw Malinowski wrote (in a nutshell) that the end result of ethnography is to grasp the natives point of view i.e. HIS relation to life, HIS vision of HIS world. I like this and this is something I will always strive to remind myself of. Other things worthy of engraining into my processes are Boaz and Levi-Straus: Boaz and his students emphasis was on the uniqueness of each culture, while Levi-Straus and his structuralism was a tool that helped compare cultures. All this seems to be rolling into the extreme cultural relativism of Ethnosciene and Cognitive Anthropology of the 1950s through 1970s. This line of thought is a clear guide to how I can approach any ethnographic adventure I may be on and I found this information quite valuable.)

    The new ethnoscience techniques relied heavily on linguistic analysis techniques and the methodology of the 1920s, as well as the work of Sapir and Whorf in the 1930s, whose focus is the relationship between language and thought.

    The 1950s “new ethnography” brought a methodological program of conducting fieldwork at a time when it was clear that the old way was seen as unscientific. Everyone was doing it differently with unique results which could not be analytically comparative. The results were often distortions due to Western concepts applied to Native descriptions of society.

    Through Conklin and Tyler in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a shift in ethnoscientific work towards Cognitive Anthropology, in which there is an attempt to understand abstract thinking patterns of people in various cultures. This is done through cognition and mental processes in which ideas and symbols are related. Cognitive Anthropology strives to understand cultural knowledge which is often hidden in words, stories and artifacts.

    —->This is where I began viewing Professor Mullooly’s side show-I mean slide show—>

    … and it was very good, very funny, and full of great tips and strategies and at one point there is a detail of participant-observation which itemizes how this can be done through note-taking, interviewing, systematic observations and video-taping. When you couple this with Claudia Strauss’s type of questions I think this is a pretty nice place to begin some good ethnographic work.

    Speaking of Strauss’s work – I have an analogy for the Breadwinner’s out there:
    It’s called the “Lobster Tank Mentality” ~ Its like live lobsters in a tank with no lid – no lid is needed because the lobsters can not escape for they will forever be pulled back inside the tank by the other lobsters…

    so there you have it …

  • Stephen Sanchez  On March 26, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Looking at the development of Anthropology during the 20th century, we see a tremendous amount of transformation undergoing within the field of Anthropology concerning both the method of feildwork and approach taken to gather the information. The hybridization, as Dale previously states, concerning the field of Anthropology with science is occurring as we speak. The idea of conducting fieldwork and developing scientific hypothesis, such as comparing the matates as Dr. Walter Dodd ( CSUF Archaeologist and Anthropology professor) did with the indigenous groups of Northern Mexico and Sub-Saharan Africa is an example of one Anthropologist who develops a hypothesis as a “scientist” would while proving through research that his hypothesis is either correct or incorrect. This ability for one to do methodical and empirical fieldwork should not be seen as an uncommon feature within Anthropology.

    Looking at the ethnoscience unraveling within the field of Anthropology, one can see an attempt to to bridge the mentality of humans to that of computers. Though it sounds strange, many believe that cultural schemes and ideals can be linked universally throughout the world as a single underlying process. I think that this act of trying to blend the two fields together disrupts the entire ideal and goal of Anthropology if their ever is one. I believe that Anthropology, though it contains many scientific qualities, should remain with a direct emphasis on the human quality. If Anthropology loses that unique “humanness” endowed in the field and becomes another field of psychology, we would lose that ability to connect with the natural elements. Instead of trying to prove how scientific human culture can be in this field, like many of the authors, we should attempt to prove how each human culture can be viewed upon and perceived as its own unique development.

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