Make Sense of this Quote

Individual vs Group

The challenge of the individual vs the group has been a perpetual consideration of humans for a long time.  In medieval times, the debate appeared as “Free Will vs God”.  After Freud’s influence, the focus shifted to the “Ego vs the Superego” or the “Individual vs. the Group”.  In sociology, the debate appears in the form of “Agency vs Structure”.

Our discussion should revolve around the following:
Q: What is more important, the individual or the group?
Q: Should one just focus on one of the two?
Q: Can one do effective anthropology be balancing the two?

TASK: Read the following quotes and reread our readings for this week with these questions in mind. Then respond to these issues.

What is Culture?

Culture may be defined as the totality of the mental and physical reactions and activities that characterize the behavior of individuals composing a social group collectively and individually in relations to their natural environment, to other groups, to members of the group itself and of each individual to himself. It also includes the products of these activities and their role in the life of the groups. The mere enumerations of these various aspects of life, however, does not constitute culture. It is more, for its elements are not independent, they have a structure (Franz BoasThe mind of primitive man 1911:149)

What’s an Individual?

We do not discuss the anatomical, physiological, and mental characteristics of man considered as an individual; but we are interested in the diversity of these traits in groups of men found in different geographical areas and in different social classes. – Franz Boas from a 1907 essay entitled, “Anthropology”.

What is the Superorganic?

The reason why mental heredity has nothing to do with civilization, is that civilization is not mental action but a body or stream of products of mental exercise. Mental activity, as biologists have dealt with it, being organic, any demonstration concerning it consequently proves nothing whatever as to social events. Mentality relates to the individual. The social or cultural, on the other hand, is in its very essence non-individual. Civilization, as such, begins only where the individual ends; and whoever does not in some measure perceive this fact, though as a brute and rootless one, can find no meaning in civilization, and history for him must be only a wearying jumble, or an opportunity for the exercise of art. [FROM: THE SUPERORGANIC By A. L. KROEBER page 93, Vol. 19 April-June, 1917 No. 2]

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