Symbolic and Interpretive Anthropology

Symbolic and Interpretive Anthropology Summary

            To summarize the week’s reading on symbolic and interpretive anthropology, I believed it would have been important to include a short description of the fore mentioned subject. Defining the subject as a methodology to studying symbols or symbolic actions; a field of study that takes an interpretive perspective to cultures using psychology, history, and literature rather than the use of mathematics and logic. However, since the field of study does not use logistics per say on cultural studies, it has been the duty of the anthropologist to interpret their studies that could be understood to their peers and colleagues. Thusly the subject is up to criticism because it is only up to the skill of literary interpretation that the anthropologist has in order to display their studies. Since that explanation is complete I will transition to the first reading that focuses on Mary Douglas.

To start the new topic, will be a short biography about Mary Douglas. Born in 1921 and passed away in 2007, Mary Douglas was a social anthropologist. She went to school at the University of Oxford in the years of 1939-1943. She later went to school in the early 1950’s to receive her doctorate. She later went on to teach at the University of England for 25 years. Her work Purity and Danger is well known and also featured in the book.

Mary Douglas focused on symbolic actions of purity that was associated with the human body. She sought to find universal patterns of such purity and used two examples to prove her theory in her chapter of External Boundaries. The first example is the Coorgs fear of impurities, and their fear of anything that has left the body and reenters is repulsive, Douglas shares a myth about their fears. The second example focuses on the Caste system, of the idea as the Coorgs, anything that leaves the body is repulsive, and thus the lowest members of the caste society are tasked to clean up the human impurities, such as poop. The symbolic natures of impurities create a sense of reality to culture.

Victor Turner born in 1920 and died in 1983. Attended University College of London in 1938-1941 for English and Literature. He went back to school to receive a B.A. in Anthropology; hence he was trained with British structural functionalism.

Turner’s work was based on how symbols are used to create a social action. He uses the Ndembu tribe and their symbol of the Mudyi tree to represent his ideas of how a symbol can create social transformations. The Mudyi tree is viewed as a motherly figure to the tribe, as such a figure, girls who are about to embark on the journey to be a mother are placed under the tree. This rite of passage is shared amongst women and young girls. This represents a linkage in their society however it separates the women from the men because the tree is more towards women of the society.

Clifford Geertz was born August 23, 1926 and died on October 30, 2006. He joined the US navy prior to receiving his degree in Philosophy. He earned his degree in Antioch College in 1950 and after went to Harvard University as a student in Social Relations. His first wife Hildred Geertz trained him as an anthropologist. He taught at many schools before becoming a faculty in the Department of Anthropology in University of Chicago. Here, Geertz started to expand his research on culture anthropology on cultures such as Java and Bali to name a few examples. In his Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight, he talked about how the culture interprets symbolic meaning with cockfights. Geertz believed that “symbols operate as vehicles of culture.” He uses the cockfights in Bali as an example because cockfights in their culture symbolisms a lifestyle. It is compared to the men of Bali and who he is as a person. They are compared to their cocks and their cocks represent them.

Slides on the Subjsect

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