Category Archives: 03 – Historical Particularism

Historical Particularism

FRANZ BOAS

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
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”?

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Historical Particularism

Historical Particularism

Franz Boas

Franz Boas, born in 1858 to a German Jewish family, pioneered and labeled historical particularism. His father was a merchant of liberal political views and his mother was a radical freethinker. With Boas’ parents he had ideas and beliefs of equality and freedom for everyone, which shows in the work he does. Boas’ idea of historical particularism is a research method that “is widely considered the first American-born school of Anthropological theory, and he [Boas] is considered one of the founders of American Anthropology” (McGee and Warms: 116).

After moving back and forth from Germany to America, Boas permanently ended up in America. Boas ended up as a professor of anthropology at the University of Columbia. Through Boas’ experiences studying the Baffin Islands on the study of the Inuit people, he found great interest in anthropology, which led to historical particularism. He argued that historical events were important factor and that all cultures must be viewed on their own terms. His students include A. L. Kroeber (1876 – 1960), Paul Radin (1883 – 1959), and Benjamin L. Whorf (1897 – 1941).

Discussion Questions:

Boas’ discusses the difference between what people do vs. what people say they do. Why is it so important to personally observe cultures other than being the “arm-chair” anthropologist? Since Kroeber relied on a lot of information through Ishi (individual from the Yana people), is that information tainted?

Boas argues that cultures are not fixed or static and that they have their ways of reaching the same cultural development as modern societies. What did he mean by that and if possible, provide some of the evidence that supported this argument?

Alfred L. Kroeber

Kroeber’s essay focuses on the explanation of his eighteen stances of what he believes about culture and civilization. Kroeber agreed with Boas on most things but did disagree on a couple topics. The first was the “idea that anthropology was ultimately a discipline devoted to the study of humankind’s origins” (McGee and Warms, 119). Boas believes that the individual plays a huge role in how the culture is made but this is not Kroeber’s belief. Kroeber’s belief is that “…although culture came from and is carried by human beings, it cannot be reduced to individual psychology” (120 McGee and Warms). Kroeber was more interested in the connections of geographical cultural traits. But Kroeber did agree with Boas’ cultural history, that you need to know the history of cultures to know the culture it is today.

Paul Radin

Paul Radin, a true follower of Franz Boas, believed that all cultures are different in their own ways based on particular historical events. To understand them is to study them on their own terms and within their context, which may require participant observation and learning the language. Radin provides an insightful example in his article, Right and Wrong, that was based on his study of the Winnebago Indians to convey that they too are just as complex and socially modern like Western Europeans. Their “primitive” way of thinking was found to be more superior than of modern Western societal way of thinking. What the writer is trying to say is that why should we be so quick to judge when all it is is a misunderstanding and misperception of these people who we associate the word savage with. There is in fact more to learn from them as seen in Radin’s account of Winnebago individuals who describe their understanding of their lives based on several precepts.

Discussion Questions:

Why did Radin go to such great lengths in trying to convince his readers that the “primitive” mind is just as abstract as modern civilized people?

It seemed as if Radin was expressing the fact that these natives’ way of thinking was more superior than civilized people. Do you think that was his intention? Explain your answer.

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]

Historical Particularism: Boas, Kroeber and Whorf

FRANZ BOAS

Franz Boas changed American anthropology by introducing a new perspective of historical integration in understanding society. He discredits the method of evolutionary theories and stresses on the importance of conducting ethnography studies based on collective data and observation. Boas was concerned with social development and historical changes that effected individuals of society and how those changes affected society back. He says that culture 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 using inductive reasoning to make sense of his findings, while others would develop a theory before conducting research. What comes first the chicken or the egg?

Some of his students:      
Margaret Mead                        Ruth Benedict
Ashley Montagu                      Alfred L. Kroeber
Edward Sapir                           Melville Herskovits
Gilberto Freyre                        Zora Neale Hurston

A.L KROEBER
A.L Kroeber like Boas believed that it was necessary to have a historical perspective to understand culture. However, unlike Boas he didn’t believe individuals play a significant role in cultural development and change but instead saw that historical trends in society determine individual accomplishment. 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. What is the implication of Kroeber’s use of “super organic” to describe culture and society?

BENJAMIN L. WHORF
Not to be confused with Star Trek’s “Worf”(on the right), Whorf (on the left)  believed that the language you speak influences you cognitively and affects the way you see the world. He states that linguistics can influence one’s world perceptions on a small and large linguistic scale and that speakers of different languages act differently because their L1’s create different conceptual worlds. Which came first, the cultural norms or the language? Are we shaped by our language which shapes our culture or does our culture shape our language?

Joshua Liggett’s Wonderful World of Prezi

Here are some great examples of what you can do to spread the noble word of anthropological theory:

Functionalism – Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, & Gluckman, sans Evans-Pritchard:
http://prezi.com/ty1m09nfn7uh/functionalism-malinowski-radcliffe-brown-gluckman-sans-evans-pritchard/

 Historical Particularism – Eighteen Professions – A.L. Kroeber:
http://prezi.com/68vqsc8woquu/eighteen-professions-al-kroeber/

Structuralism – Levi-Strauss and Ortner
http://prezi.com/kw1o_4onrhek/structuralism-levi-strauss-and-ortner/

Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Ecology – Wilson & Barkow
http://prezi.com/6z8_qfokbhu-/sociobiology-evolutionary-psychology-and-behavioral-ecology-wilson-barkow/

Rousseau’s “Emile” mkII (this last one is only tangentially applicable but good none-the-less)
http://prezi.com/n2frzetwksxb/rousseaus-emile-mkii/

by Joshua Liggett zephramseazephyr@gmail.com

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

http://prezi.com/68vqsc8woquu/eighteen-professions-al-kroeber/

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.

http://prezi.com/_lw49vrwilqy/the-relation-of-habitual-thought-and-behaviour-to-language-benjamin-l-whorf/

Historical Particularism

Historical Particularism
-Franz Boas, The Methods of Ethnology (1920)
-Alfred Louis Kroeber, Eighteen Professions (1915)
-Paul Radin, Right and Wrong (1927)
-Benjamin Whorf, The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language (1939)

Boas’ influence on American Anthro is very evident; Whorf’s is far less evident. Any idea as to why?