Like other social scientists, systematically looking for general patterns in human behavior is the main work that anthropologists take on. They also develop theories and use scientific methods to test their research as they struggle to determine their differences and similarities in urban, industrial and cross-cultural societies.
Its important feature is always its emphasis on the insider’s view of a society. It aims to provide an understanding of the various cultures as it determines how people of a culture view the world. Thus, discoveries and studies in anthropology ultimately contribute to international harmony and with respect to the beliefs and values each one possess.
Theories in Anthropology
Various theoretical movements have been identified and studied and most of the principles frequently overlap or contradict each other altogether. Some concentrate on past civilizations while some study on present ones (McGee, 2004).
In the book of Thomas Kuhn, several theories were “stimulated” and were based on a positivist epistemology. Historical Particularism, Culture and Personality, Structuralism and Functionalism as well as many others comprise the broad spectrum of Anthropology.
But there are theories as well that alter the premise that dichotomizes the relationship between reality and theory and these are the theories that are influenced by post-modern perspectives such as the theory of Interpretivists and Constructivists. To further breakdown and understand how each school of thought works, defining the main themes and how they differentiate from one another will categorize each movement and its impact, if any, to present studies.
Evolutionism in the Nineteenth Century claims that societal groups developed according to one universal order of cultural evolution (McGee, 2004). Stated simply, the proponents of this theory identified “universal evolutional stages” and have classified different societies as savage, barbarian civilization.
They came to this conclusion by studying the data they have collected from traders and missionaries in the study of the various cultures they were interested in.
Although most theorists rarely went to the societies they were analyzing, they organized the data they have collected, albeit second-hand data, and applied a general theory to all societies. Thus was born the train of thought placing Western Societies with rather advanced technologies and placing these societies at the highest rank of civilization (Erickson, 2008).
The main theme that categorizes this movement is the assumption that human minds share similar characteristics all over the world (Moore, 2004). Does this mean that all people and their societies will go through the same processes of development? It seems so for another underlying assumption is all that belong to Western Societies are superior to other societies in the world.
This assumption may be based on the fact these same societies possess the military and economic power against technologically simple societies (McGee, 2004). But can this then apply to other aspects of societies, such as kin systems, religion and childrearing customs? There is a logical progression that cannot be denied and this can be observed in the use of simple tools to using complex technology in most Western Societies.
However, this train of thought offers a rather simplistic explanation on the development of Western Societies. Generally, it became too racist and during that time, Henry Morgan believed that evolution only moved from early societies to the Western societies.
He also argued that intelligence is not a valid point to be raised for all people in various societies have different levels of intelligence and supported as well by Burnett Tylor.
This theory was strongly attacked by supporters of the Historical Particularism for they see this theory as too speculative and ethnocentric and at the same time, approaches as too materialistic and the views on the various cultures are influenced by the Marxist Anthropology (McGee, 2004).
Historical Particularism’s main point is to focus its research on a specific society, its whole and its own history richly detailing the cultural traits and characteristics into its descriptive technology (Erickson, 2008). Franz Boas primarily led other theorists to support ethnography method instead of the comparative method, stressing the importance of a solid and intensive ground work research.
He was considered the Father of American Anthropology because he openly challenged the proponents of the previous theory who he believed are overtly racist in nature and is responsible for influencing a large number of ethnographers who include Kroeber, Lowie, Spier, Wissler, Mead, Radin, Bunzel, Sapir, Benedict, Herskovits, Hoebel and many others like him ( Moore, 2004).
The problem however with this theory is that it has very little stimulation resulting in a static view of cultures and did not develop a sense of cultural dynamics and continuities. It however laid the ground work for systematic field work and research.
Structuralism is best exemplified by a leading intellectual of the age, published extensively his writings and revolved his theory around the basic question, “what are the human patterns of thought that bring order to the world?” bringing to the forefront the other question, “how does man deal with chaos?”
Levi-Strauss’ stressed the main points of this theory that the mind takes varied and potentially chaotic experiences to attempt to logically structure this experiences in binary configurations, and incorporating these with dominant images and symbols we come across in the world (McGee, 2004). Levi-Strauss believed that these configurations is an unconscious process devoid of being developed and articulated but instead deeply rooted from the structures of the mind.
He argued that since all people of all cultures utilize binary principles to organize and structure the experiences they encounter daily, the manner of comprehending the meaning to any quality must logically have an antithesis or opposite. This explains the rise of various symbols in human societies that run through symbolic polarities like right-left, moon-sun, female-male, life-death, and good-evil.
The major contribution of this theory is the logical study of myth and thinking where knowledge communicate a significant message about how things are organized and specifically mediate or lessens experiential contradictions (order to chaos) and introducing an anomalous element – virgin mothers, garden of eden ( Evolutionism, 2008).
This theory used a non empirical approach in its methods where most positivists ague and they believed that the structures of thinking should be based on binary principles. They also believed that all forms of thinking are logical and not less significant and the tools are just the things that differ at the way one processes the information around him.
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