Midterm Study Guide
What is the scope of cultural anthropology? Discuss its focus of inquiry, approach, and
major changes over time.
- Cultural anthropology focuses on the nature and extent of social and cultural differences among societies.
Cultural anthropologist may focus on peoples' beliefs, practices, politics, values, ideas, technologies,
economies, or anything else that is both a part of, and an influence on, culture. They seek to understand not
only differences among societies, but also
unequal power relations
between societies produced through the
history of colonialism and imperialism and contemporary global processes. Overtime, different schools of
thought have shaped the way that anthropologists approach these topics. In the early 20th century, British
Social Anthropology emerged, and brought with it the ideas of Functionalism and Structuralism.
Functionalism understands society and culture to be like living organisms. Parts of a culture can only be
studied adequately as they function within the whole. At the same time, elements of culture are assumed to
be part of deeper processes and systems that need to be uncovered if the individual elements themselves
are to be properly understood. Structuralism in anthropology explores the variety of ways that culture and
society are structured, and how such structures are related to human development and identity. Later,
French Structuralism emerged. It was more focused on elementary structures (I.e., kinship, mythologies,
language). It emphasized patterns and underlying structures- seemingly unrelated things were brought
together in systems of interrelating parts.
Compare the two major schools of early anthropological thought: British social
anthropology and French structuralism in terms of their primary concern and focus.
- The French system of Structuralism differed from the British social anthropology, in that it emphasized form
rather than content.
How does Edward Tylor define “culture”? Discuss the four key aspects of culture by
providing one example for each aspect. (Examples can be drawn from the readings, films,
or other sources including your own observation.
- “Culture…is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, custom, and any
other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” (1871)
1) Culture is learned:
Culture is not biologically inherited. (ex. Individualism v. Collectivism)
2) Culture is shared:
(ex. Eating Christmas in the Kalahari)
3) Culture is symbolic:
(ex. number 4, 3 gorges damn)
4) Culture is dynamic: