Unit 1 Study Guide: Defining Anthropology
Brief history: Malinowski & functionalism &holism linked; Boas=cultural relativism
Polish-born Bronislaw Malinowski established a theoretical approach called functionalism: view that a culture is
similar to a biological organism, in which parts work to support the operation and maintenance of the whole.
and family contribute to the functioning of the whole culture. Functionalism is linked to holism, the view the one must
study all aspects of a culture in order to understand it.
Franz Boas, considered founder of North American cultural
anthropology; learned from the Inuit people in different cultures may have different perceptions of basic physical
substances, such as “water;” came to recognize the individuality and validity of different cultures. Introduced cultural
relativism, view that each culture must be understood in terms of the values and ideas of that culture and not be
judged by the standards of another.
According to Boas, no culture is more advanced than another.
Mead as public anthropologist
Mead is Boas’s most famous student; contributed to knowledge of South Pacific cultures, gender roles, and the
impact of child-rearing practices on personality. Mead was an early
who took the importance of
bringing cultural anthropology knowledge to the general public on order to create positive social change.
Marxist theory emerged in anthropology, stating the importance of people’s access to the means of production;
inspired the emergence of cultural relativism
, an approach to studying culture by emphasizing the material aspects of
life, especially the natural environment and how people make a living.
Definitions of culture/ characteristics of culture
Sir Edward Taylor “Culture, or civilization… is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals,
custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”
Marvin Harris “A culture is the total socially acquired life-way or life-style of a group of people. It consists of the
patterned repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are characteristic of the members of a particular society
or segment of society”
Clifford Geertz believes that culture consists of symbols, motivations, moods, and thoughts. This definition focuses on
people’s perceptions, thoughts, and ideas and doesn’t include behavior as a part of culture.
Miller believes culture is learned and shared behavior and beliefs; exists among all human beings, something that all
humans have. Microculture, or local culture, refers to distinct patterns of learned and shared behavior and ideas
found in local regions and among particular groups; based on ethnicity, gender, age, and more.
Culture is not same as nature. Culture and nature are intertwined and difficult to separate. A good way to see how