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a340-11f-101-04-Approaches - Living in our Globalized World...

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Living in our Globalized World: Notes 4 Approaches to explaining culture, change, and interaction: Culture as adaptation, meaning, or system Copyright Bruce Owen 2011 - Middleton suggests three general ways to approach (or explain) cultures, and by implication, change in cultures and interactions between them - These are general approaches used by many anthropologists, although they would not all use the same terms to name them - each of Middleton’s general approaches includes many specific “isms” and theories that we won’t detail further here - 1. culture as adaptation - culture is like a biological adaptation - in biology, an adaptation is a feature or behavior that helps an organism survive and reproduce - like an owl’s big eyes and sharp beak help it to hunt at night, thus survive, thus reproduce - in social science, an adaptation is a way of getting by in the given circumstances - like making bows and arrows help humans to hunt, thus survive, thus reproduce - “adaptive” means “fits the environment” or “produces success” - NOT necessarily “flexible”, “changes to fit changing situations”, etc. - So, to explain something about a culture, this approach explains - how it is an effective way of dealing with the given circumstances - looks at culture in terms of perceived needs and problems - makes sense of culture as a way of dealing with the situation that the people face - examples: explaining aspects of urban poor subcultures by showing how they are sensible responses to the problems the people face - in the reading, street-corner men have good reasons to turn down work - they are not just pawns in some dysfunctional culture of poverty - 2. culture as (a system of) meaning - culture is a set of meanings assigned to things, and responses appropriate to those meanings - So, to explain something about a culture, this approach explains - how it makes sense in terms of the culture’s system of meanings - Looks at interpretations of events and things; beliefs, values, attitudes - if we understand the meanings, the reactions to the meanings will make sense -
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