The way that specific societies order behavior through the arrangement of space and time is but one small area examined by cultural anthropology, but it can serve as an example of how from an anthropological perspective we cannot take anything about even our own beliefs and behavior for granted—let alone the behavior and beliefs of those whose backgrounds and histories differ from our own. This book is about how cultural anthropology can help us see beyond our taken- for-granted world. We will examine how cultural anthropology helps us to understand others and, in the process, to better understand ourselves. In addition, each chapter contains case studies in doing anthropology that illustrate how the concepts and perspectives discussed in the chapter can be applied in various career paths to solve real-life problems, such as preventing HIV/AIDS, designing public policy, designing shopping environments, helping adolescent girls deal with negative body images, and much more.
Because any area of inquiry always begins with certain basic issues or questions, this book is organized around eight general problems that arise from the human condition—problems such as how to understand people with different beliefs and behaviors, reasons why ways of life change, how people justify violence, whether there is any solution to problems of social inequality, and so on. These are problems that concern everyone, not just cultural anthropologists. None of these problems have a definitive answer. The best we can do is reach a greater understanding of why the problem exists and what we might do about it. However, there are some specific questions that we can ask concerning these problems for which anthropologists have sought answers. We will focus on these questions. At various points, we will ask you to supply your own answers to questions and, perhaps, to discuss your solutions to these questions with others. Understanding others requires you to recognize that your behaviors and beliefs as well as those of people in other societies are socially patterned and constructed.
For that reason, you will find many comparisons between American life and life in other societies. In considering the principal problem of how we can begin to understand beliefs and behaviors that are different from our own, in this first chapter, we explore five questions along with one case study. The first and most basic is why human beings differ in their beliefs and behaviors; that is, what is it about human nature that produces such a variety of ways of believing and behaving? The second question involves values. More often than not, people react to different ways of life with shock, scorn, or disapproval. Are such reactions warranted, and if they are not, how do we judge the beliefs and behaviors of others? The third question is critical to anthropological inquiry. Is it possible to set aside the meanings that we ascribe to experience and see the world through the eyes of others? Fourth, assuming that it is possible to come to some
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- Spring '16