Anthropological Theory

Topics: Anthropology, Sociology, Kinship Pages: 13 (4778 words) Published: March 5, 2013
Anthropology and gender
Introduction: anthropology and its theories
Before tackling subareas and intersections of the field such as anthropology and gender, it is necessary to question what Anthropology is. The common knowledge about this discipline is most of the time permeated with misconceptions and myths, which La Fontaine tries to refute in his book “What is Social Anthropology” (1985). Firs of all, the author starts from exposing what anthropology is not: it is not the study of exotic and primitive societies (no good or bad savage) with emphasis on the progressive social evolution, and it is not sociology in what concerns its theoretical and practical approaches. Most of theses assumptions contains a kernel of truth and are related to the fact that it has been usual to regard anthropology's traditional focus on small-scale non-industrial societies as one of its distinctive characteristic. However, changes in the world and in the discipline itself made such features no longer an accurate description. In fact, practically any social system can be studied anthropologically and contemporary anthropological research displays an enormous range, empirically as well as thematically. Beyond what anthropology is not, it is necessary to have a positive concept of the discipline, one that is able to understand what it is, how to do it and its practical use. However, “construct a single perspective that encompasses the variety of anthropological viewpoints is impossible” (Peacock,1986:ix) so here a very general, rough and concise one will be explored. It is in its widest sense, anthropology would be the study of cultural diversity, the search for cultural universals, the unlocking of social structure, the interpretation of symbolism, and numerous related problems. Anthropology is an intellectually challenging, theoretically ambitious subject which tries to achieve an understanding of culture, society and humanity through detailed studies of local life, supplemented by comparison (Eriksen, 2004:7) So it seems culture is in the centre of anthropological studies, culture understood as the influential understandings and codes that are learned and share by members of a group. Nonetheless, different schools and branches of anthropology differ in the emphasis they give to culture, but the concept of culture is somewhat important throughout anthropology. Hence, it is important also to know the different anthropological theories, and how they have changed and developed historically with different characteristics from place to place (i.e. contrast between British and American Anthropology), each giving different emphasis to a different set of phenomenon. Although in the following section such theories will be briefly resumed in a historical perspective, they are furthermost nor exclusive in time: they coexist and sometimes compete and complement each other. Moreover, it is really simplistic to fit scholars in a box, specially when they have a vast number of works that reflect different positions. Hence, the next section is a simplified view of anthropological theories, with the main point to show that there is a variety of perspectives. Brief history of anthropological theories

One of the earliest anthropological concern in the nineteenth century was focused on how humans came to associate with each other, and how and why societies changed through time. Evolutionism is the name given to the proto-anthropological perspective which emphasises the growing complexity of culture, and that is interested in reconstructing the stages of social and cultural evolution. As the name says, such approach follows the idea that human societies developed in a particular direction, usually in a linear and progressive way that culminated in the European societies as the highest place in the developmental chain which began with primitive, communal societies. One example of how this approach was work upon can be seen in Engels' work, “The Origin of the...
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