Tara Robertson and Duke Beasley
(Note: authorship is arranged stratigraphically with the most recent author listed first)
Cognitive anthropology is an idealist approach to studying the human condition. The field of cognitive anthropology focuses on the study of the relation between human culture and human thought. In contrast with some earlier anthropological approaches to culture, cultures are not regarded as material phenomena, but rather cognitive organizations of material phenomena (Tyler 1969:3). Cognitive anthropologists study how people understand and organize the material objects, events, and experiences that make up their world as the people they study perceive it. It is an approach that stresses how people make sense of reality according to their own indigenous cognitive categories, not those of the anthropologist. Cognitive anthropology posits that each culture orders events, material life and ideas, to its own criteria. The fundamental aim of cognitive anthropology is to reliably represent the logical systems of thought of other people according to criteria, which can be discovered and replicated through analysis.
The methodology, theoretical underpinnings, and subjects of cognitive anthropology have been diverse. The field can be divided into three phases: (1) an early formative period in the 1950’s called ethnoscience; (2) the middle period during the 1960’s and 1970’s, commonly identified with the study of folk models; and (3) the most recent period beginning in the 1980’s with the growth of schema theory and the development of consensus theory. Cognitive anthropology is closely aligned with psychology, because both explore the nature of cognitive processes (D'Andrade 1995:1). It has also adopted theoretical elements and methodological techniques from structuralism and linguistics. Cognitive anthropology is a broad field of inquiry; for example, studies have examined how people arrange colors and plants... [continues]
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