Cultural Materialism

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When it comes to anthropological theory the combination of several established ways of thought often result in a completely new and independent way of thinking. Cultural Materialism is one of these children theories that resulted from a coming together of social evolutionary theory, cultural ecology and Marxist materialism (Barfield). The goal of cultural materialism is to explain politics, economics, ideology and symbolic aspects of a culture with relation to the needs of that society. From a cultural materialist point of view society is indisputably shaped by the factors of production and reproduction. From this all other facets of society, such as government and religion, must be beneficial to that society's ability to satisfy the minimum requirements to sustain themselves (Harris 1996). An example of this would be the invention and continued use of industry because it increased the ability to produce needed materials and food. One important aspect of the cultural materialistic approach is that it operates completely from the etic perspective. Marvin Harris, one of the founders of cultural materialism, believed that a holistic approach is vital to correctly analyzing culture and believed that the emic approach failed at providing a wide enough scope. Harris tried to employ the scientific method and incorporated it into his theory. The result of this is that cultural materialism focuses only on events that are observable and quantifiable and replicable (Harris 1979). Cultural materialism also aims to show how emic thoughts and behaviors are a result of material considerations and to prove that there are scientific explanations for cultural phenomena such as India's beef taboo's are possible without invoking religious or mystical factors (Harris 1996). However, cultural materialism and its more scientific approach has brought criticism from other schools of thought who feel that cultural materialism is too simple and straight forward and completely...
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