Marvin Harris and the Sacred Cow

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Anthropologist Marvin Harris tries to convey the reasoning behind India's problem involving starvation in his paper, India's Sacred Cow. To us Westerners it seems silly to have millions upon millions of people starving while such a tasty and nutritionally satisfying food source is wandering the streets. But who are we to truly judge what people do on the other side of the world think. These people were raised with totally different beliefs and share few if none of the same values that we do in America. What may be socially acceptable here may get you jailed in India. The differences are endless. Mr. Harris looks at it from a western point of view but is able to understand how their social structure allotted for their different perspective.

My interpretation of his paper led me to believe that Harris was a functionalist. Functionalism is the term given to the belief that in order for a society to function properly, every part: rich, poor, black, white, needs to work together. Each part is even dependent on the others in order to function properly. The most common analogy used is that of an organism. All parts of an organism have their own function, when all parts work in together the system is optimized. It is said that society works in the same fashion; when one part is not functioning as it normally does the system becomes unbalanced. Functionalism was originally proposed by August Comte, credited as the man who founded of sociology. Many following sociologists agreed with this theory such as Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim. While many do not agree with Functionalism, it has not been discredited and remains a widely accepted theory even to this day.

Harris spends nearly the whole article discussing how the cow produces for society both spiritually and physically. Take the following quote as an example, "Cattle figure in the Indian ecosystem in ways that are equally overlooked by observers from industrialized, high-energy societies." If a conflict theorist...
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