Monday, April 24, 2017

Field Work in Anthropology

To produce ethnography,anthropologists do fieldwork.It is the rite of passage that makes an anthropologist.The oldest guide to fieldwork is Note and Queries in Anthropology which first appeared in 1874.Note and Queries was produced by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.The section on culture was written by E.B Taylor.Its purpose is to guide interested travellers,government administrators and missionaries as well as anthropologists on the kinds of questions to ask and material to record in the field.Notes and Queries was revised and edited in 1951 by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Anthropological Tree

There are four branches of study that makes up anthropology. The vast majority of anthropologists work in social anthropology.In the US they call it cultural anthropology or ethnology. The naming of parts as either social or cultural anthropology is a historic legacy of the specific developments of the British and American national traditions. Social or cultural anthropology involves the study of cultural diversity,the search for cultural universals,the study of societies as functioning wholes,the study of social structure,the interpretation of symbolism etc.

Physical anthropology began as a study of races of man.Anthropometrists with their callipers set about their favourite occupation of measuring and classifying head sizes.The objective was to prove racial differences as physically given and support racist theories of both human origins and cultural diversity.Physical anthropology includes studying classification from tooth variations between monkeys and modern man to comparative anatomy and physiology.Both human ecology and genetics are part of physical anthropology. Human ecology studies the adaptive responses of homo sapiens in different environmental conditions.Genetics in anthropology concerns the genetic variation of different racial groups.It is overshadowed by the growth of biological genetics.Physical anthropology came back in 1970s and 80s through the development of sociobiology the study of the genetic basis of human behavior.Linguistic concepts and theories are borrowed by anthropologists.Linguistic models are used as models for cultural and social behavior by structuralist and cognitive social anthropologists who see societies as communicative systems and who regard language as the  basis for modes of thought.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ferdinand De Saussure and Linguistics


 The source of modern structuralism and its strongest bastion to this day is linguistics. The work of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) stands out in the development of structural linguistics and, ultimately, structuralism in various other fields. Of particular interest  is Saussure’s differentiation between langue and parole, which was to have enormous significance. 

Langue is the formal, grammatical system of language. It is a system of phonic elements whose relationships are governed, Saussure and his followers believed, by determinate laws. Much of linguistics since Saussure’s time has been oriented to the discovery of those laws. The existence of langue makes parole possible. Parole is actual speech, the way speakers use language to express themselves. Although Saussure recognized the significance of people’s use of language in subjective and often idiosyncratic ways, he believed that the individual’s use of language cannot be the concern of the scientifically oriented linguist. Such a linguist must look at langue, the formal system of language, not at the subjective ways in which it is used by actors.

Langue, then, can be viewed as a system of signs a structure and the meaning of each sign is produced by the relationship among signs within the system. Especially important are relations of difference, including binary oppositions. Thus, for example, the meaning of the word hot comes not from some intrinsic properties of the word but from the word’s relationship with, its binary opposition to, the word cold. Meanings, the mind, and ultimately the social world are shaped by the structure of language. Thus, instead of an existential world of people shaping their surroundings, we have here a world in which people, as well as other aspects of the social world, are shaped by the structure of language.

The concern for structure has been extended beyond language to the study of all sign systems. This focus on the structure of sign systems has been labeled “semiotics” and has attracted many followers.Semiotics is broader than structural linguistics because it encompasses not only language but also other sign and symbol systems, such as facial expressions, body language, literary texts, indeed all forms of communication.

Roland Barthes  often is seen as the true founder of semiotics. Barthes extended Saussure’s ideas to all areas of social life. Not only language but also social behaviors are representations, or signs: “Not just language, but wrestling matches are also signifying practices, as are TV shows, fashions, cooking and just about everything else in everyday life”. The “linguistic turn” came to encompass all social phenomena which in turn came to be reinterpreted as signs. 

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