Cultural Anthropology: Adaptations, Structures, Meanings

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9780131915763: Cultural Anthropology: Adaptations, Structures, Meanings

This short book is designed to expose readers directly to the cultural detail and personal experiences that lie in the anthropological record itself, and to extend their anthropological understanding to contemporary issues. This book focuses on ecological adaptations, structural arrangements, and interpretive meanings. For professionals that rely on human interaction and understanding in everyday assignments.

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This brief introduction to cultural anthropology is designed in structure, content, format, and style to appeal to instructors who do not wish to use conventional texts, but instead wish to expose students directly to the cultural detail and personal experiences that lie in the anthropological record itself. Using rich case studies in every chapter, this text provides a succinct framework that will help students to recognize the general patterns in specific case material, to distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and to extend their anthropological understanding to contemporary issues.

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When I was ten years old and living in Middletown, New York, my parents decided to move to Japan. The morning after arriving in Japan, I walked out onto a small street behind the house where we were staying and into a new world. As a man on a motorcycle zipped by, I managed to get out an ohayo gozaimasu ("good morning"). The man had already passed me but he shifted all the way around in his seat and returned the greeting—without, as I feared, crashing into the wall along the road. Much of anthropology for me is in that moment: the feel of a different culture's sights, sounds, and smells; language as the key to crossing into that culture; and the sharp pleasure I feel even now whenever I return to Japan and walk down the narrow, twisting side streets I met over forty years ago.

When I was twenty-two years old, I was out in the highlands of southern Vietnam. I was an interpreter in Vietnamese and a development specialist for the U.S. army, but I found myself in a minority village working on a gravity-pump water system. A woman motioned me into a house. It was a long house with bamboo matting across sleeping platforms, and smoke curled up through the matting from smoldering fires on the floor. It was the home of the village chief, who was extremely ill. My efforts to teach myself their language (from a Vietnamese text) had not progressed very well, but I was pretty sure that this was malaria. Back in the provincial capital, I managed to convince a Vietnamese medical team to move up their periodic visit to the village. It was indeed malaria and the village chief rapidly recovered. Much of the rest of anthropology for me is in that episode: the ever beckoning image of yet another culture and another language as different from the last as the last was from your own; the involvement in practical issues that are sometimes minor and sometimes life-threatening; the strange world of power where an unimportant outsider could mobilize significant resources to achieve a return to health for an important villager.

How do you put that anthropological experience into an academic class? One answer is to use a text and perhaps supplement it with a reader. That approach will work very well in conveying what anthropology has become as a field of study and the range of insights it has produced. Yet, for many of us, the time (and money) spent on such a text divert attention from the heart of the anthropological experience: a connection between the anthropologist and the places and peoples visited. For us, the answer is usually to use a range of case studies that suggest not only the variation in human cultures but also the variation in how we as anthropologists react to those cultures.

However, using only case studies has limitations. After all, there are some general insights that anthropologists have gained that help illuminate the specific case material. For those who choose a case-study approach but also want a text that will outline those general insights, the options are relatively few. The full-length texts—of which there are many good ones—are too time-consuming to permit the incorporation of more than episodic case-study material. Even the mid-length texts—of which there are some very good ones—are hefty enough to limit their use to courses that will use no more than one or two extended case studies. Cultural Anthropology: Adaptations, Structures, Meanings is designed specifically to meet this gap. It provides a rough guide to the major insights of cultural anthropology that supports such a case-study approach. This is not, then, a text to be-supplemented by other materials but instead is meant to be the supplement itself.

The purpose of this text as a supplement affects its length and its structure. This is a very pruned-down, bare-bones approach. There are many places in the book where most anthropologists (including me) would say: "More needs to be said here"; "This needs more attention to other regions"; or "What about the new theoretical approaches used with this subject?" The issue of length prohibits that. This text is for the building blocks, not for the elaboration of them. That's what the other course materials—whether ethnographies, monographs, or even fiction—are for.

Two other aspects of the structure of the book deserve note. First, I have tried to give equal attention to what I see as the three major strands of anthropological interest. One is ecological and is clearest in Part I. One is structural (or institutional) and is clearest in Part II. The last is more strictly "cultural" and is clearest in Part III, with its emphasis on meaning, its construction, and its expression. In giving equal attention to these three strands, I have also tried to keep the discussions separate. Although there is topical overlap among the three parts, I do not attempt to reconcile them into one approach. The ecological sections are thus unabashedly materialistic, the structural sections show all the virtues and limitations of systemic analysis, and the sections on meaning steadfastly refuse to reduce ideational issues to materialist ones.

Second, I have tried to be inclusive of the issues of theory, method, and practice as they appear to a wide range of anthropologists. Thus, examples may from time to time be more methodological or more theoretical, more academic or more applied. I have taken a very broad notion of what anthropology is about and a particularly broad notion of culture as a kind of buffer (material, social, and ideational) between human beings as biological entities and the environments in which they live. That inclusiveness is particularly important to me since my own work has been as often in the nonacademic as in the academic world. Much of my own research and writing has been not on people in far-off places but on the contemporary United States.

The result of these decisions will not meet the specific needs of all teachers of anthropology but will provide, I hope, a basic framework from which r to begin a foray into the riches of anthropology. Those riches are in the extended case material. This book aims to provide students with a foundation for those more in-depth materials ("If this is an agricultural society, what should I expect?"), encourage their use ("It would be interesting to see how this works out in another society"), and serve as a useful reference when reading them ("Now what was that about matrilineal inheritance?").

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Book Description Pearson Education (US), United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. For Cultural Anthropology classes that emphasize case study approaches. This short alternative text is designed in structure, content, format, and style to support classes that do not wish to use conventional texts, but, instead, wish to expose students directly to the cultural detail and personal experiences that lie in the anthropological record itself. In that pursuit, this text provides a succinct framework that will help students to recognize the general patterns in specific case material, to distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and to extend their anthropological understanding to contemporary issues. Bookseller Inventory # BZV9780131915763

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