The Links between Human Culture and Anthropology

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Anthropology and human culture can certainly be considered as going hand in hand. You truly cannot have one without the other and thus they must be examined side by side. Specific anthropologies throughout history have changed the course of thinking ten-fold and must all be taken carefully into consideration when being criticized. Evolutionism, Psychological Anthropology, Functionalism, and Post-modernism are all base figures in the field of anthropology. Each varies in the description and each can be considered extremely educational depending on how broad the person who is educating themselves chooses to expand their mind.

When discussing Evolutionism, it is hard to nail down one specific idea. Evolutionism is probably the most controversial among anthropologists and among the most popular throughout the world. It seems to be one of the most talked about parts of anthropology and a large part of that publicity can be traced back to Darwin. Although Darwin is a major part in the history of modern evolution, Levi-Strauss was a major pioneer. Strauss suggests that evolution pertains to organisms that continuously adapt to their surroundings as time goes on. The meaning behind the word adapt when being used with evolutionism can certainly pertain back centuries. Though it was only discovered in the 19th century, it is seen much further in the past. An excellent and simple example of evolutionism would be dinosaurs and the ones that are still roaming the earth today. Alligators and turtles are considered highly evolved animals today. It is taking an organism from the past that has adapted to modern day society and is successfully living.

This is a highly controversial subject when based on religion and human culture, typically because religion does not suggest that evolutionism is true. When based off religion, the creation of the world is a short experience, but when pressed with science it becomes evolutionary. Scientifically the idea that humans were developed from apes is another example of evolution; the subject is so broad and contradictory that it gets hard to place it under any strict regulations. Some views, as Goldman (1959) suggests “led to a “shreds and patches” view of culture history and encouraged the arbitrary assemblage of odds and ends of observations into logical but not necessarily historical sequences.” (p.57) This is a solid verification of the controversy in evolutionism, because there is no specific evidence that can be verified, the “shreds and patches” analysis is spot on in conveying what was discovered about evolutionism throughout history.

The idea of Psychological Anthropology seems very basic, because it is such a self-explanatory field when it comes to the term “psychology.” However, once a more investigative look is taken, the vastness of the field can certainly be detected. Psychological Anthropology looks to examine the human mind but delving even further into that idea it looks to find the interactions based on different human cultures. It basically looks to find connections between both human culture and the psychology of a person. Rather than focus entirely on the psychology of a person, a psychological anthropologist looks to find what outside factors that are based in the persons culture and social life around them could be affecting the person.

Although there are different ways to try and understand the idea of this type of psychology, an example from everyday life can be used in explaining it. If a psychologist were to try and attempt to treat a patient who suffered from depression, they may try to figure out if it is a chemical imbalance along with what is going on in the patient’s life at the time. However, a psychological anthropologist would try to discover answers through looking at the patient’s social life that is surrounding them and the culture that they are in or the culture they are practicing. This can be seen in cultures today simply by dealing with race. When one race or ethnicity is prejudiced toward the other, the culture they are in must be considered. If a person is racist or prejudiced, they certainly weren’t born with that psychology, they were taught it and the culture of a person is arguably the most influential area of one’s life.

Edward Sapir was a major influence on Psychological Anthropology. He had many viewpoints but one in particular stands out and is explained by Alten (1998) when she states “He encouraged anthropologists to focus their studies on individuals, because he believed that individuals look for and create meaning in their world, acting as a microcosm of the culture in which they live.”(1) This is one of the most important aspects of psychological anthropology because it explains that each individual is affected by their culture as well as being an intricate part of it.

Functionalism, though bit tricky to comprehend and having a few very broad definitions, can be best described as a person’s mental state and what causes it to be this way, such as outside stimulations and behaviors. An example of this can be, when someone cries it’s right to believe that some outside stimulation caused that or another creatures behavior. If the person is crying because they are in pain, this may suggest that an injury occurred and now the brain must categorize its feelings, its behaviors, whether it becomes anxiety that makes them cry or another feeling, is considered functionalism.

Armstrong and Lewis were two major pioneers for functionalism and as On Philosophy suggests, functionalism can also be described as “the causal theory holds that mental properties, and consciousness, depend on causal relations” (1) this certainly can be related back to examples of the functioning mental states that affect reactions. Functionalism seems to make a lot of sense because it can be seen in an almost electronic sense as well, like a machine. There are different parts of a machine that keep it running and each part is a necessity, just as it is a necessity in the mind to question what is helping it to function. The mind in this sense is a piece of machinery as well.

Post-modernism seeks to find ideas through many different viewpoints. It questions the anthropological perspective of culture, literature, ethics, and many other fields that all relate back to the truth of the world. One of its philosophers, Jean Baudrillard, “proclaimed the disappearance of the subject, political economy, meaning, truth, the social, and the real in contemporary postmodern social formations” (Ritzer, 311) describes the philosophers’ viewpoints. This is consistent with the fact that postmodernism is not an easily defined term. Post-modernism is a double-sided sword, because one subject cannot be tied down, it leaves many doors open for other topics to be interpreted. Ultimately post-modernism seeks to find answers and meaning behind what the human mind thinks and reacts to. It wants to help the mind figure out the reality it is in at the moment and why it is there using ideas such as art, literature, architecture and so on. The questions are endless that this anthropology stems off, and so are the answers.

Evolution seems to be the most enlightening theory simply because it is left up for interpretation. When a mind can expand on a subject and not have to have a definitive answer, it makes for a much more interesting topic to consider, as well as a more educational one. Fortunately, there is no way that any one person can say whether or not evolution is true, and this makes it ideal for investigation.

One can choose to believe in the theory of science and that the human species, and all species evolved into what they are today. However, it also allows interpretation in another form when religion is added into the concept. This turns evolution into an entirely different argument, making it a controversial subject and thus a highly interesting topic as well. It forces the anthropologist looking into it to question not only the world’s beliefs, but perhaps their own. This makes evolution one of the most interesting parts of anthropology.

Works Cited

Alten, Kristin. "Subdisciplines: Psychological Anthropology." Psychological Anthropology n/a (1998): 1.

Goldman, Irving. "Evolution and Anthropology." Victorian Studies 3.1 (1959): 55-75.

Ritzer, George. The Blackwell Companion to Major Contemporary Social Theorists. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2003.

"Three Interpretations of Functionalism." On Philosophy n/a (2007): 1.