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UNIVERSITY OF NAIROBI COLLEGE OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES. INSTITUTE OF ANTHROPOLOGY GENDER AND AFRICAN STUDIES. COURSE TITLE: CONTEMPORARY THEORIES IN ANTHROPOLOGY COURSE CODE: NAF 304 INSTRUCTOR : DR. SHILABUKHA ADM NO. N06/1191/2016 NAME, SAMUEL N. GLORIA QUESTION, THE DISTINCTON BETWEEN AMERICAN SCHOOLOF THOUGHT AND BRITISH SCHOOL OF THOUGHT IN DEVELOPMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORIES.

Anthropology developed in the 19th and 20th century in the academic arena. It’s defined as the study of human beings including the ancient and modern. Barrett (1996), anthropology usually has been defined as the study of other cultures, employing the technique of participant observer and collecting qualitative date. Scholars have developed several theories of anthropology.

Over the years, there has been a development of different schools of thought by scholars in the discipline of anthropology. They include, American school of thought and British school of thought. American anthropology has culture as it centre and unifying concept while British anthropology is associated with the social aspect.Radcliff Brown and Malinowski taught in the united states during the 1930s but North American anthropology was dominated by followers of Boas.

Evolutionarism theory was founded by Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin. Evolution represents the gradual process of development where simple things become complex. Charles Darwin depicted the evolution of the biological organisms existing in the world. applied the theory to his explanation of the development of the society. Darwin is considered as a naturalist where Spenser is more of a sociologist.

Edward B. Tylor who is a British anthropologist and the American anthropologist L.H.Morgan are considered the founders of the 19th century evolutionism. Tylor’s book, Primitive Culture, 1871, was influenced by the work of Charles Darwin .According to Tylor, society’s evolution is unidirectional and passes through stages which are savagery, barbarism and civilization.

He also looked at evolutionary theory of the origin of religion from the state of non-religious conditions to the belief in souls and phantoms then people started to believe in ghost’s later spirits later, supreme deity. (Langness, 1974). Lewis Henry Morgan in his book, Ancient Society, 1877, was interested in the evolution of specific things such as government, language, subsistence and family.

In term of evolution of the family, he examined the Hawaiian society where human beings used to live in primitive hoards where unregulated sexual behaviors was practiced and people could not identify their own father. Then came brother sister marriage and group marriage .later matrilocal societies and patrilocal society. The evolutionism of Tylor and Morgan are rejected today due to, there theories cannot account for cultural variation.

The evolutionist theory cannot explain why societies have regressed or become extinct. Although other societies have progressed to civilization, some have not passed through all the stages. Also, it did not go through extensive fieldwork rather their work was of secondary based. Diffusionism Theory.

The main school of thought were the British and the German school.It refers to the spread of certain ideas, customs or practices from one culture to another. It started in the 19th and 20th century. The main spokesmen for the British school of diffusionism were, G.E.Smith, W.J.Perry and W.H.Rivers. Smith and Perry proposed that every aspect of society which included technology and religion originated from Egypt and later spread thought the world (Ember and Peregrine, 2011). People prefer to borrow the inventions of other cultures rather than develop ideas for themselves .German diffusionism, father Wilhelm Schmidt just like British diffisionalism, believed men are uneventful and try to borrow from other cultures.

But they didn’t believe there was only one origin of culture. They believed there were cultural central and cultural diffusion occurred from different cultural circles. A separate American diffusionist school of thought led by Clark Wissler and Alfred Kroeber rose after decades of the 20th century. It attributed the characteristic features of culture area to a geographical culture center where traits were first developed and they diffused outwards.

Wissler then suggested that if a given trait spreads outwards from a single culture center, then the most widely distributed trait found to exist around such center must be the oldest trait.Diffusionist faced critics. It did not come out of the idea that some cultures are better than others, it could not give a convincing explanation on why some cultures do not show any sign of the cultural origins, though evolution is an inevitable process, anthropologies found out that societies can adjoin one another without exchanging cultural traits.

Functionalism. Between the 1930s and 1970s, various forms of functionalism were influenced by British social anthropologists who were Bronislaw Malinowski and Reginald Radcliffe Brown. Malinowski is regarded as the founder of modern functionalism in anthropology. He assumes cultural traits serve the needs of individuals in a society.

(Bohamon and Glazer, 1973). The individual needs are satisfied by derived cultural and social institutions whose functions are to satisfy those needs. Malinowski view of culture is based on human biosocial needs. Culture is a tool that responds to the needs of human society in a way that is above any adaptation. To Malinowski, various cultural beliefs and practices contribute to the smooth functioning of the society while providing individual biological or psychological benefits. The individuals are the ones who make up the group.

Radcliffe Brown felt that the various aspects of social behavior maintain a society’s social structure rather than satisfying individual needs. Structural functionalism was later developed by Radcliffe Brown (1881-1955). According to him, societies have several institutions like economic, political, social and religion. These institutions ensure solidarity of the whole society.

It’s used to explain how different societies deal with the tensions that are likely to develop among people related through marriage. He suggested that societies may develop rules to the people involved, they may also allow mutual disrespect and teasing among in-laws. He suggests that avoidance is likely to occur among in-laws of different generations.

weaknesses to Malinowski functionalism is that it cannot readily account for cultural variation , although all societies engage in food getting, it cannot tell why different societies have different food gathering practices. In structural functionalism, it is difficult to determine whether a particular custom is functional in contributing to the maintenance of social system.

We cannot subtract a cultural trait from a society to see whether the traits contribute to the maintenance of the group. There is also too much emphasis on structure, harmony and stability ignores the need for change in society. Historical particularism, Claims that each society has its own unique historical development and must be understood based on their own specific cultural and environmental context. It was led by Franz Boas who is an American anthropologist. Boas felt that a single culture had to be studied in the context of the society which they appeared.

He carried out long term individual field research. He stated that anthropologists should spend less time developing theories based on insufficient data, rather, they should devote their energy in collecting as much data as possible before cultures disappear.

During fieldwork, he would make use of linguistically proficient members of the tribe under study and record, discuss and interpret informant statements. Unlike his British contemporaries, Boas was not hostile to historical reconstruction. Native American cultural history was part of his research agenda. His basic orientation remained that of a cultural histories associated with historical particularism.

He held that each culture had its own values and unique history which anthropologists could attempt to reconstruct. His concern with innumerable local details did not explain the major variations in culture that anthropologists observe. Alfred Kroeber, was a historic particularistic who claimed that each society has its own unique historical development.

He studied women’s dress fashion over 300 years and discovered skirt length changed in periodic cycle. Fashion cannot be explained by outside factors because it evolves according to its own internal laws. Fashion purely cultural since it was learned and shared. The theory was criticized as being more metaphysical than scientific thought. Boas theory was criticized for not staying in the field for a prolonged period. Structuralism.

According to Klages (2006), structuralism is a way of thinking that works to find the fundamental basic unit or elements of which anything is made. Things cannot be understood in isolation but seen in the larger context of larger structures which they are part of. Structuralism was led by Levi-Strauss. He said that for one to understand kinship, a single unit of a family which refers to father, mother and children, one has to look into the larger kinship system than the single unit. His structuralism differs from that of Radcliffe Brown.

Radcliffe-Brown focused on how the element of society functioned as a system while Levi on the origin of the systems themselves. Levi sees culture as expressed in art, ritual and daily patterns as a surface representation of the underlying structure of human mind. His explanation on cultural phenomena have concentrated on the presumed cognitive processes of people, the ways people perceive and classify things around them.

The British structuralism, Edmund Leach, Rodney Needham and Mary Douglas do not follow Levi Strauss in looking for universal principle in human mind. They concentrate on applying structural analysis to particular societies and particular social institutions Mary Douglas for example looks at an argument that took place in her home whether soup is an appropriate supper. She suggests that meals have certain structural principles and have contrasts and textures.

And if they don’t follow a principle, it’s not conceived as a meal. It’s not clear how Levi-Strauss derived a particular structuralist interpretation and the absence of any systematically supported evidence. His studies have been said to be vague and untestable and self-contained intellectual constructs with little explanatory value. Cultural ecology and Neo-Evolutionism.

The main theorist in New-evolutionism was Leslie White. He tried to show factors like technology and energy use as the main causes of cultural evolution and change. For him, cultural change depended on the per capita use of energy in a year. If it increases, then change happens. The more complex the use of technology, the more cultural development became complex. White did not mention any particular caseor culture when describing evolution.

His view is not ethnocentric that’s why it’s associated with the society in general. Cultural ecology is another important theory in development which was associated by Julius Steward. He divided evolution into three categories. The 1st one is the unilleneal evolution which is by Tylor and Morgan. Second one is neo-evolutionism by Leslie White. Ember et.al.

(2011), steward classified himself as a multileneal evolutionist who deals with particular culture and demonstrate sequence of parallel culture change in different areas. He mentioned that a social system is determined by its environmental resources. (Mahmud, 2008) . The main idea of cultural ecology is to determine whether cultural adaptation towards the national environment initiate social transformation of evolutionary change.

Cultural Materialism and Marxist theory. Cultural materialism was by Marvin Harris who refined the idea of Leslie White and Steward. It seeks to explain the organizational aspect of political and economy and the ideology and symbolic aspect of society as a result of combination of variables relating to basic biological needs of a society. (Mahmud 2008, 83).

In cultural materialism, socio-cultural system is divided into, infrastructure which includes technology and practices for expanding production of basic resources, the structure which has domestic and political economy including the family and political organization, the superstructure which includes philosophy , art, sports , science and religion. Karl Marx dealt with materialism. He was influence by Henry Morgan’s work.

He said that a society evolved through stages like, tribal, Asiatic, feudal and capitalist stage. Marx theory emphasizes on how the systems producing material goods shape all societies. Symbolic anthropology criticized the materialistic view and highlighted culture is a mental phenomenon and cannot be molded like mathematics or logic. Postmodernism.

It refers to linguistic turn which mainly focuses on language and power. It held that languages were system of signs and symbols that took their meaning relationships with anothers rather than with empirical world. Mahmud (2008), postmodernist questions the validity of external imposed order as well as linear analysis.

Postmodernist disagree with ultimate faith on science and believe in individuality and diversity. Symbolic anthropology was contributed by Clifford Geertz who tried to establish culture as an organized collection of symbolic systems and that symbols were means of transmitting meanings (McGee and Warms, 2012).He assumed that symbols and meanings had many layers of meanings and their power was derived from facts.

They use thick descriptions to analyze meanings. He also highlighted interpretivism. He analyzed works of Evans Pritchard, Malinowski, Levi Strauss and Ruth Benedict. Like postmodernist, He argued that anthropology is just a kind writing. The combination of American cultural anthropology theory and British social anthropology theory has led to some confusion between the concept of society and culture.

cultural anthropology starts from the study of natural techniques and moves to the study of social relations while social anthropology works in opposite direction, from social relations to tools and cultures. Culture is merely an effect of the social structure. In 1930s, the development of social anthropology rather than cultural anthropology in United Kingdom did not seem to cause any reaction to United state.

The weakness of British social anthropology are the strength to American anthropology or ethnography (Cultural anthropology). British social anthropologists were not interested in whole range of cultural phenomena but concentrated exclusively on kinship. British Radcliffe Brown school of thought limited themselves to some thirty cases.

British anthropology ignore ethnography produced outside their country meaning they are indifferent to extend development in theory. There is less or no interest at all in history . Its studies was done at one point in time in order to see functional relations. Process of cultural change are neglected example is invention and modifications and drift are not included in filed of investment.

In conclusion, different schools of thought analyzed the anthropological theories and all have gone through critics’ by subsequent schools. Anthropologists were influenced by philosophical developments of their times. American anthropologists had a high regard for the research produced by social anthropologists in the 1940s and 1950s.

British social anthropologists have nothing in common with cultural anthropologists other than the study of kinship and societies without writing. References Barrett, S. (1996), Anthropology, A Students Guide to Theory and Method. Toronto, University of Toronto Press. Ember, C.R., Ember, M.R. and Pererine, P.N. (2011). Anthropology (13th edition). USA, Peason. Klages, M. (2006), Literary Theory A Guide for the Perplexed. London, Continuum. Langness, L.L.

(1974), the study of Culture .California, Chandler and Sharp Publishers, Inc. Mahmud, S. M. A. (2008). Socio-cultural Anthropology, A review of the Major School of Thought. Social Science Review. The Dhaka University Studies. McGee, R.J.and Warms, R.L. (2012). Anthropological Theory an Introductory History, (5th edition) .USA, McGraw-Hill.

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