Re: Possibility of Anthropology

Aaron 'Vern' Hamilton (
18 Jul 1996 18:38:24 GMT

Fine, Ted. Juuuust fine. No no, that's okay. *MAKE* me pull out my notes
from last semester. Sure, I don't mind. :)

Hmmm.. on second thought... give me some time... this book (I actually
HAVE a book by Marvin Harris on this stuff) is convoluted. It's difficult
to summarize in a few sentences. The big problem I see (without looking
up anything) is that cultural materialism stems from the realm of
social evolution, which is, in my opinion, laden with enthnocentric
biases. Evolutionists studied societies as "evolving" into higher forms,
forms superior to previous versions. This is where Edward Tylor and Lewis
Henry Morgan fall--but they were in the 1800s and started this whole
anthropology thing, so they can't be blamed--they are merely products of
their time (who do you think started calling natives "savages"?).
Over the years the theories have changed to be less judgemental and more
complex. It seems to me that Cultural Materialism studies the effects of
material change (esp. technology) on the culture itself. Aha, here's a
quote from the preface, "[Cultural materialism] is based on the simple
premise that human social life is a response to the practical problems
the earthly existance" (Harris). Now, that doesn't sound like a bad
thing, really, does it? Some Marxian ideas of Base and Superstructure
there--heck, "materialism" is his. Where this relates to our opening
debate over "objectivity" is that cultural materialism uses very
scientific methodology--I prefer the enthographic participant-observer
subjective approach. This relates to your use of "evolution" because
they, too, seem to believe in a degree of societal determinism that I
don't feel terribly comfortable with. Your use of "ecology" is closely
related to the belief that technologies develop out of need, based on the
surrounding environment--hence ecology.

Can I go now? :)

Aaron H.

P.S. Be warned: I know very little about this stuff, so I may be off base.