Re: Cross-cultural anthropology?

Fri, 11 Nov 1994 11:07:40 CST

In my view, cross-cultural statistical analysis of the covariation
between specific cultural features is the major advance cultural
anthropology has managed to make beyond ethnographic description of
individual cultures. D. Orr's assumption that it is possible to
systematically compare entire cultures without selecting features
appears to me an illusion--that is, a thought based on wishful thinking.
Actually, anthropology has passed this way before; it ends up in
speculative, undisciplined characterizations of so-called
"configurations" made famous by Ruth Benedict--who was a fine writer,
but not really too much of a scientist. Remember, the Pueblo Indians
were Apollonian, the Northwest Coast Indians were "Dionysian," and all
of that? It is not clear that there are any viable alternatives to a
certain amount of atomism if we are really to continue progressing in
cross-cultural analyisis. Study G.P. Murdock's work, Robert B.
Textor's, and Melvin and Carol Ember's (initiated, of course, by Edward
B. Tylor himself). No theory course is complete without some coverage
of this approach which, despite its real shortcomings, tackles the
problem rather than retreating into the fantasy that comparing two or
three or four cultures as "wholes" is going to get us somewhere from a
scientific standpoint. Benedict's ultimate "explanation" for cultural
differences was that god gave to each people a cup from which to drink .
. . --Bob Graber