Theories-2 | UPSC Important Notes & Study Material

Notes By-
Sachin Gupta
Cleared UPSC 2017 with AIR-3



Anthropology made forays into different perceptions about society and culture once it
became clear that the structural-functional models were not workable, at least in the
light of the post –colonial and post-World War II developments in the global scenario.
Not all these theories were however derived from new roots or beginnings. The concept
of cultural configuration or patterns or ethos, which laid the foundations for the culture
and personality school was derived from German intellectual roots of the Gestalt
psychology and found its way into the American Cultural tradition through the persona
of Franz Boas. From the Forties onwards we also see the influence of USA increasing
in anthropology, in direct proportion to its global political presence.
However counter
to the presence of USA was the strong influence of Marxism in intellectual circles all
over the world but largely emanating from France. The towering presence of French
liberal Left thinking was found in anthropology also and we had a vibrant engagement
with not only Marxist but Neo-Marxist thinking also deriving from Althusser and Lacan.
The neo –Marxist influence went deep into reformulating the concept of culture itself
and right from Julian Steward onwards we find that the dialectical method informed the
notion of social change and reformulated the entire manner of understanding culture
and society, not as static or as given traditions but as vibrant and ongoing processes.
Change was no longer external but an aspect of normal ongoing society.

Post colonial intellectual streams were critical of the positivist methodology and feminist
thinking established a decentralised view of looking at the world, where one could gaze
from the margins and construct different versions of the social reality as different from
the dominant point of view that was at least in the early period of anthropology (and of
most other disciplines) both andocentric and Eurocentric.

The structuralism of Levi-Strauss was one of the last attempts to create a universal
frame of human knowledge based on the deep structures of the human mind that to
Levi-Strauss appeared to be dialectical. Thus Structuralism was also influenced by
Marxism in being essentially dialectical and also looking for the reality at levels deeper
than the apparent or obvious. Levi-Strauss had a lasting influence on anthropology and
influenced many other scholars, most notably Leach. However the positivist stand of
structuralism was finally taken over by post-structuralist and post-modern theory.
essential essence of these theories was to situate knowledge in its historical and political
context. The feminist and post-colonial scholars like Donna Harraway and Edward
Said showed that the knowledge and science propagated by European and male scholars
was not ‘factual’ but subjectively constructed out of their colonial, capitalist and classical
economic bias. In the turning around of social and cultural theory we also see the
influence of a new science of Physics that emerged in the 20th century that looked
critically at a dualism of matter and mind. The more human beings have been searching
for knowledge the more baffled they are becoming as to the true essence of this universe.
Therefore social science is far more focused on contestation, confusion and
deconstruction of established truths than ever before.


1.1 Introduction
1.2 Meaning and Determinants of Culture and Personality
1.3 Culture and Personality School of Thought
1.3.1 Impact of Personality on Culture
1.3.2 Impact of Culture on Personality Formation
1.3.3 Impact of Culture on Personality and Vice-versa
1.4 Criticisms of Culture and Personality Theory
1.5 Summary

Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
At the end of this unit, you will be able to:
 explain how personality play significant role in the formation of cultural pattern;
 understand the impact of culture on personality formation; and
 know the impact of both culture and personality on each other in the formation
of cultural group.

The culture personality school of thought began principally in the United States in
the 1930s.The above school explained relationships between childrearing customs
and human behaviours in different societies. The culture personality theory combined
elements of psychology, anthropology, and sociology, but principally the theory
involved the application of psychoanalytic principles to ethnographic data. This
unit deals with different anthropological writings surrounding this theme.


The term culture and personality has been used in several senses, both popularly
and psychologically. Before going into discussion of theory let us first discuss the
meaning and determinants of culture and personality. Culture is a term practically
used in everyday life. Anthropological meaning of culture is different from its
popular meaning. Defining culture has never been as simple for anthropologists.
It is no wonder in anthropology; culture has over 300 definitions of this concept.
For the convenience of learners culture herein is used to mean any knowledge that
a person/individual has acquired as a member of his/her society. Such knowledge
is important because it subsequently influences the shaping of his/her personality.
It was widely believed that early enculturation in particular has very important

Anthropological Theories-II


bearing on personality development of the child as he/she grows into adulthood.
The conceptualisation of culture is by no means a simple matter. One possible way
to think about culture is that “culture is to society what memory is to individuals”
(Kluckhohn 1954). It includes what has worked in the experience of a society, so
that it was worth transmitting to future generations.

The term personality is derived from the Latin word persona meaning a mask or
character. Personality is a patterned body of habits, traits, attitudes and ideas of
an individual as these are organised externally into roles and statuses and as they
relate internally to motivation, goals and various aspects of selfhood. It is a term
used in routine life as the distinctive way a person thinks, feels and behaves. But
in anthropology, the term is used in a different sense. Funder (1997) defined
personality as “an individual’s characteristic pattern of thought, emotion, and
behaviour, together with the psychological mechanisms—hidden or not-behind
those patterns”. Whereas Ralph Linton (1945) defines personality as the individual’s
mental qualities the sum total of his rational faculties, perceptions, ideas, habits and
conditional emotional responses. He states that there is a close relation between
personality and culture of the society to which the individual belongs. The personality
of every individual within the society develops and functions in constant association
with its culture. Personality affects culture and culture affects personality. In short
he says personality embraces the total organised aggregate of psychological
processes and status pertaining to the individual.

There are four main factors or determinants, which affect the personality formation.
They are environment, heredity, culture and peculiar experiences. The influence of
geographical or physical environment plays very important role to determine the
variation in personality construction of members of a group. According to physical
environment humans comes to form ideas and attitudes where he/she lives in. A
close relationship exists between environment, culture and personality
To the amount that the environment determines cultural development and to the extent
that culture in turn determines personality. In the 18th century Montesquieu claimed
that the bravery of those blessed by a cold climate enables them to maintain their
liberties. Great heat weakens courage while cold causes certain vigor of body and
mind. The people those who live in mountain as well as deserts areas are usually
bold, hard and powerful. Nevertheless physical conditions are more permissive
and limiting factors than causative factors. People who live in mountain as well as
in deserts areas set the limits within which the personality develops. For example
Andaman tribes have different cultural personality than Fiji tribes because of the
fact that the above two cultural groups develop in two different geographical

Heredity is another factor which determines the traits of human personality. Some
of the similarities in individual/group personality are said to be due to his common
heredity. Some set of biological needs and capacities are inherited by human
group in every society. These common biological needs and capacities explain
some of the similarities in personality of the particular group. For example
humankind tends to resemble his/her parents in physical appearance and intelligence.
However, human heredity does not mould human personality alone and
independently. There is assumption that functioning of human life in human beings
there are genes for normal personality traits as well as there are genes for other
aspects. Heredity is one of determinants that provides the materials out of which
experience will mould the personality. Experience determines the way these materials
will be used. Because of his/her heredity an individual may be energetic but
whether he is active on his own belief or on behalf of others is a matter of his

Culture plays a valuable role in personality development. In many countries all
over the world, the influence of culture on personality formation can be seen in
different cultural groups. According to some anthropologists and sociologists
personality is the subjective aspect of culture. They look at personality and culture
as two sides of same coin. Spiro had perceived that the development of personality
and the acquisition of culture are not different processes but one and the same
learning process. He considered Personality as an individual aspect of culture
while culture is a collective aspect of personality. In every culture particular type
of personality developed. Certain cultural environment sets its participant members
off from other human beings operating under different cultural environments.

According to Frank culture is a coercive influence dominating the individual and
molding his personality by virtue of the ideas, conceptions and beliefs which had
brought to bear on him through communal life. The culture furnishes the raw
material of out of which the individual makes his life. The social institutions of the
particular society affect the personality of the group members. In every society
from the moment of birth, the child is treated in such ways which shape his
personality. Every culture applies a series of general influences upon the individuals
who grow up under it. It can be summed up that culture greatly moulds personality
of individual or group. The ideas and behaviour of the individuals are largely the
results of cultural background. However, it should not be concluded that culture
is a massive dye that shapes all that come under it with an identical pattern.
Personality traits differ within culture. Personality is not totally determined by
culture even though no personality escapes its influence. It is only one determinant
among others.

Last but not the least personality is also determined by another factor, namely
situational experiences. In this there are two types of experiences one those that
stem from continuous association with one’s group, second those that arise suddenly
and are not likely to recur. In type one people who interact with the child daily
has a major influence on his personality. For example the personality of parents
does more to affect a child’s personality. The overall process of socialisation;
ranging from social rituals to table manners to getting along with others are
consciously inculcated in the child by the parents. The child learns everything from
his parents’ language to behaviour. In the type situational experiences the relationship
of the child with the mother, father and siblings affect profoundly the organisation
of his drives and emotions, the deeper and subconscious aspects of his personality.
In the second type group influence is relatively greater in early childhood.

Child’s personality moulds by group interaction. Personality may also be inferred by social
situations. According to social researchers an individual may show honesty in one
situation and not in another. The same is true for other personality traits also.
Personality traits tend to be specific responses to particular situations rather than
general behaviour patterns. It is a dynamic unity with a creative potential.

The above various determinant factors are responsible for personality formation,
development and maintenance. Further than the combined influence of these factors
however the relative contribution of each factor to the development of personality
varies with the characteristic or personality process involved and perhaps with the
individual concerned. However, there is no way yet known to measure the effect
of each determinant factor or to state how the factors combine to produce a given
result. For example, the behaviour of juvenile delinquent is affected by his heredity
Culture and Personality
Anthropological Theories-II


and by his family. But how much is contributed by each factor cannot be measured
in exact terms.
The term personality, character and temperament have been used synonymously
by many scholars in various disciplines. Many disciplines like biology, psychology,
sociology and anthropology have taken keen interest in the study of personality.
It is because of the interdisciplinary approach the term personality has been used
to denote various meanings. A holistic study of personality can be done only by
multidisciplinary approach like biologists deal with physiological characteristics,
sociologists can attempt to know with the influence of social environment,
Psychologists with mental attributes, whereas anthropologists are concerned with
the relationship between culture and personality.

Psychological and anthropological aspect is the final aspect to the study of culture
and personality. In this particular aspect we can include cultural background,
interest, sentiment, attitudes, values, temperament, impulse, aptitude, and motivation
of an individual.

Try to assess different cultures and their personalities in your area from anthropological


The culture personality school of thought began principally in the United States in
the 1930s.The above school explained relationships between childrearing customs
and human behaviours in different societies. The culture personality theory combined
elements of psychology, anthropology, and sociology, but principally theory involved
the application of psychoanalytic principles to ethnographic data. The school
emphasised the cultural moulding of the personality and focused on the development
of the individual. Culture-and-personality theorists argued that personality types
were created in socialisation, and they placed particular emphasis on child-rearing
practices such as feeding, weaning, and toilet training. The pioneers of this school
of thought were students of Franz Boas and Kroeber.
They include American
anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Linton, Kardiner and CoraDuBois.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was one of the first psychologists to break the
barrier between anthropology and psychology. His best known anthropological
work is Totem and Taboo. In his book, Freud provides an insightful description
to taboos and their origination; yet his theory on the origin of totems is somewhat
speculative. His main work on the origin of totemism, incest taboo, exogamy and
the Oedipus complex, is well known, for he argued the existence of a primal
horde, the leader of which was the oldest male, who assumed exclusive sexual
rights over all females in the group. Frustrated, the sons murdered and ate their
father; but overcome by guilt afterwards, the sons decided to obey commands and
abstain from sexual intercourse with their mothers and sisters. Selecting a totem
animal as a symbolic father substitute, they declared that it must be protected
during the year and consumed only on ritual occasions. These ritual totem meals
thus reenacted their original deed and reinforced their self-imposed incest
prohibitions. Freud thus, concluded that all cultures originate from this sacrificial


Best known for his psychoanalysis, Freud saw the trauma of childhood reflected
in the neuroses of adults. He established the Oedipus complex as a universal story
in which the son, jealous of his father’s attentions on his mother, entertains hostility
towards the father and develops an erotic attachment to his mother. This desire
is felt among all men; yet is buried by repression and then resurfaces in the actions
of adulthood. Freud’s psychoanalysis was an attempt to uncover the repressed
childhood trauma through a series of word associations, dream analysis, and freeflow

His Oedipus complex analysis (in which a son hates his father for his strict authority
and is jealous of his sexual prerogatives over the mother, yet loves him for strength
and protection) among all societies, was also highly criticised and Malinowski,
who tested this hypothesis among the matrilineal Trobriand society (1922), rejected
Freud’s views on the universality of the Oedipus complex. Franz Boas (1858-
1942), though he was not interested in psychology, reacted to Freud’s analysis
and said that his method was one sided and could do nothing to advance
understanding of cultural development. Kroeber (1876-1960) rejected Freud’s
conjectures by the phrase “bewilderingly fertile imagination”. At the same time
Kroeber, realised the importance of the psychological dimension of culture, which
he felt should not be ignored. This Freudian hypothesis influenced early
anthropological research on culture and personality giving birth to what is known
as Psychological Anthropology.

The primary aim of the culture and personality school of thought, is to examine the
interrelationships between culture and personality. The attempts of this school are
to study culture as it is embodied in the character of its members, rather than
seeking to analyse culture as it is manifested in material items or social institutions.

1.3.1 Impact of Personality on Culture

Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) a student of Franz Boas, documented in her PhD
dissertation the rapidly deteriorating Native American societies, providing the impetus
to pursue culture and personality studies. Through her work on the patterning of
culture at an individual level, Benedict opened anthropology into a much larger
discussion between the disciplines of anthropology and psychology. Idea of
“pattern” was already in use before her, but credit goes to her for providing a
methodological model for studying human culture in terms of “pattern” rather than
social contents. She was of the opinion that life crisis rites are only one of the
several ways in which patterns of culture emerge and are reflected in the behaviour
of members of a group. All the basic institutions that are a part of the culture, tend
to mirror the overall pattern for that culture. This point was successfully highlighted
in her book Patterns of Culture (1934) which is considered to be a classic work
in anthropology.

Ruth Benedict consideration of cultures as integrated wholes where each is
configured to be different from all other cultures; is perhaps one of the most
significant. She also stressed that a culture is organised around a basic theme, and
that all of the various elements of that culture fit together. A culture according to
Benedict is analogous to an individual in that it is more or less a consistent pattern
of thought and action. Hence, she says any analysis of culture requires a
psychological approach. According to her when traits and complexes become
related to each other in functional roles, a cultural pattern is formed. Many cultural
patterns integrate themselves into a functional whole and form a special design of
a whole culture. This special design of whole culture is called configuration of
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Anthropological Theories-II


culture. The integration of culture is on the basis of tendency seen in all aspects
of culture. This tendency is called by Benedict “special genius” that brings about
integration. She says there are two types of geniuses found in human society i.e.
Apollonian and Dionysian. In Apollonian pattern, one will see the existence of
peace, discipline and kindness. The Dionysian culture is characterised by a great
deal of changes and aggressiveness. These two geniuses mold the personality of
the members of their group. The Apollonian personality compels members of the
group to behave in one form and the Dionysian personality in the other. This will
lead to the formation of special cultural characteristics for the group concerned,
thus personality influencing the culture.

Applying this approach to cross-cultural studies she did her fieldwork among the
Zuni, Cochiti and Pima tribes of America. Benedict looked at different societies
and described them in terms of their basic personality configurations. Pointing out
how these personality types fit in with the overall culture. In her monograph
Patterns of Culture (1934) she discussed, through literature, contrastive personality
types between Zuni of the Southwest America and Kwakiutl of the Northeast
Coast of North America. The primary occupations of the two communities are
different, the Zuni are foragers in a resource-rich environment whereas the Kwakiutl
are agriculturists. She describes Zunis as very cooperative, never excessive in any
aspect of their life. The typical Zuni was a person who sought to mingle with the
group, and who did not wish to stand out as a superior among the other members
of the tribe.

Again she went on to point out how this basic personality type was
reinforced in other elements of Zuni culture. Child training patterns were designed
to suppress individuality. Initiation ceremonies were characterised by a lack of
ordeal, and the youths were initiated in a group setting. Marriage was relatively
casual. Leadership among the Zuni was ignored whenever possible, and was
accepted only with great reluctance. Priests were low key individuals and special
positions of power were delegated on a group basis, so that there was a medicine
society rather than a single powerful medicine man. Among them death was an
occasion for little mourning.

While comparing her study she found cultural configuration of Kwakiutl much
different from that of the Zuni. According to cultural pattern Kwakiutl were
characterised by a frenzied outlook, excess being the rule rather than the exception.
They were ambitious and striving, and individuality was emphasised in every aspect
of their life. The ideal man among the community was the one who always attempted
to prove his superiority. Child rearing practices reinforced this pattern, emphasising
the achievement of the individual over cooperation with the group. In the initiation
ceremonies, a boy was expected go out by himself and experience a personal
relationship with the supernatural. Marriage entailed tremendous celebration
Leadership among this community was characterised by a constant struggle for
power, which must be sought by any possible means. Religious positions included
that of the shaman, a priest who wielded enormous personal power. Even the
death ritual among the Kwakiutl reinforced this overall configuration. A death was
a major event, an occasion for elabourate mourning and was not accepted calmly
and peacefully as among the Zuni.

She considered the Zuni to be non-competitive, non-aggressive, and gentle etc.,
whereas the Kwakiutl to be characterised by strife, factionalism, painful ceremonies,
etc. On the basis of above characteristics in her view the two tribal communities
are represented by to contrastive psychological attributes on the basis of which
she describe Zuni as Apollonian and Kwakiutl as, Dionysian after the Greek Gods
of wine and light (i.e. wine as Dionysian and light as Apollonian) respectively.
These categories were derived from the work of Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth
of Tragedy (1956), a study on the origins of Greek drama. Benedict rejected
Freud’s notions of cultural evolution as unscientific and ethnocentric, and remained
loyal to Wilhel Dilthy, who believed that the objective of psychology was to
understand the inner mind and who proposed existence of different worldviews,
which were much like the categories she used to describe the above personality
types. She says it is a pattern that describes the typical member of the society, and
to which all members conform to some extent.

During the Second World War the need was felt to understand the national
characteristics of Japan and some of the American anthropologists helped in by
analysing it through the Japanese films, and books on the history and culture of
Japan. They concluded that the strict toilet training among the Japanese made
them aggressive fighter in warfare. Ruth Benedict made a significant contribution
in developing and then applying the “content analysis method” to study the culture
at a distance. This content analysis method was developed by Benedict, when
anthropologist could not freely travel to do fieldwork among the indigenous societies
during World War II. The U.S. office of War information had asked her to
undertake research on occupied or enemy nation. She selected Japan as her first
target and wrote the famous work The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946)

depicting the culture of that nation in a holistic manner, although she never visited
Japan.  She  gathered material  for  her monograph  from  historical documents,
literature readings of Japanese life and interviews of Japanese immigrants. After
going through all these data properly, she analysed and arrived at many significant
conclusions about the Japanese society. To study culture at a distance it was first
of its kind in the anthropological research. She describes Japanese culture has two
methods of child rearing. In Japan during childhood an individual is given full love,
freedom, care and cooperation. But when he or she reaches the stage of
adolescence, a strict discipline is imposed. He or she is asked to behave in manner
which will be pleasant and appealing to elders. She or he as adolescence is not
expected to break cultural traditions. In fact the individual has to work according
to the instructions provided by the family traditions. This paradox in personality
traits of Japanese appears due to different cultural traditions of rearing in two
periods, i.e. childhood and adolescence. She compares childrearing practices in
Japan to the national flower of Japan Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

Chrysanthemum symbolises the socialisation of a child during childhood. At the
time of childhood, the Japanese parents take every care of their children to make
them blossom like a chrysanthemum flower. When the children are fully blossomed
like adolescents, they have to face a tough life. Parents leave them to earn something
and lead independent life. As a result of this, children become aggressive and
violent. A sword always hangs on their neck, because they do not seek cooperation
from the elders.

During the late forties the school flourished with some of the best known studies
on national character like Ruth Benedict’s Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946)
on the Japanese national character and Geoffrey Gorer and John Rickman’s The
People of Great Russia: A Psychological Study (1949). The interest in
understanding national character though faded after 1950s. Because in their studies
the above authors tried, following the neo-Freudian approach, to link early
childrearing practices with adult personality.

Culture and Personality
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1.3.2 Impact of Culture on Personality Formation
Margaret Mead (1901-1978) another student of Franz Boas, also investigated
the relationship between culture and personality. Her monograph Coming of Age
in Samoa (1949) established her as one of the leading lady anthropologists of the
day.  Starting as a configurationalist, Mead also wrote about national character.
Hired in World War II by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Mead researched
the national character of England and compared it to that found within the United
States.  She determined that in each society the norms for interaction between the
sexes differed, leading to many misunderstandings between the two otherwise
similar cultures.

In her well-known book Coming of Age in Samoa, based on nine months intensive
fieldwork, compares Samoan with American adolescent girls. She hypothesized
that the stresses related to puberty in girls were culturally and not biologically
determined, as her study showed such stresses were mainly associated with
American adolescents whereas the Samoan adolescents had relatively an easy
transition into sexual maturation.

While studying Samoa she found that the whole cultural mood in Samoa was much
less emotional than that in America. For example, the facts of birth, death and sex
were not hidden from Samoan children. Premarital sex was considered natural and
did not demand strong emotional involvements and adolescents were not confronted
with the necessity of selecting from a variety of often conflicting standards of ethics
and values. Adolescence was, thus, not marked by storm and stress in Samoa, but
was simply a part of the gradual development of life. The major point of the study
was, in Mead’s own words (1939) “the documentation, over and over, of the fact
that human nature is not rigid and unyielding”.

In her study on Samoan, Margaret Mead claims that children are taught early in
their life that if they behave well or are quiet and obedient they can have their
good way of life. Arrogance, flippancy and courage are not the qualities emphasised
either for boy or girl. The children are expected to get up early, be obedient and
cheerful, play with children of their own sex, etc. and the adults are expected to
be industrious, skillful, loyal to their relatives, wise, peaceful, serene, gentle,
generous, altruistic, etc.

During fieldwork she observed that, little girls move about together and have
antagonistic and avoidance relationship with boys. On the other hand, when they
grow up boys and girls begin to interact during parties and fishing expeditions. As
long as a boy and a girl are not committing incest any amorous activities between
them, including slipping into the bush together, are considered natural and adults
pay little attention to such relationships. As a result, the transition from adolescence
to adulthood is smooth and stress-free unlike such transition among the Americans.
Hence she concluded that cultural conditioning, not biological changes associated
with adolescence, makes it stressful. Criticisms notwithstanding, subsequent studies
have lent support to her basic theory that childhood upbringing influences formation
of adult personality.

Mead’s finding on Samoa was very much supported by Edward Sapir, who realised
that the anthropological studies of personality represented entirely a new approach
to the understanding of culture. He also argued that the application of psychoanalytic
methods, in the study of culture, would add a new dimension to ethnological
field work and analysis, he was so much interested in this psycho-analytic method.
After studying the Samoan society, Mead studied the personality formation of the
children of New Guinea with special reference to Manus tribe, which was published
as-Growing up in New Guinea (1930). This study is concerned with the kind of
enculturation processes by which Manus of New Guinea brought their children up
from infancy to childhood and childhood to adulthood. In fact, the book deals with
educative role of culture in development of personality of child through different
ages of life such as infancy, childhood and adulthood etc.

The third important book of Mead is entitled Sex and Temperament in Three
Primitive Societies (1935). In this particular study Mead deals with the impact
of culture on personality formation. In this study like Benedict, Mead compared
three different cultures, namely Arapesh, Mundugumor and Tschambuli, to test the
range of variation of cultural patterns. The study was to understand why societies
living in same area differ in their character, personality and temperament and why
within the same society, temperaments of male and female differ. From her study
she found that in Arapesh, cultural environments are such that both males and
females have submissive temperament. In their culture, such personality traits are
the matter of great praise and all members in this society follow these cultural traits
with great enthusiasm. Among Mundugumor society, both males and females are
aggressive. In this society, the personality traits of its members are reflected by
such characters as suspiciousness, competition, quarrelsomeness, ego, jealousy,
and unkindness. The cultural environment of Mundugumor is such that every member
is found to be in struggle, conflict, and competition with each other.
These cultural
practices have direct bearing upon the personality formation of members of
Mundugumor. The cultural traditions of Tschambuli are such that males acquire
submissive temperament and females possess aggressive character. It is a matrilineal
society dominated by female authority. The submissive character among males and
aggressive character among females of their culture are reflected in the personality
traits of Tschambuli (Upadhyay and Pandey, 1993).

From the above discussion of these three societies Mead reflected that differences
in personality types of male and female in the same society or in different societies
are due to cultural processes, which differ from one cultural group to another or
from one society to another. She concludes by saying that it is a culture influence
which moulds the character, temperament and personality of members of the

Mead did not confine herself to the study of character, temperament and personality
of different cultural groups. She opinioned that the study of national character can
be done by the culture and personality approach. Culture has been developed by
human beings and is successively learned by each generation. The learned behaviour
is reflected in the character of group of nation. Thus, the study of national character
has historical depth of traditions, continuity and change as various dimensions. In
her study Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942),
she deals with the national character of America. She did not find difference in the
personality of a baby in America as compared to Japan and Russia. Thus, the
early personality was similar. They gradually start differing as the growth follows
and family education and school education become effective.

What influence has your cultural background had on you? Explain in your own words
Culture and Personality
Anthropological Theories-II


1.3.3 Impact of Culture on Personality and Vice-versa

The other early anthropologists who had made significant contribution to this field
are Ralph Linton (1893-1953), Abram Kardiner (1891-1981), and Cora Du Bois
(1903-1991). The three authors regard culture and personality as interdependent
and complementary to each other. They tried to correlate the type of cultural
patterns with the type of individual personalities obtained in that society. They
firmly believed that as a consequence of continuous contact with a particular type
of cultural pattern, similar types of personalities emerge. Linton was a co-founder
of the basic personality structure theory with Kardiner. He sought to establish a
basic personality for each culture. After studying the cultural behaviour of different
societies Ralph Linton (1945) noted three types of culture viz;

1) real culture (actual behaviour)
2) Ideal culture (Philosophical and traditional culture)
3) Culture construct (what is written on cultural elements etc.)
Real culture is the sum total of behaviour of the members of the society, which are
learned and shared in particular situations. A real culture pattern represents a
limited range of behaviour within which the response of the members of a society
to a particular situation will normally be form. Thus various individuals can behave
differently but still in accordance with a real culture pattern.
Ideal culture pattern is formed by philosophical traditions. In this, some traits of
culture are regarded as ideals.

Linton stated that there is a difference between the way of life of people and what
we study and write about. Both are different dimensions of culture. The former is
reality and the latter our understanding of the same. If the former is called culture
the latter can be called culture construct. It is an abstraction from the reality which
is the actual human behaviour.

While studying different aspects of culture and personality, he suggested some
more concepts vis., basic personality, status personality, social inventor etc. regarding
basic culture he argued that in a society all the individuals undergo a similar type
of socialisation, custom, traditions etc., and therefore, individuals acquire a common
set of habits, which may be called a basic personality of the society. He suggested
that in a society there are certain individuals, who are granted some special
privileges, which lead to form a status personality. Considering social inventor, he
argued that in a society some individuals do not follow the old traditional rules and
customs of the society, but they try to imitate some other norms, behaviour or
mode of living or make certain new discoveries, which are laid down on the
society in course of time, and he called such individuals as social inventors.


He also discussed (1936) about different types of role, played by an individual in the
society. The term role, according to Linton refers to the rules for behaviour
appropriate to a given status or social position. This classical definition of role,
given by Linton, has been useful in functional analysis within a synchronic frame
work. However, he prescribed some criterias to the characteristics as person
needs to become eligible for a particular social role. He identified two kinds of
status, vis., ascribed and achieved status. According to him ascribed roles usually
come by birth. For instance roles based on age, sex, kinship, and caste etc., are
ascribed status. Whereas he says some efforts must be made to qualify for an
achieved status. For example occupational roles, especially leadership, doctor,
engineer, lawyer etc are achieved status.
Abram Kardiner (1891-1981) a student of Sigmund Freud by profession was a
psychoanalyst. He along with Ralph Linton argued, that while culture and personality
were similarly integrated, a specific casual relationship existed between them.
In response to the configurationalist approach Kardinar, along with Linton
developed the concept “basic personality type” in his book, Psychological Frontiers
of Society (1945). The theory basic personality type is a collection of fundamental
personality traits shared by normal members of a society acquired by adapting to
a culture. The above theory was formulated after reading Freud’s The Future of
an Illusion (1928/1961) in which he argues that children’s early life experiences
determine their later religious life. Similar to Freud, Kardiner understood that the
foundations of personality development were laid in early stage of childhood.
Further Kardiner argued that since basic childrearing procedures are common in
a society they resulted in some common personality traits among members of a
society. He said that the basic personality exists in the context of particular cultural
institutions or patterned ways of doing things in a society. Such social institutions
are of primary and secondary types. Primary cultural institutions include kinship,
childrearing, sexuality and subsistence, which are widely shared by societies. The
shared personality traits across the societies are what constitute the basic personality
structure. The secondary cultural institutions, on the other hand, include religion,
rituals, folkways, norms etc. Between primary and secondary institutions, he poses
the basic personality structure. According to him, childhood plays significant role
in the formation of basic personality structure. Thus, the basic personality type
expresses itself in the group’s ideologies, in emotional and cognitive orientation to
life and death. He compared two communities the Tanala, who were horticulturists
with the Betsileo, who were intensive cultivators of wet paddy. According to him,
the emphasis on secondary institutions like magic and spirit possession among the
latter tribe came from the anxiety that demands of irrigated agriculture produced
in their basic personality structure. From his study he concluded that diversity in
personality types in a culture increased with increased social and political complexity.
Following the Basic Personality Construct of Kardiner, Cora Du Bois also
formulated a similar construct which she named ‘Modal Personality’ involving a
more statistical concept. Here, the basic personality is expressed in the most
frequent type of patterned individual behaviour observed in a society. Du Bois
(1903- ) was heavily influenced by the work of Abram Kardiner and Ralph
Linton.  Her experience as an ethnographer and psychologist provided a valuable
link in the chain of thought of the culture and personality school. Du Bois modified
Kardiner and Linton’s notion of basic personality structure with her modal personality
theory.  She assumed that a certain personality structure occurs most frequently
within a society, but that it is not necessarily common to all members of that
society.  Modal personality defined as the personality typical of a culturally bounded
population, as indicated by the central tendency of a defined frequency distribution.
To develop the concept of modal personality Kardiner gathered data through
psychological tests, which include projective tests Rorschach, or “ink-blot” test,
and the TAT (or Thematic Apperception Test). TAT consists of pictures that the
respondents are asked to explain or describe. The above tests combined with
observation of frequency of certain behaviours, collection of life histories and
dreams, and analysis of oral literature.
Incidentally, Kardiner did not have the kind of data he needed to prove his theory.
To overcome this handicap, Cora Du Bois went to Alor Island in the Dutch East
Indies where she collected variety of ethnographic and psychological data. When
Culture and Personality
Anthropological Theories-II
she returned in 1939 she along with Kardiner analysed the data and arrived at the
same conclusions about basic characteristics of Alorese personality. On the basis
of this work she proposed ‘modal personality’ by which she meant the statistically
most common personality type. This approach allowed interplay between culture
and personality, and provided for variation in personality that exists in any society.
This was an improvement upon Kardiner’s ‘basic personality theory’ because of
its ability to explain for the variation in personality types within a given culture.
She published the findings of her research on Alor in the year (1945) under the
title The People of Alora: A Social Psychological Study of East Indian Island.
For her research purpose, she spent almost eighteen months on the island of Alor,
in eastern Indonesia. Her experiments were of three kinds:
1) She collected information on child-rearing;
2) She collected eight biographies, each with dream material; and
3) She administered a broad range of projective tests –the Rorschach test to
thirty-seven subjects, a word-association test to thirty-six subjects, and a
drawing test to fifty-five children.
Du Bois broke new ground when she asked specialists in various fields to assess
and interpret her projective materials independently. These authorities were given
no background briefing on Alorese culture or attitudes; neither were they permitted
to see Du Bois’ general ethnographies notes or interpretations. Abraham Kardiner
was given the life histories, Emil Oberholzer the Rorschachs and Trude SchmidtWaehner
the children’s drawings. Working with only these materials, each prepared
an evaluation. The effectiveness of the test procedure employed by Du Bois, and
her success in eliminating her own emotional or cultural biases, were confirmed by
the work of these independent authorities. To a remarkable degree, their findings
concurred with hers.
A rather unfavourable modal personality for the Alorese emerged from this manysided
investigation. Alorese of both sexes are described by Du Bois and her
colleagues as suspicious and antagonistic, prone to violent and emotional outbursts,
often of a jealous nature. They tend to be uninterested in the world around them,
slovenly in workmanship, and lacking an interest in goals. Kardiner drew attention
to the absence of idealised parental figures in the life stories. Oberholzer noted the
lack of capacity for sustained creative effort, indicated by his reading of the
Rorschach scores. Schmidt-Waehner identified a lack of imagination and a strong
sense of loneliness in the children’s drawings.
Turning to the possible causative influences, Du Bois and her co-researchers
focused on the experiences of the Alorese during infancy and early childhood, up
to the age of six or so. At the root of much of Alorese personality development,
they suggested, is the division of labour in that society. Women are the major food
suppliers, working daily in the family gardens, while men occupy themselves with
commercial affairs, usually the trading of pigs, gongs and kettledrums. Within
about two weeks after giving birth, the mother returns to her outdoor work,
leaving the infant with the father, a grandparent, or an older sibling. She deprives
the newborn child of the comfort of a maternal presence and of breat-feeding for
most of the day. The infant thus experiences oral frustration and resultant anxiety.
At the same time, the baby suffers bewildering switches in attention, from loving
and petting to neglect and bad-tempered rejection. Thus, maternal neglect is viewed
as being largely responsible for the Alorese personality.
Using the different aspects of culture, list as many specific examples as you can how
different aspects of culture influence personality development and maintenance.
After 1950s Culture and personality research disseminated among others, by a
comparison of several societies’ quality of data is improved in the school of
thought. For example, one such coordinated research project on child-rearing
practices conducted by six teams in different parts of the world like northern
India, Mexico, Okinawa, the Philippines, New England, and East Africa. In all the
parts the research teams used common field guide and research techniques. They
studied about 50 to 100 families randomly in each culture, observing as well as
interviewing them about nurturing, self-reliance, responsibility, achievementorientation,
dominance, obedience, aggression, sociability, etc. and ranked the
societies on the basis of psychological tones of child rearing, which were then
linked with certain cultural traits like presence or absence of warfare (Whiting
In (1965) Walter Goldschmidt conducted a research project to understand cultural,
psychological, and ecological variation among four African groups, vis., the Hehe,
Kamba, Pokot, and Sebei. Among the four communities occupation was different,
some herded, some cultivated, and others did both. On the other hand Robert
Edgerton, the researcher, gathered psychological data from eight different
communities with one pastoral and one agricultural for each. He drew a sample
of at least 30 adults from each sex and community and interviewed 505 persons.
In order to evaluate the personality differences among the communities, he analysed
responses to questions, inkblot plates and colour slides. It was thus based on
statistical data with objective parameters unlike the earlier (pre-1950s) culture and
personality researches based mostly on impressions.
The outcome of the above project is as follows. Kambas had male dominance,
fear of poverty and restrained emotions; Hehe were aggressive, formal, mistrusting,
and secretive; and other personality traits marked Pokot and Sebei. The latter two
groups valued both sons and daughters and prophets; the former two valued just
sons, land, and wealth. Economic backgrounds were also found to have important
influence on personality: agriculturists consulted sorcerers, took group decisions,
valued hard work, were hostile and suspicious, and were able to control their
emotions and impulses whereas the pastoralists were individualistic, did not value
hard work, were direct, open and realistic.
Despite criticisms of their work from various quarters studies of Benedict and
Mead are best known and widely read, particularly in introductory courses in
Anthropology. The following are the major criticism against the culture and
personality school. Both Benedict and Mead assumed culture as given and
determining personality but neither of them demonstrated how it happened. They
completely disregarded historical analysis. Because Benedict believed that each
society had a wide range of cultural options to choose from she did not explain
why a society chooses one and not the others. Benedict has been criticised on her
studies because of her strong belief that cultures have logical constancy. She has
been criticised for saying that Pueblo in her study they did take alcohol during her
Culture and Personality
Anthropological Theories-II
fieldwork and they still do. She has been criticised for her statement like ignoring
aspects of cooperation among Kwakiutl and strife, suicide and alcoholism among
the Zuni cultures. Applying individual personality attributes to characterise whole
cultures was also considered to be risky, as was later found from national character
studies. Derek Freeman strongly criticised whose findings are completely
contradictory to those of Meads. In her Samoan study she found the girls carefree
about sexual experimentation whereas Freeman found a strict virginity complex
among them. During their studies Mead noticed a free male-female relationship,
while he found male-female hostility. The differences occur in their studies because
their fieldwork was conducted in different Samoan villages at the time-gap of 15
Prior to Freeman, Marvin Harris has criticised Mead for being too generalised
about the emotions of Samoan girls. In her defense she emphasised on the
significance of providing clarification rather than demonstration of facts particularly
about intangible and psychological aspects of human behaviour.
Morris Opler criticised this configurationalist approach stating that there are not
only two bases of cultural integration but many. Thus, this approach is very narrow.
Even in small societies Kardiner’s basic personality structure could not explain the
variation in personality traits for this reason he has been criticised. Later on the
weakness of the theory was taken care of by Du Bois’ in modal personality
Culture and Personality, sometimes also known as Psychological Anthropology,
investigates the role of culture in forming personality in an “ecocultural framework,”
and considers problems of individual adjustments to demands of culture.
The theory was influenced by and neo-Freudian psychology, which emphasised
the primacy of infantile and early childhood experience in shaping the personality.
Following the development of this school, many anthropologists attempted to
study the national characters (representative personality types) across cultures. In
so doing, anthropologists have employed the psychological concepts such as
conditioned stimuli and responses, drives, rewards, punishments, conflicts, dreams,
ego systems, id impulses, attitudes, values, cognitive orientations, ideas, etc.
Benedict, Ruth. 1934. Patterns of Culture. New York: Houghton Miffin.
Benedict, Ruth. 1946. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese
Behaviour. Boston: Houghton Miffin.
Du Bois, Cora. 1944. The People of Alor: A Social-Psychological Study of an
East Indian Island. University of Minnesota Press.
Freud, S. 1918. Totem and Taboo. A.A.Brill (trans.), New York.
Funder, D. 1997. The Personality Puzzle. New York: Norton.
Goldschmidt, W. 1965. ‘Theory and Strategy in the Study of Cultural Adaptability’.
American Anthropologist, 67:402-07 Hunt, Robert C., ed. 1967. Personalities
and Cultures: Readings in Psychological Anthropology. New York: Natural
History Press
Kardiner, A., Ralph Linton, J. West et al. 1945. The Psychological Frontiers of
Society. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kluckhohn, C. 1954. ‘Culture and Behaviour’. In Handbook of Social Psychology.
Ed. G Lindzey, 2:921–76. Cambridge: MA:Addison-Wesley.
Linton, Ralph. 1945. Cultural Background of Personality. New York: AppletonCentury-Crofts.
___________________ 1936. The Study of Man. New York: Appleton-CenturyCrofts.
Mead, Margaret. 1928. Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of
Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation. New York: Morrow.
___________________ 1930. Crowing up in New Guinea. New York: Blue
___________________ 1935. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive
Societies. New York: Marrow.
Nietzsche, Friedrich 1956. The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals.
Trans. Francis Golffing. New York: Anchor Books.
Upadhyay, V.S & Gaya Pandey. 1993. History of Anthropological Thought.
New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. Reprint 2002.
Whiting, B. B. 1963. Six Cultures: Studies of Child Rearing. New York: Wiley.
Suggested Reading
Barnouw, Victor. 1985. Culture and Personality. 4th Edition. Homewood, Ill.:
Dorsey Press.
Kottak, Conrad Phillip. 1996. Anthropology: The Exploration of Human
Diversity. New York: McGraw.
McGee, R. Jon and Richard L. Warms. 1996. Anthropological Theory: An
Introductory History. London: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Norbeck, Edward, D. P. Williams, and W. McCord, eds. 1968. The Study of
Personality: An Interdisciplinary Appraisal. New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Wallace, Anthony F. C. 1970. Culture and Personality. 2nd Edition. New York:
Random House.
Whiting, John W. M and I Child. 1953. Child Training and Personality: A
Cross-cultural Study. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Williams, Thomas Rhys. 1990. Cultural Anthropology. New Jersey: PrenticeHall.
Culture and Personality
Anthropological Theories-II
Sample Questions
1) What are the basic principles on which the school of Culture and Personality
is based?
2) Critically discuss Ruth Benedict’s book, ‘The Patterns of Culture’.
3) What do you understand by National Character? Give examples of studies
done on this concept.
4) What is basic personality and modal personality? Discuss.
5) What are the major points on which the culture and personality school has
been criticised?
2.1 Introduction
2.2 History and Development of Marxism
2.2.1 Marxism as a theory Modes of Production Class and Class Conflict
2.3 Marxist Anthropology – An Overview
2.4 Critical Assessment
2.5 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
This unit would enable you to know:
 the background of Marxism as a theory;
 use of Marxism in anthropological work; and
 critical evaluation of Marxism.
This unit would deal with Marxism as an anthropological theory. We would trace
the roots of Marxism how it developed from a theory originally forwarded by Karl
Marx (1818-83) one of the greatest intellectuals of the nineteenth century. Marx
was widely known as a political activists and his Communist Manifesto was one
of the most widely circulated political pamphlet known in history. Friedrich Engels
worked closely with Karl Marx and contributed to the theories. Marxism as a
theory was not rooted in any academic discipline. It had developed as a theory
in practice for the labour class. Alhough it has dealt largely with the sociological,
economical and anthropological issues. It entered Anthropology very late as a
theory. Initially it was conceived as a sociological theory because the concept of
class central to it was seen as a character of urban and western societies only.
Anthropology was initially regarded as a subject dealing with classless societies
and therefore Marxism was not seen as relevant.
In order to understand the Marxian ideology and its adaptation by anthropologists
we must first understand the philosophy and theory postulated by Karl Marx. The
writings of Karl Marx had inspiration from Hegel’s work, whose dialectical
methodology was used to propagate the theory of social change by Marx. Though
an inspiration yet, Hegel came under the spanner of Marx’s criticisms, as the

Anthropological Theories-II
latter’s ideas were more inclined as a social and political activist. Before we move
into the depths of the theory let’s have a quick understanding of Hegel’s dialectical
Hegel had the notion that thesis and antithesis leads to a synthesis, what in other
words is understood as the dialectical view of the world. In Hegel’s work, human
mind is the Creator of the material world, but it gets alienated from it and this mind
and material duality is the thesis and antithesis that seeks resolution in unity that
can come only from the Spirit or when mind recognises that matter is its own
creation and ceases to be controlled by it. This leads to alienation, wherein the
mind no longer recognises the matter as its own creation.
Marx’s general idea about society is known as his theory of historical materialism.
It is historical because Marx has traced the evolution of human society from one
stage to another. It is called materialistic because Marx has interpreted the evolution
of society in terms of its material or economic bases. Marx’s major contribution
was his view of society; unlike other intellectuals he did not see society as an
organism but as a hierarchical structure. The earlier view put forward by Hegel,
was that ideas were the cause of change. He supported it by saying “I think
therefore I am.” On the contrary Marx said ‘I am therefore I think.’ For Hegel
it was consciousness which determine our experiences. His was an ideological
approach unlike Marx’s materialism. For Marx human being comes first and then
comes the ideas. Marx said that the ideas were the result of objective reality. Thus
he argued ‘if we want to think we need to eat first’.
2.2.1 Marxism as a Theory
Marx’s theory basically deals with the contradictions found in the capitalist society
of his time. He stated that the most crucial fact is the fact of production. If human
being has to live, it has to eat and thus, he argues is the reason one produces. He
considered production as a social process. In this system of production human
beings enter into relations which are ‘independent of their will’. It means these
relations existed before the individuals entered into the relations and these would
be continued in the future unless they are changed. Herein, let’s understand
according to Marx what is the base of society and then we would move on to how
in this society class and conflict arises. Modes of Production
Karl Marx identified in his theory two components of production in a society that
forms its backbone – a) The material component – it consists of the material,
thing, resources, capital, technology and so one can call them means of production
through which production is done. E.g. – land. b) Ownership of means of production
– it comprises those who all are working on the resources. These are always
social components. It is called relation of production. The nature of these relations
would vary from society to society.
These two together are called mode of production which according to Marx
forms the base of economic infrastructure of the society. This economic framework
also called as infrastructure supports the structures on which society is foundedthe
institution of law, politics, and ideology. Marx used the word superstructure
to define it. For Marx base and superstructure can be identified. A change in the
base brings change in the superstructure. Means of production keeps evolving. It
changes frequently. Marx defined it in terms of human creativity. As human beings
have innovative ideas technologies and other means of production keep on changing.
On the other hand the relation of production lags behind. This starts stopping
means of production. This emerges a contradiction between these two. Thus,
relation of production has to change keep pace with the means of production. This
contradiction brings change to the whole system i.e. superstructure. Marx believed
that this kind of contradiction brings dynamicity to the system. Marx applied it to
the human society. For him, central to the understanding of society is the mode
of production.
Marx developed a generalised history of modes of production from primitive
communism to present-day capitalism. Marx’s view of a mode of production was
that it was made up of the forces of production, which were the technological
means by which society produced the goods it wanted, and the relations of
production, which specified the relations between people pertaining to both the
division of labour and the division of the items produced. As a generalisation, it
is possible to say that early in this century there was a tendency to economic and
technological determinism on the part of Marxist thinkers. Here the division between
base and superstructure in society has been vital. The base is seen to be composed
of the economic forces of society: the forces and relations of production. These
influence the superstructure of society, made up of the social divisions into kin
groups or classes and the ideological apparatus or worldview of the group. Those
holding to a strict division between base and superstructure see cause flowing in
one direction from the forces of production, such that once one can understand
these forces all other elements of society become clear. These views bring them
close to those of Leslie White, who saw the energy-processing capacity of society
as crucial. Class and Class Conflict
Both Marx and Engels were greatly influenced by Morgan’s Ancient Society
(1877). Morgan had described three stages of human society in an evolutionary
sequence- savagery, barbarism and civilisation. Basing on this, Engels defined
primitive communism. Morgan had described savagery and barbarism of having
total equality. Primitive communism was derived from this concept that the society
in the primitive time had total equality. Engels defines that in primitive communism
there is no man and man contradiction. Marx and Engels accepted the egalitarian
concept for tribal societies. This concept was more or less imaginary. It served the
purpose that human society was not a class ridden society in the beginning rather
it was class free. It means that human society can come to an equal stage in times
to come.
It was developed in an evolutionary manner by both Marx and Engels. In ancient
human society there was no man and man contradiction but man and nature
contradiction was there. They argued that for this, there was a need to control
nature. Gradually improvisation of technique took place to control nature. Not all
the people at a time, but some people were able to discover these techniques and
they were able to have control over some lands. Two stages emerged in the
society – the people who had the technologies and the others who had not the
technologies and became dependent upon the fist type. Those who had the
technological advantages took others under them. From here comes two categories
of people – the masters and the slaves. Masters had the control over resources
and the slaves could not. Slavery evolved into feudalism where the dominant mode
of production was agriculture. Again two groups emerged- lords and the vessels.
Then comes the stage where factory was founded and production became more
and more technologically oriented. This is the capitalist mode of production. Again
two groups of people came into existence – the capitalists and the bourgeois.
Anthropological Theories-II
SLAVARY MASTER-SLAVE (UN free to sell labour)
BARBARISM LORD-VESSEL (relatively un-free)
As we move downward the class becomes free to sell labour. This dual class
structure was derived by Marx. Marx identified basically two classes- the class
who own the production and the other who operate upon the production. The
change from savagery to barbarism indicates the change in mode of production.
In these stages also class conflict was there, but the kind of class conflict that
according to Marx would lead to communism dwell in the capitalist society.
Herein, the key concept is Marx’s definition of class, defined in terms of ownership
of property. Such ownership vests a person with the power to exclude others from
the property and to use it for personal purposes. In relation to property, Marx’s
had divided the society into three categories: the bourgeoisie class (who own the
means of production such as machinery and factory buildings, and whose source
of income is profit), landowners (whose income is rent), and the proletariat class
(who own their labour and sell it for a wage). According to Marx, the proletariat
class is always looked down by the bourgeoisie class and the fruits of labour are
not rightly distributed among the proletariat class. This leads to a class conflict
beings and one day it would reach its pinnacle and the whole structure would fall
leading to a new type of economy and government.
Reflection: Dialectical Logic of Karl Marx
Karl Marx a positivist with a scientific vision uses Hegel’s dialectical theory to create
a materialistic history where economic forces and relations create contradictions that
move the system forward. The society as conceived by Karl Marx in a Capitalist
economy has two classes- the bourgeoisie (the ruling class- the haves) and the
proletariat class (the working class- the have not’s). Marx stated that in such a society
there is a gap between the two classes and as the gap widens- the rich becoming richer
by exploiting the labour class and the latter becoming poorer that alienation comes into
play. The exploitation passing through the various stages reaches the Utopian wherein
all ceases to exist and it would be the end of history.
Later on Marx’s theory faced criticism because of its futuristic aspect. The prediction
that the present capitalist society would change with a revolution and finally it will
bring equality has not been fulfilled. Capitalism continued, as the revolution came
to the feudalistic society but not to the capitalistic society. Scholars argued at one
point that Marxists is one method along with other methods. Moreover, time and
again in history it has been noted that the Capitalist economy has rebounded. It
neither died away nor did it change to a new system, as in the case of the Great
Depression in the early 1930’s, whereas the fall of the USSR a Socialists economy
was a setback to the predictions of Marx’s theory.
As stated above the theory of Marx was denounced by his contemporaries and
it was only in the 20th century that it was revived and scholars from various fields
started using the concept in their fields. Thus, the works based on Marx’s ideology
is known as Marxism. In the next section we would see how Marxian ideas were
applied by Anthropologists.
In the theoretical field, Marxism has faced many criticisms. The main criticism that
centers on this theory is about its futuristic attitude towards human society. Marx
extensively dealt with his concern about how capitalist society would change and
how communism would take place. To satisfy this Marx described certain stages
of human society and showed how communism would take place gradually. Along
with this, Marxism greatly dealt with the issue of equality. Marx vigorously talked
about the equality for all. It is amazing how little academic influence it had in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the west (in areas like Russia,
influence was crucial and early). This general lack of influence also makes more
striking the Marxist thought of Gordon Childe, the only major figure in Anthropology
in the English-speaking world to be a self-professed Marxist. The relative poverty
of writings by both Marx and Engels on anthropological topics, in terms of both
their numbers and scope, has left Marxist anthropologists and archaeologists with
a series of basic principles pertaining to the process of labour and the social and
ideological relations resulting from that process, but little in the way of specific
models to apply to non-capitalist societies. Also, over the century since Marx died
there have been subtle currents within Marxist thought which have subjected
principles drawn from Marx to constant criticism and revision. We can artificially
separate two elements of Marx’s thought which have been influential in anthropology
in different ways: his general philosophical approach and his historical scheme of
social change.
The interface of anthropology and Marxism begins with structuralism, as the theorists
of the late sixties and early seventies denounced classical functionalism as inadequate;
unable to explain the social realities such as imperialism and exploitation, with
reference to colonial anthropology. As mentioned Morgan’s Ancient Society had
inspired Marx and Engels, but Terray examines Morgan in the framework of
Althusser’s over determination. Morgan had put forward several germs of thought,
in the form of Idea of Property, Idea of family, Idea of Governance and the
Modes of subsistence. His ethnical periods are not arbitrary or unconnected
evolution of these ideas, like Tylor’s version of evolution, but a coming together
of stages of these institutions, where they are compatible with each other. In a
similar tone to Althusser’s over determination, the compatibility /incompatibilities
are measured against the modes of subsistence. Thus a particular form of family,
a particular form of government and a particular form of property are brought
together in an ethnical period provided they are also compatible with the Mode
of subsistence in that period. Thus according to Terrey, we can look upon Morgan
as the father of structuralism, as the Ethnical periods have an internal structure of
logical compatibility.
However the application of a classical Marxist model to the kind of societies
studied by anthropologists proved problematic as is evident from the debate
surrounding the concept of Lineage Mode of Production, favoured by some hard
core Marxist scholars like Terray. According to some lineages may be seen as
ruled by elders who exploit the labour of the young men for their political gains.
But ethnographic examples do not always show that elders get brides for themselves,
with the bride price created by the labour of the young men and that are later
passed on to the young men. In most lineage societies with few exceptions the
elders get the brides for the young men and are managers rather than usurpers of
wealth. Almost all tribal societies work on the basis of rights of user rather than
Anthropological Theories-II
rights of possession and the elders are seen as guardians and trustees and not
owners, so they cannot be equated with the Bourgeoisie of the capitalist societies.
Moreover we cannot say that the older and younger generations are classes in any
true sense of the word; as the classes are closed entities and the generations are
not; everyone who is young at one point of time has a chance of growing into an
Yet structuralism and Marxism were seen as analogous especially by the school
of French structuralists such as Maurice Godelier and Claude Meillasoux. Like
Marxism, structuralism also believed that the surface appearance of things or the
evident social world had an underlying deeper level of reality that was a logical
structure capable of explaining the overlying varieties of factual data by a single
logical schema. Thus for Marx the variations of history were explainable by the
structural principle of contradictions and a dialectical mechanism of social
transformation; thus no matter how diverse the apparent phenomenon, the underlying
structural possibilities are limited. This was in direct contradiction to the empiricist
methods of British social anthropology that assumed the factual reality to be the
social structure. Marxism is a nomothetic as against an ideographic theory. It has
a high level of generalisation and abstraction and a scientific endeavour to look for
underlying logical structures. Levi-Strauss comes close to this form of analysis
except that he is more interested in the abstract symbolic world of myths and
representations than the realm of the political and the economic.
The French structuralist school or what may be called as the New Economic
Anthropology is based quite solidly on Marxist interpretations. Maurice Godelier,
one of the leading intellectuals of this school tried to resolve the issue of applying
a Marxist model to a non-capitalist society. According to him it is not the form of
the institution that is important but rather its function so that it is not necessary that
anthropologists go looking for the economic and the political as institutions where
they do not exist. Rather, in those societies, where these institutions are not
autonomous the existing institutions such as kinship and religion themselves act as
economic and ideological aspects of society. Thus kinship for example will act as
both infrastructure and as super structure, provided we look towards the way
kinship functions. These he calls as the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ relations.
For example caste has an economic dimension such as providing for a societal
division of labour, a systematic exchange of resources and labour, property relations
and distribution and control of resources that act as a infrastructure. At the same
time it has a ritual and mythical dimension that is the super structure; thus the same
institution has the structural possibility of acting as both infrastructure and super
structure. In a similar fashion we have Claude Meillasoux’s classic work, Maidens,
Meals and Money, where he gives a Marxist interpretation of both hunting, food
gathering and shifting cultivation showing how they differ from the agricultural
societies. His analysis of kinship is thus based on the economic aspect of kinship
and according to Meillasoux, where kinship has apparently very little to contribute
to economy, like in the band societies that have as their productive unit a largely
fluid organisation, namely the band, whose membership varies over time and
space in accordance with the environmental needs. More importantly the productive
cycle is very short, and whatever is brought into the camp is consumed in a very
short time (also for lack of storage technology). In this kind of economy each
band is largely independent of the earlier generations and other relationships.
Since there is no continuity of productive cycle the value of kinship is very little
and he calls them “pre-kinship” societies as they have little structural representation
of kinship ties like family and lineage. The collective identity of the band is more
important than individual parentage and thus the family ties too are weak. Immediate
sharing and cooperation rather than long term or delayed consumption is the norm.
The children belong more to the community than to the individual parents. Thus
Meillasoux constructed a historical materialist schema of pre-capitalist or domestic
A very important contribution of Marxism was to show that institutions or societies
are not created as it is; there are logical connections between the material conditions
and the historical circumstances that gave rise to them. A particularly critical point
of view was developed with respect to imperialism and colonisation and the
deliberate ignoring of conflict and war by the functionalists. For example George
Balandier, in his book Political Anthropology has criticised Evans-Pritchard and
Meyer Fortes for their designation of some societies as acephalous or stateless,
saying that many of these societies so designated were actually flourishing kingdoms
that became depopulated and dispersed under the colonial aggression. In fact the
entire notion of static, ageless societies has been critically appraised by Eric Wolf,
in his book, Europe and the People without History. The introduction of history
into anthropology was largely attributed to Marxism and so was the incorporation
of conflict and disruption as part of an ethnography.
While British anthropology with few exceptions like Peter Worsley and Max
Gluckmann, had largely avoided Marxism or any reference to it, till quite late,
American Anthropology had shown the influence of Marxism, from the early
twentieth century without always explicit acknowledgment. Thus Leslie White and
Julian Steward, both neo-evolutionists had turned obviously to the techno-economic
dimensions of society as causative of social evolution. While White talks of Energy
and evolution also giving more determining role to the subsistence dimension of
culture; Steward reformulated the concept of culture to make it look more like a
Marxist model of society. His Core culture, with its direct relationship to environment
and comprising the techno-economic dimensions of society has been given a
determining role in evolution, with the peripheral culture playing a more passive
role and resembling the super structure. Since both White and Steward were
talking of culture rather than social systems, they make no direct connection to
Marxism, yet the influence of dialectical materialism and a hierarchical structure of
culture with a techno-economic determinism is found in both theories. Although
Sahlins emerges as a strong critic of Leslie White and his technological determinism,
yet he too forms a strong critical appraisal of capitalism in his description of what
he calls as a Domestic Mode of Production.
In fact while White is more inclined towards a materialist version of Marxism,
Sahlins is more inclined towards the Philosophical dimensions, emphasising the
dehumanisation brought about by capitalism and the alienation of a materialist
world view as propagated by modernity.
Like any other theory Marxism has also certain criticism. The basic points are
discussed below:
1) Marx’s theory overtly concentrated on ‘economic relationships’ leading to a
number of criticisms:
a) Marxism over-emphasis the importance of economic relationships and
suggests that this economic relationships determine all other relationships
(family, education, friendship, religious and so forth).
Anthropological Theories-II
b) Marxists tend to overlook other forms of (non-economic) conflict or
tries to explain these conflicts as ultimately having economic roots. Radical
feminists, for example, argue that the roots of male – female conflict are
not simply economic (to do with social class) but patriarchal. Marxism
– both old and modern – has ignored the role and position of women
in society.
2) The subjective interpretations of individuals are under-emphasised when looking
at the way in which people see and act in the social world. A person’s
subjective interpretation of their class, for example, might be quite different
to their objective class position.
3) Capitalism, as an economic and political system, has proven to be more
durable and flexible than Marx maintained. In modern social systems, for
example, the advent of Communism does not appear imminent.
In this unit the students have been acquainted with the basic tenets of Marxism and
how it has influenced anthropological theories and practices. The concept of
materialism derived from Marxists thoughts have given impetus to many of the
anthropological works and also in many areas of intellectual thinking. The focus
on history and consideration of social change as inherent aspect of society,
recognition of exploitation, conflict and protest, the assessment of role governance
and economy have all lent a rich nuanced depth to anthropological writings in the
present century.
Althusser, Louis. 1971. Lenin and Philosophy. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Aron, Raymond. 1965. Main Currents in Sociological Thought. Vol. 1. U.K:
Penguin Books.
Bloch, Maurice. 2004. (reprint) Marxism and Anthropology: The History of a
Relationship. Routledge.
Collins, Randall. 1997. Theoretical Sociology. (Indian ed), Jaipur: Rawat Pub.
Raison. Timothy, (ed.) 1979. (Rev. Ed) The Founding Fathers of Social Science.
London: Social Press.
David, Seddon. (ed.) 1978. Relations of Production: Marxist Approaches to
Economic Anthropology, G.B: Frank Cass &Co.
Donham, D.L. 1999. History, Power, Ideology: Central Issues in Marxism and
Anthropology. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Engels, Friedrich. 1850/1967. The Origin of the Family, Private property and
the State. New York: International Publishers.
Frank, Andre Gunder. 1967. Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin
America. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Giddens, Anthony. 1981. A Comparative Critique of Historical Materialism.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Godelier, Maurice. 1972. Rationality and Irrationality in Economics. Trans.
Brian Pearce, London: New Left Books.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1928/1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New
York: International Publishers.
Kaplan, David and Robert A Manners. 1972. Culture Theory. Illinois: Waveland
Lefebvre, Henri. 1971. Every day Life in the Modern World. London: Allen
Lukacs, Georg. 1923/1971. History and Class Consciousness. Cambridge:
Mass. MIT Press.
Marcuse, Herbert. 1964. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press.
Marx, Karl. 1842-44/1971. The Early Texts. Ed. David McLellan. Oxford: Black
__________1848. (reprint). The Communist Manifesto. Penguin.
__________1867, 1885, 1894 (1967). Capital. 3 Vols. New York: International
Meillasoux, Claude. 1981. Maidens, Meal and Money: Capitalism and the
Domestic Community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Terray, Emmanuel. 1972. Marxism and “Primitive” Societies: Two Studies.
New York: Monthly Review Press.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1980. (reprint) The Modern World System. Vols. 1& 2
New York: Academic Press.
Suggested Reading
Godelier, Maurice. 1972. Rationality and Irrationality in Economics. Trans.
Brian Pearce, London: New Left Books.
Marx, Karl. 1842-44/1971. The Early Texts. Ed. David McLellan. Oxford: Black
__________1848. (reprint). The Communist Manifesto. Penguin.
__________1867, 1885, 1894 (1967). Capital. 3 Vols. New York: International
Terray, Emmanuel. 1972. Marxism and “Primitive” Societies: Two Studies.
New York: Monthly Review Press.
Sample Questions
1) State how Marxism developed as a theory.
2) Elucidate the contribution of Marxism in anthropological arena.
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Claude Levi-Strauss: His Life and Works
3.3 The Example of Totemism
3.3.1 The Method
3.3.2 The Analysis
3.3.3 Summary of the Study of Totemism
3.4 Final Comments
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Structuralism is the name given to a method of analysing social relations and
cultural products, which came into existence in the 1950s. Although it had its
origin in linguistics, particularly from the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, it acquired
popularity in anthropology, from where it impacted the other disciplines in social
sciences and humanities. It gives primacy to pattern over substance. The meaning
of a particular phenomenon or system comes through knowing how things fit
together, and not from understanding things in isolation. A characteristic that
structuralism and structural-functional approach share in common is that both are
concerned with relations between things.
However, there are certain dissimilarities between the two. Structural-functional
approach is interested in finding order within social relations. Structuralism, on the
other hand, endeavours to find the structures of thought and the structure of
society. Structural-functional approach follows inductive reasoning; from the
particular, it moves to the general. Structuralism subscribes to deductive logic. It
begins with certain premises. They are followed carefully to the point they lead to.
Aspects from geometry and algebra are kept in mind while working with
structuralism. For structuralism, logical possibilities are worked out first and then
it is seen, how reality fits. For true structuralists, there is no reality except the
relations between things.
Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) is often described as the ‘last French intellectual
giant’, the ‘founder of structuralism in anthropology’, and the ‘father of modern
anthropology’. Born on 28 November 1908 in Belgium, he was one of the greatest
social anthropologists of the twentieth century, ruling the intellectual circles from
the 1950s to the 1980s, after which the popularity of his method (known as
structuralism) depressed with new approaches and paradigms taking its place, but
he never went to the backseat. Even when structuralism did not have many admirers,
30 it was taught in courses of sociology and anthropology and the author whose work
was singularly attended to was none other than Lévi-Strauss. Each year he was
read by scholars from anthropology and the other disciplines with new insights and
renewed interest, since he was one of the few anthropologists whose popularity
spread beyond the confines of social anthropology. He was (and is) read avidly
in literature. Although he did not do, at one time, it was thought that every social
fact, and every product of human activity and mind, of any society, simple or
complex, could be analysed following the method that Lévi-Strauss had proposed
and defended.
In 1935, Lévi-Strauss got an appointment at the University of São Paulo to teach
sociology. His stay in Brazil exposed him to the ‘anthropological other’. He had
already read Robert Lowie’s Primitive Society and formed a conception of how
anthropological studies were to be carried out. Lévi-Strauss said: “I had gone to
Brazil because I wanted to become an anthropologist. And I had been attracted
to an anthropology very different from that of Durkheim, who was not a fieldworker,
while I was learning about fieldwork through the English and the Americans.”
During the first year of his stay in the University, he started ethnographic projects
with his students, working on the folklore of the surrounding areas of São Paulo.
He then went to the Mato Grosso among the Caduveo and Bororo tribes; he
described his first fieldwork in the following words: “I was in a state of intense
intellectual excitement. I felt I was reliving the adventures of the first sixteenth
century explorers. I was discovering the New World for myself. Everything seemed
mythical; the scenery, the plants, the animals…”
From his field stay with the Caduveo, he brought decorated pottery and hides
painted with motifs, and from Bororo, the ornaments made of feathers, animal
teeth and claws. Some of the exhibits that he had brought were, in his words,
‘truly spectacular’. He put up an exhibition of these objects in 1936, on the basis
of which he got a grant from Musée de L’Homme (which later became Centre
National de la Recherche Scientifique) to carry out a field expedition to the
A big article that Lévi-Strauss wrote on the Bororo (which appeared in the Journal
de la Sociéte des Américanistes) attracted the attention of Robert Lowie, who
invited him to the New School of Social Research to take up a teaching assignment.
Lévi-Strauss’s stay in New York was extremely fruitful. He had a chance to look
at the rich material that the American anthropologists had collected on the Indian
communities. He went about analysing it, but at the same time carried several short
first-hand field studies, although they were not of the same league as was the
masterly fieldwork that Bronislaw Malinowski had carried out among the Trobriand
Islanders. However, whatever fieldwork he carried out, he thought, was enough
to give him an insight into the ‘other’. He saw himself as an analyst and a synthesizer
of the material that had already been collected. Since his aim was to understand
the working of the human mind, he wanted to have a look at the ethnographic
facts and the material cultural objects from different cultural contexts. In other
words, Lévi-Strauss was not interested in producing a text (i.e., a monograph) on
a particular culture, but a text that addressed the understanding of the ‘Universal
Man’ rather than the ‘particular man’.
At the Ecole Libre des Hautes Etudes, where Lévi-Strauss had taken up teaching
responsibilities, Alexandre Koyré introduced him to the founder of the Prague
School of Linguistics, Roman Jacobson. This relationship with Jacobson developed
into a ‘friendship of forty years without a break’; it was in the words of LéviStrauss,
‘the beginning of a brotherly friendship.’ This friendship also introduced
Anthropological Theories-II
Lévi-Strauss to structuralism. Before that he said that he was a “kind of naïve
structuralist, a structuralist without knowing it.” Jacobson introduced him to the
methodology of structuralism as it had been formed in the discipline of linguistics.
Incidentally, Jacobson also attended Lévi-Strauss’s lectures on kinship and advised
him to write about it. Inspired by Jacobson, Lévi-Strauss started writing The
Elementary Structures of Kinship in 1943 and finished it in 1947.
This work offered a new approach to the study of kinship systems that has come
to be known as ‘alliance theory’ in opposition to what is called ‘descent theory’,
which was put forth by British anthropologists (such as A.R. Radcliffe-Brown,
Meyer Fortes) and was the dominant theory in kinship studies till then. The emphasis
of descent theory was on the transmission of property, office, ritual complex, and
rights and obligations across the generations (either in the father’s or mother’s line,
or in both the lines), which produced solidarity among the members of the group
related by the ties of consanguinity. Lineage was seen as a corporate group,
property-holding and organising labour on the lines of blood ties. In this set of
ideas, marriage was secondary: since one could not marry one’s sister or daughter,
because of the rule of incest taboo, one married a woman from another group.
The primary objective of marriage was the procreation of the descent group.
Lévi-Strauss’s alliance theory brought marriage to the centre. The function of
marriage was not just procreative. It was far more important, for it led to the
building of a string of relations between groups, respectively called the ‘wifegivers’
and ‘wife-takers’. In this context, the concept of incest taboo acquires a
central place. It is the ‘pre-social’ social fact; if society is a social fact, which
explains and accounts for a number of other social facts, the fact that explains
society, its emergence and functioning, is incest taboo. For Lévi-Strauss, it is the
‘cornerstone’ of human society. The logical outcome of the prohibition of incest
is a system of exchange. It is not only the negative aspect of the rule of incest
taboo that needs to be recognised, as was the case with the descent theorists.
What was significant to Lévi-Strauss was the positive aspect – it is not only that
I do not marry my sister but I also give her in marriage to another man whose
sister I then marry. ‘Sister exchange’ creates a ‘federation’ between exchanging
groups. Societies are also distinguished with respect to where there is a ‘positive
rule of marriage’ (the genealogical specification of the relative to whom one should
marry) and where such a rule does not exist.
Lévi-Strauss’s work on kinship, the English translation of which was only available
in 1969, twenty years after its publication in French, introduced a new approach
to the study of kinship and exchange. That marriage is an ‘exchange of women’
– where women are a ‘value’ as well as a ‘sign’ – and groups are perpetually
linked by cycles of reciprocity, was a fresh way of looking at systems of kinship.
Although there were acrimonious debates between the descent and alliance theories
(particularly those British anthropologists who subscribed to alliance theory), there
was no doubt that Lévi-Strauss’s Elementary Structures acquired the reputation
of a work without which no study of kinship and marriage was ever complete.
And, even after sixty years of its publication, it is still read with profit. LéviStrauss
had planned to write a second volume on complex structures of kinship,
where the positive rule of marriage did not exist, but he could never do so, as his
attention shifted to the study and analysis of myths.
In 1958 came a collection of his essays, in which he had made use of the
methodology of structuralism, called Anthropologie Structurale, the English
translation of which under the title Structural Anthropology appeared in 1963.
This volume also carried his famous essay on the concept of social structure
(which was published in Anthropology Today edited by A.L. Kroeber), wherein
he had argued that ‘social structure is a model’ rather than an empirical entity and
a ‘province of inquiry’ as was the view of Radcliffe-Brown.
In 1962 came his Le Totemism (The Totemism) and La Pensée Sauvage (The
Savage Mind). Both these books marked a shift in his interest from the study of
kinship to that of religion. In The Totemism, which we shall discuss below as an
example of the application of the structural method, he tried to lay the ‘problem
of totemism to rest’ once and forever, arguing that totems were modes of
classification; they were ‘good to think’ rather than ‘good to eat’. The binary
opposition of nature and culture that evolved in his kinship study was further
developed here. Rejecting the utilitarian theory of totemism, Lévi-Strauss examined
the merits of the second theory of totemism that Radcliffe-Brown had proposed.
In The Savage Mind, dedicated to the memory of Merleau-Ponty, Lévi-Strauss’s
central point was that the thoughts of the ‘primitive people’ were in no way inferior
to those of the ‘Westerners’.
Between 1964 and 1971 were published Lévi-Strauss’s magnum opus, the four
volume Mythologiques series. In total, these volumes, running into two thousand
pages, analyse 813 myths and their more than one thousand versions. The Raw
and the Cooked analyses myths from South America, particularly central and
eastern Brazil. The second volume, From Honey to Ashes is also concerned with
South America, but deals with myths both from the south and the north. The
Origin of Table Manners begins with a myth that is South American, but from
further north. The final volume, The Naked Man, is entirely North American. The
interesting fact Lévi-Strauss finds is that the “most apparent similarities between
myths are found between the regions of the New World that are geographically
most distant.” Beginning with the mythology of central Brazil and then moving out
to other geographical areas, and then returning to Brazil, Lévi-Strauss realises that
“depending upon the case, the myths of neighbouring peoples coincide, partially
overlap, answer, or contradict one another.” Thus, the analysis of each myth
‘implied that of others’. Taken as the centre, the myth ‘radiates variants around
it.’ It spreads from one neighbour to another in ‘several directions at once.’ His
book, The Jealous Potter, was also a part of the series on the analysis of myths.
The important fact here is that in spite of his widely acclaimed volumes on mythology,
Lévi-Strauss thought that the science of myths was in its infancy. Histoire de Lynx
(1991) and Regarder, Écouter, Lire (1993), which discuss his aesthetic and
intellectual interests, were his last works.
In one of the courses Lévi-Strauss taught at the Collége de France, he asked
questions pertaining to the future of anthropology. Although the traditional societies
with which anthropology is concerned are fast changing – some are disappearing
as well – anthropologists have done a commendable work of recording as
meticulously as possible the life styles and thought patterns of these people. LéviStrauss
thought that anthropology was not an ‘endangered science’; however, its
character would be transformed in future. Perhaps, it would not be an ‘object of
fieldwork’. Anthropologists would become philologists, historians of ideas, and
specialists in civilisations, and they would then work with the help of the documents
that the earlier observers had prepared. Regarding his own work, Lévi-Strauss
said that it ‘signaled a moment in anthropological thought’ and he would be
remembered for that.
Anthropological Theories-II
For Lévi-Strauss, structuralism implies a search for deep, invisible, and innate
structures universal to humankind. These unapparent and hidden structures manifest
in surface (and conscious) behaviour that varies from one culture to the other.
Conscious structures are a ‘misnomer’. Therefore, we have to discover the
underlying ‘unconscious’ structures, and how they are transformed into ‘conscious’
Lévi-Strauss created a stir in anthropology. Some scholars set aside their own line
of enquiry for the time being to experiment with his method, whereas the others
reacted more critically to his ideas. But nowhere was his impact total and complete
– he could not create an ‘academic lineage’. His idea of ‘universal structures’ of
human mind has been labeled by some as his ‘cosmic ambition’, generalising about
human society as a whole. While British anthropologists (especially Edmund Leach,
Rodney Needham) in the 1950s and 1960s were impressed with Lévi-Strauss,
they were not in agreement with his abstract search for universal patterns. They
tended to apply structuralism at a ‘micro’ (or ‘regional’) level. Another example
is of the work of Louis Dumont, a student of Marcel Mauss, who in his work
Homo Hierarchicus (1967) presented a regional-structural understanding of social
hierarchy in India. The approach of applying structural methodology at a micro
level is known as ‘neo-structuralism’.
Lévi-Strauss’s Totemism, as mentioned earlier, was published in French in 1962.
A year later came its English translation, done by an Oxford anthropologist, Rodney
Needham, and it carried more than fifty pages of Introduction written by Roger
C. Poole. In appreciation of this book, Poole (p. 9) wrote:
In Totemism Lévi-Strauss takes up an old and hoary anthropological problem,
and gives it such a radical treatment that when we lay down the book we have
to look at the world with new eyes.
Before we proceed with Lévi-Strauss’s analysis, let us firstly understand the
meaning of totemism.
Totemism refers to an institution, mostly found among the tribal community, where
the members of each of its clans consider themselves as having descended from
a plant, or animal, or any other animate or inanimate object, for which they have
a special feeling of veneration, which leads to the formation of a ritual relationship
with that object. The plant, animal, or any other object is called ‘totem’; the word
‘totem’, Lévi-Strauss says (p. 86), is taken from the Ojibwa, an Algonquin language
of the region to the north of the Great Lakes of Northern America. The members
who share the same totem constitute a ‘totemic group’. People have a special
reverential attitude towards their totem – they abstain from killing and/or eating it,
or they may sacrifice and eat it on ceremonial occasions; death of the totem may
be ritually mourned; grand celebrations take place in some societies for the
multiplication of totems; and totems may be approached for showering blessings
and granting long term welfare. In other words, the totem becomes the centre of
beliefs and ritual action.
Lévi-Strauss does not believe in the ‘reality’ of totemism. He says that totemism
was ‘invented’ and became one of the most favourite anthropological subjects to
be investigated with an aim to find its origins and varieties, with the Victorian
scholars in the second half of the nineteenth century. By contrast, Lévi-Strauss’s
study is not of totemism; it is of totemic phenomena. In other words, it is an
‘adjectival study’, and not a ‘substantive study’, which means that it is a ‘study
of the phenomena that happen to be totemic’ rather than ‘what is contained in or
what is the substance of totemism’. At his command, Lévi-Strauss has the same
data that were available to his predecessors, but the question he asks is entirely
new. He does not ask the same question that had been repeatedly asked earlier
by several scholars, vis. ‘What is totemism?’ His question is ‘How are totemic
phenomena arranged?’ The move from ‘what’ to ‘how’ was radical at that time
(during the 1960s); and Lévi-Strauss’s interpretation of totemism was a distinct
break with the earlier analyses of totemism (whether they were evolutionary, or
diffusionistic, or functional). It is because of this distinctiveness that Poole (p. 9)
writes that with Lévi-Strauss, “the ‘problem’ of totemism has been laid to rest
once and for all.”
Lévi-Strauss offers a critique of the explanations that had been (and were) in
vogue at that time. Firstly, he rejects the thesis that the members of the American
school (Franz Boas, Robert Lowie, A.L. Kroeber) put forth, according to which
the totemic phenomena are not a reality sui generic. In other words, totemism
does not have its own existence and laws; rather it is a product of the general
tendency among the ‘primitives’ to identify individuals and social groups with
animal and plant worlds. Lévi-Strauss finds this explanation highly simplistic. He
also criticises the functional views of totemism; for instance, Durkheim’s explanation
that totemism binds people in a ‘moral community’ called the church, or Malinowski’s
idea that the Trobrianders have totems because they are of utilitarian value, for
they provide food to people. Malinowski’s explanation (which Lévi-Strauss sums
up in words like ‘totems are good to eat’) lacks universality, since there are
societies that have totems of non-utilitarian value, and it would be difficult to find
the needs that the totem fulfils. Durkheim’s thesis of religion as promoting social
solidarity may be applicable in societies each with a single religion, but not societies
with religious pluralism. Moreover, the functional theory is concerned with the
contribution an institution makes towards the maintenance of the whole society,
rather than how it is arranged. In other words, the functional theory of totemism
deals with the contribution the beliefs and practices of totemism make to the
maintenance and well-being of society rather than what is the structure of totemism,
and how it is a product of human mind.
3.3.1 The Method
Lévi-Strauss’s Totemism is principally an exercise in methodology. He does not
look for the unity of the phenomenon of totemism; rather, he breaks it down into
various visual and intellectual codes. He does not intend to explain totemism,
rather he deciphers it – its arrangement. In the first chapter of his book (p. 84),
Lévi-Strauss summarises his methodological programme, which is as follows:
1) Define the phenomenon under study as a relation between two or more
terms, real or supposed;
2) construct a table of possible permutations between these terms;
3) take this table as the general object of analysis which, at this level only, can
yield necessary connections, the empirical phenomenon considered at the
beginning being only one possible combination among others, the complete
system of which must be reconstructed beforehand.
Anthropological Theories-II
We may give here a simple example to understand this from the realm of kinship.
Descent, for instance, can be traced from the father or the mother. Let us call the
descent traced from the father ‘p’, and the mother ‘q’. Now, let us assign them
their respective values: if the side (whether the father’s or the mother’s) is recognised,
we denote it by 1, and if it is not recognised, it is denoted as 0. Now, we can
construct the table of the possible permutations: where (1) p is 1, and q is 0; (2)
p is 0, and q is 1; (3) p is 1, and q is 1; and (4) p is 0 and q is 0. The first
permutation yields the patrilineal society, the second, matrilineal, the third, bilineal,
and the last possibility does not exist empirically.
Let us now move to how Lévi-Strauss applies this to totemism. He says that
totemism covers relations between things falling in two series – one natural (animals,
plants) and the other cultural (persons, clans). For Lévi-Strauss, the ‘problem’ of
totemism arises when two separate chains of experience (one of nature and the
other of culture) are confused. Human beings identify themselves with nature in a
myriad of ways, and the other thing is that they describe their social groups by
names drawn from the world of animals and plants. These two experiences are
different, but totemism results when there is any kind of overlap between these
orders. Further, Lévi-Strauss writes: ‘The natural series comprises on the one
hand categories, on the other particulars; the cultural series comprises groups
and persons.’ He chooses these terms rather arbitrarily to distinguish, in each
series, two modes of existence – collective and individual – and also, to keep
these series distinct. Lévi-Strauss says that any terms could be used provided they
are distinct.
NATURE Category Particular
CULTURE Group Person
These two sets of terms can be associated in four ways, as is the case with the
example given earlier.
1 2 3 4
NATURE Category Category Particular Particular
CULTURE Group Person Person Group
Totemism thus establishes a relationship between human beings (culture) and nature,
and, as shown above, this relationship can be divided into four types, and we can
find empirical examples of each one of them.
Lévi-Strauss says that the example of the first is the Australian totemism (‘sex
totems’ and ‘social totems’) that postulates a relationship between a natural category
and a cultural group. The example of the second is the ‘individual’ totemism of the
North American Indians. Among them, an individual reconciles himself with a
natural category. For an example of the third combination, Lévi-Strauss takes the
case of the Mota (in the Banks Islands) where a child is thought to be the
‘incarnation of an animal or plant found or eaten by the mother when she first
became aware that she was pregnant’ (p. 85), or what has come to be known as
‘incarnational totemism’. Another example of this category may come from certain
tribes of the Algonquin group, who believe that a special relation is established
between the newborn child and whichever animal is seen to approach the family
cabin. The fourth combination (group-particular combination) may be exemplified
with cases from tribes of Polynesia and Africa, where certain animals (such as
garden lisards in New Zealand, sacred crocodiles and lions and leopards in Africa)
are protected and venerated (the sacred animal totemism).
The four combinations are equivalent. It is because they result from the same
operation (i.e., the permutation of the elements that comprise a phenomenon). But,
in the anthropological literature that Lévi-Strauss examines, it is only the first two
that have been included in the domain of totemism, while the other two have only
been related to totemism in an indirect way. Some authors have not considered
the last two variants of totemism in their discussion. Here, Lévi-Strauss observes
that the ‘problem of totemism’ (or what is called the ‘totemic illusion’) results from
the ‘distortion of a semantic field to which belong phenomena of the same type.’
The outcome of this is that certain aspects (or the first and second types of
totemic phenomena) have been singled out at the expense of others (the third and
fourth types), which gives an impression of ‘originality’ and ‘strangeness’ that they
do not in reality possess.
3.3.2 The Analysis
The fourth chapter of Lévi-Strauss’s Totemism, titled ‘Towards the Intellect’,
presents the work of Raymond Firth, Mayer Fortes, Edward Evans-Pritchard,
and the second theory of totemism (of 1951) that Alfred Radcliffe-Brown gave,
as containing the germs of a correct interpretation of totemic phenomenon making
possible a fully adequate explanation of its content and form. Radcliffe-Brown’s
first theory of totemism was utilitarian and culture-specific, quite like Malinowski’s
theory. By comparison, Firth and Fortes do not succumb to an arbitrary explanation
or to any factitious evidence. Both of them think that the relationship between
totemic systems and natural species is based on a perception of resemblance
between them. In Fortes’s work on the Tallensi, animals and ancestors resemble
each other. Animals are apt symbols for the livingness of ancestors. Fortes shows
that among the Tallensi, animals symbolise the potential aggressiveness of ancestors.
Lévi-Strauss applauds the attempt of Firth and Fortes, for they move from a point
of view centred on subjective utility (the utilitarian hypothesis) to one of objective
analogy. But Lévi-Strauss goes further than this: he says ‘it is not the resemblances,
but the differences, which resemble each other’ (p. 149). In totemism, the
resemblance is between the two systems of differences. Let us understand its
meaning with the help of an example: the relationship between two clans is like the
relationship between two animals, or two birds, or an animal and a bird. It is the
difference between the two series that resembles each other.
Undoubtedly, Firth and Fortes make a good beginning in interpreting totemism.
But we have to move from external analogy (the external resemblance) to internal
homology (the identity at the internal level). For Lévi-Strauss, it is Evans-Pritchard’s
analysis of Nuer religion that allows us to move from the external resemblance to
internal homology. Among the Nuer, the twins are regarded as ‘birds’, not because
they are confused with birds or look like them. It is because, the twins, in relation
to other persons, are ‘persons of the above’ in relation to ‘persons from below’.
And, with respect to birds, they are ‘birds of below’ in relation to ‘birds from
above’. The relationship between twins and other men is like the relationship that
is deemed to exist between the ‘birds of below’ and the ‘birds of above’. It is a
good example of the ‘differences which resemble each other’ in the ‘two systems
of differences’. If the statement – or the code – ‘twins are birds’ directs us to look
for some external image, then we are surely bound to be led astray. But if we look
into the internal homology in the Nuer system, then we will be closer to the
understanding of the code.
Anthropological Theories-II
At this level, Lévi-Strauss introduces the second theory of Radcliffe-Brown that
has taken a decisive and innovatory step in interpreting totemism. Instead of
asking, ‘Why all these birds?’, Radcliffe-Brown asks: ‘Why particularly eaglehawk
and crow, and other pairs?’ Lévi-Strauss considers this question as marking
the beginning of a genuine structural analysis. In fact, Radcliffe-Brown observes
in this analysis of totemism that the kind of structure with which we are concerned
is the ‘union of opposites.’
Evans-Pritchard and Radcliffe-Brown, thus, recognise two principles of
interpretation which Lévi-Strauss deems fundamental. In his analysis of Nuer religion,
Evans-Pritchard shows that the basis of totemic phenomena lies in the interrelation
of natural species with social groupings according to the logically conceived
processes of metaphor and analogy. In his second theory, Radcliffe-Brown realises
the necessity of an explanation which illuminates the principle governing the selection
and association of specific pairs of species and types used in classification. These
two ideas, Lévi-Strauss thinks, help in the reintegration of content with form, and
it is from them that he begins.
Totemism, for Lévi-Strauss, is a mode of classification. Totemic classifications are
regarded as a ‘means of thinking’ governed by less rigid conditions than what we
find in the case of language, and these conditions are satisfied fairly easily, even
when some events may be adverse. The functions that totemism fulfill are cognitive
and intellectual: ‘totems are not good to eat, they are good to think’. The problem
of totemism disappears when we realise that all humans, at all points of time, are
concerned with one or the other mode of classification, and all classifications
operate using mechanisms of differentiation, opposition, and substitution. Totemic
phenomena form one aspect of a ‘general classificatory ideology’. If it is so, then
the problem of totemism, in terms of something distinct that demands an explanation,
disappears. Jenkins (1979: 101) writes: ‘Totemism becomes analytically dissolved
and forms one expression of a general ideological mode of classification.’
But it does not imply that totemism is static. Although the nature of the conditions
under which totemism functions have not been stated clearly, it is clear from the
examples that Lévi-Strauss has given that totemism is able to adapt to changes.
To illustrate this, a hypothetical example may be taken up. Suppose a society has
three clans totemically associated respectively with bear (land), eagle (sky), and
turtle (water). Because of demographic changes, the bear clan becomes extinct,
but the turtle clan enlarges, and in course of time, splits into two parts. The society
faces this change in two ways. First, the same totemic association might be
preserved in a damaged form so that the only classificatory/symbolic correlation
is now between sky (eagle) and water (turtle). Second, a new correlation may be
generated by using the defining characteristics of the species turtle to distinguish
between two clans still identified with it. This becomes the basis for the formation
of a new symbolic opposition. If, for example, colour is used, yellow and grey
turtles may become totemic associations. Yellow and grey may be regarded as
expressive of the basic distinction between day and night perhaps. A second
system of the same formal type as the first is easily formed through the process
of differentiation and opposition (see diagrams of the first and second systems
First System
Second System
As is clear, the opposition between sky (eagle) and water (turtle) is split and a
new opposition is created by the contrast of day (yellow) and night (grey). In this
way, the problems caused by demographic imbalances (i.e., extinction of a clan
or the enlargement of the other) are structurally resolved, and the system continues.
3.3.3 Summary of the Study of Totemism
To sum up, totemic phenomena are nothing but modes of classification. They
provide tribal communities with consciously or unconsciously held concepts which
guide their social actions. Food taboos, economic exchanges and kinship relations
can be conceptualised and organised using schemes which are comparable to the
totemic homology between natural species and social characteristics. Lévi-Strauss
(1962) also extends this analysis to understand the relation between totemism and
caste system. Totemism is a relationship between man and nature. Similarities and
differences between natural species are used to understand the similarities and
differences between human beings. Totemism, which for people is a type of religion,
is a way of understanding similarities and differences between man and nature.
That is the reason why Poole says that with Lévi-Strauss, the problem of totemism
has been laid to rest once and for ever. To quote Poole (p. 9):
If we talk about ‘totemism’ any more, it will be in ignorance of Lévi-Strauss or
in spite of him.
Three clans of a tribe
Bear (land) Eagle (sky) Turtle (water)
Two clans of the tribe
Eagle Turtle
Yellow turtle Grey turtle
Anthropological Theories-II
This lesson has introduced you to the basic tenets of structuralism. We have
principally focused on the work of Claude Levi-Strauss, illustrating it with the
example of totemism, since he is regarded as the main exponent of this method.
As was stated earlier, Levi-Strauss worked on kinship, totemism, and myths, and
was interested in discovering the underlying structures, which he thought were
universal. He was interested in knowing how human mind worked.
That was where his contemporaries and scholars sympathetic to his approach
differed with him. They thought that Levi-Strauss was too ambitious in his approach.
The structures he was looking for were more his creation than those that emerged
from the facts of actual existence. These scholars applied structuralism to the
understanding of local, regional systems, and this approach came to be known as
‘neo-structuralism’. One of its proponents was Edmund Leach, the British
Leach was certainly critical of the structural-functional ideas, but one thing he
learnt from this was researching people’s actual ideas, rather than discovering the
so-called universal mental structures. In his work, Leach made a distinction between
‘jural rules’ and ‘statistical norms’. Whilst the first referred to the rules as these
were in the minds of people, the second were the rules in actual practice.
Structuralism is a-historical, which means that the structures it discovers cut across
the time dimension. These are applicable to all societies at all points of time. This
is one proposition of structuralism that has invited a number of criticisms. A good
method is one which takes care of both the dimensions of time and space.
Jenkins, Alan. 1979. The Social Theory of Claude Lévi-Strauss. London: The
Macmillan Press Ltd.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1962. The Bear and the Barber. Journal of the Royal
Anthropological Institute, 93: 1-11.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1963. Totemism. Penguin Books.
Suggested Reading
Jenkins, Alan. 1979. The Social Theory of Claude Lévi-Strauss. London: The
Macmillan Press Ltd.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1962. ‘The Bear and the Barber’. Journal of the Royal
Anthropological Institute, 93: 1-11.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1963. Totemism. Penguin Books
Sample Questions
1) Define structuralism. What are its main aspects? How does it differ from
structural-functional approach?
2) Discuss the salient aspects of the works of Claude Levi-Strauss.
3) Delineate the features of the structural method.
4) What is totemism? Give its structural analysis.
5) How does Levi-Strauss’s analysis of totemism differ from that of the others?
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Feminism
4.2.1 Feminist Theory in Anthropology
4.3 Post-modernism
4.3.1 Modernity, Modernism and Modernisation
4.3.2 Post-modernity and Post-modernism
4.3.3 Influencing Figures of Post-modernism
4.4 Post-colonialism
4.4.1 Leading Post-colonial Thinkers
4.5 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
After studying this unit, you will be able to:
 Understand and define feminism;
 Comprehend how studying gender, forms an important part of our intellectual
discourse and its deliverance;
 Understand and define post-modernism;
 Comprehend how the use of subjectivity in post-modernism provides a new
perspective and how discourses should vie to be open for different views
rather than being closed and definitive;
 Understand and define post-colonialism; and
 Comprehend how post-colonialism as a theory tries to bring out the angst felt
by the colonies against the colonisers. Learn how It tries to built upon the
experiences of the colonial past and how colonial influences had left an
impact on the post-colonial world, be it in describing class, gender, migration
etc from examples of post colonial thinkers.
Theoretical perspectives in anthropology have always basically tried to understand
society and culture and how they reproduce themselves. In this context, we will
deliberate upon three theories of anthropology which can be said to be contributive
in deciphering the issues and concerns of the contemporary global scenario. These
theories, feminism, post-modernism and post-colonialism have had their origin in
the mid-to-later half of the twentieth century. By going into social complexities

Anthropological Theories-II
they show us a path to understand issues like gender, race, ethnicity, class, caste
and any other matter. In this unit we take the three one by one and try to place
before the student knowledge about their development, necessity, critique and
their usage in comprehending culture and society.
In this portion we will look at feminist concerns and how anthropology as a social
science includes the feminist perspective to comprehend issues of gender in society.
Let us first have a brief knowledge about what Feminism is. Feminism is understood
as a social and political movement which argues for equal rights and opportunities
for women all over the world. It is from this movement, theorisation of the structure
of society in terms of gender arose. Popularly called feminist theory, it concentrates
on the understanding of how unequal gender statuses came into being and how
gender is constructed in society particularly in the presence of patriarchy. This
very movement when studied from a theoretical perspective is called feminist
theory. Anthropology among other subjects uses this perspective to study and
understand gender inequality and the discrimination that they face in society. It
absorbs into its arena issues of difference, representation and critiques of power
and knowledge in terms of gender. In this we look into the roles played by women
in society and the experiences they go through. In anthropology, feminist theory
also concentrates in learning how people accept and get used to oppression and
also how in many cases oppressive structures are resisted and attempts are made
to change them. Here it involves the study of gender and power and involves
integrating theories of structure, agency and practice.
Feminsim also takes a critical look at the way in which knowledge has been
produced as knowledge not only from a male centric point of view but also from
a dominant position in society (caste, medicine, science, etc.) have all been shown
to be andocentric, widely found in the works of scholars such as Bernard Cohen,
Donna Harraway and Annette Wiener.
4.2.1 Feminist Theory in Anthropology
In this part of the unit we will discuss feminist theory and its use in anthropology
according to the stages that feminism has been categorised into. There are clearly
three stages in feminism which are divided into first wave, second wave and third
wave feminism. Before first wave feminism which is also known as the suffrage
movement (because it fought for women’s right to vote) anthropological work was
conducted by men and the ethnographies collected was mainly based on the
information provided by men respondents about their societies. The first wave
feminist movement occurred visibly from the mid 19th century to the early 20th
century. Feminist theory first came into use in anthropology when during first wave
feminist movement anthropologists finally used views and perspectives of women
respondents in their ethnographic studies. In this way they brought to the forefront
experiences and social behaviour of women which along with the views of men
gave anthropological study newer understanding of societies and their intricacies.
Moreover such studies were started basically by women anthropologists that opened
up a new avenue of accessibility and more complete data.
Among women ethnographers of that time women who helped in bringing this
change were Elsie Clews Parsons, Alice Fletcher and Phyllis Kaberry. Elsie Clews
Parsons had her training in Sociology. She ventured into anthropology after meeting
stalwarts like Sapir, Lowie and Boas. Although she was not an academic, she
conducted many ethnographic studies and in the process so she tried to make the
women respondents question and rethink their position in society. Another American
anthropologist who did enough ethnographic work on American Indians, Alice
Fletcher can also be termed as a feminist who wrote about women in her work
but yet the issues of representation and interpretation remained. During this time
in Britain, anthropologist Phyllis Kaberry concentrated on the social and political
issues women faced in society, their relationship with men clubbed with the study
of religion. Her book examining gender equations called Women of the Grassfields
(1952) is considered a classic, which emphasised on women and development.
Some male anthropologists of this time did study women in their research but it
was not with an interest to represent them but more in the context of their presence
in kinship and marriage studies.
Studies centering on women did start from the 1920s with Margaret Mead being
one of pioneers in forwarding such studies. The period from 1920s to 1980s falls
under second wave feminism where sex and gender were seen as clearly separate
categories. While sex is used to describe a person biologically, gender is used to
define a person culturally. Margaret Mead brought in her work a distinction which
was earlier missing in anthropological studies where all women were seen to go
through the same experiences all over the world. Mead pointed out that, women
in different cultures had different experiences. She was the first to opine that
behaviour in women is not natural but was culturally driven. Her works Coming
of Age in Samoa (1928) and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies
(1935) showed the role of culture in people’s development. In her opinion it was
cultural factors that were primarly responsible in shaping notions of femininity and
masculinity and not the biological and given fact of sex.
In the mid twentieth century works of philosophers, Simone de Beviour and Betty
Friedan significantly contributed to the development of feminist theory in
Anthropology. de Beviour’s book The Second Sex (1952) is considered to be a
cult piece which provides a radical understanding of the meaning of gender. She
postulated that women are not born as women but acquires the definition of
woman gradually by the role she plays in society. Friedan’s Feminine Mystique
(1963) is notably the most influential book of the last century that peeped into the
world of American housewives and brought out the fact that women even with
their worldly material pleasures were not happy to just remain in their households
as housewives. It was this book in fact which paved the way for second wave
feminism, which among other things looks into inequality in the workplace family,
reproductive rights and sexuality.
Anthropologist Eleanor Leacock’s work on gender discrimination was noteworthy
in influencing second wave feminism. Her studies pointed out that all forms of
female subordination is due to the presence of the existing capitalist system. She
argued on this with the help of Marx’s and Engels’ celebrated works Das Kapital
(1867) and The Origins of Family, Private Property and the State (1884).
In the 1970s, anthropologists Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere questioned
the male centric biases in anthropological studies. Rosaldo and Lamphere brought
out the book Woman, Culture and Society (1974), the first book to completely
look into gender and woman’s status in society in lieu of the existence of the
hierarchical structure allowing them to behave in manners which limit them.
Feminist Anthropology properly established itself as an important aspect of
anthropological study in the 1970s. This was finally a reaction to be continuing
Feminism, Postmodernism
and Postcolonialism
Anthropological Theories-II
male bias in the subject. Noteworthy scholars are Rayna Reiter, Gayle Rubin and
Sherry Ortner. Reiter came out with her book Toward an Anthropology of
Women (1975) where she pointed out that men and women have separate social
behaviour and this provides ample reason for women being studied as part of
anthropological investigation. Another anthropologist of her time, Gayle Rubin also
supported the study of gender and introduced the sex/gender system in 1975. This
system suggested that biological behaviour was separate from social behaviour, as
differences in gender behaviour was constructed politically and socially rather than
being designed by nature. Another pioneer of that time, Sherry Ortner in her Is
Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? (1974), equated men with culture and
women with nature and put forward the hypothesis that sicne men dominate nature,
they dominate women too. This equation was derived from the nineteenth century
Baconian posulate that denied women any intellectual capacity and relegated them
to the status of reproductive machines. Engels’ submission that women worked
hard in the domestic sphere but are nothing but unpaid labourers, gave rise to
Marxists feminist theory that examined women’s subordination, economically or
otherwise that is contained in the division of labour. Some famous Marxists feminist
philosophers of the 70s were Shirley Ardner, Pat Caplan and Janet Bujura. They
all researched on the role of women in production and reproduction.
Box: A comparative example
It is imperative to the study of Anthropology and its feminist concerns that we discuss
the contribution of Annete Weiner, in terms of her restudy of Branislow Malinowski’s
Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922) and his other works based on the lives of the
Trobriand Islanders. The knowledge of this study is constructive in the study of
feminist theory in anthropology as Malinowski, popular for his contribution to many
new ideas, methods and innovations in anthropological study overlooked the importance
of women and their roles in his study. This comparative study by Weiner hence can
be cited to reestablish the fact that anthropologists were in the past not concerned with
the roles played by women in societies and the identities they held. In her famous work
Women of Value: Men of Renown (1976) she refuted Malinowski’s explanation of women
in the Trobriand Islands, that they were dominated by their men. She put forward a nonandrocentric
appraisal, where she suggested that not only were women at par with their
male counterparts, in many areas, but it was the women who were the dominant ones
in the society. While Malinowski was interested in learning about magic, religion,
kinship and economy, Weiner along with these was also interested in the sexes and
sexuality. Their main difference laid in the way they interpreted the Trobrian Islanders.
While Malinowski did not clarify women’s position in his descriptions, 50 years later
Weiner did so through her elucidations. While Malinowski describe roles and statuses
of women through conversations he had with the men folk, not considering the fact that
women too might have a stance in the world they lived in. Weiner’s perspective, that
of understanding women by conversing to them directly brought out an alternate
explanation of their lives, that women controlled the wealth and thus had authority on
the Trobriand society. Her re-interpretation suggested that rather than just being equal,
they were in fact dominant as the power of wealth and economy was in their hands.
This example helps us to learn that study of gender in all their aspects is important,
and what anthropology lacked in the past is now comfortably filled in by feminist
perspective in anthropology in the study of society in which both gender accommodate
various spaces.
With the 1980s came third wave feminism which is all about accepting differences
and conflicts in gender. This theory embraces issues of gender and sexuality as
cores, which includes questions of variation in gender, like queer theory, transgender,
sex-positivity (people have social expectations out of the physical body), postmodernism,
post-structuralism, post-colonialism, more so by Edward Said’s
Orientalism(1979), anti-racism, women from third world countries including women
of colour etc. However main concerns in these remained oppression and
Herietta Moore’s book Feminism and Anthropology (1988), explored two main
points: one that gender difference is connected to other social differences like
power, class, ethnicity, race etc and second that anthropological research
fundamentally is ruled by “sexist ideology” the main being the subject being called
the study of man. Here even women anthropologists while conducting research, in
most of the 20th century fell under the dictates of masculine models. It is only by
countering these ideas and questioning oneself, can a woman scholar researching
women and society could clearly decipher and stand for the experiences women
of different colours, class, ethnicity all over the world face.
There are certain theories that influence feminist studies in Anthropology. They are
practice theory, theory of positionality, performance theory and queer theory.
Practice theory emerges from Marx’s notion that every social activity is praxis,
that is, a practice. This theory emphasises about behaviours related to restrictions
and equality. It views from a feminist perspective how people live their lives in
reality and what is practiced. This view came as a reaction to Durkheim’s idea of
sacred and profane where he suggested that women did not have any symbolic
role to play. It tries to understand how systems maintain their continuity even with
their existing inequalities and differences. It moreover argues about ideas which
exhibit all activities of society to be of contrasting natures.
A view of the essentialist scholars of second wave feminism faces much flak in the
late 1980s. It had suggested that women should value their female essence and
should make positive use of their feminine characteristics. This was called cultural
feminism where women instead of taking part in “manly” activities should accentuate
their own abilities. The propounders of this idea were Adrienne Rich and Mary
Daly. This notion was denounced during the third wave by an intervention called
the theory of positionality. The major denouncers were French post-structuralists.
They pointed out that while celebrating female capacities of women the idea
ignored the patriarchal oppressive bodies who are responsible for creating such
feminine talents. The theory of positionality says that instead of uplifting women
cultural feminism actually takes away concepts created to fight female oppression
and it ends up doing nothing but create “negative feminism.”
A recent theory in feminist anthropological studies is performance theory. It talks
about how individuals perform their duties in everyday life. It shows that gender
is created through discourse, while sex creates gender. Judith Butler, eminent
feminist and author of Gender Trouble states that performance of individuals is the
creation of discourses. Works of Bourdieu, Sahlins etc have influenced performance
The last recent theory used in feminist anthropology is Queer theory. This theory
voices that what is socially considered normal, advocating heterosexuality may not
really be correct. It challenges this “accepted sexual preference”. It also emphasises
how enculturation has a huge role to play in the identification of conventional
sexuality. Main contributions in queer theory has been influence by Foucault and
has been advocated by current day feminist philosophers like Judith Butler, Monique
Witting, Diane Mayne, Nancy Scheper Hughes, Lila Abu-Lughod etc.
Feminism, Postmodernism
and Postcolonialism
Anthropological Theories-II
We now come to the description of another contemporary theory, i.e. postmodernism.
This is a theory which is highly debated amongst scholars. It is very
difficult to define postmodernism as there is no single unifying definition of it. Postmodernism
was a dramatic break from modernism (described in the first paragraph
of sub-section 4.3.1) and it is of course a continuation of it. Post-modernism is
associated with modernism. The term Post means later. Hence what came after
modernism may be seen as post-modernism. It arose as a movement which
contradicted the modernist idea. It started with the arts and architecture where
outlooks which were based on modernism were rejected. It tried to break
conventions and look for ideas beyond ordinary explanation, where self and the
other, the subject and the object gets combined or dissolved. From arts and
architecture, post-modernism as a theoretical deliberation entered into other spheres
of study where it questioned constructed social realities. As in the arts,
postmodernism in anthropology too interrogates into definite ordering of life, for
example, the employers and the employed, men and women, patriarchy and
matriarchy and many more other such examples which we usually find to be
placed normatively. Post-modernism suggests that instead of studying these either
in isolation or specific realities, it is necessary to view them as combined, plural
and comparable.
In anthropology, post-modernism has been provided with many explanations by
many philosophers. Here we note Melford Spiro’s reflections on postmodernism
which is rather detailed than the unclear description of the theory. He says “The
postmodernist critique of science consists of two interrelated arguments,
epistemological and ideological. Both are based on subjectivity. First, because of
the subjectivity of the human object, anthropology, according to the epistemological
argument cannot be a science; and in any event the subjectivity of the human
subject precludes the possibility of science discovering objective truth. Second,
since objectivity is an illusion, science according to the ideological argument,
subverts oppressed groups, females, ethnics, third-world peoples” (1996).
Before we go describe and talk about the different concerns related to
postmodernism in Anthropology, we need to learn a little about the different
movements which led to its origin and development.
4.3.1 Modernity, Modernism and Modernisation
These terms are interlinked. They came into being during the renaissance. Madan
Sarup in An Introductory Guide to Post-structuralism and Postmodernism,
defines Modernity as “the progressive economic and administrative rationalisation
and differentiation of the social world” (1993). Modernism was defined as “an
aesthetic development which brought about a radical shift in consciousness and a
violent transformation of social conditions in the late 19th and 20th centuries.”
(‘Postmodernism’ by Chris Snipp-Walmsley in Patricia Waugh’s ed. Literary
Theory and Criticism, 2006). It was illustrated by two concerns: Selfconsciousness
and reflexiveness. The period when modernity and modernism were
studied was started with new changes in society. The transition was seen in political
and economic spheres where the change was from feudalism to industrialism.
Religion got a back seat with the rise of the enlightenment movement. Urbanisation
also took place. All these realities and more led scholars to theorise. This is the
period which is termed as modernisation that also marks the advent of positivism
and scientific thinking. The designation of anthropology as a science was because
of modernist thinking that prioritised rationality.
4.3.2 Post-modernity and Post-modernism
While modernism as a theory in modernity associated itself with ideas like identity,
authority, unanimity, inevitability etc, post-modernism looks into difference,
multiplicity, cynicism, documentation etc. Post-modernism deliberates that an
objective and impartial view of a culture, which is not one’s own is unattainable.
Post-modernist anthropological investigation started in the 1960s, which noted
that earlier anthropological documentation was based on social and political
frameworks which were validated by objective explanation. This, post-modernism
depicts as irrational as culture and the world, usually is perceived on the basis of
one’s own personal experiences and one’s own cultural life. As much as one may
want to be objective in one’s interpretation of other cultures, on is unable to let
go of the ingrained biases. Post-modern anthropologists try to correct this situation
by trying to be sensitive and subjective as much as possible. In other words the
postmodern anthropologists attempt to scrutinise, interpret and appraise existing
guidelines of anthropology and at the same time try to survey its codes, regularity
and procedures of study.
Simply putting Anthropologists, if they provide their own interpretations it might be
boggled by issues of power and wealth which postmodernism tries to defy. This
means that they have consider the views of the culture studied and put them forth.
Post modernism does not recognise any objective truth or facts; reducing everything
to a subjectivity that cannot be evaluated by any rational principle. This for others
who do not follow the post modern theoretical path, is threatening and therefore
they tend to criticise the postmodern perspective by pointing that postmodernism
follows a moral model route. Moral model they insist, decry empirical and scientific
data. In fact they feel that a postmodern anthropological approach does not allow
a common ground of understanding. Thus the debate today is one of whether
representation of knowledge should be based on scientific or subjective and
reflexive hence more humanist approach. The post modern author involves the
subjects of her study into her analysis.
4.3.3 Influencing Figures of Postmodernism
In social sciences, Friedrich Nietzche and Martin Heidegger, German philosophers,
were the first who inspired postmodern philosophy. However it was the French
philosophers like Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault etc. who
actually developed the theory. Anthropologists who were encouraged to forward
this thought are Clifford Geertz, James Clifford, Goerge Marcus, Nancy Hughes
We now provide a brief introduction of these scholars to get a better grasp of the
ideas that they postulated.
Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007): Baudrillard was a sociologist by training who used
the post modern perspective to explain the world as a set of models. He does so
by dividing modernity and postmodernity into two parts. For him every incident
in life has already taken place and the worl has nothing new to offer. This got him
the name of a skeptical postmodernist, based on Rosenau’s (1992) division of
postmodernists into skeptical postmodernists or affirmative postmodernists. For
Baudrillard the postmodern era started with the introduction of mass media, more
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specifically cinema and photography. He defined the world to be nothing but
images and images are replications. For him truth and science do not hold their
real meaning. Truth according to Baudrillard in society is what is agreed upon and
science is any mode of explanation.
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004): Derrida too is a skeptical postmodernist. He was
known as a poststructuralist. He popularised the concept of deconstruction in
post-structuralism and postmodernism. Deconstruction suggests that whatever is
documented is to be critiqued or analytically reviewed, to reveal the relationship
of meaning between texts. He also questions the western viewpoint on reason. He
asserts that it is dominated by “metaphysics of presence”. He argued that anything
that was viewed with reason should not be seen as a stable and immortal paradigm.
His basic interest was to challenge concepts of truth, knowledge and truth. He
proposes that there should be reasoning on reasoning itself. In other words rationality
can be contextual and there can be more than one way of reasoning or gaining
Michel Foucault (1926-1984): Foucault was a French philosopher of repute and
his tenets on postmodernism still hold much weight. For him the truths which are
considered by society as permanent, in reality changes with time. Foucault study
was basically about the politics of power and how it changes. This was in fact one
of the basis of postmodernism. He questioned the facts which were placed in
chronological order to describe historical events. He believed that there are hidden
parts, parts which are not accounted for, in history which contain concealed
knowledge. These however do play a role in giving societies identities. It is due
to developing such ideas about truth and knowledge, Faucault is considered to be
one of the prime postmodernists. His theory of discourse tells us that there is no
absolute truth but truth is constructed out of people talking about it and in this talk
there is the entire theory of power that plays itself out. Thus powerful voices are
heard more than subordinated ones or many are not heard at at all. Thus a
discourse is how people negotiate their points of view and how marginal voices
make attempts to make themselves heard.
The main adherents of postmodernism in anthropology are discussed below.
Clifford Geertz (1926-2006): Clifford Geertz though prominently known for his
work on postmodernism in Anthropology had himself conflicting views about the
theory. However his thoughts on post-modernism in anthropology can be divided
into two parts. The first half of post-modernism was controlled by literature mostly
with concentration on text, genre, style of writing, narration, fiction, dialogue,
allegory, representation, symbols etc while the second half of post-modernism
dealt with the political aspect of societies. He delved into issues of authority,
power and power structure. Issues studied in post-colonialism related to power
equations was also deliberated by Geertz, for example, colonialism and power,
racism, exoticism. He also questioned the use of narratives about colonies by the
Western colonisers and their own understanding of them which differs with the
post-modern arena. This connects his views with post-colonialism.
Do note: Clifford Geertz is also known for his work on religion and interpretive
theory which is not discussed here.
James Clifford: Like all core post-modernists, James Clifford also advocated the
idea that an objective viewpoint in studying and writing ethnography is not possible.
For him ethnography makes the author describe it with persuasion where her/his
preferences unconsciously come forward. Hence for Clifford, to deconstruct or
critique the way ethnographies are written is the main essence of post-modernism.
To do away with the rhetoric by which ethnographers assert power, ethnographies
should be more descriptive than being completely interpretive. His views therefore
are in total contrast with Clifford Geertz who has been interpretive to a large
extent in his ethnographic explanations. James Clifford, states that the balance
between the ethnographers’ understanding of a group and the group themselves
can be maintain through a holistic perspective.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1944- –) Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a professor in
Medical Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. She believes that
cultures and societies cannot be studied or valued without morally or ethically
understanding them. Only by taking ethics into consideration while studying a
society can anthropologists reflect analytically. These views of hers are noticed in
her works Primacy of the Ethical (2006) and Death without Weeping (1993).
This postmodern perspective of hers thus suggests that Anthropologists should be
made responsible for depicting or failing to depict the discipline as a crucial
instrument while describing significant historical periods.
To describe post-colonial theory broadly, it is concerned with the production of
knowledge and the representations made of the colonies by the scholars who
were part of the colonisers. It thus has to do with happenings of exclusions,
disparagement and struggle under colonial rule. So we may say that the word
Post-colonialism addresses the historical, political, cultural and textual consequences
of the colonial experience between the West (colonisers) and the non-West
(colonised). The period examined in this theory dates back from the 16th century
to the present day. To specify, Postcolonial cultures, texts and politics are interested
in reactions to colonial subjugation which can be said to be adverse and disputable.
In fact it is not the critical analysis of what was visibly oppositional but what was
actually subtle, sly, oblique and seemingly crafty in their demonstration of dissent.
Thus Post-colonialism is an analytical “theoretical approach in cultural and literary
studies. However it also designates a politics of transformational resistance to
unjust and unequal forms of political and cultural authority which extends back
across the twentieth century and beyond.” (Postcolonialism by E.Boehmer in
Patricia Waugh’s ed. Literary Theory and Criticism, 2006).
Like feminism and post-modern movements, post-colonialism came to be used in
anthropological studies as a theory used to exhibit a sort of disciplinary amendment
to conjunctural exigencies. The main issues handled in postcolonial theory are
alterity, diaspora, eurocentrism, hybridity and imperialism. Alterity in post-colonialism
is a lack of identification with some part of one’s personality or one’s group. It
specifically refers to the attempts by the colonisers to understand themselves, that
is Europeans, by posting an alter, the non-European societies. The evolutionary
theory for example tried to put forward the so called non-Europeans as ‘primitives’
or representing the past of Europe. Diaspora indicates people who are either
forced or tempted to leave their own homelands and settle in some other part of
the world and in the process also adapt another culture. Eurocentrism is the way
by which consciously or otherwise European or western ideas, culture, norms etc.
are stressed at the expense of other cultures. It is effectively seen in the terms
modernisation and development, both of which means in reality to be Westernised.
Hybridity is a pertinent notion in post-colonialism. It talks about the mingling or
mixing of cultural symbols and customs between the colonising and the colonised
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cultures. This mingling can be enriching or it may turn out to be oppressive,
depending on how it has been added to the culture. Finally Imperialism refers to
having control or authoritative power either through direct state domination or
indirectly through economic or political control. The main challenge for postcolonial
writers is to reinvent and bring to life their own cultures and also fight prejudices
about them.
The Post-colonial movement originated as an anti-colonial political resistance
enunciated as part of the dialogue on national liberation. It made its shift to
accommodate itself in the cosmopolitan world of academics with much vivacity
with the introduction of the text Orientalism by Edward Said. This piece of work
itself became a postcolonial theory which was conveniently used by settler intellectuals
of the Third world countries to discuss the social and political identities and their
constructions which is specific to that setting. Interestingly it was the Bandung
conference held in 1955 which incepted postcolonial thought as a ‘political grammar’
and introduced the ‘eruption of the native’. The native here are the people who
came to be seen as a symbolic representation of the other by the imperial domain
as understood by the metropolitan academic. Finally Post-colonialism gave birth
to counter-narratives, as cited by Edward Said, “to challenge and resist settled
metropolitan histories, forms and modes of thought’. (in Representing the Colonised:
Anthropology’s Interlocutors, Critical Enquiry, 15: 205-225, 1989).
In Anthropology Post-colonialism had to make its foray as the beginnings of the
subject was attached to the colonies and the description of their inhabitants provided
by the administrators, missionaries, western travelers etc, who kept their superiority
intact while recounting narratives about the other.
We now talk about some of the main advocates of this theory who have contributed
tremendously to its development.
4.4.1 Leading Post-colonial Thinkers
The main figures of post-colonialism are Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Arjun
Appadurai, Akbar Ahmed, Homi Bhaba and of course many others. However in
this unit we provide a brief description of the work of these three thinkers and
their post colonial interventions.
Edward Said: The political text “Orientalism” written by Edward Said, brought
ideas of Post-colonialism in the forefront where the main tenant was about how
the way western people measured up people of the East. Said analysed the
European dominating power and their ways of understanding and controlling other
peoples and that they were shown as weak, inferior, secondary, effeminate and
unable to rule themselves. In his own words it was “a western style for dominating,
restructuring and having authority over the Orient.” (1979, Orientalism). Therefore
the Orientalist discussion made a clear demarcation between the rulers and the
ruled. Anyone who did not conform to the value based image of the dominant
European identity was an Oriental. However later on, Said’s idea of Orientalism
did receive some fierce contestation, especially in the 1980s. The notion he had
generalised that all empires rule their colonies in the same way was the main point
of dispute. He was also criticised for his apparent assertion for alternative humanism.
His assumption that the colonised were completely being subdued and made into
the object of Western systems of knowledge also came under attack. Edward
Said however cleared the protestations in his later work, Culture and Imperialism
(1993) where along with the western dialectics, also discusses the anti or
postcolonial response.
Gayatri Spivak: Gayatri Spivak is an Indian theorist based in the United States.
She is most famous for her essay on Can the Subaltern Speak?, which is
considered to be one of the main defining texts of post-colonialism. Her main
argument in post-colonialism has been about the heterogeneity of colonial
oppression. She has been prominent since the beginning of postcolonial studies,
i.e. the 1980s where she pointed out the differences both understated and noticeable
which separate and demarcate the people called natives or the colonised. These
natives or others in her comprehension also include migrants and asylum seekers.
For her colonial oppression I not monolithic and oppressions in one area or
among one people can be of different kinds and so is the kind s of othering. She
tries to investigate the contradictions witin colonial oppression and consciousness
and for this she adapts her mentor’s (Jacque Derrida, who has been described
above) technique of deconstruction. Specifically she questions the particular
gendered forms which certainly offers opportunities for differentiation and hence
brings forth the heterogenous colonial experiences. The term subaltern which Spivak
uses in her pivotal book has been derived from the work of the Italian Marxist,
Antonio Gramsci. For him Subaltern denotes the non-elite social classes and the
proletariat. When Spivak used the term subaltern while studying such states under
colonialism, she tried to use it for groups even lower than as used by Gramsci.
For example she tries to include tribals, unscheduled castes, untouchables and of
course the women within such groups. For Spivak it is also concerning for her that
mostly postcolonial studies on women are done b women of the first world nations
who while talking about the women who are or have lived colonial lives, displace
their thoughts or replace them with their own voices.
Arjun Appadurai: Arjun Appadurai is an anthropolgist who is interested in postcolonialism,
modernity and globalisation. Appadurai’s involvement in post-colonial
studies is noticed in his work called Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions
of Globalisation (1996). Appaduari falls under the immigrant intellectual who
writes about the south Asians and the effect of modernit on them, from a postcolonial
perspective, of course guided b the main premises of Edward Said. For
him, the postcolonial construction of relations in a transnational world is not base
on how global capital plays in creating multiple types of communities (as has been
theorised by other postcolonialsts). But he asserts that it is not possible singly for
a centre/periphery engagement to create a post –colonial moment. For him it is the
movement of people, migration, diaspora who create new types of relations in
today’s world. For him the emergent global communities are creations of mass
migration movements which have changed the way the world exists. It is no more
a world based on European value-laden ways and this for him is the post-colonial
moment. For him there may be five kind of imagined landscapes: ethnoscapes,
technoscapes, financescapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes. He makes a postcolonial
intervention to describe his imagined scapesto describe the economic and political
domination that is faced by today’s postcolonial states. He postulates that such
imagined spaces are there in contemporary world spaces and that they are hidden
by the networks of diaspora, technologies, electronic media etc. His postcolonial
thoughts are of importance as he tries to look into the uneven flows of global
capital, peoples and communities and their diverse experiences and cultural
processes in or from former colonised spaces. His argument of the imagined
spaces for people in movement and to see the cultural rather than culture, he
establishes a new route in postcolonial studies which tries to understand the links
between nationalism, diaspora, cultural proesses an globalisation in a postcolonial
Feminism, Postmodernism
and Postcolonialism
Anthropological Theories-II
Thus we end our discussion on Feminist theory, Post-modernism and Postcolonialism
in Anthropology by noting that these theories explore many perspectives.
The contribution of the first theory, i.e., feminism in anthropology has been to
provide a gendered methodology where it has been shown that the truth is subjective
and that the male point of view is usually biased. Also since women are marginal
to all societies, their point of view encompasses other marginal categories also.
The intersectionality of gender with other forms of oppression like caste, class,
race and ethnicity has also been a major contribution of the gendered approach.
It not only includes the representation of women, voicing their concerns and rights
in diverse societies but also includes the voice of the researchers, women or men,
engaging themselves in such feminist studies. It is the job of the feminist
anthropologist to provide ways and means by which women in different parts of
the world, having different cultures can empower themselves to lead a freer
In the second theory, i.e. Post-modernism, we can note that it was the postmodern
perspective in Anthropology that provided an opportunity for anthropologists to
reassess the way they critically appraise culture. This perspective makes the
anthropologists to be sensitive and include a holistic approach, by adding different
interpretations of any culture rather than just delivering their own viewpoint.
However followers of postmodern anthropology do find criticism at the hands of
anthropologists who consider empirical findings to be the truth and thus denounce
this moral code used by the postmodernists. Postmodernism with its many
dimensions remains a movement of existing debate and it is up to the anthropologists
to follow the path which enriches the subject in the study of culture.
Lastly in Post-colonialism, we can see that in today’s globalised world, Anthropology
has a significant link with this theory as within the study of society and culture, it
is interested in learning about the self and the other, how the other identifies
oneself, about the ravages of the western world upon their colonies etc. Today’s
post colonial arenas offer much interventions as the creation of mass movements,
immigrations, migrations, diaspora allow ample opportunities for anthropology to
barge in and critically view the reasons behind such upheavals. Moreover Postcolonialism
also allows deliberation on gender, race, ethnic identities etc from an
anthropological perspective. These points clearly suggest that in today’s
contemporary anthropological scenario, post colonialism remains a pertinent outlook
to the world that we live in.
Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of
Globalisation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Boehmer, E. 2006. “Post-colonialism” in Literary Theory and Criticism. Patricia
Waugh (ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
de Beauvoir, Simone. 1952. The Second Sex. New York: Knopf.
Engels, Friedrich. (1884) 2004. The Origin of Family, Private Property and
the State. Chippendale: Resistance Books.
Freidan, Betty. 1963. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Kayberry, Phyllis M. (1952) 2003. Women of the Grassfields. London: Routledge.
Malinowski, B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul.
Marx, Karl. (1867) 1996. Das Kapital: A Critique of Political Economy.
Washington D.C.: Regnery Gateway.
Mead, Margaret, (1928) 1953. Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological
Study of Primitive youth for Western Civilisation. New York: The Modern
Mead, Margaret. (1935) 1977. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive
Societies. New York & London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Moore, H. L. 1988. Feminism and Anthropology. Cambridge: Polity Press
Ortner, S. 1974. “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” in Woman, Culture
and Society. Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (eds.). Stanford: Stanford
University Press.
Rosaldo, M.Z. and Louise Lamphere (ed). 1974. Woman, Culture and Society.
Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Reiter, Rayna R. (ed). 1975. Toward an Anthropology of Women. New York &
London: Monthly Review Press.
Said, Edward W. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
Said, Edward W. 1989. “Representing the Colonised: Anthropology’s Interlocutors”
in Critical Enquiry, Vol 15, Number 4. page 217.
Sarup, Madan. (1988) 1993. An Introductory Guide to Post-structuralism and
Post-modernism. Georgia: University of Georgia Press.
Snipp-Walmsley, Chris. 2006. “Postmodernism”in Literary Theory and Criticism.
Patricia Waugh (ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Spiro, Melford E. “Postmodernist Anthropology, Subjectivity, and Science: A
Modernist Critique” in Comparative Studies in Society and History. Andrew
Shryock (ed.) Vol. 38, No. 4, (Oct., 1996).
Weiner, Annette. 1976. Women of Value, Men of Renown. Austin: University
of Texas Press.
Rosenau, Pauline M. 1992. Post-modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights,
Inroads and Intrusions. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1993. Death without Weeping: The Violence of
Everyday Life in Brazil. California: University of California Press.
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 2006. “The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a
Militant Anthropology” in Anthropology in Theory: Issues in Epistemology.
Henrietta Moore and Todd Sanders (eds.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. “Can the Subaltern Speak?”in Marxism and
the Interpretation of Culture. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds).
Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Feminism, Postmodernism
and Postcolonialism
Anthropological Theories-II
Suggested Reading
Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of
Globalisation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble. London: Routledge.
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Layton, Robert. 1997. An Introduction to Theory in Anthropology. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Moore, Henrietta. 1988. Feminism and Anthropology. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press.
Said, Edward W. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
Sample Questions
1) Define Feminism, Post-modernism and Post-colonialism.
2) Why is the study of gender important?
3) How does a post-modernist perspective help in anthropological study?
4) Can a post-colonial study be done in India? Elabourate.
5) Explain the relevance of these theories in present day Anthropology.
6) Write about at least two exponents from each of these three theories and also
explain how their work can be used in studying society and culture.