Wednesday, October 05, 2005

the "big question" in anthropology

Shore gives us a really interesting history of the field of anthropology, and in doing so lays out how the idea of psychic unity never really stops haunting the anthropologist. As we've seen in other texts, the struggle is between psychology and anthropology. Shore explains how pioneering work (by Boas and Rivers) struggled with the relationship between culture and mind, and that they eventually created a "theoretical split" between the two (24). This made the relationship between individual motivaion and cognition "problematical" by reaffirming a mind-body split.

Shore presents this struggle as something that haunts anthropology, a sort of nagging question that won't go away. But what if this IS the question of anthropology? Some of the theorists we've read seem to think that if we could just get past this pesky idea of internal/external, culture/cognition, etc., we could get on to some real work. But what if this struggle is the real work of anthropology?

I think Shore would almost agree with this, since he describes how the work of Boas and Rivers closes off the question of how culture and mind influence one another. However, he says that these scholars made the relationship "problematical." I wonder if they did just the opposite - that is, I wonder if they decided the culture/mind thing was just too damn HARD to think about. So, they stopped thinking about it. They made it not a problem anymore. They solved it. I should say that this might be what Shore means when he says "problematical" - that these scholars gave us a legacy of a mind/culture split that is "problematic." However, I think my larger point stands. I'll restate:

Shore and others present this struggle to define culture in mind vs. culture "out there" as something anthropologists must get past, and I'm saying this question is IN ITSELF the "big question" of anthropology.


Blogger gfp said...

I agree! This seems to be the heart of the matter and daunting enough in nature to keep even the most resilient anthropologist away....This also seems to be at the core of this class---how many fields are formed around this very question?

1:35 PM  
Blogger mdl said...

Jim--now that I've had a few classes with you, I can really "hear" you talking in your writing. Seriously, I hear you saying these things in my head. I guess this posting is a compliment to your use of "voice." Elbow would agree. ;)

4:01 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I almost think you could argue that anything in "the hummanities" or "social sciences" revolves around this question. Though, that could be too big of a claim.

Also, it might be that this is a bigger question in the U.S. than in other places. That is, I think American scholars are more interested in the individuals role in creating the structure than many other places.

4:03 PM  

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