Cultural Anthropology Essay Samples
An African proverb states, "It takes a village to raise a child." Such a statement affirms that common belief that people thrive in communal environments (villages, societies, and families) in which they feel spiritual, mental, emotional and social support. It becomes, therefore, natural to think that one of our most important tasks as human beings should be to care for and support others. While providing this support, it is important that we do so while keeping their, not our, best interests in mind. In other words, we must extend grace whenever and wherever possible while introducing as little of our own biases as possible.
One way to provide this support is to study, learn to understand, and document people's lives and behaviors via the science of anthropology. Observing behaviors that are framed by different contexts of interaction can do this. Some examples of these contexts include 1) the various worldviews to which people adhere, 2) the religious beliefs and practices of particular cultures, 3) the political organizations through which people govern themselves, or are governed, and 4) through the expressive cultures or artistic expressions put forth by various societies. This search for knowledge and understanding requires the shedding of our ethnocentric natures, which allows us to see and study diverse societies through a scientific lens with limited bias and prejudice. Ultimately, this search should be tempered with empathy, indulgence, and mutual understanding which will culminate in an interdependent and trusting relationship -- both worthy goals for any anthropologist!
Why Study Anthropology
The study of anthropology is very important to the world, as a whole because, from the first time man walked on this planet. he faced many challenges to his very survival. He developed habits that helped him to endure many hardships. He created shelters that protected him from the elements. He discovered what plants were good to eat and which ones were not. He developed ways to take advantage of the rich resources of the planet. He created traditions and rituals to celebrate his victories, relationships and good fortune. And all this knowledge and experience was passed on from person to person, guaranteeing the survival and lessening the burden of the next generation. Anthropology is the science of all these things.
Through the years, anthropology has allowed us to document our human diversity and helps us to comparatively examine the trials and errors of different societies, thereby providing data on "best practices. This data is then available for analysis and strategic implementation, which will increase chances that the human race will survive for many generations to come.
Social problems can be comparatively assessed and "tried-and-true" policies can be implemented. This process can serve to increase longevity and overall quality of life for many people.
By documenting societal nuances in communities throughout the world, anthropological records can provide assurance that the rich and diverse cultures of our world will never be lost to time or to the constant change inherent in our world.
It provides cross-cultural perspectives upon which future and highly successful societies can be built. And as stated in Mirror for Humanity, anthropology can identify needs for change that local people perceive, work with those people to design culturally appropriate and socially sensitive change, and protect local people from harmful policies and projects that threaten them (Kotak, 2005).
Anthropology also allows us to study and understand what other cultures and societies do, and more importantly, why they do it. This knowledge can lead to understanding. Understanding then leads to trust and highly functional relationships. And trust and functional relationships lead to healthy interdependency between societies. Another reason to study anthropology is to grow in knowledge and understanding of how to live life more fully and securely, thereby increasing our chances of living a fuller, safer and more content life by mitigating circumstances that might lead to annihilation, extinction or unhappiness.
Concepts and Topics
Worldview' refers to a common concept of reality shared by a particular group of people, usually referred to as a culture or an ethnic group. There is some commonality in our basic experience of the world, of other people, and of life-events we share in common. There is also that variation of individual experience, of interpretation of that experience and of behavior based on knowledge gained from that experience (Jenkins, 1999).
There exists among people today a wide variety of worldviews. There are religious worldviews, political worldviews, economic worldviews . . . the list goes on and on. And all of these worldviews can be examined in a variety of ways. One important consideration when relating worldviews to the development of a culture is the interwoven nature of worldviews, leadership, motive, power, and control.
An individual's worldview can only be deemed authentic and valid if it is a 'true' belief vs. an opinion or mechanism that facilitates the manipulation of people or circumstances with selfish or iniquitous intent.
Examples of two leading worldviews are Humanism (man is the center of the universe) and Christianity (God is the center of the universe). Humanism seeks to do that which is right for the individual. Humanism was successfully, albeit temporarily, promoted as that which was good for the masses. However, the relatively recent, failed experiment with Communism in the now defunct Soviet Union proved that only a few individuals were reaping the lion's share of the rewards in that corrupt political system. This was most accurately revealed by the two classes into which that society was eventually divided: the upper class made up of wealthy political and military leaders, and the lower class made up of the poor, working class. The Russian Federation, born out of the break-up of the Soviet Union, continues to struggle as it seeks to rebuild its economy, political leadership and culture around an immature form of democracy.
This Soviet debacle, formed by the hands of a corrupt leadership, show the shocking and devastating impact an unauthentic and immoral worldview can have on a society.
The Christian worldview, on the other had, seeks from its inception to lead from a position of 'love' for our fellow man versus 'greed' and individual/material success inherent in Humanism. The Christian worldview seeks to exalt God and Jesus Christ, evangelize all sinners, and equip Christians to serve and save all who need Christ as their Savior.
Although man's sinful desire for power, authority and control can creep into the Christian church, the foundational principles of this worldview have proven over the years to be the best choice for all people, as a whole. It encourages us to put other's needs ahead of our own, subjugating our own needs and desires through the grace offered freely by God and Christ. The philosophy of grace and service is intuitively correct. And when Christian attributes are obviously removed from daily tasks (i.e., in politics, business, etc.) personal desires for money, power and control prove to be the downfall of the leaders who position themselves in self-serving roles.
Religious Beliefs and Practices
Religion is culturally universal. Most societies find that a good part of their identity lies in their spiritual beliefs and customs. And when countries or societies loose their identity from foreign invasion, pop culture or severe economic disaster, the cultural void is often backfilled with religious fundamentalism (Harvey, 2003).
The importance of worldview cannot be overstated. For any movement of religion, it is the motivational factor that causes it to expand, contract, appear, and dissolve. Adherents to a particular movement test their worldview by acting upon it and observing the effects. Developing a Christian worldview is of extreme importance in order to advance Christ's kingdom as false systems collapse under their own corrupted weight.
This becomes increasingly clear when Western values supplant traditional principles and age-old ways of life.
Political organization is the formal or informal leadership, control and accountability structure under which all but the most primitive countries operate.
Nelson Mandela's political views were strongly influenced by the success he witnessed in a small village in South Africa. The concerns, opportunities, and opinions of every individual in this small village were openly shared and discussed with no single opinion being automatically rejected due to social status, wealth or education of the orator. Everyone enjoyed the same respect and the same personal power, thus enabling the group to share in respectful and peaceful conflict and discussions. The end result of this political organization was decisions based on consensus.
Democracy isn't perfect, but if the election of officials by the masses is fair, accurate and trusted, it has proven to be the fairest system implemented so far in any complex society. The theory of Communism is idealistic, but fundamentally flawed in its application and basic assumption that all people will act for the greater good of society. Autocracies are extremely efficient in the areas of decision-making and execution of these decisions. However, this type of political organization rarely takes into consideration the needs, wants and desires of the working class. This flaw, in turn, inures to the benefit of only a minute slice of society.
Leadership is an important part of any political organization. And different types of leaders are more effective at different junctures in the life of a society or nation. For example, a more autocratic leader with strong, basic principles who also possesses good oratory skills might be the best leader during any long or intense conflict. However, a more civil, people centered leader might be more effective when a country is negotiating for equity in imported and exported goods. Finding a leader with the right personality, leadership style and demeanor for present circumstances probably does more to stabilize and grow a society and culture than any other single factor, save a conservative and ethical worldview. One example of effective political organization is the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which positioned itself quite well by electing a chief who was well versed in the workings of politics at the national level. This knowledge of politics allowed Chief Hollis Roberts (retired) to secure lucrative government contracts for services rendered to the U.S. Department of Defense, making the Choctaw Nation one of the ten richest tribes in the United States.
Chief Gregory Pyle was the next chief elected to govern the Choctaw people. He has been quite effective at maintaining the Choctaw's vast wealth, but is also highly effective at creating programs that assist the Choctaw people in areas of health, education and housing. Both men proved to be effective leaders; however, even though their leadership styles and worldviews are vastly different, they both increased the overall health of the Choctaw Nation in very significant ways.
The expressive culture in any given society relates to the ways they express their thoughts, feelings, conflicts and desires. These expressions typically manifest themselves as art, architecture, games and verse.
Art, be it paintings on a cave wall or intricate carvings on an elephant's tusk, serve to reflect the nature of a society's culture. The ancient Mayans, Egyptians and Chinese recorded religious ceremonies, work life, and recreational activities in their art. These works of art accomplished two hugely important tasks. First, they recorded ancient history in a most intriguing and exciting way, thus providing permanent windows into the glorious cultures of the ancient past for centuries to come. We, through their art, are in many cases able to discern why and how their cultures thrived and ultimately were wiped out. Second, the artwork provided teaching tools for their children, through which they could learn about their own culture and history, formulate new ideas for their own generation, and provide a connection that linked many generations.
Architecture is another means upon which cultures are founded. And through the vehicle of Egyptian and Mayan architecture we learned creative building designs and practices that enable us to build our modem day skyscrapers. Our skylines and cityscapes are as recognizable to Americans as the pyramids built by our Egyptian and Mayan counterparts. This highlights the fact that our architecture is a reflection of our culture.
Games are another source of cultural expression. The Aborigines in Australia encourage their children to participate in target practice with bows, arrows and spears. This game helps the children to become proficient at hunting techniques, thereby enhancing the tribe's ability to sustain itself and its culture. And the Choctaw Nation continues to promote the game of Hi-Li at their festivals and celebrations. Although it is more of an exhibition than the highly competitive game it once was, the war-like culture of the Choctaws is kept alive by recounting stories of 'fights to the death' on the Hi-Li field.
How Has Culture Influenced My Personal Development
My personal development, beginning at birth, has been molded by three main influences: my Christian faith, my Choctaw heritage, and my role as an American.
Through my Christian worldview and extensive Bible study I acquired my morals, ethics and values. These biblical principles have influenced every choice I've made in the last twenty-plus years and have had a highly significant impact on my personality, my relationships, and my professional life.
Pride is the adjective that comes to mind when I think of my Choctaw heritage. I learned from my grandparents to respect the land, its animals, and all things natural. By being exposed to nature as a child and as a Choctaw, I garnered a greater that average respect for the earth and for the God who created it.
Although I'm not certain why God chose to place me in American, I very much appreciate the principles of freedom reflected in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I'm often confounded by the choices some of our leaders make. Overall, however, I'm vehemently proud of our nation and that for which it stands.
On a very personal level, I am reminded of my youth and the trials through which I put my family. Only now am I able to truly appreciate the national freedom that allowed me challenge the legal and moral boundaries that once (I thought) confined me.
I now see that my cultural boundaries did not confine me. Rather, they freed me to explore, grow and develop into the moral person whom I have become.
"History," according to Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations, "will continue as a clash of cultures." It seems the emerging, dominant culture(s) of our day will be those that promulgate moral and military superiority in tandem. Moral superiority evolves out of the world society moving to a consensus driven politic, one in which democracy will probably be consistently chosen, at least by the masses, over autocracies.
The impact of this self-imposed imperialism upon the world will be immense, due in part to the fact that when American political values are embraced worldwide, so, too, will its values be embraced. And when American values are embraced, it is possible that many cultures will be transformed into cultural subsets of America, perhaps loosing their own unique cultural richness and social identities. However, this may be the nature of our world one in which all nations and cultures are subjected to a constant state of change. And if this is the true nature of the world, it is inherently clear that we must seek to preserve the diverse histories and cultures that now (or recently) exist(ed) in order to preserve the roots upon which our world's cultures were born. Only by safeguarding our rich history through preserved works of art, architecture, videos of religious ceremonies, and traditional games, will we be preserving the cultural map we have drawn, based solely on our applied values. This safeguarding, in turn, will provide a mirror (created by anthropologists?) into which we can look, thereby creating a means by which we can review our historical actions and hopefully better plan our futures ones. "You do not support the root, but the root supports you." (Holy Bible, Romans 11:18)
There are lots of areas of study out there but the one field that intrigues peoples and civilizations is the actual study of themselves and how they interact with other human cultures. I don't think that I would have enrolled for this class if it hadn't been for the minor requirement in my business major. Although this class started early in the morning and required a lot from me, I am glad that I took it. I grew up in two cultures simultaneously and the experiences I incurred have made me the person I am today. I think that it is important to familiarize yourself with other cultures not just in business but it will aid in smoother business transactions. In the following paragraphs I will discuss the breadth of cultural anthropology. Anthropology and the vast fields that are included in the study cannot be summarized in one paper. I will attempt to cover as much as I can in the following pages. I will also relate Anthropology to college students today and explain the importance of understanding other cultures. Finally I will elaborate on some of the presentations that I liked the most and offer helpful hints and comments on those groups.
The discipline of anthropology studies humankind in the cultures of the world, both past and present. This study includes humankind's physical development and the wide diversity of lifestyles people have created. The main goal of Anthropology is to understand objectively the reasons for both similarities and differences among humans, their behaviors and ideas. Using the central concept of culture, a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and material objects that members of a society use to cope with their world, anthropologists investigate and gather data on the human condition. Cultural anthropology is a broad subject and not only includes different ethic cultures but social economic cultures as well. Cultural Anthropology seeks to understand and describe each culture in its own perspective and in comparative perspective. Cultural anthropologists gather data through first-hand field study in other cultures and do cross-cultural comparative studies which provide insight and understanding of the modes and patterns of human life. In the group presentations, the group that did the Italian Mafia intrigued me and got me thinking about subcultures within cultures. It showed how deep cultural anthropology really is. Studying about Italian immigrants and their way of life is interesting as it is, but including a subgroup, a group that was not mentioned in official textbooks is amazing. The Mafia, which stands for family was originally practiced in Italy as a way of helping people and neighborhoods out. I remember seeing the video that the Mafia group did and the interview with one of the group member's fathers. He had the stereotypical New York accent and spoke very highly of the original beliefs of the Mafia. He did however note that he did not endorse or condone the illegal actions of the Mafia. I think this group did a very good job in their presentation. Their layout was very smooth and the topic of the Italian Mafia is always an attention grabber simply because of the nature of the topic. I think that the overall breadth of anthropology is meaningful to me because I think that the more a person knows about a topic the less they are to prejudge someone or something before getting to know about it. The presentations were an excellent way to introduce each group's topics and cultures in an entertaining and informative way. I don't think that I would have ever known anything about "Hindu Marriages"Â or "Single Family African American Homes"Â if it weren't for the presentations. I think that prejudice would be lessened if people were more educated with the cultures and traditions of other races. This would prevent possible ethnic clashes when hard times arise, for instance the LA riots. During the LA riots in South Central LA, African Americans destroyed Korean businesses using the Rodney King verdict as an excuse. A few months earlier, a black male entered a Korean owned convenience store and walked out with a case of beer without paying for it. The clerk, who was a family member shot and killed the victim. When it went to trial and he was found not guilty of murder, the black community was outraged and thus the hatred of Koreans by African Americans was started. If both groups had been educated more about each other's differences and culture this could have been prevented.
Cultural Anthropologists seek to understand both the cultural and individual bases for behavior; and how political, economic, and social factors affect both the individuals and various groups. Although statistical and other quantitative methods are used, much of Cultural Anthropology is qualitative-descriptive. Classical anthropological fieldwork requires prolonged residence (of one or more years) with a particular group in order to understand their way of life. Until World War II, Cultural Anthropology focused especially on non-Western cultures, including Native American Indians, gaining a unique perspective on human life and behavior. More recently this perspective and fieldwork method have been applied as well to Western culture. People with anthropological training are actively employed in many fields in which their anthropological training and cross-cultural perspectives are valuable. Some of the fields are: investment banking; international and domestic merchandising; health care; personnel work; government; advertising; broadcasting; law; social work; and many areas of business. Cultural anthropology is extremely relevant to students today more than ever because the United States is becoming more and more inhabited by cultures other than Anglo-Americans. Statistics predict that the Anglo race will become the "minority"Â in the next 30 years and that mostly Hispanics and African Americans will contribute the next ethic explosion in the US. Therefore it is crucial that the educated youth of today have a firm grasp of the cultures that are around them. International business will be improved and ethnic bonds will be formed through understanding the other's culture. This might not have been possible without the education of that group's culture. The presentation of the "Veil"Â was very informative because it showed me a different side of women wearing the veil. Before the presentation I looked at the veil as unfashionable attire worn by Middle Eastern women. After the presentation I realized that the veil represents the culture and magnifies the women who wear them. The American culture today does not really emphasize being pure in body before marriage and thus is the major reason why over 50% of marriages end in divorce after one year. The rate of divorce in Middle Eastern countries was next to none until recently. I believe that there is deeper meaning in this. The veil, to me signifies a pure unseen and untouched woman. A woman that is only to be enjoyed by her husband. As traditional and old fashion as that might seem, Middle Eastern marriages outlast most other cultures marriages in not having divorces.
I liked most of the presentations that I observed. They were all unique and informative in their own way. All of the groups put much effort and time in producing quality skits and presentations. My favorite ones were the Italian Mafia and the Second-Generation Vietnamese. I have always been intrigued and fascinated by the actions and way of the Mafia. Growing up I remember watching John Gotti on television and going through trial after trial only to be acquitted. I couldn't help but cheer him on even though he was a ruthless villain. Some of my favorite mob movies are Donny Brasco, Mobsters, and Godfather. They represented a different side of entreprenauership and business other than the Rockefellers and Vanderbilt's of their time. They had a different way of doing business and loyalty was valued above all else. The main difference between the mob and other successful "straight"Â businessmen was the mob acted like a family or group. They oftentimes helped out poor Italian immigrants in need and provided and found jobs for poor families. Most Italian immigrants saw the mob as a hero figure kind of like a Robin Hood. They rooted for the mob leaders when they were arrested by the law and backed them up when they could. The Second Generation Vietnamese group interested me not only because I am Vietnamese but also because I see first hand what the past two generations of Vietnamese people have gone through. When my parents came here in 1979 with no money and little knowledge of American culture and language, they knew that it was going to be a struggle to get our family back on our feet. My father worked two jobs to support my family and my mother worked 9-5 and raised us. My parents and other Vietnamese parent's generations had a strong work ethic and pushed their children to go to school. Most of the earlier second-generation kids did well in school and excelled in their professional fields because they had a strong family background with support and help. Today's Vietnamese generation is a little different however because while our parents were working 2 jobs and running businesses 18 hours a day they didn't have much time to spend with the younger kids and consequently a lot of young Vietnamese youths today are involved in gangs and teenage girls are getting pregnant. I think in general, they will be fine but they have to go through a different struggle than what I had to go through. When I speak to most Vietnamese kids today, the majority of them cannot or barely speak the language much less read or write in Vietnamese. In general I think that this group did a good job in presenting the differences between our parents and our generation.
Cultural anthropology allows students to look at other cultures differently and understand a little better what that group has gone through to get to where they are today. This course has been a great help to me as well as the people that I have spoken to. The instructor did a great job in laying out the course and although there were a lot of assignments to be completed I think that they were necessary in order to gain a full learning experience of the entire field. At first I thought the fact that most groups were composed of same ethnic groups would be boring and that they would only talk about how good their group was. After watching and attending all of the presentations I found that to be completely opposite. By having members of those groups of the same race, they were able to join and share different views and experiences and provide a better overall and complete presentation for the viewers. After reviewing and summarizing everything that I have learned during this semester, I can confidently say that I am more educated in other cultures than I would have ever dreamed. I believe that the understanding of the culture around you and the cultures that inhabit the same planet as you enables you to make better and more informed decisions in both business and social interactions.