Welcome to Anthropology2100, a cultural anthropology course blog for Fall 2014.
Anthropology 2100 was originally created by the undergraduate students and graduate student TAs of Professor Carole McGranahan’s Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course, Fall 2010 at the University of Colorado. The second version was the Fall 2013 ANTH 2100 course. We are now doing Round Three of this blog in the Fall 2014 semester.
This blog was designed so that students could read and engage others’ work, rather than solely writing for their professor or TAs. Our goal is to create a space for discussion and debate outside of the classroom.
Over the course of this semester, students will write essays on three topics: food, love, and music. Students will address these topics from anthropological perspectives, specifically using two different theories in each essay to gain a sense of how anthropological scholarship and argument unfolds. Depending on what point in the semester the students write any given essay, the theories they are using might be a bit old-fashioned or might represent contemporary theories in cultural anthropology. Either way, our intention is for students to learn anthropological theory by putting it into use.
(Don’t know much about anthropological theory? Check out our course Theory+Anthropology Wikipage, created by students in the 2010 version of this course.)
We will choose a handful of student essays to put up on Anthropology2100. As part of their assignment, students are also required to participate in the blog through commenting on posted essays. Everyone is invited to join in the conversation. Respectful, civil exchanges, questions, and disagreements are welcome; rude, snarky, and/or mean-spirited comments will be taken down.
Thanks for reading, and here’s to good intellectual conversation and anthropology!
This sacred unofficial holiday is a day that millions of people around the world wait all year for. People save up their money for this expendable day, and often times, people have been killed in urgency and anticipation of this day. This is the day that follows Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday. Black Friday is often regarded as the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season with major retailers opening their doors early and offering promotional sales. Anxious shoppers line up outside of shopping malls and outlet stores hours before the store opens even earlier than normal, sometimes claiming their spot the evening of Thanksgiving. When the store doors finally open in the early hours of that Friday morning, herds of people trample their way inside the stores to get the best deals on products before they’re gone. Sometimes the crowds of people are so overwhelming and powerful that in 2008 in New York, a Walmart employee was trampled to death on Black Friday. But what exactly compels people to participate in Black Friday?
Poststructuralism views culture through a powerful lens, theorizing that power acts as an agent of economic, political, and social trends. On Black Friday, all of the major retail stores and companies hold the power in their hands. Poststructuralism also offers the notion that where there is power, there is resistance. One could argue that case on this particular day. With corporations such as Walmart, people are opposed to shopping there due to the fact that Walmart buys their products from China where labor is cheap and their control over the market. But on Black Friday, places like Walmart slash their already cheap prices to a point where even the most stubborn liberal gives in and spends a quick dollar or two on products.
According to Boasian theory, cultural traits pass from one culture to another in an element of cultural diffusion. Black Friday isn’t just tied to the United States, although it is often the place that most people associate with Black Friday. Countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Brazil have adopted this successful unofficial holiday, and statistically have almost doubled their total revenue in one year with the adoption of this tradition. Canada adopted Black Friday to keep their citizens from traveling across the border into the United States, and in turn proved to be a crafty move on their part with some Canadian stores tracking 10 to 11 times higher during the week of Black Friday than average. This successful notion of cultural Black Friday is spreading quickly throughout the globe, and in the future, could potentially become a world-wide custom. What a crazy world that would be!
It’s the week after Halloween and it feels like Christmas day. The mall is covered in lights and garlands, the stores are playing carols, and the TV is showing commercials for the perfect Christmas gift. The only place Christmas hasn’t yet hit is inside the home. The premature arrival of Christmas in the United States in areas of consumerism exemplifies how money has overshadowed the importance of tradition in our society today. This phenomenon may be usefully considered through different theories of cultural anthropology.
As discussed in class, Marxist anthropology is the study of the impact of material factors on social change within a society. If a Marxist anthropologist were to analyze the growing consumerism of Christmas in the United States, he or she might notice the increased importance of shopping and gift giving that surrounds the holiday. He or she may also notice the possible decrease of actual time spent with friends and family and the practice of traditions that originally played a major role in the holiday. One may relate the large division of classes in the United States to consumerism, in particular to that of Christmas. Some people spend thousands of dollars on presents urging large companies to raise their prices making it harder for the lower class to even buy anything at all. Through a Marxist perspective one may conclude that the change in Christmas shopping habits may impact the general division of classes and the decrease of the middle class in the United States today.
If the consumerism of Christmas in the United States were viewed through practice theory, one would compare what people do in order to celebrate Christmas versus what they say they do or what society says they should do. Many people may try to portray their practices of more intimate family traditions such as decorating the tree or baking cookies through forms of discourse such as a Christmas cards. On the contrary, society tells people to go spend all their money on as many gifts that they can possibly buy, mostly through media. The interesting part of this study would be to see who follows what they say they do versus what society tries to convince them to do in order for larger companies to continue to grow. This could be analyzed through calculating the amount of time and money people spend in large shopping malls versus the time they spend in more traditional places like the church or living room of their homes and how that amount of time has changed over the years.
There are several theories one can use to analyze the growing consumerism of Christmas in the United States. Through these theories we can better understand the meaning of Christmas and how money has impacted it, especially in the last sixty years. We can also relate this change in values to the rest of the world and how consumerism in general has become a trend in the economy of many areas of the world.
Historically speaking, different cultures have had fascinating views and practices regarding twins. In some instances twins are praised and seen as a blessing, while in others they have been despised and seen as a bad omen—sometimes leading twins in certain societies to be outright disposed of. Being a twin myself, non-twins hold beliefs that twins have special twin ‘powers’ such as telepathy and share one mind with the same ideas and interests. Bizarrely enough multiple people have asked my twin brother and myself to demonstrate that we could read one another’s minds by speaking the same word at the same time without any prior knowledge—with a 99% failing rate.
An anthropologist utilizing Practice Theory would look at how twins are seen and talked about in a culture vs. how that certain culture’s “established structures” view twins. For example, in the United States most institutions do not alienate or limit twins, as they’re a ‘group’ that is deserving of the same inalienable rights that every other person is given. However, employers or any non-twins could hold beliefs that associate twins with negative or unusual connotations that might restrict them from private establishments or ostracize them from the smallest of social groups. In addition, the Practice theorist could observe the ‘historic turn’ of the twin phenomenon, as the particular history of the culture is more pertinent than any universal theories regarding twins.
A Culture and Personality anthropologist could easily examine different cultures’ rationales and beliefs regarding twins to support his or her theory that culture, rather than biology, shapes a culture’s personality and beliefs towards a phenomenon. For instance, twins have attained a heroic status in the eyes of Italians, as the legendary founders of Rome were the twins Romulus and Remus. Whereas, in many other cultures that practiced some sort of kin-land inheritance system, twins would have to be killed so as not to cause future violence and strife for the family, village, or even kingdom if it was the royalty and elites who birthed twins. Even in our present place in history, “modern society,” such as the United States practice selective abortion, in which the parent or parents will choose to kill a twin inside of the womb. Twins are common in every culture that reproduces, so a Culture and Personality anthropologist could use the historical and modern beliefs of cultures pertaining to twins to show the variations in different cultures that do not hold a biological and universal personality regarding twins.
One of the most exhilarating and terrifying, yet meaningful and productive actions a teenager can do is fly out of the comfortable coop their parents have built for them. There is little responsibility while living under a family member’s roof and there are controversial feelings within a teenager on if s/he is ready to live self-sufficiently. Leaving the nest is an important step for every individual as well as for society as a whole. Could you imagine if everyone lived with all of their extended family in America similar to many other cultures around the world?
According to societal rules in America, a child is supposed to move out and go to college or get a job when s/he is eighteen. In reality a clear majority of teenagers do not do this when becoming of age. There are parents that allow their child to live at home through college and even after college due to variables that could be that they couldn’t find a job, don’t want to find a job, or have a job that isn’t sufficient in being able to pay the bills for their own house. This is what a Practice theorist would notice because the general ideal of life after high school to most kids, while growing up, along with parents having children, is for the child to move out and be self-sufficient, while a vast amount of teenagers are unable to do so and end up living in their parent’s home into their twenties with little to no negative repercussions. This in an example of invisible rules in a society that are not followed in practice.
A Marxist would focus more on why they couldn’t move out once they reach eighteen and be able to connect those reasons to capitalism. This would pertain to the idea that being in a capitalist society allows for children to stay home until graduation for a better education in order to make the best productive citizens in society. By having a capitalist economy it is assumed that relationships in the work force are going to deal with the mode of production, means of production, and mode of exchange. If a teenager does not have the money to go to college then they do not have the means to become a productive member of society and contribute to the U.S. capitalist system. The less people that are able to go out and buy a home while maintaining a job, the harder it will be for our capitalist society to be efficient in production and exchange, therefore those who live with their parents after college are of interest to a Marxist anthropologist in an economically productive standpoint.
Living in Boulder, I can definitely say that this city touts a healthy lifestyle. While the implementation of healthful living is by no means bad, I have noticed a malicious affect: obese individuals often feel judged by thinner individuals because of their weight. I have even had a few friends who have left CU because they felt so judged and ostracized.
“Fat shaming,” or the act of treating obese individuals differently because of their weight, isn’t a new phenomenon. Journalists have been reporting on fat shaming for some years now. While I believe that coverage of fat shaming has been sufficient, I don’t think that enough has been done to help explain why these events occur. To be clear, I am only going to discuss incidences that have happened in contemporary America.
Symbolic anthropology can help partly explain why fat shaming occurs. In all societies, people give objects and people symbolic meaning. While inanimate objects such as the American flag symbolize freedom, obese individuals can also be symbolic. To some, obese individuals symbolize laziness and undisciplined. Take for example psychology professor Geoffrey Miller. In August, the Huffington Post reported that Miller had posted this tweet, “Dear obese Ph.D. applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.” This isn’t just one man’s opinion, but a widespread one. I have met many people that identify with Miller’s opinion. Symbols attributed to obesity contribute to fat shaming because of the negative connotations.
Ruth Benedict’s culture and personality theory adds another dimension to fat shaming analysis. This theory asserts that every culture creates a certain type of individual that is valued. If an individual goes against established cultural norms, then “normal” individuals treat them differently. This theory is demonstrated through weight-based discrimination in the workplace. It was reported in a 2008 Forbes article, “Is Weight Affecting Your Career?” that when a white, obese woman gains 64 pounds, her income drops 9%. This statistic was taken from a 2004 Cornell University study. It has also been shown that obese individuals are less likely to be hired when a thinner individual is applying for the same job. The negative correlation between weight and the likelihood of getting the desired job was reported in a 2002 The New York Times article, “The Trials of Job Hunting Beyond a Certain Size.” The article highlighted Robert Diaz, an obese individual who attempted to get a job. Before a job interview, Diaz would try to make himself appear thinner. Despite his attempts, Diaz reported that the interview was “usually…over almost as soon as they [saw] me.”
Because of how American culture values the thin, and toned body, and the hardworking individual, it’s no wonder why American society is rejecting obese individuals. American culture wants the individual to have this most often times unattainable body type. A person who is not even astronomically close to this body type is rejected and even denied jobs over a thinner individual.
Body piercings have been around for many years and they are used differently depending on the culture. In America, body piercings have been gaining more popularity. There have been more different types of individuals who are getting piercings, which has also been associated with the location of the piercing on the individual’s body. Piercings in America nowadays are certainly most prevalent among teenagers and young adults, around their early twenties, and they are expressive of a specific style and/ or personality that the individual wants to be associated with.
A symbolic anthropologist might see body piercings as representing defiance. When we look at the main age group of the individuals who pierce their bodies it usually varies between high school and college students. During my high school years I went through a phase when I wanted more and more piercings. I now have seven piercings, five of which I got in high school. I was lucky because my parents allowed my phase of piercings, but many of my friends secretly got piercings behind their parent’s backs. This is one way that piercings symbolize defiance from the current American view. High school is a time when people often go through many phases and rebel against their parents. Piercings can be one representation of this transition of rebellious behavior. Piercings symbolize ownership over the individual body and it is semi-permanent with little damage, unlike tattoos. The location of a piercing is also symbolic of an individuals style, and oftentimes personality. For instance, nose piercings may have been very different 10 years ago, but now it is far more popular among boys and girls in America. However, when someone pierces their eyebrow or lip, this piercing is much more associated with a different group of people, or perhaps just an individual who wants to be more original.
A post-structuralist who is interested in questions of power might notice that publically visible piercings tend to decline as an individual gets older. When I have applied for jobs, piercings have been something that must be hidden while working. Many jobs do not allow piercings because it is viewed as less professional, but many piercings may also be hidden and taken out when necessary. This is a view of a crack within a hegemonic system because wherever there is power, there is resistance, and the piercing is that resistance of enforced power. A post-structuralist might mention that disciplining of the of the body results from disciplining of the mind. This idea is represented in having body piercings because people often do take out their piercings by choice, but there is also pressure by society to conform that may cause this.
People who have piercings that are not “normal” may be ostracized, but the piercing is representative of the individual. Piercings are symbolic of what an individual wants to represent, yet it also serves as a crack within a hegemonic system because they serve as a resistance to power that is created by society.