Welcome to the ANTH 2100 Blog—Fall 2014!

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!

Posted in Uncategorized, Welcome | Leave a comment

The Language of the Chant

By Phoenix F

The inside of the palatial church is crowded. I have can scarcely move without brushing against another person. My candle is held close to my chest, its little flickering flame illuminating the bulletin I collected when I walked in. Although my knowledge of Modern Greek is negligible at best, I know what is happening in the service as soon as I hear the first chant. It is Great and Holy Friday: the most solemn service of the Greek Orthodox Church year. We are holding a vigil at the tomb of Christ. The chanters begin the first verse of the Lamentations, and I join in the chant—with the same tune I have sung every year since I was a child.

The Greek Orthodox, whether in Greece or abroad, find their ethnic identity through the traditions of the Church. Among these are traditions of the specific architecture of the church buildings, their icons and the imagery they present, as well as the wearing of crosses and the wrapping of prayer ropes around their wrists. One of the most unique and unifying elements of the Greek Orthodox Church is its music. Members know by heart the tunes of the eight ‘tones’ – the basic chants the Church cycles through every eight weeks. They know them in the same way that all Christians know the Lord’s Prayer and can recite it anywhere without effort.  The eight tones of Greek Orthodox music are a common liturgical “language” through which Orthodox Christians express their devotion in worship no matter where they are. They share the tones not only with members of their local churches but also with other Greek Orthodox Christians in almost every Greek Orthodox service across the world.

This phenomenon in Greek Orthodox music can easily be approached from a functionalist perspective. The liturgical church year cycles through multiple feast days which mark different seasons of the year: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and so forth. Within these seasons are also smaller feasts which celebrate individual saints. Each feast day has its own hymnology—its own approved liturgical text which is read and sung on the occasion—and each of these texts are set to the tunes of the familiar eight tones . So, instead of having a hymn book filled with hundreds of hymns as the Protestants do, the Orthodox simply apply one of the eight chants to the different liturgical feast day texts. This way, not only can the choir and chanters sing new text with relative ease, so can the members of the congregation who have heard these tunes all their lives. The tones meet a need for a simply way to set hundreds of texts to song.

The eight chants server a bigger purpose than limiting the musical repertoire.  In fact, an interpretive anthropologist would find a wealth of symbolic meaning within the music. The Byzantine chants are simple tunes, created so they are easy to apply to a text and also so they are easy for everyone to remember.

Byzantine chants of text were performed first and foremost because of the church’s deeply held belief that if a text is read aloud, the reader may impose his own interpretation of the text in the inflection he lends to the words and sentences as he reads them aloud.  This is avoided when the text is set to the tunes of the eight chants. The familiar cadences of the chant ensure that all readers read the text objectively, without personal inflection.

The chants also create a sense of unity for the Greek Orthodox which I little understood until I set foot in Greece myself. I was a foreigner, traveling alone in a country where I often understood little or none of what the people around me said, but these familiar chants were soothing to me. Being able to sing along with the music gave me a sense of unity with the people singing around me in the church. In America, in Greece, and in all other countries where the Greek Orthodox Church stands, Byzantine chants are the common worship language unifying the Greek Orthodox world: a language we all speak and understand.

Posted in Music Essay (2014) | 34 Comments

Anthropology in the Music of the ’60s and ’70s

By Alex H

The ’60s and ’70s were a time of social upheaval and cultural change, which can be seen in the music of the time.  The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Jonny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and The Beatles are only some of the musicians and bands that emerged in this age of musical revolution. Many people look at this time in history as being the most important era for the development of music culture. It was at this time that lifestyles began to change. Many of us know this as the “hippie era” in which the youth of America began to question all parts of society previously accepted. People were challenging lifestyles, drugs, clothing, sexuality, formalities, education, and the function of the government in a democracy. Music is in a way a cultural artifact that sheds light to the culture and society at the time that the music is made and released. This is why we can use methods within cultural anthropology to study the music of the 1960s and 1970s, why it emerged in popularity, and how it contributed to the function of society and social change.

We can look at the foundation for this counterculture in music by looking at Boasian Anthropology. Boasian Anthropology has four main theories, cultural relativism, and historical particularism, diffusion, and salvage anthropology. For this purpose it is Historical Particularism that helps us study the music of the ’60s and ’70s. Franz Boaz states that, “In historical happenings we are compelled to consider every phenomenon not only as an effect but as a cause.” (Boaz, 315) When Boaz says this, he means that we have to look at the historical development and events of a culture in order to study their behavior. We cannot just think of historical events as being the results of something, but also as agents of change. In other words, if we want to look at how this culture of music developed, we have to look at the history of the united states prior to the ’60s and ’70s. Many of the youth in this era had parents who lived in the great depression. Their parents were used to a much more conservative and traditional way of life and culture. The music of the seventies was about controversial ideas that were not explored in music in prior generations. For example: the idea of drugs being associated with a peaceful lifestyle, an open sexuality, or an anti-violence discourse. The song “All You Need is Love” was released in the famous summer of 1967 by the Beatles. The song tittle became a famous saying for those in the anti war movement. To understand this, we need to use Historical Particularism. At this time, the US government was expanding its presents in Vietnam. People of America were tired of the deaths and the damage the war extended on their society. Boasian Anthropology states that each culture undergoes its unique history that results in its varying cultural movements. In this case, the music of America in the 1960s and 1970s reflected a time of Cultural Revolution brought upon by several historical events.

            The basic premise of structural Functionalism is that society functions as a whole while areas of culture and society interact to make it work. However, we cannot just look at the function of society, we have to also look at the structure. This is what Radcliffe Brown believed. He claimed that, “For social anthropology the task is to formulate and validate statements about the conditions of existence of social systems (laws of social statics) and the regularities that are observable in social change” (Radcliffe Brown) By this Radcliffe is saying that when studying society and social change such as the counter culture of the ’60s and ’70s, one must focus on the social structure rather then biology. In order to understand the social phenomena of the musical revolution, you have to look at the social level. He also claims that all individuals are just performing social roles that allow society to function as a whole. This suggests that people of the ’60s and ’70s were not acting a certain way because of biological needs, but because of reactions to social influence and social systems. The music created a social system or way to question society that did not previously exist in such magnitude. The youth of America that were acting as rebels were not harming society, but were performing social roles needed for change to happen. This idea of Structural Functionalism suggests that all types of people help society function as a whole. The musical revolution allowed society to change and function in a way that was better for the changing attitudes in the country.

Music is a cultural artifact that can give insight into the culture of the time. Anthropology allows us to analyze music as a result of historical events and how it ties into the function of society. We have to look at music as an indicator of social change.

 

  1. Boas, Franz (December 1920). “The Methods of Ethnology”. American Anthropologist (jstor PDF) 22 (4): 311–321. doi:10.1525/aa.1920.22.4.02a00020. JSTOR660328. ISSN: 00027294.
  2. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. 1951. The Comparative Method in Social Anthropology. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 81(1/2): 22.
Posted in Music Essay (2014) | 33 Comments

From Rags to Riches

By Taylor W.

It’s a rare occurrence to find food shifting from “poor man’s meat” to “rich man’s dinner” but that is exactly what happened to the Maine lobster. In the 17th century lobsters were washing up on the shore in two foot high mounds easily accessible to anyone that found themselves near a beach. They were considered poor man’s protein because they were so plentiful[1]. However, a major shift happened in the early 19th century when major cities like Boston and New York started serving the crustacean as a high end meal[2]. The lack of knowledge of the lobster’s history and some clever marketing quickly changed lobsters into a rich man’s dinner. There are two theories that directly relate to this lobster phenomena, Symbolic and Cultural evolution. The ways an anthropologist would interpret this situation would differ depending on the theory they used.

An anthropologist would look at this situation and apply symbolic theory, and try to discover what lobsters symbolize. They would do this by asking some questions like who the lobsters were eaten by, where these people ate lobster, and finally what lobsters symbolized during this time. In the 17th century their answers would be that people who ate lobsters were the poor and the accused. Eating lobsters in prisons and on the streets. It was a very common food to find, therefore, it was for the commoner. It was even seen as cruel and unusual punishment to feed a prisoner lobster more than three times a week[3]. This food symbolized the commoner, it symbolized poverty, and no respectable person would ever be seen eating it. But in the early 19th century the symbolic meaning for lobster completely changed. Now if one asked the same questions the answers would be much different. Now people who ate lobsters would be rather well off, eating with friends or on a date in the fanciest of restaurants. The lobster now symbolized the wealthy.

Another way to look at this situation would be to look at how the culture surrounding lobsters changed by using cultural evolution. This theory would determine that people in the 17th century were more primitive for eating dead lobster and considering it a poor man’s food. They would see that they were still humans consuming the food, but they learned and evolved to cook the lobster, and to consider it a meal that was actually worthy of being eaten. They would see that the “primitive peoples” ideas shifted to form a more civilized view of the modern day lobster in a linear way.  The cultural change in this situation is severely significant. The whole idea behind lobster evolved and completely changed people’s view of the lobster. The lobster did not change and evolve over time, the way humans view lobster changed.

In nearly 2 centuries the lobster went from most hated crustacean to being one of the tastiest meals one can sit down and eat, becoming a significant part of American north-east culture. Everything about lobsters evolved, especially what they symbolize.

[1] http://www.history.com/news/a-taste-of-lobster-history Accessed August 15 2014

[2] http://www.freshmainelobster.com/the-popularity-of-maine-lobsters/ Accessed August 16 2014

[3] http://www.lobsters.org/tlcbio/biology.html Accessed August 15 2014

Posted in Food Essay (2014) | 53 Comments

Food and Privilege in the Contemporary U.S.

By Larkin T.

Upper-middle class American consumers frequently condemn mainstream food production practices with little consideration of the privilege they have amongst the majority of Americans to actively choose how their food is produced, and where they receive their food from. Frequently criticizing factory farming, genetic engineering, and non-organic production,  upper-middle class Americans  demonstrate how “privilege is invisible to those who have it”[1] when they fail to acknowledge or even consider that many Americans do not have the economic means to pursue alternative food sources that are more expensive.

From a Culture and Personality theoretical perspective, one must consider the various “types” of people created by society through different socialization processes[2] in order to comprehend how these different “types” are frequently unaware of each others limitations and privileges. For example, the majority of Americans who actively strive for healthy lifestyles and specifically buy stereotypical “health” foods are only able to do so based on the privilege they are awarded via their socioeconomic class in the U.S. The contemporary vegan, yogic, health-oriented personality “type” is ever prevalent in the contemporary United States. However, this personality type is only developing from a distinct privileged socioeconomic class. In comparison, someone who is socialized in a working-class environment probably doesn’t have the luxury to go to an expensive yoga class in their free time while making stops at the local organic grocery store. In most impoverished communities yoga would never be considered a plausible activity for communal socialization. Furthermore, impoverished communities are targeted and swelled with the fast food industry, leaving very little room for grocery stores, let alone organic-locally sourced ones.From this perspective, one would assume that the differences in socioeconomic class, a product of the culture and society, led to differences in socialization thus leading to different personality types.

From a Structural Functionalism theoretical perspective, the social structure that holds this phenomena together and keeps it functioning as a holistic process would be emphasized as the cause of these differences in food preference, access to nutritional education, and food access amongst different classes in the U.S. The phenomena observed is not a result of the people itself, but rather the social structure that holds society together collectively[3].For the U.S., the economic system would be seen as the institutional source of inequity amongst the social structure, thus leading to class differentials and lack of access to certain resources that the more privileged members of society have, such as access to Whole Foods and other organic grocers. The social structure of society directly leads to privilege and lack of privilege in relation to food quality in the U.S. Furthermore, the ideological construction of how privileged is gained, from a capitalist perspective, the basis of the economic system in the U.S., would lead to a lack of empathy from a upper-class individual in relation to the deficiency of privilege amongst lower-class peoples.

[1] Michael Kimmel, “On Gender” YouTube Video posted by “ChallengingMedia”

[2]Recitation,TA Kate Fischer, ANTH 2100, Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 18 September 2014

[3]A.R Radcliffe-Brown ,“On Social Structure” in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 70, No. 1 (1940), pp. 1-12

Posted in Food Essay (2014) | 43 Comments

No Slurping Allowed

By Brett M.

I have always had difficulty enjoying my pasta, ramen, or other noodle dish silently.  My mother would instantly reprimand me as a child if I were to make even the slightest of slurping noises while eating.  This is how I learned that eating noodles or other food in the United States should be a silent act.  In fact it is considered quite taboo to make noises while eating.  However, in Japan, slurping noodles is actually considered to be a flattering action for the chef who has prepared one’s food[1].  In some circumstances it is even considered rude not to make noises as this signifies a lack of enjoyment.  Surely such polar opposite, culturally defined, “acceptable” behaviors require the analysis of a few cultural anthropologists.

A Boasian anthropologist would maintain that in order to understand the eating practices of both Americans and the Japanese, we must view the discrepancies through a separate cultural lens thus practicing cultural relativism[2].  Perhaps for the Japanese, body language and indirect sound is more important than it is in the United States[3].  The unique history in the development of Japanese culture has allowed for a difference in accepted communication practices.  Slurping serves to give thanks to the person who made the food, in an indirect manner.  For Americans, however, making noises while eating does not function to indicate satisfaction. It is actually through the use of spoken language, that one should indicate their satisfaction toward a delicious food[4].  Conversation at the dinner table has been incorporated as an essential American value and slurping merely takes away from this form of direct communication, thus it is labeled an unacceptable practice.  Even though both cultures are equally developed and share a general belief in thanking the chef, they are not completely equivalent as emphasized by separate cultural entities and histories.

As he sits in his armchair, the cultural evolutionist disagrees with the Boasian anthropologist.  He believes that the Japanese still have barbarian characteristics associated with their eating habits[5].  An act such as slurping is not something that a white, civilized, European or American should be doing.  Thus they have purged these characteristics from their culture as they advanced in the timeline of civilization.  In fact, it will only be a matter of time before the Japanese stop slurping their noodles and progress towards silent eating.  This will be a clear indication of development and a greater hierarchical ranking.  Slurping is simply an indication of one’s social level of advancement.

Although fundamentally different, each anthropological theory seeks to explain the cultural differences in American and Japanese eating norms.  Food has such a vast array of cultural elements; even the practice of eating itself has many dimensions.  Regarding this specific category, I hope American resilience with eating quietly will eventually change as there is just something so satisfying about audibly enjoying food.

[1] “Japanese Table Manners.” Japanese Table Manners. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Antropology, 15th September 2014.

[3] “US / Japan Culture Comparison.” CultureComparison. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[4] “US / Japan Culture Comparison.” CultureComparison. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

[5] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Antropology, 15th September 2014.

Posted in Food Essay (2014) | 43 Comments

The Day After Thanksgiving

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!

—Mckinley Q.

Posted in Money Essay (2013) | 54 Comments