Welcome to the ANTH 2100 Blog – Fall 2015

Welcome to Anthropology2100, a cultural anthropology course blog for Fall 2015.

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. We are now doing Round Four of this blog in the Fall 2015 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 between students outside of the classroom.

Over the course of this semester, students will write essays on three topics: family, the body, and the non-human.  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 toward topics they find compelling.

(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 Welcome | Leave a comment

The Art of “Thin-Shaming”

by Skyler

Have you ever seen a young, spindly giraffe try to play soccer, basketball, or rollerblade? That was me for the first seventeen years of my life. While my dad made jokes while embracing me in his arms about how hugging me was like “hugging a number two pencil” (in the most endearing manner), the transition into school was a different story – hearing gossip about me being labeled as an anorexic was a norm for me due to my inherently awkward giraffe physique. In this essay I will examine the overlooked phenomenon of thin-shaming among adolescent girls in American culture through historical particularism & feminist anthropology.

Historical particularism would investigate this issue by looking at how society arrived at a point where the common assumption about very thin women is that they have an eating disorder. In the 1920’s the “desirable” woman was to have a petite, boyish figure with a slim waist. From then forward, we progressed into the hollywood ‘golden age’ which embodied the curvy hourglass figure with large breasts and a plump figure in the 1950’s. Since then we’ve switched back & forth between full figures & dainty physiques. In the 21st century we’ve reverted back to the “thin beauty” ideal, where it’s difficult for most girls to reach this type of uniquely thin physique naturally. We live in a weight obsessed culture, where people often take extreme measures, including nutrition deprivation, to fulfill this ideal. As a result, women whose bodies are inherently thin get caught in the cultural critique & are stamped with an eating disorder. The peak between being ‘too fat’ and ‘too skinny’ becomes increasingly narrow as time goes on. In the end the powerful force of the media dictates how women & men perceive themselves.

Feminist anthropology would question why men don’t face this obstacle. When we are born our bodies are gendered until the time we die, but the difference between men & women in regards to sexualization is crucial to understand. As time progresses, there has been an increase in men objectification, though not nearly to the extent that women experience. As the evolution of women’s bodies continue, any deviation from this frame of the perfect body is scrutinized. For men there are few consequences for this. The implications of being harassed or sexually violated pervade women’s lives. We live in a manipulative culture with a driving force of media behind this body shaming. In the documentary Killing Us Softly, Jean Kilbourne explains the implications of mass media advertising, “The media sells more than products, it sells values, concepts of love, sexuality… and most importantly normalcy.”

The expectation for women’s beauty becomes more complicated and intangible to achieve with each decade. In a culture where advertising profits off self-doubt, it is easy to dislike yourself. Instead of stigmatizing others for being too thin or curvy, we need to realize that ultimately our bodies are just skin made up of cells & tissue, & that they have no power over our virtue, character, or purpose in this world.

Posted in Body Essay (2015) | 57 Comments

The Scarification of Dinka Youth

by Cory

As humans, we innately look for ways to integrate ourselves into a common group. From piercings to tattoos to the clothes on our back to our very beliefs, we are in constant search for connection, and hopefully, a group we can call our own. It is through these actions, decisions and manners of self presentation that we factor into society.

For the Dinka people of southern Sudan, scarring one’s body is not only a way to find your clan in society- it is a full-blown right of passage. The ritual is performed on both boys and girls. The scarring patterns tell a story of personal bravery in the face of extreme pain, as well as where a particular individual belongs. The belonging sought in this sense is one of clan ties: different patterns are associated with different clans. Along with clan ties, scars can also signify physical beauty, namely in female individuals. As an added bonus to females, various scars from their forehead to their liver areas can be regarded as symbols of fertility, good health, eye sight and an increased resistance to headaches. A symbolic and interpretive anthropologist would argue that these scars are the direct result of learned clan traditions. Passed down through the years, from old to new, the symbolic scarring defines the Dinka people. When Clifford Geertz wrote of “webs of significance” defining man’s construction of culture, he argued that the given cultural laws were not scientific, but rather purposed for a “search of meaning”. With the Dinka scars representative of clans and well as being a direct product of culture, the symbols bring the various peoples together through a perceived sense of physical belonging.

Along with a significant symbolic meaning, these practices and rituals can be related to structural-functionalism. Frontier structural-functionalist Radcliffe-Brown suggested that the individual was “irrelevant and replaceable”. In Dinka culture, individuals who show no emotion (wincing, crying, screaming, etc.) are seen as worthy members of the group. They have passed from their adolescence to adult hood, quite literally by the razor’s edge. They now fill a man’s roles and responsibilities in the group, as proven by this test of courage. Alternatively, if the participant breaks this silence, they find themselves losing “a great deal of face” in the community. These individuals find themselves having their responsibilities given to tougher, braver persons. The brave find a pivotal role in society. The weak do not find this same recognition. From this comes the structure and function of the tribe, as decided by strength and courage.

Though painful and bloody the scars of the Dinka are multi-faceted. From beauty to courage to health, from clan ties and a sense of shared belonging, the brutal cuts bring about a great deal of symbolic meaning as well as a physical show of the structure and function to befall these individuals.

Posted in Body Essay (2015) | 22 Comments

Skinny, but Healthy: Perceptions of Bodily Perfection in Japan

by Jaime

Ideas can come from the strangest of places. The idea for this essay came to me as I was struggling to bench what I felt was an immense weight in an attempt to achieve musculature that would make my body more aligned with most American’s perceptions of bodily perfection and attractiveness. In simpler terms, I was trying to get “big”. It seems natural for stronger guys to be more attractive because in movies, social media, and at school the stronger guys almost always get the girls that I perceive to be the most attractive. These observations mislead me into assuming that big muscles were one of those characteristics of attractiveness that transcends cultural differences. This assumption came crashing down after I visited some friends of mine that lived in Tokyo, Japan.

In Japan, there were no really strong guys to be seen anywhere. The movies stars, the models, and just about all of the people were small and skinny. Historical particularism dictates that one should view each culture as unrelated and not governed by universal laws [1]. Viewing Japan through this lens, it is clear to see that its perceptions of bodily perfection developed as a result of its unique history. Japan has historically had a distinguished and cherished cuisine filled with foods that are less energy dense than most western foods, meaning they consume less calories than most “westerners” (calories are a unit of energy that are important muscle growth and the production of fat). Japanese people are also thought to enjoy their food more without even eating it. It is said that they first “eat with their eyes” and try to enjoy the overall beauty of the food even before biting in to it [2]. These behaviors together have historically contributed to Japanese people being some of the thinnest people in the world!

Clifford Geertz believed that specialists within a society could derive symbols and their meanings from the interpretation of observable characteristics [3]. In accordance to this, the perfect Japanese body can be thought of as a symbol of the attitudes most important to the Japanese people. We can observe that a perfect Japanese body is toned, skinny, and healthy, and Japanese author and nutritionist and Naomi Moriyama believes the idealistic Japanese physique is representative of hard work and resilience, (qualities most Japanese men and women aspire to have), thus one can derive that the ideal Japanese body is symbolic of certain cherished characteristics within the society [2].

Attraction is not a static notion. Rather it is an ever-changing part of one’s culture that is unconsciously learned and influenced by one’s upbringing. It is understandable, therefore, for the idea of bodily perfection, (a component of attraction) to vary from culture to culture. Furthermore, notions on attractiveness might inherently be symbolic of important social characteristics within a society.

Posted in Body Essay (2015) | 23 Comments

Kimchi for Christmas

by Kris

“I am half-Korean,” is a response to a question I am asked almost daily, or at least any time I meet a new person. Growing up with a “white” dad and a Korean mom made for some interesting culture clashes. One easy example of my biracial life is Christmas every year. My family spends Christmas with my mother’s side of the family, so it is a fun Korean filled time with hints of American traditions.

My family Christmases fit perfectly with practice theory. My family has managed to dismantle the traditional American Christmas and shape it into a holiday that is somewhat American whilst fitting the Korean needs my family has. Practice theory would classify me as the agent[1] because I am participating in this biracial event and making my own choice to be involved, yet I am doing so within the American social structure. A practice theorist would look at our Christmas dinner with light in his/her eye because our table features ham and mashed potatoes as well as kimchi, bulgogi, and lots and lots of rice from the biggest rice cooker you’ve ever seen. Like Sherry Ortner says, “…the linkage between such structures and any set of social categories… is a culturally and politically constructed phenomenon.”[2] I agree with practice theory because I think there is always resistance to structure and in my family’s own little rebellious way, we are resisting the system in our performance of Christmas.[3]

A feminist theorist would look at our Christmas traditions with a different lense. To a feminist theorist, everything is gendered, which is true, especially of our after dinner traditions.[4] After our Christmas feast (that the women cooked), the men always go to the movie theater with the kids, and the women stay behind and clean up as well as watch a movie of their own at the house. The women in the family do have their time though. In the days following Christmas, the women have a day where they go to the nearest town and shop all day. A feminist theorist would consider this a stereotypical standard for women. Yet, my aunts, mom, and grandmom do not do this because it is a womanly thing they must do. It is their own way to get their free time away from the submersion of family activities that happens around holidays. My opinion may well be a product of feminism because I can not help being influenced by the fact that I identify as a woman, but I take joy in thinking that little tradition is not a product of feminism but a product of their own will.

[1] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 8 October 2015

[2] Ortner, Sherry B. “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?,” In Women, Culture, and Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 1974.

[3] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 8 October 2015

[4] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 8 October 2015

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Is Open Marriage the New Normal?

by Madison,

The idea of an open marriage is not a new one, but has been gaining a lot of traction in the media, and is also becoming a more socially acceptable practice within American society.  We have all heard of Tinder, match.com, and OkCupid.  Websites that help singles find other singles looking for relationships, dates, or sexual intercourse.  Now there is even a site that offers online dating geared towards married or involved individuals looking for relationships outside the traditional monogamous marriage, called openminded.com.

A functional anthropologist studies how a society and their cultural system work together to meet universal human needs.  Malinowski discusses seven basic needs of humans including health, growth, movement, safety, bodily comforts, nutrition, and reproduction.[1]  A monogamous marriage supports functionalism when a families needs are met.  An example is the traditional american family. One partner known as the breadwinner brings home income to support their family, while the other partner stays at home, feeding everyone and meeting their emotional needs.  For a functional anthropologist this is the ideal situation, but functionalism is synchronic and cannot account for conflict or change, which is inevitable in a family system.  If two partners in a marriage are unhappy in their situation, their basic human needs are not being met.

Functionalism theory falls apart when we analyze the dynamic marriage structures in society.  Family structures continue to change and push social norms but still manage to function.  In the case of an open marriage, a couple’s sexual needs are not being met, therefore their marriage might benefit from having partners outside the marriage, thus allowing their sexual needs to be met.  If a couple’s sexual needs are being met, they will be more content and better able to fulfill their roles in other parts of their family structure.  These needs being met will bring happiness or fulfillment to the couple, thus allowing them to focus and be successful in other parts of their family structure.

Unlike functionalism, the anthropological theory structural functionalism, focuses on social structures and can account for change and conflict within a society.[2] A structural functionalist would study open marriages and analyze the social structure within the community and family.  By studying the social structure an anthropologist can not only see the benefits, but also flaws that come with an open marriage.  We can examine a couple living in an urban area with no kids.  The husband’s job requires him to travel three weeks out of the month and his wife, Natalie, is left lonely and bored at home.  The social norm in this area is for married couples to spend most of their time together or with other married couples.  This contrasted with singles who spend time going out looking for other single individuals to connect with, thus leaving Natalie out of their social system.  If Natalie and her husband were in an open relationship, her husband would still be able to travel for work and provide for his wife, while Natalie would be able to participate in social norms of single individuals, rather than sitting alone for three weeks out of the month.  This arrangement would keep Natalie satisfied in her marriage, and result in the couple staying together.

The success of a marriage or family structure varies across couples, and there is not one thing the can ensure how well a family functions or their level of happiness. Malinowski may be right that humans do have basic universal needs that a society meets, but conventional marriages do not always fulfill these needs.  So it is possible that open marriages can be the future for America Families.

Bronislaw Malinowski,”Argonauts of the Western Pacific,Prospect Heights,IL: Waveland Press, Inc. 1922, p.2-3

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, September 16, 2015.

Posted in Uncategorized | 43 Comments

The Family: Raised by a Refugee

by Levi,

In 1989, there were around 20,000 registered Romanian refugees in Hungary, who had fled their home country because of the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. My mother was one of these individuals. She escaped at night in the pouring rain when she was 18 years old, and was determined to meet up with her mother, who was already in Hungary. However, for their protection, she did not inform either of her divorced parents (one of whom was still living in Romania) of her plan until it was already executed, and she arrived on my grandmother’s doorstep. When comparing her 18 year­old self to my present one, I am often taken aback at the strength she possessed, and how privileged I am to have been raised by her.

While my mother harbors no resentment, her mother’s departure to Hungary without her shaped their relationship and in turn, shaped ours. Despite the complex situation with her parents, family was my mother’s top priority. She made sure that it was the central focus of our European ­American household, which was challenging in a country where work and wealth tend to overshadow family. Her experience as a refugee caused her to never accept the idea that a woman was lesser or incapable. However, Romanian parenting was noticeably gendered. Mothers were expected to stay home for the first seven years of their child’s life. When a child was misbehaving or ornery, it was said that, “the child didn’t have their seven years.” My mother applied this concept to a more progressive framework, and stayed with me until I was four, then found work within walking distance of our home. I am extremely grateful for my mother’s involvement in my life, although her assumed obligations as a Romanian mother could be viewed from various perspectives. A Feminist Anthropologist would examine the gendered cultural expectations, and the androcentrism deeply rooted within generations of Romanian culture. A mother’s workplace was likely to keep her position for her during these seven years, however a father was never expected to take leave from work to raise his child. These expectations would support the feminist anthropologist’s view that everything is gendered. A contemporary feminist anthropologist would also look into the familial hierarchies and opportunity inequalities that existed for women in the workplace during Romania at this time, and in present day. They would also look at the dualities of my mother’s fierce independance as a refugee, and her obligations as a woman.

Structural functionalist E.E. Evans Pritchard would look at the role of mother in Romanian society as a social structure that is dynamic, for instance the adaptations my mother made after having a child with an American. Structural functionalists would be interested not in the universal role of mother, but instead the specificities that pertained to Romanian motherhood during my grandmother’s and mother’s eras. They would not assess cultural norms, but rather societal ones, and the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, as well as other members of the household.

1 http://articles.latimes.com/1989­09­19/news/mn­112_1_romanians, accessed 7 October 2015.

2 http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532632/Feminist%20Anthropology, accessed 8 October 2015.

3 Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, 7 October

4 Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, 7 October

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments