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!

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Don’t Destroy Estes Park

by Alex

As a tourist cruising into Estes Park on your weekend getaway, you’ll not only notice the breathtaking views of Rocky Mountain National Park and the local wildlife roaming around town, but something new will catch your eye and pique your curiosity. “No Loop,” “We Do NOT Support Action on the Loop,” “Don’t Destroy Estes,” signs (and other various forms of the same message) stuck in front-yards and display windows. What are these people protesting? As a local, I know the controversy is surrounding the proposed plan to transform downtown Estes Park into a one way “loop” in order to make traffic coming through downtown manageable. The project, that’s come to be known as “the loop,” has caused quite an uproar among locals. The arguments of those opposed to “the loop” (which is an apparently vocal majority) theorize “the loop” will ruin the integrity and charm of downtown Estes Park, a major allure of the town. Others are concerned with the businesses and houses that will have to be removed in order to make room to accommodate the new road. These are just a couple of the many reasons why occupants of Estes Park are not in favor of “the loop.”[1]

Clifford Geertz would say “the loop” signs qualify as a symbol because they are public and can be interpreted into meaning[2]. The way they are interpreted and the type of meaning they symbolize, though, depends on the interpreter and the culture from which they come. As a local, I see the signs as an indicator that the owner is passionately involved in the local political atmosphere of Estes Park and as well as a form of protest against “the loop”. Due to my own bias I may believe they are an older business owner that doesn’t get out of Estes Park much and is opposed to big change. From an American tourist’s interpretation, they may look at the sign, assuming it to be an item coming up for vote in the next local election, due to the similar look of political candidate signs that appear in yards around elections. They’d figure Estes Park residents are concerned about the wellbeing of their community.

A culture and personality anthropologist would believe Estes Park to be a particular culture that has produced a particular type of people[3], which in turn produced those in opposition to the type of change “the loop,” would bring. Through the theory of culture and personality, one would wonder what aspects of Estes Park culture lead the majority of the citizens to be against “the loop.” Is the unified opinion of the project a result of small town culture or is it specific to Estes Park? Individuals against “the loop” represent a large portion of the community, their distain is seen as a “normal” way for a member of the specific culture to act. Those in favor of “the loop” are a necessary portion of the population as well, fulfilling the position of the “quiet minority.”

[1]http://www.estestruth.org, accessed 14 September 2015.

[2]Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” The Interpretation of Cultures, New York: Basic Books, 1973, pp. 3-30.

[3] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, 14 September 2015.

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The Jerusalem Connection

by Laken

History has taught us that cultures and individuals put a large amount of significance into inanimate objects. Whether the object is a sacred city or an old car, as humans we can’t help but feel a certain connection to these non-human objects.

For Christians, Jews and Muslims, the city of Jerusalem has been an example of an inhuman object. Jerusalem, although non-human is valued and loved by billions of people. The City has deep meaning for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Symbolic and interpretive anthropology states that symbols are learned and shared from generation to generation; Clifford Geertz argues, “Culture is not a model inside people’s heads but rather is embodied in public symbols and actions”[1]. The city of Jerusalem symbolizes deep historical roots for many people, the importance of Jerusalem has been passed down from generation to generation, the city itself is a symbol of unity, as a place where religious people can go to pray or interact with their brethren or god.

Because of this symbolism the city of Jerusalem has been fought over for generations, the importance of this city has been passed down and the need to control Jerusalem has led to many conflicts. Still to this day, whoever controls the city of Jerusalem is the subject of many heated interactions and bloodshed between religious groups. Not only does the city of Jerusalem relate to symbolic and interpretive anthropology, Jerusalem also relates to functionalism. As Dr. McGranahan states, “Functionalism seeks to discover connections in and between societies”.[2] Jerusalem as a whole is a collision of many different societies and cultures; the city has an important function and plays an important role for all of these different cultures.

Jerusalem meets many universal human needs: the need for meaning, safety and a meeting place for religious peoples. Jerusalem gives Christianity, Judaism, and Islam a tangible source of faith. This tangible source gives practitioners of these religions a sense of safety, knowing that there is something that they can physically see that embodies their religious beliefs. Jerusalem gives people of faith and religion a place to meet and congregate and a place where they can be with likeminded people. The city of Jerusalem provides cross cultural social and spiritual needs of all three major monotheistic religions. Jerusalem serves as an important place for billions of people who are emotionally connected to the city in some way or another, this connection between human beings and a non-human entity (e.g. a city) is very powerful and is extremely important to anthropology as a whole.

[1] Anthrotheory.pbsworks.com accessed 17 September 2015

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Intro to Cultural Anthropology September 14 2015.

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The relationship between people and smartphones: A Culture of Disconnection and Distraction

by Taylor

Smartphones offer applications to help manage almost every aspect of life, leading to increased personal efficiency and communication. However, with this constant connection comes disconnection. The invention and rising popularity of the smartphone has completely transformed our culture of socialization and interaction. Ironically, while the smartphone enables us to engage in numerous conversations with many different people at once, it takes us out of the present moment, lowering the quality of real-life in-person interactions with others.

An Anthropologist using symbolic and interpretive anthropology would probably focus on the symbolic meaning of using an iPhone while having a conversation in context of the culture they are studying, in this case, the culture within the United States. In order to study the symbolic meaning, an anthropologist may chose to conduct a study of the meaning individuals place behind multitasking on an iPhone while engaging in a face-to-face conversation. One example of this is a naturalistic field experiment conducted by Virginia Tech in which 100 people were randomly assigned to discuss a topic of their choosing with someone else. The individuals were observed during the course of a 10- minute conversation, during which the anthropologist noted whether either person used a smartphone. The study showed that conversations in the absence of mobile technologies were significantly superior compared to those had in the presence of a mobile device, regardless of any other variable such as age, gender and mood. People who had conversations in the absence of smartphones reported higher levels of empathetic concern, while those whose partners used a phone said that their interaction seemed less friendly and more insincere.[1]

An anthropologist using symbolic and interpretive anthropology could look at this study and say that while the smartphone is a material object, it holds significant meaning. They may conclude that in our culture using a smart phone during a conversation is a social custom, however its symbolic interpretation directly affects relationships on an individual level and thus slowly transforming the nature of socialization within the U.S.

Additionally, an anthropologist using culture and personality theory would look at how the prevalence of smartphones in our culture is causing a pattern in the behavior of individuals. In the U.S., 71% of Americans own smart phones. This number illustrates our cultures dependency and value regarding technology and media. A cultural personality anthropologist would look at how this value has affected learned behaviors of younger generations. In an article published by The Telegraph, correspondents reported that young people are seemingly more addicted to their smartphones than older generations. The article looked at a study that asked students to go without a smartphone or any other media for 24 hours and monitored their feelings. The results showed that 50 percent of students failed to go the full 24 hours and everyone in the study claimed to have suffered from a variety of symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, heart palpitations, and sensations of phantom limb.[2]

Moving forward it is important to acknowledge that while useful, smartphones can also damage personal relationships and alter the way we interact as a society. As the phenomena for smartphones only continues to grow, it is safe to hypothesize that many of our cultures values will continue to change as our society becomes more dependent on technology.

[1] Is a citation of the article; “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices.” Virginia Tech, Alexandria, USA

[2] Is a citation of the article “Are younger generations addicted to their phones?” by The Telegraph.uk: (study)”The World Unplugged project.” By Richard Alleyne

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Importance of Independence from Family

by Nevada

In Indian society, the children would often stay with their family, even raising their own children in the same house as their grandparents. A daughter who marries will often find herself living in her husband’s parent’s house. It’s quite different from the western culture of typically leaving the house at 18, and finding your independence apart from your family. To be living with your parents at 30 is often looked down upon in western society. In India, to be living with your parents even in your 30s is nothing to be ashamed of, and is even encouraged.

A functional anthropologist might look at how having three generations in the same house serves to provide a means to “nutrition, reproduction, bodily comforts, safety, movement, health, and growth.”[1] As parents, it was their job to take care of their children, and as their children grew up, it became the children’s job to care for their parents. It was expected of the younger generations to take care of the older generation in their old age. Even if for some reason the children moved out, whether it be for marriage, education, job, moving to America, the children were expected to provide money for their parents. The children’s function was to take care of the elderly in their old age, to work to provide a means of safety, health, comfort, and nutrition. From this theory, unlike in western society where independence as an adult is so important to adding value to individual as a person, Indian society teaches that dependence on the family is what adds value and importance to the individual.

An anthropologist focusing on the structural aspect might see it as a model of cognitive structures of how the human mind thinks, where “1) People follow rules, 2) Reciprocity is the simplest way to create social relationships, and 3) a gift binds both the giver and recipient in a continuing social relationship.”[2] In this three generation system, the children follow the rules of obeying parents, with no regard to personal independence from the family unit; the relationship between the older generation and the younger generation is created by the older generation taking care of the young, and the young growing up to take care of the elderly; and the gift of childhood and life given to the younger generation is what binds them to care for the preceding generation. From this theory, independence from your family takes a back burner to make way for familial structure that creates closer family relationships, and by expansion, a stronger family unit.

[1] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29531810/Functionalism#KeyTermsandDefinitions, accessed 17 September 2015.

[2] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532639/Structuralism#MainPoints, accessed 17 September 2015.

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Music: How A Family Can Be Formed By A Common Enjoyment

by Dale

Music. That one word can send chills up my body. A song has the power create emotions that someone has never felt before, and a band? They have the ability to create a family. Although it may not be biological, a music fandom can be just as influential as blood relatives. As Jonathan Marks said, “membership in these unbiological groupings may mean the difference between life and death, for they are the categories that allow us to be identified (and accepted or vilified) socially.” [1] Fans laugh, cry, scream, and sing together. They create memories; some, that the best day of their lives. After all that, who wouldn’t call this group of people a family?

Due to technology, the time and ways that artists are able to spend communicating with their fans has increased. From these new forms of interacting each fandom has created their own symbolic language. It’s given the fandoms an opportunity to communicate with each other by using a simple phrase. Using the One Direction fandom as an example, someone may say, “I feel like Liam in a room of spoons.” To an individual that isn’t apart of the fandom, a spoon is just cutlery that everyone uses, but to someone that was apart of the family they would know that the meaning of spoon in this sentence was more abstract than a simple form of cutlery. Whoever posted that was in a place of fear. The symbolic words and pictures in each fandom have the ability to define how someone is feeling in a certain situation, and as mentioned in lecture having abstract symbols helps to keep society, or even a family, in order.[2]

Since we’re considering a fandom a family, the social structure of them must be discussed. Structural-Functionalists would observe a fandom to see if there are “relations of association between individual organisms.”[3] If someone observed a fandom they would find that the band is at the highest point, then comes the oldest fans, the ones who have been around the longest. Lastly would be the babies of the family, those who have recently joined into the fandom. But the relations of people may change throughout the years.[4] The babies will eventually become the older group. Throughout the years, even with constant shifts of band members, songs, and memories the structure of a bands fandom remains similar throughout time.

With the new age of technology, musical artists are provided with a brand new opportunity. Being able to communicate with fans has created an epidemic of fandom families. An interest in music has given millions of people around the world a place to communicate and belong. Music can create family.

[1] Jonathan Marks, “Black White Other”, in Natural History, 1994, p. 11.

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Introduction To Cultural Anthropology, 31 August 2015.

[3] A. R Radcliffe-Brown, “On Social Structure”, in Structure and Function in Primitive Society, 1940, p. 122.

[4] A.R Radcliffe-Brown “On Social Structure”, in Structure and Function in Primitive Society, 1940, p. 124.

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Sister Wives

by Chris

In 2010, TLC aired a new show called Sister Wives, a television series documenting the life of a polygamist family. The family consisted of one patriarch, Kody Brown, his four wives, and their seventeen children. Family as an institution is one of the oldest and most studied topics in anthropology. Although polygamy is a common practice in some parts of the world, it is neither a culturally normative or legally recognized institution in the United States. Because of this, the Brown family is especially unique. The show sparked a lot of controversy as it showed its American viewers an “unconventional type” of family. I will be using two anthropological theories to analyze the cultural phenomena of Sister Wives.

The first theory, functionalism, studies communities synchronically and how the individuals work together to form a whole to provide for mankind’s universal needs. Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown are the four women in the polygamist family. Each woman has a specific role in the family. Janelle has a job and provides for the family financially. She leaves the childcare responsibilities to Christine, the stay-at-home wife. Meri is known for the love and support she has for her sister wives, and Robyn is regarded as the planner for the family. During one episode, Meri Brown stated that she “believed in living this lifestyle. It just [made] each of [them] better.”[1] Functionalism does not account for change and would not address how the family came to be the large polygamist family that they are now. Rather, what is important is that universal needs such as health, bodily comforts, and safety are met. The four wives work in separate ways but come together to support one family and provide for each other’s needs.

Another way to analyze the Brown family is through cultural evolution. It is a theory that places all cultures on a single evolutionary scale ranging from savagery to barbarianism to civilization. This type of theoretical argument utilizes armchair anthropology were no fieldwork is performed and information is simply gathered from second-hand reports. Under this theory, one can watch the television series and read its reviews to assess how much the Brown family has “evolved”. Against the context of the United States’ normative family institutions, an anthropologist could place this polygamist family on a lower status of civilization or even higher status of barbarianism. Although this type of thinking may not seem credible today, in the 19th century, it was considered revolutionary because it regarded all groups as humans. Clearly, however, as time has progressed, mankind has accepted that there are different cultures for different people and these stages of evolutionary development are not as relied upon.

Polygamist families in the United States go against the grain of the standard American view of family as an institution. Anthropologists do not try to change the way things are, but by analyzing families such as the Browns through different theoretical, they try to understand and explain it.

[1] Sister Wives, TLC Network, aired September 22, 2011, transcript, http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1109/22/ddhln.01.html

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Men’s Pursuit of God-Like Bodies

by Riley

The rippling, muscular, gargantuan male figure has become a highly desirable body type throughout America. From comic books to advertisements to major motion picture, this physique is constantly displayed through media. Gyms across the nation are filled with men trying to gain muscle mass and improve their figure, and bodies are even judged in a competitive format at body-building contests. The anthropological theories of cultural evolution and symbolic interpretation offer compelling insight into the muscular male figure and the desire for men to achieve it.

The cultural evolutionary theory of anthropology, though outdated, offers interesting insights into the muscular, god-like figure. As this theory sprouted and garnered popularity in the late 19th to early 20th century, its practitioners attempted to rate cultures on a scale, which ranged from “savage” to “civilized.”[1] In this time period, the large, muscular body may have actually been placed lower on the cultural evolutionary scale, near the savage category. The civilized label was used to describe cultures that relied upon technology and promoted intellectual growth, and sought-after careers generally did not require manual labor or large, muscular bodies. On the contrary, many cultures that would have been deemed savage had a reliance upon hunting, gathering, and strenuous manual work. This lifestyle required a more fit, strong physique than that of an academic or business owner in this era. Thus, a massive muscular body would have been associated with lower, more “savage” cultures. However, over time, weight lifting and fitness gained immense popularity in American and European culture, and these physiques became desirable in “civilized” societies. In the modern era, cultural evolutionary theory may judge large muscular statures highly on the evolutionary scale due to the contemporary emphasis on fitness and body-improvement.

The symbolic and interpretive anthropological theory offers very different perspective on the strong, powerful physique. This lens focuses on symbols and their cultural importance, analyzing the meaning of said symbols through an emic, or insider, perspective.[2] Interpretive anthropology may argue that a monstrous, muscular body symbolizes masculinity and power. This perspective may assert that the modern pursuit of superhero physiques reflects a desire- conscious or subconscious- to appear powerful and virile. As well-built, athletic men are persistently portrayed as sexually desirable protagonists in Hollywood, this physique can be can also interpreted as a symbol for sex appeal in modern American culture. Advertisements endlessly buttress this symbol, persuading their audience to purchase products related to improving one’s physique. As the god-like figure has come to represent sex appeal, masculinity, and power, it is easy to understand the passionate desire for men to achieve such a body.

The theories of cultural evolution and symbolic interpretation offer two very different perspectives on the modern muscular male figure, yet both offer interesting insight into the physique and the desire to attain it. As desirable body types are continuously changing, anthropological theories help understand the significance being these figures.



[1] McGranahan, Carole. “Cultural Evolution.” University of Colorado at Boulder. Boulder, CO. 9 Sept 2015. Lecture.

[2] “Symbolic and Interpretive Anthropology.” Anthrotheory. n.p., n.d. Web. 17 Sept 2015.


Posted in Body Essay (2015) | 8 Comments