The Four Key Figures of Contemporary Anthropological Theory


Over the last few decennaries, it seems, anthropology has been hovering between two opposite theoretical places. At one extreme, there is the position that self-conscious persons construct the societal existence, and at the antonym, the belief that the societal existence is regulated by general rules separate from single pick and consciousness. In my reply to the first inquiry I will seek to lucubrate what four cardinal figures of modern-day anthropological theory – Geertz, Wolf, Bourdieu and Giddens – think about the two sides of the equation, and how they attempt to bridge these opposite theoretical places in their theories and impressions.

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Geertz: from Semioticss to Symbolic Anthropology

Harmonizing to Sherry Ortner, Geertz ‘s most extremist theoretical move was to reason that civilization is non something locked inside people ‘s caputs, but instead is embodied in public symbols, “symbols through which the members of a society communicate their worldview, value-orientations, ethos, and all the remainder to one another, to future coevalss – and to anthropologists” ( Ortner, 129 ) . For Geertz, symbols were “ultimately vehicles for meanings” ( Ortner, 129 ) . Therefore analyzing symbols is an eternal procedure by itself ; a procedure which is ever an act of reading, an enquiry that involves puting a cultural act into the particular and local contexts in which the act is meaningful.

To detect different degrees of significance associated with these symbols, an anthropologist starts with interrupting down and categorising them, as a semiologist does. “The construct of culture… is basically a semiotic 1. Believing, with Max Weber, that adult male is an animate being suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take civilization to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be hence non an experimental scientific discipline in hunt of jurisprudence but an interpretative 1 in hunt of significance ( Geertz, 5 ) . Therefore, the act of descriptive anthropology is near to construing marks in semiologies. “Doing descriptive anthropology is like seeking to read ( in the sense of “construct a reading of” ) a manuscript—foreign, faded, full of eclipsiss, incoherences, leery emendations, and tendencious commentaries, but written non in conventionalised graphs of sound but in transeunt illustrations of molded behaviour ( Geertz, 10 ) .

One of the chief differences between Geertz’s attack and semiologies is that for Geertz “a text” is non merely a written stuff. In other words, the procedure of construing symbols is more of reading a civilization as a text ; an “acted document.” The text consists of created marks that are behaviours, and anthropology’s undertaking is “sorting out the constructions of signification” of these behaviours in order to find “their societal land and import” ( Geertz, 9–10 ) . The procedure of construing these marks, Geertz argues, is the kernel of descriptive anthropology.

Although Ortner ne’er references “semiotics” in her article, she refers to another cardinal difference between Geertz’s attack and semiologies: “Geertzians have ne’er been peculiarly interested in separating and cataloguing the assortments of symbolic types ( signals, marks, icons, indexes, etcetera ) ” ( Ortner, 129 ) . I think this is the chief point of going between Geertz’s attack and semiologies, because in Semiotics ( from Jakobson to Barthes ) the act of reading is based on categorising different fluctuations of marks and symbols. Without these classifications of marks there is merely no semiologies.

By naming his attack a semiotic one but disregarding one of the cardinal characteristics of semiotic attack, Geertz did divide his method from literary unfavorable judgment in order to grok the unrecorded flow of events. For him, analyzing symbols is of import because they are “vehicles of “ ‘culture” , as Ortner provinces: “The focal point of Geertzian anthropology has systematically been the inquiry of how symbols form the ways societal histrions see, experience, and think about the universe, or, in other words, how symbols operate as vehicles of “ ‘culture’” ( Ortner, 129 ) .

Culture and Social System

For Geertz, civilization and societal system have two different significances: the former as “an ordered system of intending and of symbols, in footings of which societal interaction takes topographic point ; and… the latter as the form of societal interaction itself” ( Geertz,144 ) . Culture is the cloth of intending in footings of which human existences interpret their experience and steer their action ; societal construction is the signifier that action takes, the really bing web of societal dealingss. Culture and societal construction are so merely different abstractions from the same phenomena ( Geertz, 145 ) .

Therefore, these two different abstractions are integrated. Social construction is bound together based on “causal-functional integrating, ” the articulation of different sections that interact and maintain the system. Culture, in contrast, is characterized by logico-meaningful integrating, “a integrity of manner, of logical deduction, of significance and value” ( Moore, 266 ) . In other words, civilization and societal construction are a consistent unit.

Harmonizing to Geertz, civilization is non some abstractly ordered system, deducing its logic from concealed structural rules, or from particular symbols that provide the “ keys ” to its coherency. Its logic derives instead from organisation of action, from people runing within certain institutional orders ( Geertz, 73 ) . However, “while the actor-centered position is cardinal to Geertz ‘s model, it is non consistently elaborated: Geertz did non develop a theory of action or pattern as such” ( Moore, 281 ) . He did, nevertheless, steadfastly works the histrion at the centre of his theoretical account, and much of the ulterior practice-centered work physiques on a Geertzian base.

Eric Wolf

InEurope and the Peoples without History,Wolf criticizes the cardinal impression of American anthropology: the construct of “culture” as a “coherent whole” that causes human actions. Wolf argues that we can non conceive of civilizations as incorporate entireties in which each portion contributes to the care of an independent whole. He states that any position of civilization as an stray entity is incorrect. He argues that such positions are blind to the connexions between societies and to the factors that shape societal signifiers.

Harmonizing to him there are merely cultural sets of patterns and thoughts, put into drama by determinate human histrions. In the class of action, these cultural sets are “forever assembled, dismantled, and reassembled, conveying in variable speech patterns the divergent waies of groups and classes” ( Wolf, 67 ) . Therefore, civilization is invariably transforming. What drives these transmutations are societal histrions. As he states, “culture is non a shared stock of cultural content. Any coherency that it may possess must be the result of societal procedures through which people are organized into convergent action or into which they organize themselves” ( Wolf, 66 ) .

But non all “members” of a civilization portion every bit cultural cognition, and neither is that information or cognition passed uniformly from one coevals to the following. “There may be no interior thrust at the nucleus of a civilization, but assuredly there are people who drive it on, every bit good as others who are driven. Wherever possible, we should seek to place the societal agents who install and defend establishments and who organize coherency, for whom and against whom” ( Wolf, 67 ) .

Understanding these procedures requires analyzing the relationships between civilization and power. In Wolf’s doctrine, civilization is ever implicated in constructions of power and these are present in all societal agreements. Such constructions, in kernel, define the field for single societal action. In bend, the constellation of power within a given society is both an look of internal order and dependant on the historical connexions with other societies.


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