Anthropology: Living Glossary

  1. acculturation
    cultural change related to contact with another culture
  2. agency
    • ability of individual or group to act in meaningful ways independently
    • collectively create and/or impact change that will affect their lives or the lives of others
    • may be hindered by social structures (class, religion, gender, nationality etc)
    • individuals have capacity to create, change, influence events
  3. agency-centred
    • anthropological research
    • emphasizes agency
    • focuses on humans acting to promote their interests and the interests of the groups to which they belong
  4. alterity
    • "otherness"
    • describes and comments on construction and experience of cultural difference
  5. analytical categories
    • outsider's view of a culture
    • an 'etic' view
    • classifying and understanding traits as representing cross-culturally applicable terms and categories rather than culturally specific meanings
  6. anthropology
    • science which studies: physical and cultural development of a culture, where it originated, biological characteristics of humans, social customs and beliefs of different societies
    • studying human beings' similarities and differences with other animals
    • how humans work
  7. applied anthropology
    Used when e.g. real-world problems are solved by applying anthropological methods, theories and concepts
  8. archaeology
    • scientific study of human activity, cultures, historic and prehistoric peoples
    • analyses and recovers remains and materials (buildings, tools)
    • attempt to understand and learn from peoples of the past
  9. authority
    power is exercised with the consent of others
  10. balancing mechanism
    • within a culture, it aims to reduce wealth or prestige differences between individuals
    • different approaches to maintain or create an equilibrium amongst people within a culture
    • ex: insulting the meat by the San
    • if the prestige of one member of a group starts to exceed a state in which equality is possible the other members treat them in a way that counters the expected
  11. belief and knowledge
    • set of convictions, values and viewpoints regarded as "the truth" and shared by members of a social group
    • underpinned and supported by known cultural experience
  12. bias
    unrealistic perception about something; tend to be social conditioned constructs which influences idea
  13. big man
    • someone possessing a mental and possibly physical dominance over others
    • tribe setting: highly influential individual that has not necessarily gained their position formally (through inheritance/material possessions) but can maintain their influence with their personal skills and wisdom
  14. biological determinism
    • belief that what controls human behaviour is an individual's genes or some part of their physiology
    • usually due to the environment that surrounds them whether through development or learning
  15. biomedicine
    • a term used in medical anthropology
    • conventional western medicine
  16. biopsychosocial model
    interactions between biological, psychological and social factors determine the cause, manifestation and outcome of wellness and disease
  17. capitalism
    an economic and political system in which a society's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state
  18. causation
    capacity of one cultural feature to influence another
  19. change
    • alteration or modification of cultural or social elements in a society
    • may be due to internal dynamics within a society or the result of contact with another culture
    • may be a consequence of globalization
  20. class
    division of people in society on the basis of social and economic status
  21. classification
    assigning common knowledge to describe a large number of people or things as belonging to a recognizable system
  22. cohesion
    The practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically, socially and politically.
  23. cohesion-centred
    • Seeing cohesion and consensus as central to the proper functioning of society and culture
    • influence of Emile Durkheim: claimed society could only function properly if its members experienced "solidarity" (a moral duty to work for the maintenance of society)
  24. colonialism
    • control or governing influence of a nation over a dependent country, territory or people
    • system of policy in which an external nation maintains such control/influence
  25. comparative perspective
    • based on the idea that a society/social system can't be fully understood without being compared to other societies/systems
    • use of data about behaviours and beliefs in many societies to document cultural universals and cultural diversity
    • limitation: societies differ in many ways and may not always be compared meaningfully
  26. configurationalism
    • theoretical perspective where psychology is applied to the study of cultures
    • related to functionalism
    • focuses on looking at cultures as a whole rather than in parts
    • a culture's personality should pattern personalities of the people living within it
  27. cultural determinism
    • viewpoint
    • human behaviour is dictated by the culture surrounding the individual
    • people conform to the culture and let it form their course of action - those who do not conform are excluded from society
    • many anthropologists reject it as individuals also change culture
  28. cultural materialism
    • research orientation/concept
    • introduced by marvin harris in 1968
    • based on a theoretical and epistemological principle
    • making analysis based on critical theory
    • goes beyond marxist three levels of culture model (infrastructure, structure, superstructure) as it also explains organisation, ideology and symbolism
    • culture is made on a trial and error basis
  29. cultural relativism
    idea that culture should be understood relatively, through its own individual aspects rather than be compared or judged by the standards and practices of another culture
  30. culture
    • a system of beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, artifacts shared and employed by members of a society in coping with each other and the world around them
    • not inherent but learned through transmission between generations and nourishing
    • symbolism in cultural elements shapes an individual's worldview although belonging to a certain cultural group does not erase an individual's particular and personal elements
    • culture depends on its members - changes when they do, living as they do
    • tangible elements that are deemed culture (art, music, literature etc.) are products of culture and not culture itself
  31. diachronic
    approach that includes comparing the current state of a culture with its change or evolution over time
  32. diffusionism
    • spreading of ideas or cultural elements from one culture to others
    • suggests cultures impact each other through interactions
    • ex: spreading of religion
  33. division of labour
    • different tasks that people are assigned are based on age, gender, skills, knowledge
    • tasks generally aiming to provide enough to fulfill basic needs and comfort
    • can differ between cultures
  34. empiricism
    • theory that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience
    • emphasis on the role of experience and evidence, study from tangible experience, especially in the formation of ideas
    • argues the only knowledge humans have is based on experience
  35. ethnocentrism
    • making presumptions, evaluating and comparing a culture to a culture of your own, based on your origin/cultural background and ethnicity
    • degrading a culture by stating that the other is inferior or superior over the other; stating a certain culture is less developed, the population unintelligent, barbarian, etc.
  36. ethnography
    • writing an ethnographer or anthropologist composes about a particular culture, where the culture’s customs, habits, social constructs, values etc. are described
    • Data about human societies and cultures must first be accumulated through the conduction of fieldwork and participant observation or by studying preexisting accounts and documents by informants and missioners
    • The social life of human lives with all its diversity is better understood through the contributions of many ethnographers
    • ethnographies are not only typical in the field of anthropology, but have become popular in other social sciences (e.g. sociology) as well.
  37. ethnohistory
    • study of past cultures (especially indigenous, colonial and postcolonial) using the methods of history, anthropology and archaeology
    • findings are based on information gathered from various records for example written documents, temples, statues...
  38. ethnology
    • anthropological branch
    • focuses on analysis of cultures, in terms of their historical development, their similarities, and differences
    • handles the origin, distribution, and distinguishing characteristics among human societies, and their relations to one another
  39. fieldwork
    • practical work done by a researcher in the field that includes the gathering of anthropological or sociological data through the interviewing and observation of subjects in the field
    • done in various settings
    • considered as part of the practice of social anthropology with the work of one of the founding fathers of British anthropology, Bronislaw Malinowski
  40. functionalism
    • each part of society has a function to make sure society runs smoothly
    • compares the society with human body- with each part of the body/organ depending on the other, to 'function'
    • developed by Malinowski in early twentieth century
  41. gender
    • cultural construct used to categorise people based on biological sex
    • can go hand in hand with privileges and expectation differing form culture to culture
  42. globalization
    exchange process of goods and information among people and countries, it could be understood as “making the countries closer”
  43. hierarchy
    • classification and ranking of people and boxing them into different levels of society according to various aspects and regarding the cause of classification
    • hierarchical societies are characterized by differences in importance, ability and contribution or power of members and based on classes and ranks
    • each rank is subordinate to the one above it
  44. historical particularism
    • anthropological view on the development of cultures
    • there cannot be a universal set of principles, stages, or “laws” of development because each culture has its own history influenced by unique factors
  45. holism
    whole of the social system is identified as being more than just the individuals who participate in it
  46. holistic perspective
    every aspect of a culture or society is regarded as having importance in understanding said culture fully
  47. humanism
    a system of intellectual and moral beliefs that emphasizes the value of humans
  48. informant (consultant)
    a person from the observed culture who is able to provide information about a certain topic to a fieldworker
  49. interpretive anthropology
    specific approach to ethnographic writing and practice interrelated to (but distinct from) other perspectives that developed within sociocultural anthropology during the Cold War
  50. interview
    • process of obtaining information from another human source
    • structured interview: a sit-down conversation with the interviewer having a set of questions they need answered, are often focused on the substance they wish to focus on, trying not to deter, usually in a formal setting
    • unstructured interview: can waver off topic, has casual elements, informal settings, much more casual in order to achieve a level of familiarity with the interviewee
  51. kinship
    • web of social relationships
    • study of the kinship in the society help you to understand the basics fact of the life(mating, parenthood, siblingship) in this society
  52. kula or kula ring
    • an exchange system between islands in the milne bay province of papua new guinea
    • traders embark on dangerous and long travel by canoe to exchange necklaces (Soulava or veigun) and bracelets (mwali)
    • malinowski was the first to document it
    • important part in showing how indigenous people have complex and important traditions
  53. market
    • form of economic exchange in which products are sold for money (symbolic trade instead of simply trades of goods and services) with prices determined either by external forces or supply and demand
    • often seen as a defining feature of the industrialized world
  54. neoevolutionsim
    rebirth of the theoretical orientation of unilineal evolutionism and became paramount in the 1940s
  55. technological determinism
    • Leslie White: technological development ‘improved’ the life in a culture, as technology becomes more productive and efficient and that with new and better methods cultural evolution can be measured objectively
    • any change in the social and ideological system is caused by technological improvements, making societies more complex (bigger in scale seize) and that technology determines almost every aspect of a culture, which respond to any change of technology
    • cultural differences and similarities mostly exist due to the difference in interactions between humans and their environment
  56. norms
    • behavioural rules or standards for social interaction
    • often derive from values, but also contradict them
    • serve as both guides and criticisms for individual behaviour
    • normative pattern of behavior and normative beliefs
    • moral principles of social interactions
  57. observation
    • type of collection of data
    • without or with participation
  58. objectivity
    concept which describes a universal truth/state without any personal and individual bias; not influenced by personal ideas/feelings - based on facts
  59. participant observation
    • a way of collecting data 
    • includes participation in what the anthropologist is observing
  60. positionality
    • idea of having a position or perspective in relation to the surroundings
    • recognizing that everyone has a subjective perspective and that they look at the world from their particular view
  61. postmodernism
    • a movement that began in the mid 20th century that is against the modernism
    • no fixed standard or absolutes in the world, everything is relative
    • encourages decline of metanarrative and people’s questions about what is truth and what to believe
  62. power
    • the ability to make someone do what you want them to by imposing yourself over them and their will
    • not static nor absolute-it is impossible to be equally powerful in every aspect
    • main power sources: physical force, wealth, state action, social norms, ideas and quantity of people
  63. power relations
    two parts: oppressor and oppressed, are in a hierarchy, oppressor forces the oppressed to do certain things, and when the oppressed obeys, it legitimizes actions of the oppressor and the power relation itself
  64. qualitative/quantitative data
    • Quantitative data is data that can be numerically collected or measured, usually through a survey or census
    • Qualitative data describes the quality of the data, generally through observations or interviews
  65. race
    • dynamic human category of different social and cultural differences between different population of the people
    • not the same anywhere at any given time due to the different constructs set up within a society and the personal translation of that construct
    • widely considered a biological reality in the past but this belief has been denied in the modern world by many scientists
    • it's socially constructed to allow people to put together their identity and add other labels to their names
    • Race is a concept in which humans are categorised into groups; it is a social construct that modern day society follows. Categorization tends to occur based on shared physical traits or sociocultural traits
  66. recall ethnography
    to rebuild the system of a diminishing culture, anthropologists often interview individuals who have lived in this cultural group and have gained adequate understanding of their culture to collect descriptive data
  67. subculture
    • a form of non-market exchange of goods in which the giver and recipient pass products back and forth without use of media of exchange
    • products have the same value as the past gift
    • creates/sustains social relationships and ranges from mutual feasting to bartering
    • three types
  68. general reciprocity
    • includes the giver’s lack of expectation of a returned gift
    • usually between individuals who are emotionally attached to one another
    • maintains social and economic equality
    • found in all societies, but more dominant between hunter-gatherers
  69. balanced reciprocity
    • includes expectations of a returned gift of equal value at a time deemed presentable
    • doesn't include bargaining and if the receiver does not reciprocate, it may result in sanctions
    • often accompanied by the forming of trade partnerships and political alliances
  70. negative reciprocity
    • both parties attempting to gain as much as they can from the exchange while giving up the minimum value
    • includes bartering
  71. redistribution
    • basic idea is based on reciprocity
    • economic exchanging system which collect the goods to the central authority, then the goods will be sorted and allocated to its members
  72. reflexivity
    • circular relationships between cause and effect
    • ex: culture and social structures affect an individual’s actions, which in turn influence culture and social structures
    • applies to anthropologist's research: their own thoughts and ideas affect the focus of their study, thus manifesting in their work, an anthropologist’s presence in a community affects cultural practices and happenings
    • relates to the flexible, changing nature of culture as members of a culture have self-awareness and can comment upon and modify culture to some extent
  73. roles
    • rights, duties, norms, expectations, and behaviours connected to one’s individual identity, or “membership” to a societal group
    • allow for social differentiation, a way for members of a society to know where they fit and how to behave on a bigger and more individual level than general social norms that apply to all members

    • can be placed on a person due to biological or other such uncontrollable means, such as taking (role of a white woman
    • can be chosen to be taken on, (role of a service worker)
  74. sex
    • the physical or physiological differences between males and females, including both primary sex characteristics (the reproductive system) and secondary characteristics such as height and muscularity
    • does not always correspond with his/her/their gender
  75. socio-cultural anthropology
    • or ethnology
    • subfield of anthropology
    • focus on the study of societies and cultures
    • focuses on topics that can be investigated in real time, with ethnographic work that has direct contact with the subjects of the study
    • subjects are various aspects of life
  76. socio-cultural context
    • social background or usual surroundings of a person when they went through the process of physical and mental development
    • often defines what that person considered to be the norm
    • shapes their biases, subjectivities and ways of thinking as well as their perception of cultural situations which they are not used to or familiar with
  77. social construct
    • culturally constructed patterns of behaviour create constructs
    • differ culturally and individually
  78. social distance
    degree to which members of one group are close or attached to others, in an emotional way
  79. normative social distance
    • norms within a society – how specific or strict are the norms on whether individuals should be intimate to each other?
    • interaction of individuals from different social groups, how they are expected to interact upon meeting
    • social construct
  80. social structure
    • the relationships, or stable patterns of relationship, that exist between groups
    • determines one’s role and expected behaviour according to one’s status/place within social groups
  81. socialization
    • the process in which people learn to live in the rules, traditions and ideology of their own culture and society since they are children
    • earliest socialization within family
    • social structures such as religion, school, friends are the factors that promote socialization
  82. enculturation
    process in which individuals are influenced by the society and culture, then shapes their thoughts and behaviors
  83. stereotype
    • a common idea about how a specific type of person is, or behave, like a judgement
    • a perception one may have about a social group that could be based off a single characteristic of that social group
  84. subculture
    • a group of people that differs from the wider society in its beliefs, values and interests which can include music, politics and sports
    • does draw from society and its cultural characteristics such as values and norms and can be more or less immersed into it
    • not tied to individuals that share the same religion, ethnic identity or even nationality and can, as a consequence of globalization, be seen as a global phenomenon that crosses borders
  85. counterculture
    a group which has completely different or opposite characteristics than the mainstream culture
  86. subjectivity
    concepts interpreted from a bias point of view; judgements made based on personal opinions rather than facts
  87. symbolic view
    • symbols = objects, behaviours, sound combinations, other phenomena whose culturally defined meanings have no necessary relationship to their inherent physical qualities
    • arbitrary symbols: no inherent qualities in the symbol that lead a group of people to give a certain meaning to it rather than another
    • conventional symbols: meanings exist only because people implicitly agree they exist
  88. symbolism
    study of the significance that people attach to objects, actions, and processes creating networks of symbols through which they construct a culture’s web of meaning
  89. tribute
    • act of giving to a person of authority
    • made in form of goods, money or a service and generally expresses gratitude and respect for the individual that receives it
  90. unlineal evolutionism
    • a theory which evolved in the 19th century
    • assumes that all cultures go through a series of stages
    • - Edward B. Tylor and Lewis H. Morgan.
  91. values
    • beliefs shared within members of a same culture/society about what is good (moral, ethical) or bad, desirable and undesirable
    • a social construct
    • influencing one’s behaviour and own beliefs
  92. worldview
    • System of beliefs used to make sense of all your experiences
    • created through our previous experiences and everything we have been taught
    • shaped by culture through enculturation of morals, ideas of creation, religion, social norms etc.
    • a worldview is always personal and will not be equal to anyone else’s
    • it might be similar to people who live in the same environment and have gone through similar experiences
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Anthropology: Living Glossary