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Socio Cultural Anthropology Section

David Colon-Cabrera
May 28, 2010
2! "here is Culture# $n %&he $ntercultural 'ra(e,% )$nternational *ournal o+ $ntercultural
,elations 18)2- pp 221-2./-, Michael Agar suggests that %Culture is not so(ething people
have, it is so(ething that +ills the spaces between the(!% "hat do you thin0 Agar had in (ind
in (a0ing this state(ent# $n your ans1er, please address a- ho1 the notions o+ culture have
evolved over ti(e2 b- to 1hat e3tent does a theory o+ culture shape practice in applied and or
collaborative settings# "here is culture and 1here do you thin0 it (ight be located in the
.! 4eeping in (ind ,oy D5Andrade5s re(ar0 that 67anthropology, (ore than other social
science disciplines, has been a++ected by the changing political attitudes o+ the past 80 years9
)D:Andrade 2000 )2000- &he Sad Story o+ Anthropology 1;80-1;;;, Cross Cultural ,esearch
.< ).- 21;-, please discuss ho1 anthropology itsel+ is a product o+ cultural +actors and the
conte3ts in 1hich anthropologists live and 1or0! Consider this in light o+ the conte3ts in
1hich practicing or applied anthropologists +ind the(selves!
Question # 2
"Culture is not something people have, it is something that fills the spaces between them."
Michael Agar5s state(ent tries to provide an ans1er to a =uestion cultural theorists have
been debating about as it co(es up in anthropological research and its applications, as to 1hat
culture entails and 1here does it (ani+est itsel+! Agar5s a++ir(ation that culture is as ethereal and
abstract as shared space bet1een people, results +ro( his re+lection upon the role o+
anthropologists as cultural bro0ers 1hen the need to 1or0 as such arises! Culture is then a
discourse upon 1hich several +ra(es o+ re+erence are co((unicated upon and translated
accordingly to one5s o1n +ra(e o+ re+erence )Agar 1;;<-!
Culture has been conceptuali>ed in the past century in 1ays that do not necessarily
contradict each other, but +ocus on di++erent arrays o+ 1hat the ?cultural spectru(5 (ight
enco(pass! &he understanding o+ 1hat is culture has been historically in+luenced on the actors
studying it and the prevalent socio-scienti+ic paradig(s o+ the ti(e! $n 18/1 &ylor
conceptuali>ed culture in a 1ay that per(itted its scienti+ic study by integrating the study o+
hu(an li+e, their behavior and cognition2 6!!!that co(ple3 1hole 1hich includes 0no1ledge,
belie+, art, (orals, la1, custo(, and any other capabilities and habits ac=uired by (an as a
(e(ber o+ society9 )Mc@ee and "ar(s 200828-! $n a si(ilar +ashion, Aerbert Spencer5s
standpoint on culture 1as ai(ed at understanding society as a super-organis( allo1ing culture
to be operationali>ed +or scienti+ic study )Berry 200.<2-! A naturalistic approach o+ studying
culture though the scienti+ic (ethod had its constraints, one o+ 1hich 1as the universal
underlying notions about culture it presupposed! 'ran> Coas argued +or a study o+ culture in
anthropology that (oved a1ay +ro( situational (odels in an ethnocentric sense so that the
concept o+ culture be understood in the native5s o1n opinions and vie1s2 studying culture (eant
loo0ing +or (eaning it held a(ong the people studied )Berry 200.D0-!
More and (ore, anthropologists began to conceptuali>e culture as highly dependent on other
social pheno(ena because o+ the co(ple3ity on the interconnectedness and relationships o+ 1hat
culture i(plies )Moore and Sanders 200D<0-! Culture continued to e3pand its +ocus and ai(s, as
it re+lected the holistic approach o+ the discipline! As such, "hite5s )1;8;- notion o+ culture
relied on the integration o+ di++erent societal aspects li0e 6tools, i(ple(ents, utensils, clothing,
orna(ents, custo(s, institutions, belie+s, rituals, ga(es, 1or0s o+ arts, language, etc )"hite
1;8;-! ,uth Cenedict5s theori>ed on a social individuality recogni>ed by a 0no1n social
+ra(e1or0 1hich in turn in+luenced Margaret Mead5s vision o+ culture as a (old o+ e3perience
)Batterson 2001-! &hese ideas helped continuous develop(ent o+ re+ining )or broadening- the ai(
o+ 1hat studying culture de(ands +or an anthropologist, and 1here to loo0 +or it!
As the discipline o+ anthropology has changed, our de+initions o+ culture have changed 1ith
it! @eert> e3pressed that his vie1 on the notion envisioned culture as 6a syste( o+ inherited
conceptions e3pressed in sy(bolic +or(s by (eans o+ 1hich people co((unicate, perpetuate,
and develop their 0no1ledge about and attitudes to1ard li+e )@eert> 1;/.8;-! @eert> de+inition
broadens the scope o+ the discipline because it tries to account +or concepts o+ abstraction based
on hu(an behavior and 0no1ledge other possible areas 1here culture (ight be locatedEstudied!
&he concept o+ studying culture (atured as it espoused a research agenda that incorporated
docu(enting so(ething that is learned, e(bedded in the social +abric and is passed on and
reproduced! Studying culture and its e3pression is to study its obFecti+ication2 a construct that is
controlled and e3pressed in certain 1ays and is not reproduced e=ually )notes +ro( AG&A //0
class, 200;-!
&he theory o+ culture has been +urther co(plicated by post(odernis( and postcoloniality!
As the location o+ culture is +urther proble(ati>ed by critically analy>ing the role o+
anthropology in the study o+ the post colonialEdeveloping 1orld )1hile introducing and
so(eti(es studying the 1estern ?us5- the practical use o+ cultural theory beco(es apparent as the
discipline progresses and changes! Cy studying the nuances o+ po1er, e3pression and learning in
a society, ideology is integrated into cultural anthropological research! $ntegrating ideology into
anthropological analysis and interpretation per(its a vie1 that engul+s (any aspects o+ society
that are re+lected upon by anthropologists as pro+essionals o+ culture! Culture is une=ually spread
)and e3pressed- a(ong the (e(bers o+ society and this is privy and dependent on the
individuals5 relative position in society and this is the result o+ di++erent historical variables
interacting 1ith each other )Moore and Sanders 200D-! $ts e3pression is an interaction bet1een
the past and present that ensues a preservation or change in society )Aand1er0er 200;-!
Additional +actors converge in a group o+ people to e3press and participate in culture, such as
ideas and shared behaviors that are recalled 1ithout needing conscious 1ill )Berry 200.-! Culture
is created and recreated as the sy(bols that co(pose it through an interpellation o+ sorts, are
uttered and indenti+ied by individuals! &he di++erence in ho1 these sy(bols are ?created5 is 1hat
di++erentiates individuals 1ithin and bet1een groups and identities!
&ying bac0 to Agar5s initial state(ent, the space 1here culture occurs is not yet agreed
upon! &he individuals play a great deal in locating these spaces 1here culture occurs and is
located! Current cultural theory accepts culture as co(ple3 and (ulti+aceted, allo1ing +or an
understanding in 1hich individuals can be +luid about their locations in these spaces and
interactions! &hus, culture can intersect individuals and doing so it identi+ies us as si(ilar and
di++erent +ro( one another as 1e can be )Aand1er0er 200;-! $+ Agar5s =uote can be interpreted to
(ean that culture is collectively interspatial
, one can argue that culture is everything and
nothing that is represented in the subte3t bet1een individuals and society! $+ one 1ere to e3a(ine
Space bet1een obFects!
Agar5s =uote as a 1ay to thin0 spatially about culture, it 1ill pro(pt an engage(ent in disparate
)and parado3ically Fu3taposed- discourses o+ abandoning the (ultiplicity o+ culture
through research! $+ culture resides in the interactions and depend on public and
(eaning+ul e3periences that are subFected to interpretation, culture is then every1here and
available to e3perience2 al1ays changing and yet retaining its +or( )Aanner> 1;;2<-! &his is
1hy 1e as anthropologists are able to +ind and study the ?other5 +inding it ?there5 al1ays readily
available! $ +ind this ?otherness5 si(ilar to Ao((i Chabha5s concept o+ the third space )Chabha
200<.D-! Ae perceives interpretation as (eaning that transcends +ro( t1o individual places, to a
third space in 1hich sy(bols )and (eanings- are attributed cultural 0no1ledge in special
conte3ts in 1hich to per+or( or be per+or(ed! $dentity as it is per+or(ed in that interstitial third
space represents an i(portant aspect o+ culture! &he space bet1een and 1ithin displaces culture
+ro( individuals to indirect per+or(ative conte3ts 1here (eaning occurs! $ believe that a vie1
such as the one Agar5s proposes about 1hat space culture +ills, ac0no1ledges the i(pulsive
characteristic that (eaning ac=uires!
An applied anthropology +ra(e1or0 does not disassociate itsel+ +ro( these theoretical
endeavors, on the contrary it is in+or(ed by these conceptuali>ations and it bene+its +ro( the
1ays these anthropological theories can be practiced and applied! "hile anthropologists 1or0
and collaborate stretching their disciplinary boundaries, they in+or( and shape ho1 applied
e++orts ta0e shape )Casch 200/-! &he role o+ anthropologists (ost o+ten is relegated to
e3plaining the i(portance o+ cultural theory and its i(plications on applied research proFects or
interventions to other non anthropologist collaborators! Anthropologists that 1or0 in
collaboration 1ith others are in constant re+lection on the 1ays theory and (ethod interact in the
setting and in these collaborations ),appaport 200/-!
'ictionali>ation (eaning in this instance that as anthropologists 1e create culture by studying and docu(enting it!
An i(portant direction 1here cultural theory is headed points to the (ultivocality o+ ho1
anthropologists tal0 about culture! &here is an increasing push +or anthropology to reach out to
the public and co((unities in (ore 1ays so that our 0no1ledge in+luences policy and in+or(s
social change )Ha(phere 200<-! $t can be argued that the +uture o+ anthropology lies in ho1 these
collaborations are handled and developed )both 1ith the ?others5E5us5 1e study and 1ith our
pro+essional collaborations-! Goted, that anthropologists have distinguished the(selves by
collaborating in this (anner, especially in applied issues concerning environ(ental and health
issues )Ha(phere 200<-! $+ 1e approach collaboration in 1ays that per(its anthropologists to
translate the i(portance o+ studying culture in applied settings 1hile (aintaining our o1n niche
it 1ill broaden the application o+ ho1 to study culture and 1here to +ind it!
&he location o+ culture and its study by anthropologists is being displaced to service,
outreach and policy research along 1ith other critical social issues outside the e3otic other
)4otta0 200<2 Ha(phere 200<-! Anthropology in applied settings provide uni=ue approaches that
pro(ote 6discovery, synergy, and sustainable solutions9 in the conte3ts o+ hu(an e3perience
)Golan 200.-! &he involve(ent o+ anthropologists can positively in+luence the conte3t in 1hich
they 1or0 because the progra(s they design are culturally appropriate, they correct un+easible
interventions that do not cater to their target public, and provide 6intercultural bro0ering9 s0ills
that asses the social value o+ interventions and evaluations! As anthropologists continue
collaborating culture the location o+ culture 1ill 0eep shi+ting and enrich applied anthropologists5
and practitioners5 (ethods and approaches! &he develop(ent o+ the concept o+ culture has sho1n
that the li(its o+ 1hat is conceptuali>ed as culture depend on a (ultiplicity o+ +actors! $n Agar5s
=uote, culture is located and +ills the space bet1een individuals because that is the (ost
appropriate 1ay in 1hich he can operationali>e culture +or his research as a practitioner! As the
+ocus o+ anthropology )both applied and non-applied- e3pands into other areas o+ collaboration
and practice, the concept o+ culture 1ill continue adapting and reconstituting itsel+ in di++erent
spaces and locations!
Question # 3
anthropology, more than other social science disciplines, has been affected by the changing political attitudes of
the past 50 years
Anthropology as a social science cannot e3tricate itsel+ +ro( the very processes it
conte3tuali>es, (ainly +ro( one o+ its episte(ological tenets culture! Anthropology as a
discipline has developed and used the concept o+ culture and the interrelated hu(an social
characteristics that it involves in order to study hu(ans in their social conte3t! D5Andrade argues
that di++erent socio-historical processes that happened in the +i+ty years preceding the article5s
publication, such as the post ""$$ period, the shi+t in social thin0ing that occurred in the 1;805s
and 1;D05s, the Iietna( 1ar and the surge o+ post (odernis( in+luenced the discipline to1ards a
le+tist political and episte(ological orientation! Ae sees the anthropology students o+ these ti(es
as being e3posed to a 1ave o+ le+t-leaning thought in acade(ia! &his particular generation o+
students reFected (odernity and its positivis(, and privileged a le+tist critical re+lection o+ the
pri(acy o+ 1estern thought in the discipline that a(bivalently reFected =uantitative analysis in
+avor o+ interpretation and =ualitative in=uiry!
$t has been argued that the great in+luence o+ these events is due to a gro1ing consciousness
o+ anthropology5s colonial past a(ong this generation o+ anthropologists! As D5Andrade brie+ly
suggests this generation can be seen as trying to e3tricate itsel+ +ro( the colonial past o+ the
discipline! Ae argues that the ne1 le+tist orientation o+ the discipline led to the develop(ent o+ a
critical anthropology that did not see0 to rei+y oppressive ideologies, but in a se(i-activist spirit,
sought to deconstruct the 1ays in 1hich scienti+ic in=uiry did not e3ercise re+le3ivity in its
incursions in the developing 1orld and post colonial countries )D:Andrade 2000-!
$+ the discipline o+ anthropology 1as the (ost a++ected by these political attitudes, it is
because anthropologists +elt the(selves siding 1ith an e(erging episte(ology that better
represented 1hat the discipline see0s to study! $n a sense 6anthropological 0no1ledge is
interpretive and her(eneutic rather than positive2 it is tentative rather than conclusive, relative to
ti(e, place, and author rather than universal )Hett 1;;/8-! &hough this =uote sustains the point
that D5Andrade is elaborating on, it elucidates the +act that anthropological 0no1ledge in the past
80 years, has been (ostly le+tist and unabashedly anti-positivist! &he reFection o+ ?ulti(ate
obFectivity5 is abandoned as 6evocation and interpretation9 along 1ith 6description and
e3planation9 are cha(pioned )Hett 1;;/12-&he (ove to1ards this orientation in the discipline
co(es +ro( the e(erging paradig(s in anthropology at the ti(e, one o+ 1hich 1as the
interpretative orientation proposed by @eert>! $n+luenced by literary analysis, he co(pared the
anthropologist to an interpreter o+ stories that are co(prised by cultural ele(ents! &his allo1s the
ethnographer to ?re5construct a thic0 description )@eert> 1;/.-! $nterpretative anthropology and
its presence in (ainstrea( anthropology, a++ected the conceptuali>ation o+ culture as one open to
interpretation (uch li0e a te3t! &he subse=uent post(odern +ocus on the act o+ 1riting itsel+ has
been understood as the product o+ a discipline that relies upon (eta-analysis to revise its position
on the endeavor o+ cultural research!
As anthropology (oved a1ay +ro( its o1n colonial past, one can argue that the discipline
recon+igured itsel+! As a discipline dedicated to the study o+ the Jther and de+ining the pri(itive
)S(ith 1;;;22<- anthropologists in the 1;D05s post-1ar era started to re+lect on their o1n
subFects and ho1 they perpetuated their o1n 1estern oppressive (ethodologies and theories!
Anthropologists responded in a drastic (anner, as to get rid o+ those (ethodologies and re+lected
on the 1ays in 1hich they 1ere a part o+ the subFects they 1ere studying! &hus, it can be said
that anthropology is, in +act, a result o+ cultural +actors that a++ect anthropologists5 1or0! $+ one o+
the tenets o+ anthropology lies on cultural relativis( and the dyna(ic characteristic o+ culture,
ho1 could the discipline not have responded to the socio-political environ(ent around it# As a
re+le3ive standpoint o+ the discipline, post(odernis( a++ir(ed )and criti=ued- these changes as it
pro(oted doubt in a highly critical and deconstructionist interpretation o+ the 1orld and that as
globali>ed researchers 1e (ust be part o+ the acade(ic re+lections o+ our analysis )*a(es Sire as
cited in David Doc0ery 1;;81<-!
&he 1or0 o+ anthropologists outside o+ acade(ia changed the 1ays anthropologists used
anthropological 0no1ledge in their respective environ(ents! "hile anthropological 0no1ledge
1as applied to develop(ent proble(s li0e the 'o3 BroFect in the Knited States, and the Iicos
BroFect in Beru, the Society +or Applied Anthropology )S+AA- +or(ed as (ore and (ore
anthropologists too0 Fobs as consultants and trainers in the burgeoning applied +ield )Golan,
200.-! Applied anthropologists rede+ined the spaces that anthropologists traditionally occupied,
spurring debates concerning the e3tent to 1hich they are really engaging in anthropology )Ian
"illigen 2002-! &hese debates are i(portant because they de(onstrate the directions that the
discipline is ta0ing and its status =uo! $t is an interesting dialogue because it gives di++erent
perspectives as to ho1 anthropological 0no1ledge is seeping into une3pected places
recon+iguring ho1 anthropology is conceptuali>ed and understood!
A controversial e3a(ple that pro(pted an evaluation o+ 1hat an anthropologist is and to
1ho it provide services to, is the Au(an &errain Syste( )A&S- Brogra(! A&S sees to
integrate and apply socio!cultural nowledge of the indigenous civilian population to military
operations in support of the commander"s ob#ectives. $s one %&& member said, 'ne
anthropologist can be much more effective than a (!) bomber * not winning a war, but creating
a peace one $fghan at a time
!&he (ilitary operations in A+ghanistan and the Middle Last,
have called upon practitioners o+ anthropology as agents that can provide the (ilitary 1ith
speci+ic ?cultural5 tools dee(ed as i(portant! &here+ore, though controversial as the topic is, it
could be argued that in this conte3t o+ 1ar, anthropology has been sought out and adapted to aid
in the success o+ (ilitary operations! &his 1ar setting is di++erent to the traditional ones 1ere the
apolitical or activist anthropologist carries out 1or0 and see0s to e(po1er its subFects! &he
cultural and social +actors o+ the "ar on &error have provided ne1 conte3ts in 1hich
anthropologists can e3ercise 1hat so(e disavo1 as anthropology and others see as social science
research! "hat so(e perceive as an ethical breach to the discipline by being a participant in the
A&S, others Fusti+y by clai(ing social Fustice in the plight o+ the "ar on &error! "ithout
indulging in opinions about the controversy, $ believe this is a good e3a(ple o+ ho1 conte3t and
cultural +actors currently in+luence anthropology as a discipline! L3ecutive (e(bers o+ the
A(erican Anthropological Association have e3pressed the +ear that anthropologists5 1ho
participate in this type o+ proFect endanger the ethical integrity o+ the discipline )GB,-
Moreover, Bractitioners and applied anthropologists are a(ong those 1ho rede+ine the
discipline as it responds to i(portant hu(an issues o+ the ti(e )Golan, 200.-! &he
anthropological training o+ applied anthropologists is directed to1ards grounding research issues
in conte3t and by doing so di++erentiate the(selves +ro( technical e3perts as 0no1ledgeable, but
reachable researchers! Distinction +ro( technical e3pertise is seen in that the 0no1ledge that
practitioners obtain is not his o1n, but dependent on the conte3t +ro( 1hich it 1as e3tracted and
the dialogue that ensues is rooted in hisEher anthropological bac0ground )Golan, 200.-! Applied
anthropology provides a conte3t in 1hich anthropology at large can be in+or(ed by current
&a0en +ro( the A&S 1ebpage httpEEhts!ar(y!(ilEovervie1!ht(l
issues that need pressing attention! $ssues such as the A$IEA$DS epide(ic have de(onstrated a
positive involve(ent o+ anthropologists, as 1ell as scholars +ro( other disciplines! &hese
interventions have also de(onstrated the 1ays by 1hich anthropologists have responded to
pressing cultural +actors and events providing +urther bridges to e3panding the scope and
research agenda o+ the discipline! &here+ore, an ade=uate overvie1 o+ the culturally conte3tual
nature o+ anthropology is currently being a++ected by pra3is episte(ology and trans+or(ed by it!
As anthropologists, 1e are conscious o+ the 1ays in 1hich 0no1ledge is negotiated bet1een
theory and practice, even though these t1o poles rarely +ully reconcile )Aill and Caba 200D-!
Conte3ts in 1hich the discipline has yielded to these socio-political and econo(ical changes
have produced appropriate and rich (ethodologies, such as such as Barticipatory Action
,esearch! &he +uture o+ applied anthropology (ust continue to ac0no1ledge the +actors that have
arisen as part o+ recent research and socio-political process and 1ill continue shaping the
discipline2 such as +unding agencies that restrict applied research agendas )Aac0enberg and
Aac0enberg 200<.8/-! Current anthropology as 1ell as its applied e++orts, are the diverse result
o+ di++erent and concurrent social +actors that have (oved the discipline to develop a distinct
research agenda and code o+ ethics that is uni=ue in the social sciences! &he episte(ology o+
anthropology, could have not avoided been a++ected by the di++erent social and political changes
that occurred (ore than +i+ty years ago! &here+ore, the discipline presents itsel+ 1ith the sa(e
dyna(is( as 1hat it see0s to understand!
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