Defining Anthropology, Culture and Mankind

 The aim of this chapter is to introduce us to anthropology as a social science, starting from its own concepts, just like those of culture and mankind; these three (anthropology, culture and mankind) – forming the principal focus. What we have here practically are three levels of study, in which anthropology sees itself as the area of academic knowledge, whose range would be greater taking in the conceptualizing of culture, and further, of mankind; but this is the smallest unit within the make up of all the other segments of culture. Therefore we believe that in a very practical way, if we conceptualize Anthropology, Culture and Mankind we will have a good academic basis about the subject as a science.
Anthropological Theories
In the 20th century arose unilinear evolutionism that applied the theory of evolution to culture and created the presupposition that man had passed through stages of cultural evolution: from savagery to barbarism, from barbarism to civilization to a state of relative perfection. Such studies were based on the observation of overseas cultures from the professor’s study and not in the field, from a distance with little profundity. They were ethnocentric and comparative studies, relegating to minor ethnicities various degrees of primitiveness using European culture as the reference point for the progress of civilization.
The idealist theory took this form, having as the ideal the European, his society and technology. This theory created the philosophical platform for the European domination in the New World and was developed in the writings and thought of Spencer (Principles of Biology 1864) and Edward B. Tylor (The Primitive Culture 1871) among others.
The publication by Durkheim of Rules of the Sociological Method, 1895, proposed that the social facts were more complicated than was imagined at first. With Durkheim[1] social phenomena started to be defined as objects of socio-anthropological study. Together with Mauss, Durkheim (in the end of the 19th century) applied himself to primitive phenomena, a study that resulted in the essay ‘Primitive Classification’, published in 1901. This is seen as the inauguration of the so-called French line of anthropological study.
Franz Boas[2], in the United States of America, developed the idea that each culture has is own history and, therefore a diffusion of cultural traits could happen frequently and widely. So was born Cultural Relativism, beginning the investigation in the field, leaving the academic studies and the purely theoretical situation. Boas defended the idea that each culture must be defined through its own history, therefore making it necessary to study it separately with the aim of constructing its history. So there arose anthropologicalCulturism, also known as Historic Particularism.
From this movement arose later the anthropological school of Culture and Personality. Historic Particularism questioned unilinear evolutionism, stating that every culture had its own history that demanded respect. It attacked the idealist cultural comparisons. It also advocated what would be the prototype of participative observation in which the researcher interacted with the target people. It developed the inductive method (of the particular to the general) contradicting the generalizing classical anthropology of the time.
Structural Anthropology arose in the 1940s. Lévi-Straus is its great theorist and taught that there exist structural rules of the cultures in the human mind. In this way these rules construct opposed pairs to determine the meaning of things. It derives from two main sources: The psychological line created by Wundt and the work done in the field of linguistics by Saussure, called Structuralism. It was also influenced by Durkheim, Jacobson with linguistic theory, Kant with Idealism and Mauss.
Structuralism gave a great impulse in general to linguistics by defending that the necessity of understanding the mental pattern of thought and communication of a people, in order to understand their culture. At this time phonological methods began to be applied to cultural studies. The main aim is to discover what was called the collective thought; this could unite the impressions and values of a people. The recording (and interpretation) of legends and myths would be given value.
Functionalism came to counter the theories of the age and proposed the understanding (and study) of culture starting from a group of interlinked values. That is, all the aspects that define a society (language, subsistence activities, etc.) make a total that can be understood as culture. In this way we see the birth of the distinction between ethnography and ethnology, which proposes the need not only to describe the human activities of a given social segment, but also understand the self identity of the group. Radcliffe-Brown[3] and Evan-Pritchard developed this theory proposing a new branch called Structural Functionalism. They propounded that the social structure is the central point in a society and all the activities and social facts (values, religion, family organization, etc.) are developed with the aim of preserving the stable social structure. Instability of the social structure causes the society to develop other mechanisms, values or activities to stabilize it again.
Neo-evolutionism states that cultural evolution takes place, basically, through man’s struggle against nature, and his mastery of it for subsistence, security and well-being. So Steward advocated that the environmental changes were the principal causes of cultural change and foresaw that the great possible environmental changes could result in general changes in humanity. This stated that it is necessary for man to maintain his instinct of adaption for survival and security.
In the second half of the 20th Century Clifford Geertz, after Lévi-Strauss, was probably the anthropologist whose ideas caused the most impact on society. He is considered the founder of one of the branches of contemporary anthropology, called Hermeneutic or Interpretative Anthropology. The Symbolical and Hermeneutical theories represent two anthropological classes. The first, the Symbolical, argues for identifying the cultural meaning by observation and analysis of the rites, myths, cosmogonies, and so on. The second, the Hermeneutical, argues for the interpretation of these social facts. Their question is ‘What is the idea behind the social fact?
Defining Anthropology
Our first step, towards the stated triple goal, is to define somewhat briefly anthropology. This science is formed from various sources, studies and bases, documented in a history of the evolution of ideas that have led to its conclusive forms of today. Laraia tells us of the diversity of thinkers that supplied the necessary elements to anthropological science, who like Confucius, affirms that ‘the nature of men is the same, only their habits keep them apart.’ [4] From this fundamental idea of anthropology many have been led to the initial question of the subject: Why do similar men in similar situations create cultures so different?
Franz Boas describes the narratives to Greeks of Herodotus (484-424 BC), how he had seen many lands, quoting in one of his observations that the people of Lycia possessed ‘only one custom that differentiated them from all other nations. They took the name of their mother rather than of their father.’ [5] This type of statement came to form the category known today as matrilineal structure.
José de Anchieta (1534-1597) observed the patrilineal structure among the Tupinambás in Brazil, writing that,‘ because they hold that their kinship come from the fathers, seen as the agents, and that the mothers were nothing more than sacks, for their father to raise their children, for this reason the sons of the fathers, even when they might have been slaves and contracted captives, are always free and considered such by others.’ [6]
Geertz speaks about various other researchers that contributed with ideas of what would form present anthropological thought, like Khaldun, in the 14th Century, who elaborated the thesis the inhabitants of hot climates are more passionate than those of cold climates.[7] Also Locke researched the concept of ideas arising from geographic differences.[8] In the 18th Century Rousseau, Schiller and Herder attempted to construct an outline history of humanity using the journals of various voyages, made by people from Marco Polo to James Cook.
All these examples demonstrate anthropological methods of observation and interpretation of cultural sources and values in different human contexts.
Therefore, Anthropology could be provisionally defined as ‘the result of the historic collection of impressions, facts and ideas about the identity of man, dispersed in his different social groupings.’[9]
The anthropological ideology, however, would suffer a strong academic impact from the evolutionism of Darwin (denoted at the time as the Comparative Method), represented principally by Tylor. The principal opposition was found exactly in the clear ideas of Franz Boas (1858-1949).[10] This comparative method defended the idea that man is the result of his environment. To understand this better, we take the example of the Ewe people, in the centre of Ghana, West Africa. Their language used four different words to describe the concept of ‘river’ because they live in an area of rivers that depends on a better comprehension of the evolution of this idea. On the other hand, the Konkombas, who do not travel on rivers, but share the same territory, use only one word to describe ‘river’. This way, according to this theory, the environment shapes the culture and defines the man as leading him to develop his language, habits and social groups according to his context.
Boas disagreed and proposed that human culture is not only the result of the environment, but is the result of ideas. This revolutionized the anthropology of the period; Boas studied while at the same time he called attention to the duality that has as its first element the recognition the environment can make the individual. In this way the environment would be the determining factor in some aspects of the cultural formation of the individual. We take, as an example, a new-born baby of three months, having been born in a Tukano family in the Upper Rio Negro, Brazil. For some motive the child is taken to be raised by an Italian family in Milan. At 15 years old this teenager, except for the physical appearance, will be a linguistically and culturally an Italian. He would face all the limitations of any Italian, if it was necessary for him to adapt to the Tukano universe, learn the language, understand the worldview, adapt to the climate, social organization and everything else. The influence of the environment is indeed relevant, and takes priority in the formation of the individual in terms of ethnic and cultural identity.
But Boas adds a second element to make up is duality. In site of geographical determinism to have its foundation well established, there are elements that construct the culture of a specific group that are independent of its regionalism. The conclusive proof, observed by Boas, was the development of the Eskimos (Inuit) in the same region divided politically between Canada and the United States of America. The cultural choices of the group were extremely different, creating groups also different in spite of sharing the same history, region and ancestry. They speak today different dialects and have paradoxical customs, although living so close Therefore the culture is a much more dynamic element than one might expect, and in this way more complex to be analyzed in a linear way.
Anthropology was studied at first as purely an area within History and Philosophy. With the discovery of the cultural complexities, humanity was seen to be in crying need of a specific area of study and subdivided to cover some of the sources of the social questions. So there arose the study of man. [11]
One of the facts demanded attention around the world in the 16th Century was the inconceivable possibility that analogous facts might be disassociated in their origin.
With the voyages and discoveries of new worlds and peoples the reports arrived in Europe producing a series of questionings about replies that had before held as certain. It was learnt, for example, that the fork had been used first in Fiji and a long time afterwards was invented in Europe, without there having been any communication between these places. The artistic treasures that arrived from the so-called western New World possessed a tremendous resemblance to those recorded by Marco Polo in the Eastern World. The final shock was given through the tales of groups, isolated for generations in Polynesia, which had developed artifacts of bronze and fishing harpoons almost identical to those used in Rome two thousand years ago, without there having been any historical transmission of knowledge. Therefore the clear conclusion is that common needs create similar inventions and solutions.
It became necessary to have a specific subject area for the study of mankind, its social interactions, historical inheritance and communal identity. There arose Anthropology that later would divide into Applied, Cultural, Ethnology, Phenomenology and many others branches of research and knowledge of human development in its social context.
Defining Culture
If we had lived in the 18th century, the age of geographical determinism, every cultural and linguistic difference was considered according to regional differences. The attention of the incipient ethnology of the time concentrated on the environments where ‘climates, subsistence conditions, food, access to drinking water, air quality and distance from other human groups determine largely the identity of a person and of his group.’[12] It was a partial vision of human identity that would receive new questionings.
In the face of this growing analytical cultural influence, at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th there was wide use of the German term kultur to refer to the bulk of spiritual values of a people or a nation. Alongside this was civilization a French term which transmitted the idea of the structural development of a nation. Edward Tylor (1832-1917) synthesized the two expressions in the English term culture, from this were founded various schools, and theories arose in the study and research about the differences and resemblances of mankind in its various branches. Initially culture was defined as the ‘total learnt behavior, assimilated and subject to progress; all of it depending on a genetic transmission.’[13]  
Jacques Turgot[14], Jean-Jacques Rousseau[15] e John Locke on the same quest defended the transmission of knowledge as the factor responsible for culture and discharged the idea of education being responsible for the formation of mankind in its totality, even affirming that the great apes, through systematic and progressive education were capable of developing into humans.
From 1920 anthropologist like Boas, Wissler and Kroeber started to develop an anthropological study based on the analysis of ideas and not of the environments. They came to question geographical determinism from the observation of groups that historically habited the same territory but developed culturally different forms.
Silverwood-Cope[16] traces an analytical line of peoples of the Upper Rio Negro, in North West Amazonia, where the most obvious cultural differences were found among peoples in close geographical proximity, such as the Pir-Tapuya, Tariano and Hupdah, who while sharing the same environment, differed among themselves in the basic categories being respectively fishermen, planters and hunter-gathers. Konkombas and Bassaris, in the North East of Ghana, Africa, have lived near each other for 1200 years and share the same environment, but as we saw, the principal cultural lines of social relationship diverge completely. The first are endogamous (marry only among themselves) while the second group practice exogamy (marry only person outside their cultural grouping); these are key values of their socio-cultural relationships.  
From more accurate observation the idea, that the existence of man and his society as being purely receptive and influenced by his environment was refuted. Things moved on to see ideas as the possible creators of values and customs.
In general, therefore, we can quote Paul Hiebert and define culture as ‘the systems of more or less integrated ideas, feelings, values and their associated standards of behavior and products, shared by a group of persons that organize and regulate what it thinks feels and does.’[17]
Defining Mankind
Sociology does not see man alone as man, but by definition as a being that is strictly social. Psychology sees man as a self-conscious being while philosophy defines him as amoral and rational being, as Hegel advocated.[18] For theology the fact he is a spiritual being distinguishes him from all creation.
Up to now we have seen anthropology as more culturalist, more structualist through the consideration that a culture should be a grouping or social segment that developed from ideas that influence mankind. It could not be, therefore, the geographical situation that determines culture, but the dynamic of the culture would influence the human being inside it, the man being the smallest unit.
However there arose facing this presupposition an axiomatic problem to be debated in anthropology. Scholars started to perceive that, in cultures deeply defined in some aspects (life style, values, priorities, etc.), quite often there arose individuals who created profound changes drastically and surprisingly to the foundations of concepts and life. That is, they discovered that man is a transforming agent of culture. Therefore the secret to understand the cultural dynamic would be to understand man, the individual, he being devoid of much valor according to the structuralist vision.  
Thinking of the human agent and his many interrelationships, Kroeber helps us to distinguish the organic aspect of culture. According to him, mankind is inserted equally into the mechanism of nature that organically, has the same equal needs to be satisfied such as sleep, food, protection, sexuality, etc. However the way man supplies these needs differs, clearly from group to group, or social segment to social segment. This would be culture.
If an American Indian, member of a culture tolerant of infanticide, or promoting it, one day decides not to take part any more, or even to oppose the practice, motivated by pure will power and choice, his history and that of his grouping can be changed permanently from then on.
Therefore, the man, in spite of being the least unit in the general and cultural anthropological concept, is also a transforming agent. In this way a man can differ from all the other agents in nature, and in cultural terms through ‘his capacity to transmit his history to the future generation, evaluating it in accord with his present principles and desires, and recreate it according to his expectations.’[19]
Franz Boas, studying the cultural differences between the Eskimos (Inuit) in Canada (1883) perceived that the ideas of nobility, misery, dignity, sin and relationship, ‘reside in the construction of the heart, just like what I meet, or not, among us.’[20] Therefore he came to see man as ‘a transmitting agent of ideas, the infallible source of concepts inherited by humanity that differ in their application in life and its group.’[21]
In this way the source of cultural diversity came to be man and his thought, not the environment and geographical limitations. However, what is lacking here is the study and perception of the creative elements of ideas in the individual. This came later to be treated in religious phenomenology.
It is worth noting that the disagreement between Tylor and Kroeber would be due to the position of mankind among other living beings. While Tylor distinguished man by his culture (the only one to possess culture and cultural transmission) Kroeber distinguished mankind from other living beings by the power of more accurate oral communication and the ability to make tools that enabled him to develop.
In spite of Kroeber’s attempt to place mankind within the natural order, not distinguishing it from the other living beings, it does not supply us with the means to understand man’s incredible diversity. We return therefore, to what Laraia said
The great quality of the human species was to break out of his own limitations: a fragile animal, supplied with insignificant physical force, dominated all nature and transformed itself into the most feared predator. Without wings, mastered the air; without gills or fins mastered the seas. All this is because it differs from the other animals by being the only one to possess culture.[22]
According to Geertz,[23] the old approaches that defined human nature, both those made by the Enlightenment, also those by classical anthropology, are basically typological, and make secondary the differences between individuals and groups. Now, through a cultural vision we see that to become human is ‘to become individual, and we become individuals under the direction of cultural standards . . . (that) are not general but specific.’[24] Therefore we are able to define mankind for our anthropological study, as the being in culture that defines itself from its history, its ideas and social involvement.  In his conscience, in his morality and rationality, as also in his spirituality, man is able to set out on a constructive journey in his own human nature by means of his cultural calling.
[1] See Durkheim, Émile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, The totemic system in Australia (1912, English translation by Joseph Swain: 1915) The Free Press, 1965.
[2] See Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture, de 1940, republished University Of Chicago Press, 1995.
[3] See Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. Structure and function in primitive societies. London: Routledge 1952
[4] Laraia, Roque de Barros. Cultura: Um conceito antropológico. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1997
[5] Boas, Franz. Race and Progress, Science, N.S., vol.74 (1931).
[6] Journal of Cultural Anthropology. AAA, Vol 3. 2001. José de Anchieta (1534 –1597) was a Jesuitmissionary to Brazil, including the Indians, and a highly influential figure in the beginning of Brazil's history.  
[7] Arab Philosopher of 14th Century Who taught geographical determinism to explain ethnic differences.
[8]Locke, John (1632-1704). An essay concerning human understanding 1690. See on
[9]Lidório, Ronaldo. Journal of Cultural Anthropology. Vol 5. 2002
[10] His criticism of evolution is found in his article: ‘The Limitation of the Comparative Method of Anthropology.’
[11] From Greek ‘Anthropos’ – man – e ‘logia’- study.
[12]Huntington, Ellsworth and Milford, Humphrey. Civilization and Climate. Yale University Press, 1915
[13]American Anthropologist. Vol. XIX, 1917
[14] Turgot, Jacques (1727-1781). ‘Plan for two discourses about universal history’.
[15] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1712-1778). ‘Discourse on What is the origin of Inequality among Men and is it Authorised by Natural Law?’ Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes), 1754 See on
[16] Silverwood-Cope, Peter Lachlan. Os Maku: Povo caçador do noroeste da Amazônia. Brasília: UnB, 1990. Doctoral Thesis Cambridge University in English.
[17] Hiebert, Paul G. : Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.
[18] Laraia, Roque de Barros: Op. cit.
[19]Lidório, Ronaldo. ‘Cultural Identity’. Journal of Cultural Anthropology. 2002.
[20] Boas, Franz; ‘The value of a person lies in his Herzensbildung’ –University of Wisconsin Press, 1983.
[21] Boas, Franz; ibid.
[22]Laraia, Roque de Barros. Op cit.
[23] Geertz, Clifford: The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973, Basic Books, 1977 & 2000.
[24] idem.
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