The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus

The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus

The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus

The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus


Anthropology is an ever changing field and James L. Peacock's revised version of his successful text, first published in 1986, covers current issues in cultural anthropology. It includes new topics such as globalization, gender and postmodernism, and reflects recent changes in perspective and language. Designed for students, it will also interest professional anthropologists.


Can you see the moon? Can you see it seen…

Gertrude Stein, A Circular Play

Fall semester began, and I gave the first lecture in an introductory course in anthropology. This course, at a state university, was being taught in the gymnasium and was heavily attended by people whose clothing and demeanor suggested more interest in sports than in study. The class ended, and I asked if there were questions. I was startled when a young man inquired, “What's your hermeneutic?”

“Hermeneutic” in the narrow sense pertains to the study of texts in order to interpret their meaning. This student used the term in a broad sense. He wanted to know the meaning of this course. Perhaps he wanted to know the meaning of anthropology.

The student's question was profound. This book attempts to answer it, at an elementary level. The study of a field like anthropology can be all sound and fury, signifying nothing: exciting facts without sufficient understanding of their meanings. Introductory courses teach such facts. Such courses tell about “bones and stones, ” as some students term human fossils and artifacts; the varieties of economies, governments, and family organizations throughout the world; how grammars of language vary as we move out of our Indo-European heritage to exotic cultures. What is meant by all this information?

Meaning at a certain level is given by substantive synthesis. All these facts can be made to compose a picture of human existence. The stones and bones can be woven into a story of human origins and evolution. The varieties of social life and languages can display pattern in human culture. Such a panoramic synthesis of . . .

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