American Culture: Essays on the Familiar and Unfamiliar

American Culture: Essays on the Familiar and Unfamiliar

American Culture: Essays on the Familiar and Unfamiliar

American Culture: Essays on the Familiar and Unfamiliar


American Culturecomprises fifteen essays looking at the familiar and the less familiar in American society: urbanites in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, rural communities in the American West, Hispanics in Wisconsin, Samoans in California, the Amish, and the utopian religious communities of the Shakers and Oneida. The essays address a wide range of topics and a spectrum of occupations-miners, whalers, farmers, factory workers, physicians and nurses-to consider such questions as why some religious sects remain distinctive, separate, and viable; how groups use of such things as nicknames and family reunions to maintain ties within the community; how immigrant communities organize to sustain traditional cultural activities.


This book is intended for a general audience, people interested in or curious about anthropology and Americans -- actually, the anthropology of Americans. It may seem incongruous to speak of the anthropology of Americans, for anthropology has the reputation of exploring exotic societies and cultures. That is true, as those who have experienced college introductory courses in cultural anthropology will affirm. But what animates anthropology is not just a fascination with the strange and sometimes titillating customs of "savages" or "primitive" people. Knowing others is a means of understanding ourselves.

Anthropologists have recognized this since the discipline's birth well over a century ago, and the premise has inspired the titles of introductory or general texts such as Mirror for Man and To See Ourselves. Anthropologists insist that their domain of enquiry encompasses all known examples of human society and culture for the ultimate aim of scientifically understanding human nature as expressed in all social institutions and behaviors. Thus, a knowledge of non-Western or tribal societies has direct relevance for the understanding of modern and complex societies, and the opposite also applies. The two-way reflective process is never ending.

Anthropology's interest in studying modern society and culture has been present for a long time, but in the past such endeavors were peripheral interests of scholars whose main activities lay in fieldwork with the strange folk. Our distinguished anthropological ancestors -- such as Benedict, Boas, Herskovits, Kluckholn, Kroeber, Linton, Lowie, Malinowski, Mead, and Radin -- and their notable offspring -- including Firth, Goldschmidt, and Steward -- all dabbled on the side with research into contemporary or advanced or industrial society. With other forebears, like Lewis, the Lynds, Powdermaker, Spiro, and Warner, this concern was salient and central to their work.

But not until the present generation of anthropologists has there been a concerted effort to direct research at modern society and one's own culture. This has established a field of study within the discipline, a core of central interest to a body of researchers, and the beginning of a scholarly tradition, all of which are apparent in the emergence of specialized anthropological journals that deal principally with modern conditions, and in the . . .

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