Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology

Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology

Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology

Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology

Synopsis

In 80 entries this work provides an introduction to the key ideas of cultural anthropology. In each article--culture, race, materialism, semiotics, "primitive," etc.--Winthrop provides a balance between describing a concept's contemporary theoretical relevance and tracing its development, including the broader intellectual context transcending professional anthropology. Thus the article on "interpretation" discusses St. Augustine, Schliermacher, Dilthey, and Gadamer, as well as Geertz and Evans-Pritchard. That on "ethnology" treats Boemus, Acosta, and Prichard as well as the Boasians. The article on "nature" contrasts the Greek concept of physis with the Roman natura. Though this is a work of synthesis rather than of original historical scholarship, Winthrop quotes primary sources as much as possible, to let the key figures speak for themselves.

Excerpt

Cultural anthropology describes and interprets the culturally patterned thought and behavior of contemporary and near-contemporary societies. It is inherently pluralistic, seeking a framework in which the distinctive perspectives of each cultural world can be appreciated. This work is an effort to describe the major concepts that have shaped the discipline, treated historically and theoretically.

As an academic enterprise, anthropology dates only to the late nineteenth century. As an intellectual tradition, however, it is far older. The discipline of anthropology is the product of the European confrontation with the cultural other, an encounter spanning several centuries of exploration, trade, conquest, and colonization. The goal of this work is to set modern, theoretically explicit anthropology in its proper context, within its broader intellectual tradition. Aristotle and Rousseau, Hobbes and Marx, Turgot and Herder were all contributors to this enterprise, as much as were the acknowledged anthropologists of the past century.

As the anthropologist Cora DuBois observed, "Legitimate problems go out of fashion, not because they are resolved but simply because of what might be called the quest for generational autonomy. By the third professional generation, old questions are raised once more, but with no awareness that they had earlier and valuable formulations" (DuBois 1967:34-35). Aristotle offered (in my view) a more sophisticated concept of community than did the modern theorists of community studies such as Robert Redfield or Conrad Arensberg. Similarly, the concept of mode of production offered by Karl Marx was analytically more powerful than the parallel notions created by twentieth-century scholars such as Julian Steward, in an era that had forgotten Marx or found it convenient not to acknowledge him. This professional amnesia takes its toll. In however cursory a fashion, I have tried to demonstrate the depth of anthropology's intellectual development.

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