Anthropology beyond Culture

By Richard G. Fox; Barbara J. King | Go to book overview

six
The Broader Implications
of Borderline Areas of
Language Research

Stuart Shanker

For those of us who are deeply concerned about the mechanistic trends that dominated psychology in the twentieth century, anthropology has long stood out as one of our most important models, as well as resources, for studying the micro- and macroprocesses involved in the growth of a child’s mind. Throughout the last century, the basic conflict in developmental psychology was between the machine model, which assumes that complex behaviors can be broken down into genetically determined subcomponent processes, each of which maturates independently of other aspects of development, and the interactionist approach, which maintains that a child learns—both consciously and unconsciously—through interactions with her caregivers (other adults, siblings, peers, etc.) how to think, act, speak, and even feel like the other members of her community. Whereas the machine model explicitly eschews the relevance of anthropology for its concerns, the interactionist view is vitally dependent on the information that anthropology provides, not just about the processes involved in a child’s social development and the cross-cultural variations that have been observed in cognitive, social, emotional, and linguistic development but, further, about the methodological problems that arise in conducting valid and reliable naturalistic studies. Thus it is with some unease, not to mention a foreboding sense of déjà vu, that the interactionist encounters the current debate in anthropology over whether the concept of culture should be formally abandoned in order to inhibit the essentialist and political misuses of the term that have become so prevalent. For the sort of

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