The Human Enterprise: A Critical Introduction to Anthropological Theory

By James Lett | Go to book overview

15
The Image
of Limited Good

The debate surrounding the nature of the world view of peasants is, more than anything else, a debate between cultural determinists and cultural materialists. In Part 3, I noted that cultural determinism seeks to explain why people think and behave the way they do, while cultural materialism tries to explain how different systems of thought and behavior come into being. The basic theoretical principle of cultural determinism holds that individual behavior is determined by cultural influence; the fundamental theoretical principle of cultural materialism maintains that cultural patterns of belief and behavior are determined by infrastructural variables. One paradigm asks, "What determines behavior?" and answers, "Culture." The other asks, "What determines culture?" and answers, "Infrastructure." It will be important to keep in mind the differences and incommensurability between cultural determinism and cultural materialism in the discussion that follows.

George Foster ( 1965; 1979) devised the concept of the "image of limited good" to characterize the world view of peasants in the Mexican village of Tzintzuntzan, although he argued that the concept applied as well to peasants throughout the world. According to Foster, peasants were envious, suspicious, and fatalistic and assumed the structure of reality precludes happiness and satisfaction for all but a very few people:

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The Human Enterprise: A Critical Introduction to Anthropological Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • About the Book and Author iii
  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Prologue: The Challenge of Theory 1
  • Part One The Philosophy Of Science 7
  • 2- The Activity Of Science 23
  • 3- The Concept Of Scientific Paradigms 31
  • Part Two The Anthropological Perspective 39
  • 4- The Science Of Anthropology 41
  • 5- The Domain Of Anthropological Inquiry 48
  • 6- The Concept Of Culture 54
  • 7- The Importance Of the Emic/Etic Distinction 61
  • 8- The Culture Of Anthropology 68
  • Part Three The Wisdom Of Eclecticism 75
  • 9- The Range Of Alternatives 77
  • 11- The Paradigm Of Structuralism 100
  • 12- The Paradigm Of Symbolic Anthropology 110
  • 13- The Question Of Paradigmatic Commitment 121
  • Part Four The Clash Of Paradigms 127
  • 14- The Sound And the Fury 129
  • 15- The Image Of Limited Good 134
  • 16- The Intractable Sacred Cow 141
  • Epilogue 153
  • Bibliography 157
  • Index 171
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