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9780130971401

Five Key Concepts in Anthropological Thinking

Five Key Concepts in Anthropological Thinking
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  • ISBN-13: 9780130971401
  • ISBN: 0130971405
  • Edition: 1
  • Publication Date: 2002
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall

AUTHOR

Perry, Richard John

SUMMARY

For many students the most intriguing aspects of anthropology are descriptions of various cultures, explorations of prehistoric civilizations, or the mysteries of the human fossil record. When it comes to theory, intrigue is not quite the right term. Apprehension and aversion might be more accurate. Much of this attitude no doubt arises from a sense that theoretical issues are arid and abstract at best, and perhaps still worse, that they have little to do with "reality." It may not be evident that even the most engaging narratives of cultural descriptions, reconstructions of prehistory, or interpretations of the fossil record present reality from one or another theoretical perspective, whether that perspective is explicit or not. As the elders among the anthropology faculty know, any serious student of anthropology needs to have a good grasp of the history of the discipline and the development of its central ideas. This is especially so nowadays when sociocultural anthropology, in particular, has come under serious criticism--much of it based on erroneous perceptions of what anthropology is. Anthropology students need to know what anthropology is about, how it came to be that way, and why. They need to have a good sense of current perspectives, including the self-doubts and internal critiques that have always characterized anthropology and continue to do so. They should also have a good familiarity with the mistakes of the past and why we now consider them to be mistakes. Students need to be conversant with the faltering and often unsuccessful attempts to account for the human experience--not only to avoid covering old ground and repeating past errors, but to develop a clear distinction between the past and present states of their field. They need, in other words, to be able to distinguish valid critiques of present theory from specious claims that confuse outmoded assumptions with current anthropological thinking. This is not all drudge-work and duty. Faculty old timers are aware that theory has been among the most contentious, and therefore among the most interesting, aspects of the anthropological enterprise. Anthropologists have always loved a good debate. After more years than I care to disclose of teaching undergraduate courses ranging from the introduction to cultural anthropology to a senior-level seminar on the history of anthropological theory, it has long been apparent to me and my students that we need more texts on theory that they find accessible. Marvin Harris'sRise of Anthropological Theory,a theoretical landmark in its own right, is now over three decades old and presents a massive challenge for undergraduate students, though it is well worth their efforts (Harris 1968). Other texts less comprehensive than Harris's have come and goner many of them now out of print. What most of these books have in common is an emphasis on "great names" in anthropological theory. Although this has been useful for certain purposes, this book takes a somewhat different tack. We will pay due attention to our theoretical ancestors, but we will start from the premise that as great as many of these names may be, the most valuable focus for students is the flow and development ofideas.Ideas and their implications, over and above their authors, will receive the major focus here. On the other hand, this book is certainly not intended to be an alternative to reading the original works of theorists. The purpose here is to discuss their ideas in the context of other ideas--to juxtapose, compare, and contrast. But the fact remains that to develop a full understanding of what various people have had to say, there is no substitute for reading what they wrote. The idea of this book is to complement readings of major theorists, which are available in excerpted form in such collections as Bohannari s and Glazer'sHigh Points in Anthropology(1988), and McGee'Perry, Richard John is the author of 'Five Key Concepts in Anthropological Thinking', published 2002 under ISBN 9780130971401 and ISBN 0130971405.

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