This week I have continued reading Small Places, Large Issues by Thomas Hylland Eriksen. After covering the introductory sections as last week, I wondered whether to skip forward to the chapters later in the book that the index points to for ‘Identity’, or to continue linearly from the beginning. After quickly skimming through the upcoming chapter, it seemed there was a lot of relevant material, so I continued on as before.
Titled “The Social Person” I had a feeling that this chapter could contain a lot of material that could be linked to Identity. Indeed one of the first issues covered is that of the different dimensions of human existence. These are divided into four categories in the following way:
Culture: Cultural Universals Cultural Variation
Nature: Genetic Universals Genetic Differences
The bottom two sections cover biological features in humans, which do not feature much in anthropologic research. However, the top sections are important and fundamental to anthropology, as there is much variation between humans that cannot be accounted for through genetic variation.
The next big point made is regarding language, and how although it is sometimes assumed that language is uniform across a whole group, it can be found that there is as much linguistic variation within the group.
The book then goes on to describe statuses and roles that account for the rights and duties that an individual may hold in relation to others, and which can vary depending on the situation. The example used to explain this is that of a bus driver, the driver’s status is ‘Bus Driver’, whereas his role is defined by what one does as a bus driver. The work of Goffman (1978 ) is referenced in order to explain how one may switch between roles using “impression management” to appear a specific way in a certain situation. It is then stated that Goffman’s main idea is that social conventions define everything an individual does as a “social creature”. Everything one does follows culturally or socially defined rules.
One area that I read about last week, and didn’t include in my post is the distinction between a view from the inside of a culture, and the view from the outside. Two terms are used for this: emic and etic. Emic describes life as a member of a particular society experiences it, whereas the etic level is the analytical description of a researcher after observing a society. Taking this into account, Goffman’s role theory is an etic explanation as it as an abstraction of the processes of social life.
I was interested to read the next section, which moved on to talking about the Self. A distinction is made between the public and private self, with the “I” being the private self as seen from the inside, which isn’t easily assessed by anthropologists. This is something which I am certain will be covered when I begin to tackle Psychology, and will be an important area to compare and contrast the two disciplines. I am glad I decided to continue reading linearly, as with no reference to this section under Identity in the index I may well have missed it, although the concepts of the Self seem central to the issue of Identity. Maybe I am mistaken, and this will be cleared up once I read the main Identity section.
The biggest idea I took away from this section on the Self is the work of Brian Morris (1994) who distinguished three areas of personhood. Firstly, a person may be identified as a conscious and social human being, and is something which seems to be universal. Secondly, a person may be categorised as a cultural category, which the author explains may be more or less inclusive than the first point – some societies will exclude strangers for example from full personhood, but in others it may be that “non-human” entities may be included. Finally, there is the “I as opposed to others” component, which, depending on the culture, is interpreted differently.
Having advanced further into the realms of anthropology, I then decided to take another anthropology book, this time Cultural Anthropology: A Contemporary Perspective by Roger M. Keesing and Andrew J. Strathern, and skim through the opening few chapters. My reason for this was to ensure that I had covered the same basic points relating to anthropology. Familiar topics such as the difficulty in defining culture, ethnocentrism, ethnography and social roles all appeared, giving me a fairly good boost of confidence that makes me think I’m heading in the right direction with anthropology.