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Cultural Anthropology Terms and Concepts

“to cultivate”; what is learned, shared; body of behavior that is transmitted across generations and is infinitely expandable

Studying/recording the culture of a people

A method of ethnography; gathering data from a group while in the field, usually through interview

Participant observation
A method of ethnography; studying a people through intense involvement, esp. over a long period of time

People who give information about their culture

Insider point of view

Outsider point of view

Judging other cultures by the view and values of one’s own culture

Cultural relativism
Accepting that other cultures have different values and perspectives

Mongolian herder huts

ger districts
concentration of ger on outskirts of cities as they became more sedentary, fences built around each individual ger

An administrative division made by local government; territories that result from the Mongolian government’s inter-colonialism and its efforts to make the herders settle into given property and boundaries

Cultural suppression
When the culture of a people is oppressed by restriction and control, usually during colonization; the Soviets killing Eveny shamans

Cultural revitalization
Revitalizing a culture by language, performances, tradition, sharing with the community; the introduction of the Eveny language in schools

Indigenous people/natives
People originally belonging to a place

Native anthropologist
An anthropologist studying their own culture/society

Story/narrative as analysis



“the native’s point of view”
Anthropologist’s emphasis; studying a culture from the perspective of the people

Eveny native anthropologist

Bronislaw Malinowski
Father of social anthropology; developed anthropology from primarily evolutionary to also sociological and psychological; developed methods and fieldwork

People colonizing a place/people

Those from a place that are being colonized

Internal colonialism
A nation-state’s domination of minority groups within its territory

Colonialism and its consequences
Influence both ways; declination of indigenous peoples by disease and violence; transformation of indigenous; subjection of people and denial of local knowledge “civilizing”

“Civilizing mission”
The belief of colonizers that their influence is benefitting the “uncivilized” minorities

Rule by coercive force

Formed, articulated system of meanings, values, and beliefs

Rule by persuasion

Opposition to colonization; national movements; anti-colonization/decolonization

Franz Boas
Father of American anthropology; popularized cultural anthropology in American anthropology; battled racist/ethnocentric assumptions; introduced four-field anthropology (biological, archaeology, cultural, linguistics); interest in cultural diffusion; stressed value of collecting text and material culture of NW coast Native Americans; worked with native collaborators; prominent students

Cultural continuities
Traditions and values in a culture that have lasted over time

Cultural diversity
The different cultures in a society or place

A group of people with certain traditions and culture that differentiates them from a larger culture

Cultural diffusion
The process by which a culture and its traditions spread to different groups or societies

The process of someone learning a culture and its traditions

The results of multiple cultures meeting and influencing each other

“Cultural genocide”; the extermination of the traditions and culture of a group of people

The extermination of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group

The degree of which something is true to its nature, or a culture to its tradition

Cultural performances
Rituals, dancing, singing, etc. from a people’s tradition

A group of people organized by social relations; shares basic economic/political institutions; can include multiple cultures; interactions are culturally patterned

Egalitarian societies
All people share roughly the same degree of wealth, power, and prestige (usually with some differences by age, gender, etc.)

Stratified societies
A society where some groups have more access and control of wealth, power, and prestige

Social structure
Patterned ways that people interact; social relationships informed by norms and rules

Life of an individual in a society

Capacity to act, improvise, and resist

Locally based; more unstandardized forms of speech, art, architecture, cooking, etc.

Beyond local; more rationalized; cultural combinations connecting diversity; can also revitalized old vernacular

The ability to speak multiple languages; historically is more typical than monolingualism

Only speaking one language

Movement between languages based on what is appropriate for a given situation

Vulnerable language
Children still learning a language along with another tongue, but it is restricted in certain areas

Endangered language
A language with only older generation speakers

Extinct language
A language with no speakers left

Sleeping languages
Extinct languages which can be “reawakened” by revitalization with written or audio records

Importance of language loss
Loss of indigenous knowledge of all kinds, including oral literature; traditional environmental knowledge disappears

Globalization and language
Expands & stretches social relations; intensifies & accelerates socioeconomic practices; makes new social & cultural practices, and multiplies existing ones

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
Language: influences how we understand, think about, and dwell with the world; provides categories for cognition; refines what and how we perceive

Cultural translation
Presenting a culture and its traditions through translation

System of standardized relationships based on birth, marriage, and nurturance

Kinship diagrams
A diagram that shows the kinship relationships between people using symbols and lines

Any nonhuman animal/object/plant believed to watch over a group of people

Family stories
Imaginative connections; establish geographical networks

Position in a social structure

Ascribed status
Status one is born into

Achieved status
Status that is achieved in a life, by meeting certain criteria through one’s own or other’s efforts

Dynamic aspect of status; customary performance of the rights and duties associated with a status; people tend to have multiple, overlapping roles; people can switch between roles for different settings

Can influence roles and status in a society, including duties; cultural meanings associated with femaleness/maleness and categories viewed as both or neither

Overlapping systems of inequality; shaping each other, positioning people; includes class, race, caste, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.

Gender binary
A society which recognizes gender as classified into two distinct categories: male and female

Gender pluralism
Multiple culturally recognized categories; a third gender, and sometimes a fourth gender is distinguished

Matilda Coxe Stevenson
Founded the Women’s Anthropological Society in 1885; studied the Zuni women and brought We’wha to Washington; when with the Zuni people they considered her not a woman or man because she was strong-willed like a man

“Zuni princess”; Zuni woman who was befriended by Matilda; met with the Washington society and President Cleveland. posed for the SMithsonian and was studied; was surprised by the “props” of American women; was considered third gender and trained in both roles

Margaret Mead
Student of Franz Boas; “Coming of Age in Samoa” about adolescent girls in Samoa; looked into gender roles, ideologies, and inequalities; caused the reevaluation of earlier ethnographies to include study of the women

Feminist anthropology
Anthropological study that focuses on the status and life of women in societies and compares their lives to that of the men

Vanatinai Islanders
Egalitarian society; men and women have equal autonomy and similar opportunities for influence; both inherit property; women’s role as nurturing parent highly valued; studied by Maria Lepowsky

Kinship that is traced through the mother’s line

Kinship that is traced through the father’s line

Rule by women; not usually the case, though status is higher in matrilineal societies

Rule by men; usually the case

Marry out; as the Kangra girls marry out of the village

Marry in; as in marrying into a caste system

Rituals that mark transitions across space and through time; including organizing a calendar, distinguish life stages, initiation, or in religion; can be transitions in status

A repetitive, formalized action; uses symbols; refers to what is sacred

Many genres for events; lets people speak up; commentary of what matters; includes riddles, songs, jokes

Patrilineal Indian society where young women are sent to far away villages through arranged marriages where they have a very low social status

Suhag wedding songs
Songs sung by the Kangra brides that grieve their marriage and that they have to leave their home villages

Exchange reciprocity
Reciprocal exchange through gift giving

Exchange redistribution
Movement of goods to a center, then re-allotted back to consumer-producers

Exchange market
Exchange of goods at prices based on supply and demand

System of trade of redistribution of ceremonial gifts; necklaces were traded clockwise and armbands were traded counterclockwise; a form of reciprocity exchange to create relationships; Trobriand Islands (South Pacific)

Marcel Mauss
Wrote “The Gift”; concluded that we carry obligations to give/receive/reciprocate (but not instantly

Goods given, usually with implied reciprocity; can build social connections and relationships; can also cause indebtedness; define a social community

Generalized reciprocity
Giving without expectation of immediate or specific return

Balanced reciprocity
Giving without expectation of return within roughly specified time and exchange roughly equal

Negative Reciprocity
Attempting to gain something for nothing

A chief demonstrates wealth and prestige by gathering people and giving away goods

Object or service produced by labor and in market; value in use and exchange

Anthropology of Religion: Holistic
Sees religion as entwined w/ other spheres of culture and social life

Anthropology of Religion: Universalistic
all societies, religions

Anthropology of Religion: Comparative
Develops concepts across religions

Anthropology of Religion: Contextual
Interprets facts through cultural contexts

Religious specialist
Preserves religious culture of a people

“Holy man”; travel to other worlds in trance


Flying reindeer


The lifestyle where people constantly move camps according to the seasons or resources; the Eveny are nomadic to follow the migration of the reindeer

A lifestyle that avoids physical activity; referring to a people who have permanent settlements


Taiga values






Offerings to spirits
Offerings given

Logic of substitution


Native activists

Linguistic resources
Linguistic ability and how a person can use that ability to further status; using one language in a formal setting to be taken seriously

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