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exam 1
Undergraduate 3

Additional Anthropology Flashcards





Protein Hypothesis, Cultural Materialism, and Geographical Determinism


Daniel Gross: Protein is the main factor which limited the social and economic evolution of the Amazonian people.

  Because of geographically poor situation, little protein is available, and the Amazonian people have had to adapt over time to the scarce conditions.  Cultural materialism: Because of geographical situation and the inability to proccur protein, complexity of social organisation is hindered. ie. most people are involved in protein proccurment. Also, had specific adaptations to the lack of protein:


  1. Settlement Size: small settlements with little specialization in non food gathering.
  2. 2.Settlement Dispersion and semi-nomadism
  3. 3. Maintenance of forest “reserve”
  4. 4. Slow rate of population growth

Socio-cultural mechanisms of population control and regulation social organization: (Carrying capacity)

  1. Infanticide 2. Post-partum sex taboos 3. Warfare and village fissioning
***This is a deterministic approach, which is situated in the etic perspective and assumes that societies followa linear model  of evolution and complexity, and that the environment is a major obstacle to development (band, tribe, chiefdom, state).*** Also, points out that meat is desirable and provides prestige***Questions the lack of protein alternatives such as domesticated animals and plants 

The Protein Hypothesis as Explanatory Model

  1. Assumptions 2.Evidence 3.Causality?
Materialist explanations of Yanomamo Warfare (Ferguson)
Ferguson argues that Yanomamo warfare is attributed to the introduction of western steel tools to the Amazon (Materialist). Western trade posts attract previously nomadic groups into settling permanently in nucleated settlements around the post. This interrupts normal trade networks, and soon women are traded for steel tools, to villages with no kin protection, if women are abused, kin become aggressive and warfare begins.  

Contexts of warfare: Breakdown of political alliances, Conflicts over women, Individual grievances


1.  Materialist Explanations

Simplified Materialist version:

A)Etic perspective on reasons for war B)Importance of Western trade goods C) Why changing access to goods may prompt warfare.

  1. Expanded Materialist version:
      1. Modified notion of infraestructural determinism.
      2. Recognizes centrality of infraestructure in shaping experiences and actions, while still granting human agency.

Infrastructure establishes kinds of social relationships that are possible. These relationships form the core of the structure (social organization, economics, politics). These, in turn, are shaped by (and shape) the superstructure (psychology, value and belief systems).


          Infrastructure: rooted in unequal and sporadic availability of western goods.

          Leads to social imbalances in social structure prompting changes in social structure.

          Those shifts lead to similar shifts in the superstructure, as existing Yanomamo values employed to make sense of changing situation.

Theoretical approaches to the study of Yanomamo Warfare:
  1. Materialist Explanations 2.Cultural Explanations 3.Biological explanations
Cultural explanations of Yanomamo warfare

          Cause of warfare is rooted in Yanomamo symbolic belief systems.

          Peters: Sorcery, revenge and valorization of male aggression.

          Lizot: warfare simply another form of reciprocal exchange.

          Albert: Warfare an enactment of a social classification system demonstrating social and moral closeness and distance.

          2.  Cultural Explanations: Ferguson’s critique:

          Of Peters: warfare does not always result from acts of sorcery or revenge.

          Of Lizot: War and peace not simply alternate modalities from Yanomamo perspective, and does not explain why change from one to another would occur.

          Of Albert: Moral systems are formulated and transformed through changing material interests.

Biological explanations and Fergusons critiques

Warfare for reproductive success (Chagnon)

  •        Capture of women and prestige from warfare leads to greater reproductive succes. And a“Young male syndrome” from evolutionary psychology
  Biological Explanations Critiques:

          Raids not initiated primarily for capture of women.

          Problems of Chagnon’s statistics

          No evidence that most young men seek violent encounters, nor that it enhances their chances of reproductive success.

Ferguson's conclusion and critiques of his theory
  1.   Ferguson provides a model that bridges materialist and cultural explanations of warfare.
  2. Not anti-culture, but emphasizes the primacy of changing material circumstances in prompting warfare.


          Possible problems of Ferguson’s approach:

          Shortcomings of ‘etic’ perspectives, or unconscious models.

          Problem of “West” as engine of social change and socio-cultural action.

Viveiros de Castro: Attempt to bridge between materialist and structuralist/symbolic approach.

In an attempt to move beyond monocausal/deterministic explanations, Castro argues that we have to look beyond reductionist models and consider material and cognitive elements when looking at the ecology of a world, to which thought is applied and acted on.

And to recognise the complexity of indigenous social formations and ecological diversity rather than limit them to ethnocentric evolutionary models.

2 Standard models1. Cultural Ecology (cultural materialism)

          Determining action of the environment over a society’s cultural forms and expression.

          Unproductive environment and the impossibility to produce requisite surplus for social complexity (Surplus = politics, crafts, religion, full time specialists)

2. Structuralism

          Material dimensions of social life have cognitive and symbolic dimensions. (both between people and the material world)

          Not adaptationist—rather, these relationships (and the nature-culture opposition) were internal to indigenous cosmologies.

Beyond the Standard Model

          Human Ecology Models:

          Recognition of massive environmental diversity in “Amazonia” and inability to broadly classify the region as homogenous.

          Anthropogenic forests with greater soil fertility.

»        Not adaptations to pristine forests, but rather the cultural transformation of nature.

          “Resource management studies” bridge gap between ecological and social anthropology

Advances in research in Amazonian ethnography, prehistory, and oral histories, and their challenges to materialist perspectives


-          Ethnographic/archaeological findings of societies in the Amazon with complex social structure and agriculture.

-          Local and global Oral history tied to mythology helps explain the indigenous view of their world.


          Critique notions of environmental limitations on cultural development

          Evidence that várzea societies (lower Amazonia) featured complex political forms of organization, and early pottery, sendentism, and agriculture

          Need to avoid ethnographic projection (from present to past)


          Oral history and historical consciousness

          Examining local and global historical dynamics and historical agency of indigenous peoples.

Social Anthropology:

          Political economy of control: hierarchy of kinship forming framework for domestic and communal domains.

          Moral economy of intimacy: privileges group’s internal relationships defined by reciprocal relationships among kin.

          Symbolic economy of alterity: how symbolic exchanges (war, cannibalism, hunting, etc) play constitutive roles in definition of collective identities.

Descola’s critique of the materialist-symbolic divide.

          Descola urged readers to give up the notion of the Amazonian as totally “wild” and to shift away from totalizing/deterministic theories, instead to treat socialization of nature in both material and cognitive dimensions.

          Avoid notion of nature as determining cultural forms and social action.

          Instead, treat ecology of a society as a “total social fact”—a synthesis of technical, economic, religious, symbolic structures.

*Scholars have had a view of the Amazon as “wild” and hence, the Amazonian as equally “wild”, and given nature too deterministic control over culture.

Dialectical construction of nature and society:

Dichotomous treatment of nature in ethnographic literature of Amazon.

1.       Nature as an object on which to exercise thought (reveals underlying taxonomic and cosmological imaginings).

2.       Ecological reductionism: explain all cultural manifestations as epiphenomena of nature’s work.


          No justification for granting primacy to material over conceptual.

          “Every action, every labor process begins with a representation of the conditions and procedures necessary for its execution” (page 3).

          Social practice of nature hinges on view society has of itself.

»        Culturally specific.

·         Achuar settlement patterns, the “edogamous nexus” and the house as the atom of sociality.

Domestic Unit as Atom of socialization.

Supralocal structure: “endogamous nexus

      • Typically territorially-defined, kin-based nexus of 10-15 scattered houses., stretches along river and its tributaries.
    • Not centralized “communities”, rather dispersed settlements. Also having a no-man’s land separating nexus’.

No centralised leader:

      • Military leaders, distinguished through warfare, lead to personal temporary allegiances in times of war.
          • Few economic or social advantages.
      • War not associated with territorial annexation, and conflict not restricted to non-kin.
      • House as node of stability in otherwise turbulent world.
  • Kinship: Dravidian model.
      • Prescriptive marriage between bilateral cross-cousins, Polygyny, preferably sororal marriages, Uxorilocal residence patterns, Systematic levirate marriage practiced.
Missionaries, historical events, and changing political organization and community structure.

Relatively sheltered from impacts of different waves of colonialism as there is, no road network, making access difficult, rubber boom (19th and early 20th Century) and oil boom (1940s-present) affected other rainforest regions, limited sustained missionary contact prior to 1960s.

Recent Historical Events
      • 1941 War with Peru: Increased military and colonist presence, oila and border tensions, and a recent border dispute
      • 1964 Land Reform and Colonization Act, Prompted colonization of the Amazon from the highlands, Required development of land for agriculture or cattle ranching to gain title to colonized land, Put indigenous territories at risk of colonization.
          • Impact was still minor in Achuar territory due to inaccessibility.
  • Missionary work since mid-20th Century
      • Catholic Missions: Salesians influenced by Liberation Theology, Promoted an indigenized form of Catholicism, Adopted dress, language, and many cultural patterns, Translated biblical concepts into Achuar cosmology.
      • Evangelical Protestant Missionaries: Gospel Missionary Union (GMU), Promoted full assimilation of Achuar and abandonment of Achuar cultural practices, Encouraged nucleation into sedentary communities along landing strips.
The Shuar Federation
  • Salesians promoted the formation of the Federation Shuar in 1964.
      • Context: Agrarian Reform.
      • Idea: To encourage integration, not assimilation, and provide protection from state encroachment.
      • The Shuar Federation
      • Impacts:
          • Formation of centros.
          • Somewhat dismantling cultural boundaries and animosities between Shuar and Achuar.
          • Encouraging cattle ranching.
          • Bilingual education and healthcare.
          • Formation of Radio Shuar and sense of collective identity.
  Achuar local knowledge, and construction of territory and seasonality.

Time and the seasons explained by reference to the celestial and natural worlds.

Heavens and earth not perceived as separate planes, but rather as on a continuum.:

      • Pleiades and the aquatic celestial revolution as cosmic repetition of the journey of the Musach orphans.

Implicit Spatio-Temporal Markers

Myth of the Musach orphans:

      • Mythic structure:
          • Diachronic contrast between Pleiades and Orion
          • Synchronic contrast
      • Following Levi-Strauss, two-fold contrast has been seen to be a preferential signifier of seasonal alteration.
  • Implicit Spatio-Temporal Markers
  • Compenetration of time and space in mythic thought:
      • Units of time defined by paths traveled by moving bodies, human or animal, celestial or aquatic.
  • Implicit Spatio-Temporal Markers
  • Myth of how day and night came into being.
      • Phases of the moon associated with moon (as a hunter) and his fortune or misfortune in the hunt.
      • But only limited concern and precision in the counting of time.
The Seasons:

Contrasting climate (rainy season and dry season)

      • Annual disappearance of the star Antares occurs in October, during the dry season.
      • Annual disappearance of Pleiades occurs in April, at the height of the rainy season.
      • Reappearance of Antares comes with heavy rains, and reappearance of Pleiades with light rains.
          • Preferential pairs with opposing phases.
    • Layered on top of 2 part division of climate is a calendar of natural resources.
    • Seasonal availability of specific kinds of food, with that of the chonta palm fruit (February-August) central to calendar.
  • Utilitarian knowledge of forest is key to Achuar subsistence.
  • But Achuar conceptions of nature integrate utilitarian needs with mythic thought and structures, suggesting the inseparability of symbolic and material processes.
         Descola’s critique of protein hypothesis and geographical determinism.
 1.       No justification for granting primacy to material over conceptual2.       Every action, every labor process begins with a representation of the conditions and procedures necessary for its execution.3.       Social practice of nature hinges on a view of society of itself.
    Natural world and Achuar mental maps.
  • Concrete measuring systems:
      • Hydrographic network forms basis of geography.
      • This network for each individual like a spider web expanding out from person’s house.
      • Mapping done through reference to rivers and forest landscape markers requiring detailed knowledge of forest landscape.
  • Explicit Spatio-Temporal Markers: Hunter’s stories and socialization of nature, Trail networks: paths between houses and hunting trails, Directions specified in terms of upstream-downstream indicators.
        Myths and spatio-temporal change.
 -Time and seasons explained by reference to the celestial and natural worlds. (Pleiades disappears at the height of the rainy season, Reappearance of Antares comes with heavy rain and the reappearance of the Pleaides)-Heavens and earth not separated, but rather perceived as on a continuum.                Compenetration of time and space in mythic thought: Units of time defined by paths travelled by moving bodies… Human or animal, celestial or aquatic.    Movement of bodiesààààààààààà         Time-Myth of how day and night came into being: moon leaves wife for giving unripe fruit and eating the good fruit herself. Therefore he leaves and climbs the vine to the celestial sky, cuts it off so she doesn’t follow. The phases of the moon explained by the moon as a hunter and his success on the hunt. ***Not overly concerned with specificity of recorder time******* This shows a bridge between the utilitarian and symbolic realms, thus the material and symbolic***
 Plant and animal taxonomy.
 2 main forms of categorization:
      • Explicit categorization based on morphology or utility. (different names for different stages)
      • Implicit categorization based on range of factors. (shared identifiable qualities)
      • Achuar taxonomies NOT reducible to utilitarian use-value. (less than 50% are useable)
      • Wild and Domesticated
Dichotomous symmetrical contrasts in implicit taxonomies

Point where implicit and explicit categories intersect.

      • Symmetrical contrasts: wild and domestic, where domesticated animals assumed to metaphorically descended from a wild counterpart.
      • Forest and domestic plants and animals contrasted in terms of possessing or not friendly cohabitation with humans.

Possess pairs of symmetrically opposed qualities:

      • Diurnal/nocturnal; hunted/hunting; edible/non-edible. 
      • Inedible animals also include those deemed possible reincarnated form of deceased person’s spirit.
      • The nature-culture divide?
 Nature-culture continuum and plants and animals as “persons”

The Achuar, themselves, make no distinction between natural and human world.

      • Animals and plants are persons, while only humans are full persons.
      • Some possess forms of social organization like humans.
      • Ability to communicate with souls of other plant and animal species through incantations.

Therefore, the Achuar make a clear connection of Culture to nature!!!

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