Some thoughts on anthropology..

Notes from the start of the semester in my History of Anthropology course.

Anthropology is a constantly changing discipline. Human beings are so uniquely complex in not just biology, but our ideas. Because we do not know everything, the processes and ideas of anthropology change with time. The Blumenbach skulls for example, were the idea that humans were separated into four distinct races: African, Asian (Mongoloid), Caucasian, and American Indian. We now know this is not true, that variations can occur, and do most often within a race. In fact there can even be a cline, or shift in phenotype across generations in families. Because we are always acquiring new knowledge and ideas, anthropology is an intellectual discipline.

I agree with Geertz’s statement the anthropologists have a “permanent identity crisis,” it is partly what drew me to be an anthropology major. Because humans are so closely tied to and responsible for everything in our world, we must study a great deal of subjects to get the entire story.

Anthropology as a discipline is most definitely a work in progress. There are millions of questions still unanswered about our past, present, and where we may be headed in the future. Humans are constantly changing the world, so as long as humans exist, anthropology will exist.

I believe Boas’s concerns are similar to those of current anthropologists. The problem with reconstructing human history is that much of it is prehistoric, and in some cases evidence may not exist anymore. Historical phenomena and their sequences may only be known by what is written about them, which may have elements of author bias or political influence.

To be honest my global perspective is very limited. This is another reason I want to study anthropology. I have lived in the same house my entire life, and never left the country. My historical understanding of my world is not much better, but as I expand my knowledge I will have better understanding. Television and books have been my main resources. I think I would have a much better understanding once I begin to travel, and really experience the other parts of this world.

The history and development of anthropology helps us understand ourselves better. We can learn the mistakes and triumphs of those before us, putting modern anthropologists ahead of the game. Those who come after us will draw from our experiences and progress even further.


At this very place! The Actions Accomplished with the Speech Acts of the Western Apache.

TOPIC: #5 Speech Acts
TITLE: At this very place! The actions accomplished with the speech acts of the Western Apache.
SOURCE: Oxford Dictionary of English, and
“Speaking with Names”: Language and Landscape among the Western Apache
Keith H. Basso
Cultural Anthropology
Vol. 3, No. 2 (May, 1988), pp. 99-130
RELATION: Robbins Cultural Anthro p. 86- Key Metaphors of Geography in Western Apache dialogue; Conformity and Conflict p. 53 Symbols (and class discussion on the same); above article by Keith Basso- accomplishments of speech acts
The Oxford Dictionary of English Defines a speech act as “an utterance considered as an action, particularly with regard to its intention, purpose, or effect. The Western Apache of Cibecue (located in east-central Arizona) can accomplish many such actions with a basic phrase. This “Speaking with names,” as it is called takes a series of sentences, seemingly incoherent to those outside of the language, and with them arrive at a destination of mutual understanding, offering ancestral wisdom, and advice and therapy in topics which may be socially taboo to speak of outright.
The phrase spoken by the speaker typically surrounds a well-known geographic location, for example: “tsé hadigaiyé yὐ ágodzaa (It happened at the line of white rocks extends upward and out, at this very place)!” Geography is the key metaphor, or dominant attribute used to convey the experience (Robbins 86) to begin a pictorial depiction in the hearers mind. The intention of the geographic reference is to not only create a mental image of a specific place in the hearers mind, but to create an association to a known ancestral story that has occurred at the place. To, as Basso interpreted from the Western Apache, “Travel in your mind… and allow the past to inform your understanding of the present.”
There are many things accomplished socially by the Apache in speaking with names, as Basso lays out; it produces a mental image of places, conjures stories linked to such places, brings ancestral wisdom to the conversation, allows a way to “dance around” a taboo social subject, brings personal support, offers advice, change worry into hope, and “heals wounded spirits” (Basso 121).
The English language doesn’t have a single speech act, or even a formal systematic way of speaking capable of accomplishing as much as speaking with Names, but we can accomplish the “Travel in your mind” portion, particularly with our use of symbols. Spradley’s Conformity and conflict defines a symbol as anything we can perceive with our senses that stands for something else (p. 53). For example, if someone mentions Disneyland (assuming one has been there), you’re mind formulates a visual representation of your memory of the place. Likewise with the word “dog” as mentioned in class, your mind develops a representation of a specific dog. But this only fulfills one or two of what speaking with names can do. The western Apache are efficient speakers compared to the variety of words and phrases that would need to be used by American English.