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Cultural Anthropology

For the anthropologist, everything in the end comes back to a single question: What is culture? And how are we ever to understand the culture of another people, how are we to grasp both the complex whole that defines the symbolic and behavioral and material world in which another people live as a whole and living creation and yet also be able at the same time to pull it apart into its component parts or categories so that we may understand each one of these separately as well. Just as the biologist must both understand the physical forces that hold together an atom and the more complex because more ambiguous forces that hold together a living creature, we must as anthropologists focus both on the individual cultural trait and the culture as a whole. Whether that trait be an object, a way of doing something, a belief, or an attitude, we must both be able to isolate it and be able to relate it to all other traits within the culture complex that it belongs to and beyond that to the wider entire culture.

This is such an immense task that it is nearly impossible not to feel overwhelmed by its magnitude. It would be all too easy to throw up oneÆs hands at the demands of such a holistic approach û or perhaps to decide that maybe being a sociologist wouldnÆt be such a bad thing. But a more meaningful and productive approach would be to follow the path that is attempted in this paper and that has been the preferred strategy for many of the most eminent scholars within the field of anthropology. Without abandoning the desire or the necessity of examining a culture in its entirety and being able to relate different cultural traits to each other, it is sometimes essential to look at a limited area of culture as a point of entrance into the larger subject of the culture at large and even perhaps as an endpoint in itself. It may be that we have gone beyond the point in the intellectual history of our discipline in which we believe it to be pos...

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Cultural Anthropology. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 09:48, August 14, 2020, from