This is a list of the main anthropologists studied in this unit. It is not meant to be exhaustive but to provide the student with a nutshell idea of their key theoretical contributions to the discipline of Urban Anthropology as examined in this unit and provide a list of key texts and seminal works as relevant to assessment tasks.
Dick Hebdige: Coined much of the
terminology used to study many contemporary urban subcultures, specifically
Punks, Mods and Rockers Hebdige integrated anthropological analysis with art
theory as a means of understanding the symbolic and cultural role of cultural
expression and anti-structure by marginalised sub-cultures. He also wedded symbolic
analysis of urban youth sub-cultures with political analysis in terms of the
means by which class, ethnicity and shared cultural experience within the social
and economic mainstream shaped the symbolic representation in art, graffiti,
music, rituals and fashion of urban youth. He is also well noted for his hypothesis
of commodification in which social pressures lead to the breaking out of anti-structural
representation of youth sub-cultures which will commonly develop into a moral
panic followed by oppression by government and the mass media only to be corporatised
as a symbol of rebellion and dissolved into kitsch retro pop culture.
Key Texts: Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: the Meaning of Style. Methuen: London. 1981.
Geertz, Clifford (1926- ): Clifford
Geertz is perhaps best well known for his development of thick description and
symbolic or cultural anthropology. For Geertz, culture serves as a system of
inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms that serve to impose meaning
on the world and make it understandable. Thus the critical issue for Geertz,
in understanding other cultures, is the question of meaning and interpretation.
To this end he developed thick description, borrowing heavily from literary
analysis, to examine the different layers of meaning and interpretation that
lie behind social interaction. Eschewing the structural functionalist model
of finding a specific over arching function or single meaning of a ritual, event
or social exchange Geertz argued that aspects of social interaction have multiple
meanings on many different levels and the role of an anthropologist is to bring
out all these interpretations to created and integrated web of meaning, symbolism
and ritual in human behaviour.
Key Texts: Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. Hutchinson Press: London. 1975.
Geertz, Clifford. Myth, Symbol and Culture. Norton Press: New York. 1974.
Gregory, Chris: Like Marcel Mauss
Gregory specialised in understanding the social significance of gift exchange
and reciprocity within communities and families. However, Gregory looked specifically
at what constitutes the boundaries between what is defined as a gift and what
is defined as a purchased commodities and what kind of social relationships
and boundaries are represented through this process of economic exchange. In
his research Gregory found that the key difference between a gift and a commodity
is that with a gift there is an implied continuation and expectation of future
relationship as manifested in the total prestation of the gift whereas with
a commodity the relationship is terminated after the economic exchange and there
is little or no further obligation on those who made the exchange. In essence,
Gregory argued that the closer the links of kinship and community the more obligation
is associated with economic exchange and at its most distant economic exchange
becomes a commodity transfer with little or no social relationship attached.
Key Texts: Gregory, C.A. Gifts and Commodities. London: Academic Press, 1982.
Gregory, C.A. Savage money : the anthropology and politics of commodity exchange. Hardwood Academic: Australia. 1997.
Malinowski, Bronislaw (1984-1942): One of the founders of Anthropology Malinowski essentially laid much of the basis for anthropology as an academic discipline. In his pioneering research of the Trobriand islanders he recorded “texts” freely on the scene as well as in set interviews, and observed reactions with an acute clinical eye. He was thus able to present a dynamic picture of social institutions that clearly separated ideal norms from actual behaviour and in doing so laid much of the basis for modern anthropological field research. In theoretical orientation he was a structural functionalist and looked at how differing and even apparently contradictory aspects of social structure worked to enable a community to function as an integrated whole to meet its social, economic and resource requirements.
Key Texts: Malinowski, Bronislaw. Magic, Science and Religion. Garden City: New York. 1948.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. Crime and Custom in Savage Society. Routledge & Paul: London. 1928.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. Sex and Repression in Savage Society. Routledge and Paul: London. 1972.
Mauss, Marcelle (1872-1950):
Made famous for his research into gift exchange anthropologist Marcelle Mauss
argued that gift exchange was a total social phenomena governed by particular
norms and obligations which intersected almost every aspect of social and cultural
life. In particular he argued that through understanding the social and cultural
significance implicit in patterns of gift exchange and reciprocity we could
gain a unique understanding of a community. Another important aspect of Mauss’s
work is the extent to which gift exchange is fraught with multiple layers of
duplicity in which the process of gift exchange is concealed and made to appear
voluntary when it is in fact fraught with struggles for personal gain and status
and the participants have an immense vested interest in the exchange process.
Mauss’s theories of gift exchange and reciprocity are enormously influential
and not just in the field of anthropology. Economists, historians, political
theorists and philosophers have also used Mauss extensively as a means of coming
to terms with the complex web of social relations, values and ethics implicit
in human approaches to gift exchange and reciprocity.
Key texts: Mauss, M. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange Amongst Archaic Societies. Routledge and Kegan Paul: London. (1925) 1969.
Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred. (1881-1955): One
of the founders of anthropology Radcliff-Brown was a structural functionalist
who argued that all the component parts of a society such as kinship systems,
ritual, exchange, the legal system, religious belief etc should be viewed as
having an indispensable function for one another. In this sense the continued
existence of one component of society is integrally dependent on all the other
aspects of society as part of a functioning whole. From this perspective he
developed a systematic framework of concepts relating to the social structures
of small-scale societies and how they can be applied to understand how a society
Key Texts: Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred. Structure and Function in Primitive Societies: Essays and Addresses. Cohen and West: London. 1952
Turner, Victor (1920-1983): Victor
Turner’s work focused primarily on applying the tools of anthropological
analysis towards formulating an understanding of the 60’s counter culture
and the experiences of individuals at counter cultural protests and festivals,
such as Woodstock and the Stonewall riots in New York. He also reconstructed
structural functionalist models of social cohesion to incorporate the role of
social movements, ethnic groups and disenfranchised minorities within the context
of broader society. To a large extent Turner brought the practice of anthropology
into contemporary industrialized society and out of the realm of remote pre-industrial
communities abroad. In doing so he brought about a major revaluation of the
traditional theoretical models upon which anthropology had been based. Essentially
he welded together Van-Gennep’s model of rites of passage with Clifford
Geertz’s use of literary criticism in thick description to create a new
integrated model of anthropological analysis that combined symbolic and structural
functionalist models of anthropology. This new anthropology of experience allowed
the development of new tools for anthropological research that could be applied
to the new the post-60’s phenomenon of sub-cultures and alternative culture.
Turner also brought to Anthropology a new lexicon of terms to describe social
phenomena in the post-1960’s world such as Communitas, Liminoid, anti-structure,
social dramas and arenas which have been enormously influential in developing
urban anthropology as a distinct sub-category of anthropological research.
Key texts: Turner, Victor. Drama’s Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. Cornell University Press: London. 1975
Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure. Cornell University Press: London. 1977.
Turner, Victor. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. Performing Arts Journal Publications: New York. 1982.
Van Gennep, Arnold (1873-1957): Most
famous for his research into the stages, symbolism and social significance of
ritual entitled rites of passage. In particular Van Gennep found in his research
that all human societies use ceremonial rites and symbolic expression to mark
significant transitions in the social status of individuals and groups participating
within a community. These rites highlight and validate changes in a person's
status, particularly on the occasion of such life-transforming events as birth,
puberty, marriage, parenthood, and death, but also may occur upon taking a political
office or joining a secret society. Furthermore, not only do all societies utilise
these rites they share similar features and stages across cultures. In particular
they have a pre-liminal stage of segregation and separation from the community,
a liminal stage of transition from one status to the next and a post-liminal
stage of reintroduction to the social order with a new standing. Given these
similarities, he coined the term "rites of passage" as an analytical
concept, though others prefer the term "transition rites." Scholars
often draw analogies between rites of passage and the human life cycle. In these
rites, individuals are symbolically killed, reborn, and nurtured as they take
on new social statuses, and then reborn into society as new and different persons.
Portals often feature prominently in rites of passage, symbolizing the crossing
of a threshold into a new social world. He also argued that these rites and
rituals were a crucial part of a functioning healthy society and played a fundamental
role in helping people to psychologically come to terms with periods of transition.
Van Gennep’s work has been enormously influential in anthropology, religious
studies, social psychology and sociology in understanding the purpose, structure
and symbolic representations implicit in ritual and social cohesion.
Key text: Van Gennep, Arnold. The Rites of Passage. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 1960.