Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kenangan Kali Pertama........

The Scope of Social Anthropology
Background of the Study
This paper seeks to discover the scope of social anthropology by reviewing some of the works of the early social anthropologists such as A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, E.E. Evans-Pritchard, John Beattie, E.R. Leach and Raymond Firth. Certain issues will be highlighted such as the focus and the aim of the subject and the methodology used by the social anthropologists. Furthermore, this paper will also give due consideration on the distinction between social and cultural anthropology.

In Britain, the term ‘anthropology’ loosely designates a number of different branches of study which are more or less closely associated. Yet, sometimes the association derives rather from the historical fact that they developed as socio-cultural evolutionary studies of man. Thus physical anthropology, prehistoric archeology, primitive technology, ethnology and ethnography are usually subsumed with social anthropology under the name of anthropology. Nevertheless, it is not true to say that they are not related to sociology because its problems and methods overlap with those of social anthropology in a considerable degree. Therefore, it is not surprising that the term ‘anthropology’ connotes different things to different people, even when it is assigned with the adjective ‘social’. As a consequence, social anthropology may mean an interest in bones and head measurements, a concern with prehistoric man and his works and also it may mean an obsessive interest in exotic, preferably sexual, customs (Beattie, 1989: 16). Due to the various meanings of social anthropology, perhaps there should be an effort among social anthropologists to further clarify its meaning in order to avoid confusion among the anthropology students and general readers.

Meaning and the Scope of Social Anthropology
Before we further elaborate the scope of social anthropology, it is pertinent to discuss a little bit about the development of social anthropology as a distinct discipline. Social anthropology is a name used in England and it means the study of man from a number of aspects. It concerns itself with human cultures and societies. As mentioned above, on the continent a different terminology has been used to refer to anthropology. When they talk about anthropology, they refer to physical anthropology that is the biological study of man. Meanwhile, social anthropology on the continent would be referred to as either ethnology, the study of classification of people on the basis of their racial and cultural characteristics, or sociology, the scientific study of modern industrial society.

In England the expression social anthropology has only come into use for about a hundred years. The subject has been taught under the names of anthropology or ethnology since 1884 at Oxford, since 1900 at Cambridge and since 1908 in London. But the first university chair which carried the title of social anthropology was held by Sir James Frazer, the author of celebrated book The Golden Bough, at Liverpool in 1908 (Evans-Prichard, 1987: 3). The subject received wider appreciation and social anthropology is now taught at many universities in England, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries.

Although Sir James Frazer was honored to be the first professor of social anthropology but Frazer’s anthropology was unlike the social anthropology of later British writers. The later British writers were mostly influenced by the writings of Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, either direct, or through Bronislaw Malinowski or A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, or both. During the period of 1907-1922, the British academic anthropology was greatly influenced, not by Frazer, rather by A.C. Haddon’s close friend W.H.R. Rivers. Rivers was interested on experimental psychology, anthropological fieldwork and Melanesian kinship terminologies. However, although Rivers was responsible to change some of the field research techniques, his main anthropological concerns during the later phases of his career were essentially an old-style ethnologist. He became preoccupied with the grand-scale reconstruction of unrecorded history (Leach, 1982: 25).

For British anthropology, 1922 proved to be a turning point due to two reasons. First, it was the year of Rivers’ unexpected death, and second, it was also the year of publication for Radcliffe-Brown’s The Andaman Islanders and Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific, the inspired study of the Trobriand system of inter-island exchange known as the Kula. Rivers’ death helped Malinowski to spread his own kind of social anthropology. He completely dominated the British anthropological scene from the time he taught at London School of Economics in 1924 until his departure for America in 1938. His immediate influence was to shift the interest of anthropology from conjectural history to the techniques of field research. Having said the development of social anthropology in general, now let us turn our discussion on the meaning and scope of the discipline.

Social anthropology may be defined as the investigation of the nature of human society by the systematic comparison of societies of diverse types, with particular attention to the simpler forms of society of primitive, savage or non-literate people (Radcliffe-Brown, 1983: 133). Other anthropologists defined it as a study of social behavior in institutionalized forms such as the family, kinship systems, political organization, legal procedures, religious cults and others, and the relations between those institutions (Ernest Gellner, 1987: 111). This definition makes social anthropology a bit distinct as compared with other discipline because it focuses chiefly on the social structure of society. A total social structure is composed of a number of subsidiary structures or systems that are kinship system, economic system, religious system and political system. The use of the word structure in this sense implies that there is a kind of consistency between its parts, which at any rate open contradiction and conflict being avoided and that it has greater durability (Evans-Pritchard, 1987: 20).

In general, social anthropology is concentrated with the study of man in his social aspect, that is, in his relationships with other people in the living communities. They have dealt mainly, but not exclusively, with small-scale, pre-industrial and pre-literate societies. The diverse dimensions of the social and cultural aspects of more complex and literate societies are left to historians, economists, political scientists and sociologists. It should be noted here that social anthropologists are sociologists since both of them are interested in the different kinds of social relationships in the society they study (Firth, 1963: 11). Thus, a social anthropologist who is studying the political system of an African tribe, for an example, is interested in the chief-subject relationship in the system and in the beliefs and expectations, which are associated with this relationship.

But, as a social anthropologist, his main concern is with what the people share with other people. This refers to idea of institutionalized aspects of culture. For this reason, social anthropologists are not interested in every social relationship in the societies they study; rather they concentrate mainly on those, which are habitual and regular. However, the social relationships, which social anthropologists study are those which are standardized, institutionalized and characteristics of the society being investigated. In studying the institutionalized social relationships, they have found that it is essential for them to take into account the ideas and values which are associated with them, that is, of cultural content. No account of a social relationship in human expression can be complete unless it includes the meaning attached by the people who have it.

Modern social anthropologists are mainly focused on the various kinds of social relationships that bind people together in communities. They are concentrated, too, in people’s ideas, values and beliefs. At the same time, they are interested in how the institutions they study are related to one another in the functioning social systems. In spite of this, the most significant issue in the modern social anthropology is fieldwork. They believe that there is no social institution that can be adequately understood unless it has been empirically investigated and it can also be related to its social and cultural context.

Therefore, the emphasis of modern social anthropology is essentially empirical and functional. This is why contemporary social anthropology is known as a study of relationships. By relationships, we mean two important things. First, of relationships between different kinds of people, and second, of relationships between relationships. Let me clarify this issue. Take an example of an African political system. As social anthropologists, we are interested in the different kinds of relationships between chiefs and subjects. But it does not end there. We are also interested in the kinds of implications that the chief-subject relationship has for other institutionalized relationships in the society, for instance, the relationships between different types of kin or tribe.

Modern social anthropology also, emphasizes on the importance of contextual and relational. This does not mean that comparison of social and cultural institutions from one society to another is impossible or undesirable. What it means is that the social and cultural phenomena, which we compare, must first be understood in their own proper contexts (Beattie, 1989: 14).

As stated in the previous paragraphs, the raw material of social anthropology is largely derived from simple, pre-industrial, and pre-literate society. This is due to three reasons. First, primitive people furnished examples of what was supposed to be man living in a state of nature before the institution of civil government. Second, they provided important clues in the search for the origins of institutions. Third, they displayed institutions in their simplest forms, and that it is easier to examine the more simple institutions rather than the more complex one (Evans-Pritchard, 1987: 8). Yet, to my mind, these arguments are rather absurd. With rapid economic and technological advancements, the so-called primitive people have altered their way of life drastically, especially in the aspects that attracted the attention of social anthropologists. Thus, does it mean that social anthropology has nothing else to be studied? If social anthropology is all about primitive people, then it has turned out to be not the study of social relationship of people, but the study of social relationship of primitive people. Furthermore, previous findings have shown that a number of social anthropologists have conducted empirical studies on problems of labor efficiency and management in new factories in China; on community organization and value in Japan, France and Canada; on personality and character-formation in the urban areas, and on urban studies which analyses class structure and status in the United States of America (Firth, 1963: 15).

Social anthropology was also known as functional anthropology during the early period. At that time, there were two forces that shape social anthropology. The two forces were, on the one hand, the fact-finding, empirical, ethnographic tradition represented by British anthropologists, and on the other hand, the holistic, analytical intellectualism of French social philosophers, such as Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim. Comte and Durkheim were much concerned in stressing that societies are systems. They believed that if societies are system, they must be made up of different parts, and these parts must be related to one another in certain specific and recognizable ways. Thus, they used physical organism as analogy in understanding societies, and this could be achieved by discovering the laws of social organization, which operated to maintain the whole structure. Therefore, social anthropologists believed that the customs and social institutions of human communities are somehow interconnected, so that changes in one part of the system may lead to changes in other parts. This is to ensure the state of equilibrium in the system. Nevertheless, later social anthropologists, such as Evans-Pritchard and Edmund Leach, have challenged the functional stance in their respective studies, The Nuer (1972) and Political Systems of Highland Burma (1964). For both of them, they believed that, it is rather opposition and alignment, not functional interdependence of different parts in the system that maintain the whole social system.

Social anthropologists rely heavily on the research procedure known as participant observation. This requires them to immerse themselves as thoroughly as they can in the life of the community being studied. The two main senses they use for the collection of their data – sight and hearing – are vitally important for accurate fieldwork. It is essential to social anthropologists to hear what people are saying and to see what they are doing. Thus, knowing the native own language is important in understanding their social relationship. It is human social behavior, verbal and non-verbal, which is the raw material for the study. Further, social anthropologists should be aware with observer-effect, which means their presence could affect the behavior of the others, especially the subject of the study. Thus, to solve the problem they have to stay with the participants in a long period so that they can get used with their presence and behave naturally. In general, therefore, social anthropologists utilize qualitative research method in carrying out their fieldwork.

Social anthropologists seek to establish regularities between one observed fact and another and to relate them to each other in a logical way. This is where quantitative method can be applied in the study of social anthropology. More detailed knowledge, which quantitative methods allow and the correlation between phenomena, which statistical reasoning can draw out should be the essential foundation on which anthropologists start to establish their generalizations about the social behavior of the people they study (Mitchell, 1978: 20). One thing we have to remember is that quantitative methods are essential aids to description. They help to bring out in detail the regularities in the data the fieldworker has collected. This means means, ratios and percentages are ways of summarizing the features and relationships in data. One of the classical anthropological analyses that utilized quantitative method is that of Fortes of the relationship between lineage organization and household composition among the Ashanti. He reports the results of a survey of household composition in two Ashanti settlements and is able to show by using simple percentages how the composition of households differs through the operation of the divergent principles of matriliny and conjugality, according to local conditions and to the sex and age of the head of the household (Fortes, 1949 cited in Mitchell, 1978: 25).

One of the interesting questions that may rise from this explanation is whether there is similarity between method used by Fortes and genealogical method? Let me briefly explain the genealogical method. Genealogical method was first introduced by W.H.R. Rivers in 1900. According to him, this method consists of the meticulous recording of the family background of all adult members of the community or tribe, together with the remote ancestors, descendents, affines and collaterals, to the limit of memory of each. By the interrogation of individual members of each relationship set, overlapping networks of carefully identified individuals are constructed throughout the tribe or community. When redundancy is removed, the composition of all these networks equals the total population including both living and recent dead, immigrants and emigrants. While there are many duplicating information from the informants, an essential methodological purpose is served by repetition; it builds reliability into the procedure (Hackenberg, 1973: 294). From this explanation, in my opinion, it seems there is a close connection between Fortes’ method and this genealogical method. In fact, genealogical method can utilize quantitative procedures. All the information collected from the adult members of a tribe can be computed into percentages in order to derive means and ratio so that all the repeating information can be deleted or ignored.

Before we conclude our discussion on the scope of social anthropology, perhaps we can discuss a little bit on the distinction between social and cultural anthropology. It is quite common nowadays that differences between social and cultural anthropology are often drawn. Culture has been variously defined by Sir Edward Tylor as that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society (Edward Tylor, 1871 cited in Adam Kuper, 1996: 56). In its broadest sense, culture is referred to the whole range of human activities which are learned and not instinctive, and which are transmitted from one generation to the other generation through various learning processes. Thus, generally speaking, cultural anthropology covers a wide range of subjects including all the non-biological aspects of human life. Social anthropology, on the other hand, covers only a small part of human activities that are its central concern, namely the social institutions and values. For most of British social anthropologists, culture is too wide to be studied. Due to this fact, cultural anthropology is divided into such fields as linguistics, acculturation and personality studies, ethnomusicology, and the study of primitive art (Beattie, 1989: 20). On the whole, most of American scholars have ventured themselves in the study of cultural, not social, anthropology, which some of them viewed social anthropology concerned mainly with the social structure.

But however significant these differences in approach, it must be remembered that they do not imply that social anthropologists and cultural anthropologists study two different things (Leach, 1982: 37). Whether the interest of the observer is in social institution or in culture, the subject that they observe is the same that is the relationship of people. Cultural and social anthropologists, sometimes, may ask different set of questions, but to a certain extent these questions are overlapping. Besides, social anthropologists cannot study the social relationships, which are their central concern without taking into account the beliefs and values associated with them. In fact, most of modern social anthropologists regard people’s ideas and symbols as an important part of their study, whether they are relevant to the understanding of social relationships or not.

In this paper, I have attempted to explain what social anthropology is about and I have described its historical development in brief, the definition and scope of social anthropology, as well as the distinction between social and cultural anthropology. Social anthropology studies social institutions, primarily in the context of small-scale communities, though not necessarily primitive communities and they investigate these institutions through thorough observation. In order for the social anthropologists to claim that they have fully understood a particular society, they must adequately comprehend the dominant beliefs and values important to that society. Both functional analyses in terms of causal interrelatedness, and ideal analysis in terms of meanings, values and symbols, are essential in the study of human institutions. Then they can have the authority to talk about the society they have studied.

Basically, the fundamental similarity of all human cultures everywhere justifies the study of all their varieties. In understanding other cultures, we may come to understand ourselves better. But we have to bear in mind that it does not only by understanding other people’s beliefs and values that can help us to understand ourselves better. In certain conditions, comprehending our own cultures is found to be more fruitful to understand ourselves better. Every human culture is unique but the institutions it comprises are variations on themes that are shared by all. By learning these varieties we may learn to see ourselves in ethnographic context; we may come to know that our solutions to a particular problem are not the only possible ones.

I would like to conclude my paper with this provoking thought. Social anthropology has also been known as functional anthropology for more than hundred years since its inception in England. Social anthropology, therefore, to certain extent, focuses on the stability and equilibrium in the society. In spite of this, later social anthropologists have challenged this view such as Edmund R. Leach. Leach in his book, Political System of Highland Burma (1964) stated that it is rather inconsistencies and conflicts that will bring about equilibrium in the society.
Ini adalah artikel yang pertama berjaya aku terbitkan, masa zaman hingusan dan sengal (actually sekarang nie pun masih hingusan, sengal dan idiot). Diterbitkan tahun 2005 kat salah satu jurnal antropologi di Amerika. Artikel ini beri banyak nilai sentimental kat aku. Pasal waktu tue memang tengah 'susah' gila babi. Hanya Allah sahaja yang tahu macam mana aku berkerja macam nak mati, hanya semata-mata nak siapkan artikel yang entah apa-apa nie. Tapi alhamdulillah, rezeki Allah berikan. Artikel ini dapat juga diterbitkan. Aku panjatkan doa buat mereka yang membantu waktu itu. Hanya Allah sahaja yang dapat membalas budi baik mereka semua. Aku tak akan lupa sampai mati.....


In The Nite Garden said...

Gosh!!!! i read this three times, still i dont understand what anthropology is. i think this is a tough discipline and i salute people who are doing research in this field (",)

But I gave my last trial. I read for the fifth time while listening to Mozart. Hmmm luckily it worked a bit to slimulate my head as a touch of Mozart always have a strong connection with my heart (",)

I have a few questions which need to be enlightened.

1. What is the different between sociology n social anthropology.

I'll ask another question later coz i need to go to work now (",)

daSetan_7 said...

There is no easy thing to study. Some say social sciences are easier than natural sciences, but it is not true.

In England, the terms sociology and social anthropology has been used interchangeably. When they say social anthropology, they are referring to sociology actually. But the reverse are not the same. Because there are differences between anthropology and sociology in general. Please dont get confused with the terms; it is just a matter of name.