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Asking Questions About Cultural Anthropology

A Concise Introduction

Second Edition

Robert L. Welsch and Luis A. Vivanco

Publication Date - August 2018

ISBN: 9780190878078

416 pages
6-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $59.99

Now in full color, the second edition of this innovative and celebrated brief text stimulates students' anthropological imaginations by encouraging students to ask anthropological questions


Unlike textbooks that emphasize the memorization of facts, Asking Questions About Cultural Anthropology: A Concise Introduction, Second Edition, teaches students how to think anthropologically, helping them view cultural issues as an anthropologist might. This approach demonstrates how anthropological thinking can be used as a tool for deciphering everyday experiences. The book covers the essential concepts, terms, and history of cultural anthropology, introducing students to the widely accepted fundamentals and providing a foundation that can be enriched by the use of ethnographies, a reader, articles, lectures, field-based activities, and other kinds of supplements. It balances concise coverage of essential content with a commitment to an active, learner-centered pedagogy.

New to this Edition

  • A new Chapter 9 explores how culturally shaped ideas about race, ethnicity, and class affect peoples' lives and experiences
  • A thoroughly revised Chapter 14 on material culture explores how and why objects have meaning and power in various cultural contexts
  • New thematic boxes
  • New chapter-opening stories drawn from current events, including the Syrian refugee crisis (Chapter 5) and the importance of social networks to entrepreneurs in China (Chapter 7)
  • New coverage of key topics throughout
  • A new epilogue
  • Now in full color, at the same affordable price

About the Author(s)

Robert L. Welsch is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Franklin Pierce University.

Luis A. Vivanco is Professor of Anthropology and Co-Director of the Humanities Center at the University of Vermont.


"Asking Questions About Cultural Anthropology introduces students to the width and breadth of anthropology, addressing an incredible expanse of the human experience and anthropology's treatment of it. This is difficult and unusual to do, and the authors do it in an accessible way."--Noor Borbieva, Purdue University Fort Wayne

"Asking Questions About Cultural Anthropology's approach is inviting and appealing to all students, even those without a primary interest in anthropology. The subject matter is engaging and is presented in an unbiased way. The case studies and 'Thinking Like an Anthropologist' activities in each chapter make it easy to have discussions in both large classes and small groups."--Keri A. Canada, Colorado State University

"This is a concise text that covers all the essentials for an introductory anthropology course. It avoids jargon and does not talk down to students. The content makes connections to real-world people, events, and cultural traditions."--Denise Knisely, Northern Kentucky University

Table of Contents

    Letter from the Authors
    About the Authors

    1. Anthropology: Asking Questions About Humanity
    How Did Anthropology Begin?
    The Disruptions of Industrialization
    The Theory of Evolution
    Colonial Origins of Cultural Anthropology
    Anthropology as a Global Discipline
    What Do the Four Subfields of Anthropology Have in Common?
    Cultural Relativism
    Human Diversity
    How Do Anthropologists Know What They Know?
    The Scientific Method in Anthropology
    When Anthropology Is Not a Science: Interpreting Cultures
    How Do Anthropologists Put Their Knowledge to Work in the World?
    Applied and Practicing Anthropology
    What Ethical Obligations Do Anthropologists Have?
    Do No Harm
    Take Responsibility for Your Work
    Share Your Findings
    --THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST: Should Anthropologists Take Responsibility for the Influences They Have on the Societies They Study?

    2. Culture: Giving Meaning to Human Lives
    What Is Culture?
    Elements of Culture
    Defining Culture in This Book
    If Culture Is Always Changing, Why Does It Feel So Stable?
    How Do Social Institutions Express Culture?
    Culture and Social Institutions
    American Culture Expressed Through Breakfast Cereals and Sexuality
    Can Anybody Own Culture?

    3. Ethnography: Studying Culture
    What Distinguishes Ethnographic Fieldwork from Other Types of Social Research?
    Seeing the World from "the Native's Point of View"
    Avoiding Cultural "Tunnel Vision"
    How Do Anthropologists Actually Do Ethnographic Fieldwork?
    Participant Observation: Disciplined "Hanging Out"
    Interviews: Asking and Listening
    Taking Fieldnotes
    What Other Methods Do Cultural Anthropologists Use?
    Comparative Method
    Genealogical Method
    Life Histories
    Rapid Appraisals
    Action Research
    Anthropology at a Distance
    Analyzing Secondary Materials
    Special Issues Facing Anthropologists Studying Their Own Societies
    What Unique Ethical Dilemmas Do Ethnographers Face?
    Protecting Informant Identity
    Anthropology, Spying, and War
    --THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST: Fieldwork in an American Mall

    4. Linguistic Anthropology: Relating Language and Culture
    How Do Anthropologists Study Language?
    Where Does Language Come From?
    Evolutionary Perspectives on Language
    Historical Linguistics: Studying Language Origins and Change
    How Does Language Actually Work?
    Descriptive Linguistics
    Does Language Shape How We Experience the World?
    The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
    Hopi Notions of Time
    Ethnoscience and Color Terms
    Is The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Correct?
    If Language Is Always Changing, Why Does It Seem So Stable?
    Linguistic Change, Stability, and National Policy
    Language Stability Parallels Cultural Stability
    How Does Language Relate to Social Power and Inequality?
    Language Ideology
    Gendered Language Styles
    Language and the Legacy of Colonialism
    --ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Helping Communities Preserve Endangered Languages

    5. Globalization and Culture: Understanding Global Interconnections
    Is the World Really Getting Smaller?
    Defining Globalization
    The World We Live In
    What Are the Outcomes of Global Integration?
    Colonialism and World Systems Theory
    Cultures of Migration
    Resistance at the Periphery
    and Localization
    Doesn't Everyone Want to Be Developed?
    What Is Development?
    Development Anthropology
    Anthropology of Development
    Change on Their Own Terms
    If the World Is Not Becoming Homogenized, What Is Actually Happening?
    Cultural Convergence Theories
    How Can Anthropologists Study Global Interconnections?
    Defining an Object of Study
    Multi-Sited Ethnography
    --THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST: Understanding Global Integration Through Commodities

    6. Sustainability: Environment and Foodways
    Do All People See Nature in the Same Way?
    The Human-Nature Divide?
    The Cultural Landscape
    How Do People Secure an Adequate, Meaningful, and Environmentally Sustainable Food Supply?
    Modes of Subsistence
    Food, Culture, and Meaning
    How Does Non-Western Knowledge of Nature and Agriculture Relate to Science?
    Traditional Ecological Knowledge
    How Are Industrial Agriculture and Economic Globalization Linked to Increasing Environmental and Health Problems?
    Population and Environment
    Ecological Footprint
    Industrial Foods, Sedentary Lives, and the Nutrition Transition
    Anthropology Confronts Climate Change
    Are Industrialized Western Societies the Only Ones to Conserve Nature?
    Anthropogenic Landscapes
    The Culture of Modern Nature Conservation
    Environmentalism's Alternative Paradigms
    --ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Teresa Mares and Migrant Farmworkers' Food Security in Vermont

    7. Economics: Working, Sharing, and Buying
    Is Money Really the Measure of All Things?
    Culture, Economics, and Value
    The Neoclassical Perspective
    The Substantivist-Formalist Debate
    The Marxist Perspective
    The Cultural Economics Perspective
    How Does Culture Shape the Value and Meaning of Money?
    The Types and Cultural Dimensions of Money
    Money and the Distribution of Power
    Why Is Gift Exchange Such an Important Part of All Societies?
    Gift Exchange and Economy: Two Classic Approaches
    Gift Exchange in Market-Based Economies
    What Is the Point of Owning Things?
    Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Property
    Appropriation and Consumption
    Does Capitalism Have Distinct Cultures?
    Culture and Social Relations on Wall Street
    Entrepreneurial Capitalism Among Malays
    --ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Jim Yong Kim's Holistic, On-the-Ground Approach to Fighting Poverty

    8. Politics: Cooperation, Conflict, and Power Relations
    Does Every Society Have a Government?
    The Idea of "Politics" and the Problem of Order
    Structural-Functionalist Models of Political Stability
    Neo-Evolutionary Models of Political Organization: Bands, Tribes, Chiefdoms, and States
    Challenges to Traditional Political Anthropology
    What Is Political Power?
    Defining Political Power
    Political Power Is Action-Oriented
    Political Power Is Structural
    Political Power Is Gendered
    Political Power in Non-State Societies
    The Political Power of the Contemporary Nation-State
    Why Do Some Societies Seem More Violent Than Others?
    What Is Violence?
    Violence and Culture
    Explaining the Rise of Violence in Our Contemporary World
    How Do People Avoid Aggression, Brutality, and War?
    What Disputes Are "About"
    How People Manage Disputes
    Is Restoring Harmony Always the Best
    --ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Maxwell Owusu and Democracy in Ghana

    9. Race, Ethnicity, and Class: Understanding Identity and Social Inequality
    Is Race Biological?
    The Biological Meanings (and Meaningless) of "Human Races"
    Does Have Biological Consequences
    How Is Race Culturally Constructed?
    The Construction of Blackness and Whiteness in Colonial Virginia and Beyond
    Racialization in Latin America
    Saying "Race Is Culturally Constructed" Is Not Enough
    How Are Other Social Classifications Naturalized?
    Ethnicity: Common Descent
    Class: Economic Hierarchy in Capitalist Societies
    Caste: Moral Purity and Pollution
    Are Prejudice and Discrimination Inevitable?
    Understanding Prejudice
    Discrimination, Explicit and
    The Other Side of Discrimination: Unearned Privilege
    --THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST: Counting and Classifying Race in the American Census

    10. Gender, Sex, and Sexuality: The Fluidity of Maleness and Femaleness
    How and Why Do Males and Females Differ?
    Shifting Views on Male and Female Differences
    Beyond the Male-Female Dichotomy
    Do Hormones Really Cause Gendered Differences in Behavior?
    Why Is There Inequality Between Men and Women?
    Debating "the Second Sex"
    Taking Stock of the Debate
    Reproducing Male-Female Inequalities
    What Does It Mean to Be Neither Male Nor Female?
    Navajo Nádleehé
    Indian Hijras
    Trans in the United States
    Is Human Sexuality Just a Matter of Being Straight or Queer?
    Cultural Perspectives on Same-Sex Sexuality
    Controlling Sexuality
    --THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST: Anthropological Perspectives on American (Non)Acceptance of Trans People

    11. Kinship, Marriage, and the Family: Love, Sex, and Power
    What Are Families, and How Are They Structured in Different Societies?
    Families, Ideal and Real
    Nuclear and Extended Families
    Clans and Lineages
    Kinship Terminologies
    Cultural Patterns in Childrearing
    How Do Families Control Power and Wealth?
    Claiming a Bride
    Recruiting the Kids
    Dowry in India
    Controlling Family Wealth Through Inheritance
    Inheritance Rules in Non-industrial Societies
    Why Do People Get Married?
    Why People Get Married
    Forms of Marriage
    Sex, Love, and the Power of Families Over Young
    How Are Social and Technological Changes Reshaping How People Think About Family?
    International Adoptions and the Problem of Cultural Identity
    In Vitro Fertilization
    Surrogate Mothers and Sperm Donors
    --THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST: Genealogical Amnesia in Bali, Indonesia, and the United States

    12. Religion: Ritual and Belief
    How Should We Understand Religion and Religious Beliefs?
    Understanding Religion, Version 1.0: Edward B. Tylor and Belief in Spirits
    Understanding Religion, Version 2.0: Anthony F. C. Wallace on Supernatural Beings, Powers, and Forces
    Understanding Religion, Version 3.0: Religion as a System of Symbols
    Understanding Religion, Version 4.0: Religion as a System of Social Action
    Making Sense of the Terrorist
    Attacks in France: Charlie Hebdo
    What Forms Does Religion Take?
    Clan Spirits and Clan Identities in New Guinea
    Totemism in North America
    Shamanism and Ecstatic Religious Experiences
    Ritual Symbols That Reinforce a Hierarchical Social Order
    Polytheism and Monotheism in Ancient Societies
    World Religions and Universal Understandings of the World
    How Does Atheism Fit in the Discussion?

    How Do Rituals Work?
    Magical Thought in Non-Western Cultures
    Sympathetic Magic: The Law of Similarity and the Law of Contagion
    Magic in Western Societies
    Rites of Passage and the Ritual Process
    How Is Religion Linked to Political and Social Action?
    The Rise of Fundamentalism
    Understanding Fundamentalism
    --THINKING LIKE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST: Examining Rites of Passage

    13. The Body: Biocultural Perspectives on Health and Illness
    How Do Biological and Cultural Factors Shape Our Bodily Experiences?
    Uniting Mind and Matter: A Biocultural Perspective
    Culture and Mental Illness
    What Do We Mean by Health and Illness?
    The Individual Subjectivity of Illness
    The "Sick Role": The Social Expectations of Illness
    How and Why Do Doctors and Other Health Practitioners Gain Social Authority?
    The Disease-Illness Distinction: Professional and Popular Views of Sickness
    The Medicalization of the Non-Medical
    How Does Healing Happen?
    Clinical Therapeutic Processes
    Symbolic Therapeutic Processes
    Social Support
    Persuasion: The Placebo Effect
    How Can Anthropology Help Us Address Global Health Problems?
    Understanding Global Health Problems
    Anthropological Contributions to Tackling the International HIV/AIDS Crisis
    --ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Nancy Scheper-Hughes on an Engaged Anthropology of Health

    14. Materiality: Constructing Social Relationships and Meanings with Things
    Why Is the Ownership of Artifacts from Other Cultures a Contentious Issue?
    Questions of Ownership, Rights, and Protection
    Cultural Resource Management: Not Just for Archaeologists Any More
    How Can Anthropology Help Us Understand Objects?
    The Many Dimensions of Objects
    A Shiny New Bicycle, in Multiple Dimensions
    The Power of Symbols
    The Symbols of Power
    How Do the Meanings of Things Change Over Time?
    The Social Life of Things
    Three Ways Objects Change Over Time
    How Do Objects Come to Represent Our Goals and Aspirations?
    The Cultural Biography of Things
    The Culture of Mass Consumption
    How Advertisers Manipulate Our Goals and Aspirations?
    --ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: John Terrell, Repatriation, and the Maori Meeting House at The Field Museum

    Epilogue: Cultural Anthropology and the Future of Human Diversity


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