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Cultural Anthropology

Asking Questions About Humanity

Third Edition

Robert L. Welsch and Luis A. Vivanco

Publication Date - 17 November 2020

ISBN: 9780197522929

496 pages
8 1/2 x 11 inches

In Stock

The third edition of this innovative and celebrated text employs a questions-based approach, emphasizes critical thinking and active learning, and demonstrates how cultural anthropology is relevant in today's world


What is cultural anthropology, and how can it explain--or even help resolve--contemporary human problems?

Robert L. Welsch and Luis A. Vivanco's Cultural Anthropology: Asking Questions About Humanity, Third Edition, uses a questions-based approach to teach students how to think anthropologically, helping them view cultural issues and everyday experiences as an anthropologist might.

Inspired by the common observation that ninety-nine percent of a good answer is a good question, Cultural Anthropology combines a question-centered pedagogy with the topics typically covered in an introductory course. It emphasizes up front what the discipline of anthropology knows and which issues are in debate, and how a cultural perspective is relevant to understanding social, political, and economic dynamics in the contemporary world. Cultural Anthropology also represents an effort to close the gap between the realities of the discipline today and traditional views that are taught at the introductory level by bringing classic anthropological examples, cases, and analyses to bear on contemporary questions.

New to this Edition

  • New "A World in Motion" boxes include case studies of international migration, communications, medical tourism, and pilgrimage
  • New "The Anthropological Life" boxes demonstrate anthropology's relevance to careers
  • Chapter-opening stories drawn from real life include research on Anonymous, the impact of NAFTA on Mexican foodways, politics of water in Mumbai, and the 2019 measles outbreak in Samoa

About the Author(s)

Robert L. Welsch is Guest Curator at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College.

Luis A. Vivanco is Professor of Anthropology at University of Vermont.


"The level of accessibility is astonishing, considering that the textbook is packed with information and helpful visuals that make teaching this course feel like a new experience each semester. What I love about this text is that it balances classic organization with overall topical coverage."--Max Jacob Stein, University of Alabama

"Cultural Anthropology approaches the subject in much the same way that anthropologists approach the study of humans: with questions. It does an excellent job of not just presenting information, but also inviting the reader to discover the information for themselves in a manner that is very organic."--Paul Wegner, Naugatuck Valley Community College

"The approach of Cultural Anthropology is to encourage multi-level thinking. Students are challenged in each chapter to think critically, think like an anthropologist, and come to know a particular anthropologist as problem solver. I cannot offer enough praise."--Pamela A. Maack, San Jacinto College

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 Other Cultures

    How Do Anthropologists Put Their Knowledge to Work in the World?
    Applied and Practicing Anthropology: The Fifth Subfield?
    Anthropology to Work
    What Ethical Obligations Do Anthropologists Have?
    Do No Harm. But Is That Enough?
    Take Responsibility for Your Work. But How Far Does That Go?
    Share Your Findings. But Who Should Control Those Findings?

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Edward Burnett Tylor and the Culture Concept
    DOING FIELDWORK: Conducting Holistic Research with Stanley Ulijaszek
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Anthropologists are Innovative
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Key Characteristics of Anthropologists in the Workplace
    A WORLD IN MOTION: George A. Dorsey and the Anthropology of Immigration in the Early Twentieth Century

    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?
    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Franz Boas and the Relativity of Culture
    ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Michael Ames and Collaborative Museum Exhibits
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Cultural Anthropology and Human Possibilities

    3. Ethnography: Studying Culture
    What Distinguishes Ethnographic Fieldwork from Other Types of Social Re-search?
    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
    Scribbling: Taking Fieldnotes

    What Other Methods Do Cultural Anthropologists Use?
    Comparative Method
    Genealogical Method
    Life Histories
    Rapid Appraisals
    Action Research
    Anthropology at a Distance
    Analysis of Secondary Materials
    Special Issues Facing Anthropologists Studying Their Own Societies

    What Unique Ethical Dilemmas Do Ethnographers Face?
    Protecting Informant Identity
    Anthropology, Spying, and War
    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Bronislaw Malinowski on the Ethnographic Method
    ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Alcida Rita Ramos and In-digenous Rights in Brazil
    A WORLD IN MOTION: Transnational Migration, Ethnographic Mobility, and Digital Fieldwork

    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 Power and Social Inequality?
    Language Ideology
    Gendered Language Styles
    Language and Social Status
    Language and the Legacy of Colonialism
    Language Ideology and New Media Technologies

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Edward Sapir on How Language Shapes Cul-ture
    DOING FIELDWORK: Helping Communities Preserve Endangered Languages
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Career Trajectories for Undergraduates with a Linguistic Anthropology Background
    A WORLD IN MOTION: The Emergence of a New Language in the Northern Territory of Australia

    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
    Globalizing and Localizing Identities

    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

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Eric Wolf, Culture, and the World System
    DOING FIELDWORK: Tracking Emergent Forms of Citizenship with Aihwa Ong
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Coldplay and the Global Citizen Festival

    6. Foodways: Finding, Making, and Eating Food
    Why Is There No Universal Human Diet?
    Human Dietary Adaptability and Constraints
    Cultural Influences on Human Evolution: Digesting Milk

    Why Do People Eat Things That Others Consider Disgusting?
    Foodways and Culture
    Foodways Are Culturally Constructed
    Foodways Communicate Symbolic Meaning
    Foodways Mark Social Boundaries and Identities
    Foodways Are Dynamic

    How Do Different Societies Get Food?
    Intensive Agriculture
    Industrial Agriculture

    How Are Contemporary Foodways Changing?
    Industrial Food Systems and Access to Healthy Food
    Industrial Foods, Sedentary Lives, and the Nutrition Transition
    The Return of Local and Organic Foods?

    The Biocultural Logic of Local Foodways

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Audrey Richards and the Study of Foodways
    ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Urban Black Food Justice With Ashanté Reese
    A WORLD IN MOTION: Instant Ramen Noodles Take Over the Globe

    7. Environmental Anthropology: Relating to the Natural World
    Do All People See Nature in the Same Way?
    The Human-Nature Divide?
    The Cultural Landscape

    How Does Non-Western Knowledge of Nature Relate to Science?
    Traditional Ecological Knowledge

    Are Industrialized Western Societies the Only Ones to Conserve Nature?
    Anthropogenic Landscapes
    The Culture of Modern Nature Conservation
    Is Collaborative Conservation Possible?

    How Do Social and Cultural Factors Drive Environmental Destruction?
    Population and Environment
    Ecological Footprint
    Political Ecology
    Anthropology Confronts Climate Change

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Roy Rappaport's Insider and Outsider Models
    DOING FIELDWORK: James Fairhead and Melissa Leach on Misreading the African Landscape
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Careers in Sustainability
    A WORLD IN MOTION: Migrant Caravans, Global Warming, and Ecological Refugees

    8. 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
    So, How is Value Established?

    How Does Culture Shape the Value and Meaning of Money?
    The Cultural Dimensions of Money
    Money and the Distribution of Power

    Why Does Gift Exchange Play Such an Important Role in 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

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Marshall Sahlins on Exchange in Traditional Economies
    ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Jim Yong Kim's Holistic, On-the-Ground Approach to Fighting Poverty
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: The Economics of Anthropology

    9. 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 Way?

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: E. E. Evans-Pritchard on Segmentary Lineages
    ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Maxwell Owusu and Democracy in Ghana

    10. Race, Ethnicity, and Class: Understanding Identity and Social Inequality
    Is Race Biological?
    The Biological Meanings (and Meaninglessness) 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 Disguised
    The Other Side of Discrimination: Unearned Privilege

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Hortense Powdermaker on Prejudice
    DOING FIELDWORK: Tamie Tsuchiyama and Fieldwork in a Japanese-American Internment Camp
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Talking About Race and Racism

    11. 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 Binary
    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
    Transformations in Feminist Anthropology
    What Does It Mean to Be Neither Male Nor Female?
    Navajo Nádleehé
    Trans in the United States

    Is Human Sexuality Just a Matter of Being Straight or Queer?
    Cultural Perspectives on Same-Sex Sexuality
    Controlling Sexuality

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Margaret Mead and the Sex/Gender Distinction
    DOING FIELDWORK: Don Kulick and "Coming Out" in the Field

    12. 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
    The Dowry in India: Providing a Financial Safety Net for a Bride
    Controlling Family Wealth Through Inheritance

    Why Do People Get Married?
    Why People Get Married
    Forms of Marriage
    Sex, Love, and the Power of Families Over Young Couples

    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

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: A. L. Kroeber on Classificatory Systems of Relationship
    DOING FIELDWORK: Andrea Louie on Negotiating Identity and Culture in International Adoptions
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Family-Centered Social Work and Anthropology

    13. Religion: Ritual and Belief
    How Should We Understand Religion and Religious Beliefs?
    Understanding Religion, Version 1.0: Edward Burnett Tylor and Belief in Spirits
    Understanding Religion, Version 2.0: Anthony F. C. Wallace on Super-natural 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
    The Localization of World Religions
    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
    Applying These Principles to Religious Activities
    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

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Sir James G. Frazer on Sympathetic Magic
    DOING FIELDWORK: Studying the Sikh Militants
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Is Anthropology Compatible with Religious Faith?
    A WORLD IN MOTION: Contemporary Pilgrimage and the Camino de Santiago

    14. 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, Healers, and Other Health Practitioners Gain Social Authority?
    The Disease-Illness Distinction: Professional and Popular Views of Sick-ness
    The Medicalization of
    the Non-Medical
    How Does Healing Happen?
    Clinical Therapeutic Processes
    Symbolic Therapeutic Processes
    Social Support
    Persuasion: The Placebo Effect
    What Can Anthropology Do to Help Us Address Global Health Problems?
    Understanding Global Health Problems
    Anthropological Contributions to Tackling the International HIV/AIDS Crisis

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Arthur Kleinman and the New Medical Anthropological Methodology
    ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Nancy Scheper-Hughes on an Engaged Anthropology of Health
    A WORLD IN MOTION: Medical Tourism and Yemen
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Zak Kaufman, Grassroot Soccer, and the Fight to Slow the Spread of HIV/AIDS

    15. 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

    How Should We Look at Objects Anthropologically?
    The Many Dimensions of Objects
    A Shiny New Bicycle, in Multiple Dimensions
    The Power of Symbols
    The Symbols of Power
    How and Why Do the Meanings of Things Change Over Time?
    The Social Life of Things
    Three Ways Objects Change Over Time

    How Do Objects Help Shape and Express Our Goals and Aspirations?
    The Cultural Biography of Things
    The Culture of Mass Consumption
    How Advertisers Manipulate Our Goals and Aspirations

    CLASSIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Daniel Miller on Why Some Things Matter
    ANTHROPOLOGIST AS PROBLEM SOLVER: John Terrell, Repatriation, and the Maori Meeting House at The Field Museum
    THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL LIFE: Richard Busch, Education Collections Manager at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature

    List of Boxes

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