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Anthropologists study human culture and society. They ask “what it is to be human?”. Anthropologists answer this question by analysing diverse societies to find out what all humans have in common. To undertake this study, anthropologists have a ‘kit’ full of conceptual tools. Join the Audible Anthropologist (aka La Trobe University’s Nicholas Herriman) as we describe some of these tools and put them to use.
 
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show series
 
Some of the West biggest moral disputes, such as abortion, life support, and euthanasia, centre on defining life and death. Anthropology shows us that while the definition of “alive” is culturally specific, one commonality many cultures appear to share is two concepts. Biological life consists in breathing, heart beating and so on. What we could ca…
 
According to a modern world view, things exist which can be measured in terms of weight, length, volume, time, temperature, etc.. A spoon or a stone has all these qualities. We call such things “matter” and we have made “science” the proper study of them. The other kind of thing that exists includes consciousness, soul, thought, and feeling. We do …
 
Many of us, whether from Macedonia or Malaysia, Mexico or Madagascar, identify strongly with our nation. Implicitly, we understand the nation as a group of citizens whose rights and responsibilities are mediated by state. This idea emerged from France and the US in the late 1700s, replacing the certainties of “King and Country” and “Christendom”. T…
 
The ideas associated with Freud have impacted strongly on anthropology. The main point is that we have an unconscious mind. Further, the experiences of socialisation and especially childhood dominate this. These experiences relate mostly to trauma and unresolved conflict of our infancy. Such experiences are also often ‘sexual’ in nature. Although, …
 
According to 1948 UN declaration all humans have rights to life, liberty and security, law and trial, asylum etc. This created a new kind of right. Formerly, rights used to be through contracts or arrangements. Now you could have rights without this—just by being human. How does an anthropologist think about this? The idea of Human Rights presents …
 
In parts of Indonesia, a fishing boat owner will provide a large loan to the captain and crew of his boat. Remaining chronically indebted, the captain and crew should never repay the loan; rather they continue to provide the boat owner with a share of each catch. The boat owner gets a reliable captain and crew; the captain and crew maintain reliabl…
 
Life cycle is the process of change and development of a person. These are often marked by rituals (such as “baby shower” and birthday parties) or rites-of-passage (such as a stags’/bucks’ night). The experience of life stages, even the conception of what constitutes a life stage, differ. Thus, studying life cycle show us that even birth and death …
 
What is the difference between England 1200 and England 1900? Tonnies’ made the most basic distinction in sociology and anthropology; between community (Gemeinschaft) and society (Gesselschaft). Community is based around traditions, mores, kinship and locality, religion, personal bonds; and, reciprocal relations. It was found predominantly in the v…
 
The idea of social construction is scary. It implies you don’t own your own experience—it is determined by society/the system. We can never be fully in charge of defining who we are. For instance, most people define themselves in relation to what it is to be a mother—they have one and they might be one. But you never really own our experience of mo…
 
The concept of "moral economy" describes our perception of how people in our economy should behave. "Riots" in 1700s England, historian EP Thompson explains, were only partly caused by a lack of food. More important for the rioters was that farmers sold their products to ‘scalpers’. These ‘scalpers’ bought grains in bulk and sold them on to the com…
 
“Structure” refers to the way humans organise themselves economically, socially, and politically. It also refers to the way language and thought is organised. Obvious examples of social structures can be found in the organisation of class (upper/middle/lower), gender (male/female), race (black/white, Aryan/Semitic), religion (priest/laity), economy…
 
When we talk about the spread of world religions, like Christianity or Islam, we tend to assume a one-way process: the world religions simply replace indigenous religions. In fact, the process is often more interesting. Indigenous people often respond to the introduction of a world religion by blending indigenous beliefs with the beliefs of the wor…
 
What is rationality and why is it important? According to Weber, the most rational actions are scientific ways of achieving scientific ends. You and I act according to scientific means and ends, and this defines us as modern. As such, our guiding principles for action are general, universal and abstract. For instance, medieval European cathedrals w…
 
Commodity value is the most beautiful and metaphysical product of the capitalist market and our imagination. Few things could be more supernatural than this value; it makes a pound of gold appear ‘naturally’ more valuable than a pound of steel. And the day gold stops appearing naturally more valuable (that is, the day commodity value disappears) is…
 
What is the hold that Christmas has on so many people? Maybe we all share an unconscious symbol of two births—spirit and body. Perhaps the nativity and passion story follows a set of universal structures. Or, do the symbols provide us with a model of the world and for how to behave? In this episode, I consider these and other approaches to explain …
 
I Googled “Christmas” plus “time of reflection” and got literally hundreds of direct hits. We all know the internet can’t be wrong, so I guess for many of us, Christmas is a time of reflection; reflection, I would add, about what is most important in our lives. Anthropologists are particularly interested in what members of a society find important …
 
We often take the way we live for granted. Living in a home with our family and working for a salary can seem like the normal way to do things. Anthropology teaches us that this arrangement is the exception, rather than the rule. In fact this ‘mode of adaptation’, as we call it, is a recent innovation of our species. Other modes of adaptation pract…
 
We often take the way we live for granted. Living in a home with our family and working for a salary can seem like the normal way to do things. Anthropology teaches us that this arrangement is the exception, rather than the rule. In fact this ‘mode of adaptation’, as we call it, is a recent innovation of our species. Other modes of adaptation pract…
 
Rites of passages are a form of ritual: they are a ritual process which initiate a person into a new position in society, such as “married”, “adult”, “club member” etc.. Involving pain, fear and, humiliation, rites of passage are often intentionally brutal. Profound anthropological analysis shows how rites of passage turn the world upside-down for …
 
What is difference between drinking to a toast (say, to the bride’s health at a wedding) and drinking a Coke in McDonald’s? If you deliberately and openly do not drink to the bride’s health, you are effectively saying “I do not wish the bride a long and healthy life”. It’s possible, but extremely unlikely, that not drinking a Coke at McDonald’s wou…
 
Belief and practices associated with “magic” conjure up, for some people, images of backward tribal peoples or kooky contemporary eccentrics. For anthropologists, magic is neither. It is a feature of almost all societies, it flourishes among the educated and wealthy, and rather than dying out, it seems to be on the rise. In this episode, I distingu…
 
Anthropology is the study of human culture and society. It asks what it is to be human? Socio-Cultural Anthropology, the approach of this lecture series, studies different contemporary societies to answer this question. Anthropologists have a ‘kit’ full of conceptual tools they bring to this study. Let’s find out what some of these tools are… Copyr…
 
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