Week 5 tutorial
The universal and the particular
On page 54 of Small places, large issues (2015), Eriksen includes a two-by-two table to illustrate the dimensions of human experience as four quadrants of a two-dimensional Cartesian plane (remember these from math class?). I don't think his labels for the four quadrants are as precise as they could be, so I want to propose new ones.
The horizontal dimension is better labeled as “particular” on the right (+) and “universal” on the left (-). The vertical axis is better labeled as “acquired” on the top (+) and “innate” on the bottom (-). Universal traits are common to all. Particular traits are those that make something different from others (but not necessarily unique). Acquired traits are learned, unlike innate traits which are automatic, essential or fixed, that is, one is born with them. Hence,
Quadrant I (top right) contains all the traits that are particular to groups of people and also acquired by them [+,+].
Quadrant II (top left) contains all the traits that are universal and acquired [-,+].
Quadrant III (bottom left) contains all the traits that universal and innate [-,-].
Quadrant IV (bottom right) contains all the traits that are particular and innate [+,-].
Anything that an anthropologist will observe about people's lives, relationships, and behaviors fit into one of these quadrants. In your groups, discuss examples that can fit into each quadrant. Are there any examples which do not fit anywhere, and why is that? Are there quadrants for which it is easy to generate examples? Are there quadrants for which it is hard? Why is that the case?
Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 2015. Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. 4th edition. London: Pluto Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt183p184.