Ryan Schram's Anthrocyclopaedia

Anthropology presentations and learning resources

User Tools

Site Tools

View page as slide show

Two minds

Two minds

Ryan Schram
ANTH 2700: Key debates in anthropology
Social Sciences Building 410 (A02)
Week of February 21, 2022 (Week 1)

Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2700/2022/1

Welcome to ANTH 2700: The next step in studying anthropology

Everyone knows what anthropology is. It’s the study of human life in global terms, especially with respect to its diversity. Seems simple enough. Except…

  • Some anthropologists explain every situation in terms of culture; and many do not and look for other explanations.
  • Many anthropologists want to contribute to a general, universal concept of society, but others question whether there is such a thing as society, and if it has to have a universal definition.
  • Anthropologists are split on whether or not anthropology is a science and should be a science.

It seems like anthropologists don’t agree about anything.

Why can’t anthropologists agree on anything?

There are several different reasons.

  • Anthropology has changed. Later generations developed new ways of thinking about things.
  • Anthropologists critique themselves and their own implicit norms and values, just as if anthropology was itself a culture.
  • Anthropologists have always borrowed from other social sciences.
  • Anthropology is just plain big, because humanity is a lot of people, all of whom are different.

Anthropologists ask the same questions but they don’t have to agree on the answers.

You become an anthropologist by figuring out how you want to answer these questions, and why.

What we will do in class

This class is based on a weekly cycle. Get in the habit of following this cycle every week.

  • Read the assigned readings for each week.
  • Reflect on what you are thinking about these readings and the week’s topic in your weekly writing assignments.
  • Write on any questions that your tutor assigns you for the week.
  • Log on to our weekly lecture on Zoom (using the Canvas Zoom page).
  • Participate in a weekly tutorial discussion.
  • Make contact with your peers, your tutor, and Ryan.

Committing to being present and being visible in every part of this class every week will make it feel important and give you a reason to keep at it.

The origin of anthropology

  • Anthropology is a social science, so we should think about where science comes from to understand what anthropology is.

  • Science emerges from the distinction between normative inquiry and empirical inquiry, or ought questions and is questions.

    Likewise, the social sciences are an effort to move away from asking what society should be to explaining what society is.

  • An example of a normative inquiry into society is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s On the social contract (Rousseau [1762] 1978).

    How is anthropology different from Rousseau’s purpose in this work?

Is society a thing?

Who is it that says society is a thing, and that we should study society as an empirical fact and not an ideal?

Society is a thing

Emile Durkheim is one of the most influential advocates for a positive science of society, one that looks for the causes of social forms and patterns in society.

If we approach society the way natural scientists examine nature, then we would not judge, rank, or evaluate society on a scale of goodness, morality, or value.

Society is a thing sui generis

Durkheim develops a new idea of society that is appropriate for a new social science.

Durkheim says that society causes itself. “Society is a reality sui generis;” it is a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts, and has properties of its own which the parts lack (Durkheim [1912] 1995, 15).

Consider Rousseau:

  • How do parties to a social contract or any contract know that they have to honor the contract?
  • Before there can be any kind of contract, verbal or otherwise, there already has to be a shared idea of what a contract is.
  • There is a noncontractual basis for contracts.

Social facts are things

There are indeed many unstated rules for stated rules and institutions of everyday life. All of us follow these implicit rules, or norms, without thinking about them.

Durkheim calls them “social facts” (Durkheim [1895] 1982).

  • Signing your name on a paper
  • Stopping at a red light
  • Choosing what to wear to class
  • Choosing words when speaking to someone you just met

These may seem like simple habits. But how do you feel when someone fails to do what people normally do?

They may seem like opportunities for self-expression. But can you really just do what you want?

Why do social facts feel like natural facts?

  • Social facts are simply ideas, but they seem real. They appear to each person as external and coercive constraints (Durkheim [1895] 1982, 56).
  • Everyone within one community will have the same social facts, so in some ways they would never think to question whether or not these norms were universal unless they stepped outside of their social world.
  • But on a deeper level, people don’t think about the implict rules they follow, because their society is a big brain that thinks for them, and this prevents individuals from consciously thinking about the social nature of what they think is natural. (Except, of course, in anthropology classes.)
  • Society is a collective consciousness. Social facts are the thoughts of a collective mind, and people in that community assume that they are objective and real.

The split subject

Durkheim’s theory of society is also a theory of the human subject

  • The Enlightenment view is that the human subject is rational, and every person has the same kind of rational mind that is capable of understanding reality as it is.
  • Durkheim’s view is one of many that breaks with this view of the individual as a self-sufficient and complete mind, or a unitary subject.
  • Durkheim’s subject is a divided subject, a homo duplex. Two minds in each person’s body.
    • Each person is only aware of the individual side of their divided mind.
    • The other side is the collective mind. It along with everyone else’s collective mind thinks society into existence.
  • Sometimes an individual will use their individual mind to think about doing something new and different, something that challenges the thoughts of the collective mind.
    • What happens when an individual idea challenges the collective thinking of the hive mind?

References and further reading

Durkheim, Emile. (1895) 1982. The Rules of Sociological Method. Edited by Steven Lukes. London: The Macmillan Press. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-16939-9.

———. (1912) 1995. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Translated by Karen E. Fields. Reprint edition. New York: Free Press.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. (1762) 1978. On the social contract, with Geneva manuscript and Political economy. Edited by Roger D. Masters. Translated by Judith R. Masters. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

2700/2022/1.txt · Last modified: 2022/02/21 14:06 by Ryan Schram (admin)