ANTH 2700: Key debates in anthropology
Social Sciences Building 410 (A02)
Week of February 28, 2022 (Week 2)
Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2700/2022/2
Main reading: Bashkow (2006)
Other reading: Hanks (1996)
Durkheim says that society is rules, but not rules in the sense of explicit dos and don’ts in a rulebook or policy. They are implicit and automatic, as they were facts (Durkheim  1982, 60).
Social facts are just ideas, but they feel real to us because they are the thoughts of a “collective consciousness” which we all participate in (Durkheim  1982, 238).
Do we accept that this is what it means to be a member of society, that society is a big brain that thinks for you? 👨💻👩💻🧑💻💻🤖
Durkheim sounds like he defines society as a force that constrains individual freedom and forces each individual to confirm.
In fact, Durkheim’s ideas are more abstract. To understand society we have to get beyond the individual. We need to see the whole system at once.
Durkheim argues that to explain any part of society, we must look its place in a whole system, rather than how individuals relate to one part of society as a rule or as an obligation.
Durkheim’s organic analogy: a society is like an organism.
Language gives us a way to understand the split subject.
Language is a system of social facts in the minds of the people who speak it.
This has lead anthropologists to apply a linguistic analogy to culture: Possessing a cultural worldview is like being fluent in one’s first language.
Much like Durkheim redefined society, Ferdinand de Saussure redefined language:
In French one can talk about “language” with several different words, so Saussure defines his words precisely:
Parole is an individual fact, and is not interesting to Saussure.
Langue is a collective fact, and we should look to the collective to understand why people have a language that works for them.
Langue is a system of signs.
A sign is:
( “horse” | 🐎 )
( “cat” | 😹 )
( Sr | Sd )
When we see “horse” we think 🐎. If your first language is English, you cannot not think about 🐎.
And yet signs deceive us.
There is nothing in h, o, r, or s that has anything to do with 🐎. The relationship between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary.
Why does “horse” mean 🐎?
Sr–Sd relationships are determined by Sr–Sr’ relationships.
The only difference between these signs is the difference between the sounds c and b.
Signs are also distinguished from each other based on where they occur in a linear chain.
in English there are two signs:
( “sheep” | 🐑 )
( “mutton” | 🍖 )
but in French there’s one:
( “mouton” | 🐑 🍖)
English and French speakers live in the same material world, but they see different things because they each have different systems of signs.
A sign is a sound-pattern that stands for an idea.
Signs can also stand for other signs.
An example courtesy of Roland Barthes (1972), based on Claude Levi-Strauss (1963).
( “rose” | 🌹 )
Here’s a diagram of a sign that is a signifier:
( ( “rose” | 🌹 ) | ___________ )
( “ejeba” | 🎈 )
( “boka” | 🧱 )
( ( “ejeba” | 🎈 ) | 🙎🏻♂️ 🚀 💵 )
( ( “boka” | 🧱 ) | 😀 )
Barthes, Roland. 1972. Mythologies: The Complete Edition, in a New Translation. Translated by Annette Lavers. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Bashkow, Ira. 2006. “The Lightness of Whitemen.” In The Meaning of Whitemen: Race and Modernity in the Orokaiva Cultural World, 64–94+12pp (photographs). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Durkheim, Emile. (1909) 1982. “The Contribution of Sociology to Psychology and Philosophy.” In The Rules of Sociological Method, edited by Steven Lukes, 236–40. London: The Macmillan Press. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-16939-9.
———. (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.
Hanks, William F. 1996. “The Language of Saussure.” In Language and Communicative Practices, 21–38. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cdocument%7C1677290?account_id=14757&usage_group_id=95408.
Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1963. Totemism. Translated by Rodney Needham. Boston: Beacon Press.