Concepts in anthropology, especially those which describe, predict, explain, and evaluate the behavior of groups or categories of people are termed as general or explanatory concepts. Kinship, marriage, religion, race, class, and language are some of the general concepts being studied in the field of anthropology. In a way, general concepts can also be used to create models that will facilitate hypothesis testing. In essence, this type of concept is generally a medium of creating specific concepts – concepts which represent a part of a general phenomenon.
One may argue that it is difficult to delineate the boundary between a general and a specific concept. However, it should be noted that general concepts represent realities magnified by the rigours of scientific investigation. In some cases, general concepts are known as ideal types (although this is fairly incorrect since ideal types are measurements of existing systems – although derived from it). In this essay, two academic articles or books will be presented to highlight some important concepts applied in the study of anthropology.
The first article is a review of Bronislaw Malinowski ethnographic study in the Trobriand Islands. This article focuses on the general effect of kinship to the latent system of a preliterate society and vice-versa. The general thesis of Malinowski study is summed up as follows: Kinship determines the structure of law; law determines the structure of the society. His thesis will be explained in detailed in the following pages. The second article is an ethnographic study of Indian reservations in the United States. Race is the central concept in this article.
The thesis of the article is; modernization in the United States erased the Indian notion of race as embodiment of cultural identity. Kinship and Law Firth (1980), in his review of Bronislaw Malinowski study on the Trobriand Islands, identified two types of laws: civil law and criminal law. The first one is positive law governing all the phases of tribal life. The second type is made up of rules safeguarding such institutions as chieftainship, exogamy, rank, and marriage. Thus, the “civil law, in contrast to criminal, is the ‘law obeyed and not the law broken’” (Firth, 1980:73).
The creation of a law system in the Trobriand Islands, according to Malinowski, is essentially based on kinship. The system of law was created to foster greater solidarity among kin or family members. This was later extended to clans outside the immediate kin. Thus, the first type of law (civil) was essentially created out of this purpose. Formal rules governing chieftainship, rank, marriage, and exogamy were essentially derivations of the former. According to Malinowski, since the law was created to maintain kinship ties, it has therefore four senses.
Here are as follows: (1) the law of cultural determinism, (2) the law or rule of native conduct, (3) the law of order and maintenance, and (4) the mechanisms of law when breach occurs. In essence, these senses of the law determine the shape or form of preliterate societies. In general, kinship and law are highly associated concepts since they determine the outcome of social relationships. Specifically, according to Malinowski, societies as old as those found in the Trobriand Islands do not need a definite set of laws to define its kinship structure since rules are essentially derived from kin systems.
Race and Modernity Lynch (1974), in his ethnographic study on Indian reservations, argued that the modernization process occurring in the reservations was generally dangerous for the whole Indian community in the United States. The dangers are as follows; 1) The basic assumptions of Indian-American culture are radically changing. For example, close family ties are becoming absent in some Indian reservations; 2) Race assumptions are also changing. In the past, “race” for Indians refer to “common cultural identity.
” Nowadays, American Indians associate race with “stereotype labeling of an oppressed minority. ” In short, the term race was used to convey a “glorious statement of cultural identity” in the past in contrast to its derogatory sense nowadays. 3) And, the modernization process is creating mediums for racial discrimination. For example, before 1960, it was illegal for Indians to work in mines unless certified by the Employment Bureau (this had been eliminated in the late 1960s, although Indians still face the insecurity and discrimination in the workplace).
The author concluded that the modernization process of Indian reservations in the United States had been based on false assumptions; assumptions derived from the West. According to him, “it provided a glimpse of their future as well, a glimpse made all the more comforting to the West by the assurance it gave … path to modernity” (Lynch, 1974:186). References Man and Culture: An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski. 1980. Ed Raymond Firth. Britain: Redwood Burn Limited. Rethinking Modernization. Ed. John Poggie and Robert Lynch. 1974. Political Modernization in a Native American Community. Connecticut: Greenwood Press.