Contemporary Anthropological Theory

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Although anthropologists never invented barbarians, they helped classify individuals and cultures into what Truillot called "barbarian slots," an invention essential to Western thought. Slots have non-Western manifestations that differ from what the West believes to be real. This isn't really a new concept, but Trouillot pushes it, arguing that West isn't all that wild. In this structure, talking about Western hegemony, its decline, Western discourse, and globalization turns out to be a one-sided conversation. The claim of nature's return from the primacy of the simple and primitive is presented as a concept based on a false dichotomy. The west and savage never exist as noticeable phenomena, and there is no explicatory value. This paper shall explore Trouillot's viewpoints on anthropology and criticisms from Boas and Malinowski.

Trouillot goes ahead and even attacks culture as it is utilized in ethnography at present and brings about issues of multiculturalism from the leftist viewpoint rather than the common reactionary stand. He proposes that humans have not deliberated hard enough on the absurdities of present-day existence. When explaining the main reasons for human behavior in different places, observations and conclusions are that "it is their culture." When Trouillot talks about anthropology, he also makes observations on the history of social anthropology, its place in the school of though and its undecided reputation (Trouillot 23-30). Scandals include working with CIA in Latin America, which violated ethical principles. Additionally, teaching oil tycoons how to handle the indigenous groups helped the big firms to invade the markets. This is what hampered the reputation of social anthropology as a science.

If anthropology came about historically as a study of the West's others, then West's self-perception and specific discursive developments along with epistemological basis that ground it are the same conditions of a likelihood of discipline. As West thinks of itself as savage slots, Trouillot showed how it can be formulated around the trilogy of Order, Utopia, and Savage. Anthropology ought to tackle the savage slot and geographies of thoughts and administration as these two give shape to the history of anthropology (Trouillot 10-15). Trouillot contends that , savage slots is not an issue that is easily resolved by an evaluation of methods of representation only but rather, it needs a double sided assessment that shows the correlation between the discursive creations and epistemological basis of the western world as well as the broader set of social correlations and forms which they rest on. In the same way, anthropology cannot divert from the issue of savage slot by looking for other savages in the West or by stating that all humans are equally savage or modern. Nor can it be resolved by claiming that the persons with no history are now historical through internationalization(Trouillot 18). Such efforts to eliminate savage slot do not recognize the issue by situating it only within the textual practices used to represent others.

Trouillot's views on anthropology have been highly criticized by Frank Boas and Malinowski. The two seems to have completely different views on the same. To Boas and Malinowski, the detailed gathering of ethnographic data by a well-skilled researcher is very important in comprehending the material in its exact and intended form. Trouillot focus on ethnography, on the other hand, was not that meticulous. He never followed the procedures keenly. Compared to Trouillot, Boas concentrated on the history of culture. He believed that only reestablishing the culture from a historical viewpoint can the cultural experience be well elucidated (Boas 12). Boas put more emphasis on this importance of history, unlike Trouillot. He believed that culture is an evolutionary occurrence. He trusted that by looking into its developmental history, a person comprehends and elucidate it. Malinowski, on the other hand, believed the re-enactment of history is not significant and to give explanation on culture was to live amongst the people and take part in all their daily activities (Bashkow 451-454). Through this participation, an anthropologist would carry out an authentic and totally objective exploration of the culture.

Boas thought that Trouillot made impulsive generalizations based on the poor and incomplete information. The data were gotten not from skilled researcher, but rather from people who had a partial superficial comprehension of the individuals they observed and offered more supposition than fact (Bunzl 439). Boas and later some of his understudies criticized such viewpoints and procedures and stated that they ought to get facts first so as to create a dependable body of ethnographic data where better generalizations may be based on. Boas utilized all discipline of anthropology to make sure that there is right information in an appropriate context (Boas 312-315). The full-bodied strategy permitted Boas to recreate, the history of the development of concepts with a better preciseness than the generalizations of a comparative procedure.

Culture according to Boas was exceptional, and totally a separate entity and hence different cultures cannot be contrasted with each other even in same social, economic as well as environmental states (Handler 490). Boas needed to explore each culture in its totality instead of in parts and pieces (Bashkow 451-454). By exploring a distinctive culture in its totality, by scrutinizing practices, dialects, and social structures and by even gathering physical measurements, a person could comprehend a culture's psychology (Boas 312-315). He states that combining all these aspects together, an anthropologist would then infiltrate the psychological aspects that shape a culture and establish the degree to which historical associations contributed to the livelihood of a particular society.

Boas' early perspectives on the culture demonstrate that he thought less of a person as a whole. This contrasts with Trouillot's views as Trouillot thought more of an individual (Rosenblatt 460-464). This actually caused a rift amongst his adherents on the relevance of a person in the society (Boas 1898). His view, however, shifted in part because he realized that a person might be typical or not in the society, the culture hence has boundaries created to keep people within the standards of what is acceptable or not in society (Benedict 5-9). Boas employed this approach as a prop to support his viewpoint on the gathering of data from informers. He believed that he would get all the information required to comprehend a culture from a small number key of persons (Boas 312-315). Another major difference also is the fact that one could only get information from people willing to or those with time to give out.

Bronislaw Malinowski school of thought was a Functionalism, Participant Observation, and the Individual. Malinowski viewpoint on anthropology focused mainly on the needs of the person. He thought that the needs of a person shall, in turn, become the needs of the entire society. He considers seven basic needs of a man: sustenance, procreation, bodily comforts, security, leisure, movement as well as growth. Personal needs are met by resultant cultural and social institutions, whose purposes are to meet the said needs (Malinowski 7-13). Simply put each social institution has a need to meet and so does each cultural item.

Malinowski's viewpoint of culture is founded on mankind biosocial necessities. He considers culture as a tool that answers the needs of people in ways that are beyond any adaptation. This specific viewpoint attributed to Malinowski shows that numerous cultural convictions, as well as norms, contributed to the proper functioning of the society while offering individual biological or emotional advantages. The person was of essence because it is the people who form a group (Malinowski 7-13). These people, as a result, are good representations of the gathering since it is them who carry out day to day functions, rites, and other societal practices. This is very significant in comprehending a culture as Malinowski states.

Both Malinowski and Boas thought that it is only through a thorough and meticulous fieldwork can a suitable ethnography be carried out. He aggressively searched for information through various methods and was known for his preciseness in data collection, but never felts that such data as enough, regardless of how precise it was (Stocking 12-16). According to him, it is only by working side by side; performing things that the residents do can an ethnographer be aware of the subtleties of a culture that could otherwise be unnoticeable. Compared to Trouillot's data collection methods, it can be seen that Malinowski's methods gave him the capability to see within a culture (Kuper 5-9). Malinowski understands the intricacy of human nature. He perceives human in all his entirety. He knows that man has emotions and thus he seeks both emotional and rational basis of human conduct.

Trouillot in contrast never really concentrated on the man, or his qualities in an attempt to understand a culture. It can be said that his basis was more superficial in comparison to the thoroughness of Malinowski and Boaz' field work. Trouillot never focused on the history of the culture rather his key center was on the geographies (Trouillot 18). He believed culture should never be used in explaining anthropology because there are many cultures around the world and they are distinct. He only focused on the westernness and the otherness.


Each of these renowned anthropologists has their own view on the history of anthropology, and all made significant contributions to the field of anthropology. Their views may have differed differently; however, each person utilized the approach they deemed the best to explain the concept of anthropology.Trouillot's contention on the correlation between culture, ethnicity as well as racism is of paramount significance, particularly in places when individuals are talking or stereotyping a particular culture, for example, black culture or culture of destitution.

Culture established by the Boasian school of thought was meant to deal with distorted viewpoints on human ethnicity and race that were prevalent in the early twentieth century. Therefore, a success of Boasian anthropology if argued with this regard; however, the position here is that culture has specific inference that confronted race-oriented concepts on humanity. Bronislaw Malinowski on his part focused on the importance of satisfying the needs of human needs. He explained the significance of kinship and how social institutions have a responsibility to fulfill certain human needs. All the three anthropologists managed to make a contribution to the field of anthropology in their own best understanding.

Works Cited

Bashkow, Ira. "A Neo‐Boasian Conception of Cultural Boundaries." American anthropologist 106.3 (2004): 443-458.

Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of culture. Vol. 8. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1934.

Boas, Franz. "The methods of ethnology." American Anthropologist 22.4 (1920): 311-321.

Boas, Franz. A Franz Boas reader: the shaping of American anthropology, 1883-1911. University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Boas, Franz. Human Faculty as Determined by Race: Address. Salem Press, 1894.

Bunzl, Matti. "Boas, Foucault, and the "Native Anthropologist": Notes toward a Neo‐Boasian Anthropology." American Anthropologist 106.3 (2004): 435-442.

Handler, Richard. "Afterword: Mysteries of culture." American anthropologist 106.3 (2004): 488-494.

Kuper, Adam. Anthropology and anthropologists: the modern British school. Routledge, 2014.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. Routledge, 2002.

Rosenblatt, Daniel. "An anthropology made safe for culture: Patterns of practice and the politics of difference in Ruth Benedict." American Anthropologist 106.3 (2004): 459-472.

Stocking, George W. The ethnographer's magic and other essays in the history of anthropology. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. "Anthropology and the savage slot: The poetics and politics of otherness." Global Transformations. Palgrave Macmillan US, 2003. 7-28.

April 19, 2023
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