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Q. 1: Discuss ways in which kinship and descent help human populations adapt to their environments
Kinship is a crucial concept, which, as a social construct, has existed in various cultures for ages. It plays an important role in the social organization of humans; their adaptation to the environment is to a large extent aided by the available socio-cultural resources. In this regard, kinship and descent are distinct and important factors defining the socio-political organization of people.
Generally speaking, the descent is the state or condition of being related to a certain individual or group of individuals who lived in the past (Cronk and Gerkey 465).
Cultural resources (represented by kinship and descent) are considered to be crucial for human adaptation; in fact, they are ultimately the most important factor for successful human adaptability to their environment (Kottak 25). Kinship and descent help individuals to develop the sense of the Self and understand how to function in a particular environment.
For example, the individual born into the family of miners in the rural Midwest town (just like the person from a wealthy New York family) is likely to rely on his next of kin to develop basic behavioral traits to adapt and function in one’s environment.
Kinship and descent represent the aspects of culture that inform the origins and continued existence of an individual or a group. Culture is instrumental in satisfying the psychosocial and emotional needs of an individual such as social acceptance, friendships, and even sexual desirability (Kottak 25-26).
One of the ways in which kinship and descent exemplify human adaptation in a socio-cultural context is how these constructs are used to help one adapt to the existing economic conditions. For instance, those coming from poor background often live in an expanded family household to increase the chances of socio-economic survival (Kottak 196-198). Consequently, such adaptation brings about a change in kinship and descent structure, with the focus shifting from middle-class norms and nuclear families to extended families. Another example of how kinship and descent help people adapt to their environments is in the practice of exogamy.
Researchers argue that the rules of exogamy require a person to marry outside one’s kin or local group (Kottak 27; 214).
The act of marrying outside one’s group can be considered as socially positive because it enhances both cultural resources and social integration. The children of such individuals are associated with a more extensive social network (two kin groups rather than merely one), and hence they enjoy greater protection in the event of turbulence or crisis (Kottak 214).
Q. 2: On the basis of theories about the origins and functions of religion what are the functions that organized religion serves in US society? Can religion in the United States be described as embedded in other socio-cultural institutions such as politics?
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Religion is a common and binding dynamic in the social structures of various cultures. Durkheim indicates that religion is based on the fundamental ideology that consists of the separation of the pure (sacred) and the unclean (profane), which implies that some things are forbidden and set apart by religion, while others can be practiced (12-13).
Durkheim elaborates on how the society holds people together through religion despite varying and sometimes competing individual interests. Despite criticism, religion is an important uniting and spiritual factor in America. People subscribe to certain faith, which this gives them a sense of belonging and an identity; this, in turn, makes them accepted both among their peers and in the greater society. Most people, irrespective of their background, identify and conform to some form of religion.
America, since the very first days of its inception, has been a religious nation. Most Americans are brought up to follow a certain spiritual point of view. Identifying with a religion is a social norm, thus something a majority of people can comfortably relate to despite the existence of rich diversity. Religion, therefore, leads to greater tolerance and acceptance of one another, promoting a more peaceful society (Djupe 118). However, it must also be understood that religion, especially in the modern world, is just as much a unifying cultural factor as it is a polarizing one.
To continue, organized religion in America serves the purpose of explaining the subjects where science and logic fail; religion explains matters using faith and the belief in supernatural (Kottak 234). On the other hand, religion can also be used for social control. It works by appealing to the emotions and psychology of people and providing a basis through which they can justify their beliefs and actions.
Consequently, this religious fervor has been used by politicians to gain followers and mobilize entire populations to support their agendas on issues such as abortion and immigration (Kottak 239).
In light of this, religion can, therefore, be presumed to be embedded in other socio-cultural institutions such as politics. Great deal of political ideology is often based on religious doctrines. Furthermore, politicians often exploit the fact that most people in the country subscribe to some faith and in large numbers. Religion influences political preferences with people choosing leaders with whom they share religious and social views.
Q. 3: Based on the way the text defines imperialism and colonialism, do you think that they describe phenomena of the past?
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European practices of colonialism between the 15th and 20th centuries were fueled by the growth of the “world system” that promoted investment in business for profit (Kottak 275).
Kottak defines colonialism as the forceful socio-economic, political, and cultural suppression of a nation by a dominant power for a certain period (283).
Similarly, imperialism is defined as the act of an empire or a country extending its domain and rule abroad and establishing foreign colonies. In this regard, European countries such as France, Spain, Germany, and Portugal alongside empires like the United Kingdom practiced colonialism that helped them develop socio-economically, while also spreading their political and cultural reach to larger parts of the globe. Even presently, after decades of independence, there are still subtle reminders of colonization and imperialism as demonstrated by how colonizing nations engage with the nations and territories that they colonized in the past (Kottak 286).
Therefore, the way the text defines and demonstrates imperialism and colonialism implies that not only is it a phenomenon of the past, but there are still aspects of it lingering in how these countries interact in the modern setup.
There are actions that point towards the covert existence of colonialism in the today’s world. Colonialism has not vanished; it has merely shifted its methods and still exists in many parts of the globe. Furthermore, modern colonialism is a complex construct with varied experiences and approaches. For example, America originated as a colony of Great Britain, while eventually gaining its independence. On the other hand, after rising as a nation, the US attitude towards the indigenous populations (Native Americans) can be described as a pure colonialism; in the traditional sense, America acts a foreign entity, which is exercising socio-cultural, political, and economic rule on the territory that belongs to another populace or group (Kottak 286).
Current issues such as Neoliberalism have been argued to be the form of economic colonialism. A classic example of such practice is maize production in Mexico; it was significantly affected by the NAFTA trade agreement, ultimately causing unfair trade and agricultural conditions for Mexico, while benefiting the United States (Kottak 286). This example illustrates the colonialism concept whereby one nation dominates over another country to gain profit. Therefore, colonialism is still present in modern times and it is not just a matter that took place in the past.
Q. 4: How have indigenous movements, political mobilization, and identity politics affected ethnography?
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Ethnography is an important research methodology in anthropological studies. It involves the researcher studying the particular subjects, often engaging in their daily practices in an attempt to closely observe and record the relevant experiences (Kottak 41). In this regard, indigenous movements typically arise out of the need to change social injustices, which a particular group (usually an ‘indigenous’ one) has endured and which caused suffering to such group.
For an ethnographer who has to study an indigenous group that is actively engaged in indigenous movements, it presents both a challenge and an opportunity. In such situations, the indigenous people might deliberately create cultural change as a natural reaction to social stresses such as inequality and marginalization (Magnani and Magnani 5). Therefore, in situations where there is a claim for social change combined with resistance to assimilation, it may be difficult to engage and study such groups or individuals.
Although political mobilization has provided multiple avenues of ethnographical research, it has also raised several ethical issues. An example of such ethical dilemma is how the U.S Army has embedded anthropologists and ethnographers in the war against terror to study and understand radical Islam and terrorism (Kottak 49).
The war against terror has witnessed a lot of political mobilization, which to some extent has invested emotional rather than factual evidence in the matter. The political class has made the country view such communities with distrust, and in return, the local communities view Americans with even greater distrust, making it difficult to conduct ethnographical studies in such areas. Consequently, this has created an ethical conflict of interests because anthropologists are worried about how the government might utilize information generated from their activities, especially with very minimal or no oversight, while at the same time recognizing the need for their work and studies.
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Cronk, Lee, and Drew Gerkey. “Kinship and descent.” In Louise Barrett and Robin Dunbar (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2012.
Djupe, Paul A. Religion and political tolerance in America: Advances in the state of the art. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2015.
Durkheim, Émile. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Courier Corporation, 2012.
Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Cultural anthropology: Appreciating cultural diversity (18-th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.
Magnani, Matthew, and Natalia Magnani. “Archaeological ethnography of an indigenous movement: Revitalization and production in a Skolt Sámi community.” Journal of Social Archaeology 18.1 (2018): 3-29.