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Cultural anthropology in 5 minutes! Introducing the origin of scholarship, brief explanations, and recommended books

"Cultural anthropology" is a discipline that seeks to study humankind from culture. In some countries it is called by the name of folklore. A person who came across an unfamiliar thing called "cultural anthropology" when looking for the academic field he wanted to study at university. Is "natural" really natural in the society we live in now? Someone who has doubts. This is an article that briefly explains "what is cultural anthropology" and "what kind of thinking is it?" For such people. In addition, we will introduce recommended books when you start studying professionally at university or study by yourself.


What kind of study is cultural anthropology?

For those who are new to cultural anthropology, here is a brief overview. The first thing I want to give an image to when learning about cultural anthropology is "intercultural" and "fieldwork."

Cross-cultural research centered on fieldwork

What do you imagine when you hear "fieldwork"? Those who know the meaning of the word may be able to guess, "I wonder if I should go to the place where I am studying and do a research." That's right, fieldwork is to go out to the "field = research site" and do "work = research".

In the case of cultural anthropology, most of the research sites are overseas. It is very important in cultural anthropology to go to a place that is "intercultural" for the researcher to conduct the research. However, there are also researchers in cultural anthropology who are conducting research on their own culture.

Why was cultural anthropology born?

Now, why does cultural anthropology bother to go to places with different cultures to conduct research? To find out why, we need to look back on modern European history.

In the 19th century, when cultural anthropology was born, all parts of the world, including the Americas, South Pacific, and Africa, were colonized by European countries. In some areas, such as the United States, nations are being built under the leadership of people with European roots.

Under such circumstances, people from Europe will meet people who originally lived there. If you call it in the language of those days, it is "undeveloped society". The "undeveloped society" had a very mysterious culture in European common sense and seemed to live under different values.

They are eliminated for reasons such as "barbaric" and "non-Christian." On the other hand, some people have realized that those cultures that are being disfellowshipped may have very important implications. They go directly to the site, live with the people in the study area, and keep a record of every detail of their daily lives. The collection of such records is now called "ethnography = ethnography". Research on cultural anthropology started from such a survey.


Cultural anthropology is a discipline that finds universality from differences

As ethnography came together, early cultural anthropologists began to find universality that underlies completely different cultures. For example, there is a custom called "Kura" in the Trobriand Islands. Simply put, it's a ritual to constantly exchange shell jewelry for people on other islands. This accessory is not a daily item, but a tool for ceremonies.

People spend days cruising for Kula, getting hospitality on the other island and returning to their homes. Once that's done, people come to their island to exchange accessories from another island.

Such customs may seem strange to the modern Japanese. But what about Valentine's Day Giri Choco and White Day in return? It seems just as meaningless, and for some people the event itself can be painful. However, in some cases, it also works to facilitate relationships and deepen communication.

Valentine's Day / White Day and Kura seem to be completely different, and I think they have something in common. In this way, it is cultural anthropology that we can see our own culture from different perspectives by knowing different cultures.


What you need to know when studying cultural anthropology at university

While reading this article, you may be thinking about majoring in cultural anthropology at university. What do you need to know when studying cultural anthropology at university?

Train your language skills

In cultural anthropology, where fieldwork is the main focus, local communication skills and information gathering skills are important. In addition to basic English, you will also need to learn a language you may not have heard in some fieldwork locations. There should be no loss if you improve your communication skills at the same time so that you can talk to the local people while looking at the dictionary.


Get used to the difficulty of reading classics

At many universities, you will start reading major books in the first and second grades. At this time, some people may be confused by the difficulty of reading the literature. Many of the works are mainly composed of ethnography, so they have many unique names, and in some cases they may feel redundant in a diary style.

Others may be confused by the fact that the translations are old and difficult to read, and the books are expensive and difficult to buy. If possible, it may be helpful to read the major works in the library and get a feel for the atmosphere of cultural anthropology alone.

Many universities require fieldwork for their graduation thesis

If you major in cultural anthropology, you will most likely be required to do some fieldwork in your bachelor thesis. If you're a college student, it doesn't have to be that long, but some people spend their summer vacation staying at the survey site.

It costs money to stay overnight, and if you don't have a clear idea of ​​your dissertation, you will end up in a state where you can do fieldwork but don't understand what to write. It's a good idea to find a topic that interests you early on.

You may be confused by the sudden training

As a preliminary step to the graduation thesis, some universities offer overnight training in class exercises. You may be confused when you are in the lower grades, such as when you are suddenly taken to the site and the investigation begins. The teaching method of the survey method and the support system in the actual training differ depending on the university, so if you are worried, collect information in advance.


Graduate school for working adults

For those who have become interested in cultural anthropology after becoming a member of society, one option is to enroll in a graduate school for adults. Although the number is not so large, there are graduate schools that focus on specialized education for working adults and graduate schools that allow students to choose night and Saturday classes for one of the two years.

I would also like to read the books introduced below in order to improve my studies at university and graduate school.


First of all, for those who want an overview. A book summarizing major works

Since ethnography, which summarizes field research, is important in cultural anthropology, each of the major works has a volume. It would be impossible to read everything in college classes alone.

Therefore, please think that you need to study by yourself to some extent. However, it is difficult to read a classic without a guide, so here are some recommended books for that.

"Cultural Anthropology (Book Guide Series, 30 Basic Books)" is a relatively new introductory book on cultural anthropology written by Keiichiro Matsumura, a young researcher who is 45 years old as of 2020. The author's research in cultural anthropology is summarized in easy-to-understand sentences from Part 1 to Part 5, and can be easily read from anywhere.

In addition to cultural anthropology, the background of the author's background and ideas is also explained. At the same time, the current positive and critical evaluations of the work are also introduced, so you can learn about contemporary cultural anthropological problems while studying classics.

This book is recommended for major researchers in cultural anthropology and those who want to get a rough idea of their research.

How does a cultural anthropological perspective apply to modern society?

For those who want to know more about the idea of cultural anthropology and whether it has something to do with modern society, we recommend "Anthropology of Behind the Scenes". Like the book introduced in the first book, the author is Keiichiro Matsumura.

Society is built on human relationships. In other words, it was built, and the content of this work suggests that if you think "I don't like this kind of place in the world", you can "rebuild" it again.

When thinking about various issues in modern Japanese society, it is a book that gives a positive perspective that thinking from a country far from Japan will be a way to rebuild the existing framework.


In search of universality. Achievements left by the giant of cultural anthropology

Claude Levi-Strauss, one of the prominent researchers of cultural anthropology, was doing research on collecting and analyzing myths from around the world as his lifework in his later years. The myths are different in each culture, but there are some things in common if you read them carefully.

How are they different, how are they the same, and what is the relationship between the two different myths? I am proceeding with the analysis in his large book, which has 3000 pages in Japanese translation.

"Raw and Cooked" is the first book in the collection called "Mythical Logic". Although it is difficult to read immediately after learning cultural anthropology, it is a profound and readable work that interested people can work on slowly over time.

Cultural anthropology is often said to be a little minor in the liberal arts scholarship. It seems to be related to the fact that cultural anthropology tends to give a critical look to one's own culture through different cultures. Cultural anthropology has grown as a discipline that casts a different perspective on what is taken for granted and what is mainstream. There are many difficult aspects such as reading esoteric ethnography and working on fieldwork, but it is suitable for people with intellectual curiosity. First of all, why don't you pick up one introductory book?