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The Anthropological Approach and Its Unique Perspective Essay

Anthropology refers to the study of humanity. Anthropologists do not discriminate against culture, gender or race but study all societies and are concerned with the totality of human existence. Ethnography is often seen as the hallmark of anthropology and it consists of fieldwork, which is used to acquire the information and insights needed to understand different societies ways of life. Fieldwork entails going to live with or close to the people being studied in order to gain firsthand experience about their lives and the problems they have to deal with. There are three main approaches of anthropology as identified by John H. Bodley, these are:

•The Holistic approach
•Cross-cultural comparative approach
•Evolutionistic Approach

The Holistic approach is concerned with all the cultural systems of a society (such as the kinship, religious or economic systems). All phenomena must be investigated and interpreted in terms of the total context in which they are found. The Cross-cultural comparative approach enables one to gain insight into human similarities and differences. It reveals the various ways in which people solve problems and enables anthropologists to generalize about the behavior of people and their relationships with others. The investigation of similarities and differences facilitates an understanding of why different interpretations and meanings are ascribed to phenomena by different people. The Evolutionary approach allows us to see how we have changed through time and what it really means to be human. These approaches give anthropology its uniqueness and contribute to the search for solutions to contemporary human problems. Take globalization as an example. Globalization is the system of interaction among the countries of the world in order to develop the global economy.

It refers to the integration of economies and societies all over the world. Globalization involves technological, economic, political and cultural exchanges made possible largely by advances in communication, transportation and infrastructure. It contributes to an increased flow of goods, images and information across the globe, regardless of national and cultural borders. Five types of cultural flows exist: the flow of People (e.g. tourists, refugees and immigrants), Technology (e.g. machinery, electronic and production plants), Finance (e.g. money in currency markets and stock exchanges), Media (e.g. newspapers, television, film and magazines) and lastly Ideologies (e.g. democracy, freedom, welfare and human rights). We can therefore see that the whole process is causing the entire world to become increasingly independent so as to yield a ‘single place’. Globalization has negative and positive impacts on society.

The advantages on the economy are substantial. Countries can invest in one another, loan money and develop trade with each other. Businesses can open and sell their goods in new foreign markets and the more goods that are sold, the more jobs are created. The movement of freedom and democracy is another one of the advantages of globalization. The process brings with it the knowledge that all humans share the earth with each other and therefore creates a better understanding of cooperation and peace, as well as the acceptance and of the diversity of cultures and beliefs that exist around us. Globalization also makes travel easier and allows resources to reach their locations as quickly as possible (e.g. food and medical supplies after an earthquake). Countries are also getting together to take part in international competitions, such as the soccer world cup. This allows people from all over the world to interact and work together.

Countries who can accept each other’s cultural values, even without sharing them are much less likely to go to war with one another. With regards to the negative impacts, anthropologists are able to use their skills and methods to analyze the ways in which globalization is creating these negative effects. The biggest negativity is the effect it has on domestic-scale societies as well as on culture. Take the Maasai people as an example: The Maasai are pastoralists who lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle. For them, the land is sacred and has many uses, for example, as providing cattle with food and water and well as resources for medicines. Maintaining a traditional pastoral lifestyle has become increasingly difficult due to outside influences of the modern world. Policies, development projects and the rapid growth in tourism have all affected their traditional ways of life negatively. Their mobility was drastically reduced, so finding better pastures and water points for cattle has become impossible.

This loss of mobility has lead to a rapid increase in poverty, malnutrition and conflict over access to diminishing resources. Many of the Maasai have had to adopt modern ways of life to survive, while trying to hang onto their traditional ways in order to achieve some sort of balance between the two. Despite these negative impacts of globalization, the process also seems to be stimulating local cultures to redefine themselves in the face of external forces. Syncretisation has occurred with some groups where they invent new ways to incorporate foreign elements into their own culture while still upholding their own identity. Others have adopted an attitude of immersion into the local culture in which attempts to be drawn into the broader society are resisted by erecting barriers to cultural flows, for example, the Amish of Pennsylvania.

Another example is small-scale societies who established revitalization movements to revive traditional cultural values and beliefs. Thus, although globalization is causing homogenization of many cultures, others are resisting this process and are trying to maintain their own unique traditional cultures and personal identities, therefore preventing the integration of the world’s people into a single culture. The role of anthropology in this globalized world is to help create an understanding of the positive and negative impacts of globalization on the various societies especially domestic-scale societies as they are extremely vulnerable to the process of globalization.

This information will allow us to see the changes taking place and will assist those in need by providing them with solutions to the problems being caused by globalization. Although globalization cannot be prevented, anthropologists can eradicate some of the suffering and come up with ways to incorporate the modern way of life with the traditional ways. Anthropology and its unique perspective are thus invaluable in helping with contemporary problems, such as globalization.

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