Current Anthropology 1984

Carrier, David R. The Energetic Paradox of Human Running and Hominid Evolution. Current Anthropology, 1984 Vol. 25 (4):483-495.

Carrier’s article on hominid evolution argues that despite the high energy expenditures in hominid running, they developed a distinct economy of energy use through physiological adaptations that helped them overcome this disadvantage. These adaptations propelled them into a superior position in the predatory and evolutionary hierarchy. To support his proposal, he recalls examples of hunters in a number of different cultures that engage in persistence hunting, a technique in which hunters run their prey down until it dies from exhaustion. Drawing from ideas and data from past studies of mammalian locomotion and energy expenditures, Carrier is able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages in various modes of locomotion and physiology ranging from rabbits to humans. He utilizes graphs and diagrams to illustrate his conclusions.

The article is divided into four main sections. The first three examine the most distinct qualities of hominid physiology that helped them transcend the disadvantage of higher energy expenditures while running. These qualities are: 1) the dissipation of metabolic heat, 2) the energy cost of transport, and 3) the storage and utilization of energy. The fourth section explains how endurance running helped secure a new predatory niche for hominids and pave a new path for their evolution.

Carrier credits the distinctive thermoregulatory system of hominids, their ability to alter the pattern of breathing while running, their potential to adjust diet to improve physical performance, and their complex glandular structure as assets which allowed them to overcome their energetic disadvantage compared to other cursorial mammals. Carrier asserts that the fact that human physiology developed to counteract the limits imposed by their rate of energy consumption points to an evolutionary preference for endurance running.

Comments

The commentators credit Carrier for presenting his argument in a skillful and convincing manner. Most of the critiques attend to peripheral matters, but a few challenge some of Carrier’s fundamental assumptions. Carrier’s postulation that the human thermoregulatory system evolved in response to the added heat load of endurance running is deemed unnecessary by one commentator who cites less exhaustive activities as sufficient causes for this specific hominid development. Another commentator is not convinced that endurance running was a primary selective force in hominid evolution. A couple of commentators also criticize Carrier’s failure to examine other modes of hominid subsistence aside from hunting such as gathering and scavenging.

Response

Carrier maintains that persistence hunting could have played a more important role in evolutionary selection than scavenging and gathering because, unlike the latter, persistence hunting placed hominids in an unparalleled selective position. Additionally, scavenging and gathering would not have necessitated the specialization of the hominid thermoregulatory system which distinguishes it from all other mammals. Water is essential for the thermoregulatory system to operate efficiently during endurance predation, and one problem that Carrier concedes to is hominid’s relative inability to store water. He also maintains that these physiological adaptations must have served to make endurance predation a viable and cost effective strategy of hunting otherwise this technique would not have been used at all.

Clarity Rating: 4
JENNIFER FREDERICK Smith College (Suzanne Zhang-Gottschang)

Carrier, David R. The Energetic Paradox of Human Running and Hominid Evolution. Current Anthropology August-October, 1984 Vol. 25 (4):483-495.

David R. Carrier addresses the role that bipedal running and its accompanying adaptations play in hominid evolution. Carrier argues that in hominid evolution, even though bipedal running exerted a high level of energy, it was efficient and allowed early hominids to carve out a specific niche due to certain physiological adaptations. The specific niche that Carrier describes for early hominid species was of a diurnal endurance hunter. Finally Carrier asserts that because of this paradox at some point in history there must have been strong selective pressures for endurance running.

Carrier organizes his evidence in a succinct manner by isolating and analyzing three physiological adaptations that could lead to effective endurance running. He looks at “dissipation of metabolic heat” through sweat glands and the absence of body hair in hominids, “cost of transport” through the assertion that the running speed of locomotion does not affect the energy that a hominid exerts, and “storage and utilization of energy” as hominids could change their short term diet in order to consume more carbohydrates.

Carrier uses several techniques to prove his argument including comparative studies of energy use in bipedal humans versus cursorial mammals. Also, he looks at modern day societies who use endurance hunting techniques and projects that upon ancient hominids. Through the use of statistics, Carrier shows that hominid thermoregulation is more efficient and that hominids have the ability to control their breathing habits. Carrier poses an overall well thought out and convincing argument which is supported by clear and organized evidence that is presented in a succinct manner.

Comments

The commentators on Carrier’s article point out certain aspects that have not been taken into account. For example, they point out that perhaps brain power and intellect need to be given more consideration. Also most of the commentators point out how Carrier’s hypothesis is difficult to prove, due to a lack of concrete evidence that exists to verify any one specific argument. There is also some questioning of the importance of hunting in society, as one commentator points out that in certain modern societies it is not always critical. Finally, one commentator questions whether endurance was the single most important selective force in hominid evolution.

Response

Carrier remains firm that endurance hunting played a critical role in the evolutionary process of hominids. He explains that the physiological adaptations of early hominids would not have been brought about by scavenging because that niche could be filled by several mammals. Instead, it took a specialized mammal to take full advantage of that niche. Carrier does concede that it would be more difficult for hominids to use endurance hunting because of their inability to store water and the constant need for water to dissipate metabolic heat.

Clarity Rating: 5
JEFF KERSTEN Michigan State University (Susan Applegate Krouse)

Handler, Richard. On Sociocultural Discontinuity: Nationalism and Cultural Objectification in Quebec. Current Anthropology February, 1984 Vol.25(1):55-71.

Handler indicates that when people assign labels to natural things, the concept about the things is mistaken. These labels objectify nonmaterial phenomena by imagining the nonmaterial phenomena as physical objects. Handler used M. Estellie Smith’s article “The Process of Sociocultural Continuity” as an example. M. Estellie Smith, states that “tradition and change are interpretive constructs” and labels them as a process of sociocultural continuity. She shows that there is continuous change of the socioculture, or the social aspects of culture with a reaffirmed identity. Richard Handler argues in this article that the characterization of socioculture is discontinuous by that societies do not alter and adapt inadvertently to their culture. He claims that it is an objectifying logic, and the sociocultural system is itself objectification. His ethnography from Quebec shows this objectification of the sociocultural system, and how it is shown more as discontinuous than continuous.

With this ethnography, he shows that Quebecois nationalism developed to classify their identity. Quebec’s nationalism saturates their life through folklore and traditional culture. In Quebec, this ideology should be looked upon as a cultural system. When nationalists look at a nation, they see it as a collective individual and it is personified. Objectification is seen throughout Quebec’s culture and characterizes it. When looking at how their culture is objectified however, there is no continuity or deliberate adaptation found in Quebec when culture changes. He claims that it is because Quebecois are constantly reinventing their culture and objectified identity. When looking only at this objectification, Handler claims that people can talk of discontinuity as well as continuity. It is selective and the objectification contains different meanings for those who observe them.

Handler agrees with Smith that change in the social aspect of culture does have a reality. He disagrees however by saying that the reality of culture is not a collection of things or objects in a society. Culture is not bound to the properties of a thing. He claims that cultural action is discontinuous because it is continually reinvented, changing that reality. There can be no authentic culture documented since culture is itself a thing. Handler shows that when individuals attempt to capture culture, it becomes inauthentic. When other authors commented on Handlers article, most of them disagreed with his argument of discontinuity and stated that he overlooked some of the main points of Smith’s article. They claimed that the ideas presented were too simplistic and could have been more imaginative. This article was not very clear in the presentation of ideas. The terminology and outline of ideas made it hard to place ideas together.

CLARITY: 3
CASEY PETERSON: Michigan State University (Dr. Susan Applegate Krouse)

Mundkur, Balaji. The Bicephalous “Animal Style” in Northern Eurasian Religious Art and Its Western Hemispheric Analogues. Current Anthropology August-October, 1984 Vol. 25(4):451-492.

Mundkur examines the parallelism of bicephalous artwork in northern Europe to the artwork in the Western Hemisphere. Bicephalous artwork is a class of objects with double heads. He claims that this style of artwork allows for cross-cultural comparisons of early religions because of the similarities in the art. Mundkur argues that bicephalous images are important survivals of shamanistic traditions, and these images were brought to North America through cultural diffusion. This diffusion took place during the trans-Beringian migration. He claims the importance of the similarities in the animal style art is important because it shows a continuity of culture in societies that may or may not be ethnically or geographically connected. Mundkur does state that the similarities in northern Eurasian art are not comparable to South Asian art. Also, he opposes the idea that the Bronze Age Chinese influenced Western Hemispheric artwork.

To support his argument, Mundkur gives numerous examples of the various forms of bicephalous art. His many examples highlight in depth research done on the double-headed images. One of the examples Mundkur discusses is the bicephalous serpent and the many religious implications it carries among various cultures. Others cross-cultural examples include double-headed fish, bear, canines, and antlered animals. He breaks his examples into three subdivisions by geographic locality including the Eurasian, Bering Strait area, and Amerindian relics. In addition to the detailed description of the parallelism of the animal style art, Mundkur provides numerous pictures to illustrate the similarities.

Of the five commentators, Wicke thinks Mundkur’s argument gives a partial answer to the question about the linkage between the Old World and the New World. The other four argue that environmental influences not mentioned in Mundkur’s argument might be responsible for the similarities between the bicephalous artwork of different cultures. Because of these influences, the commentators disagree that the parallelism had to be linked to cultural diffusion. Jett argues the similarities of a single trait may be due to the similar environmental conditions, similar subsistent types, or similar social structures. Also, he claims that the parallels may be linked simply tot eh human psyche. Kubler agrees with Mundkur that there may be a visual connection between the art and religious attitudes, but the connection of what is being communicated is still unanswered. Murray further disagrees with Mundkur about his use of terminology. He claims Mundkur’s use of style actually refers to a single motif, and the use of bicephalous animals actually includes images that are not of animal origin such as double-headed humans and forked sticks. Therefore, it may be more accurate to describe the art as a paired two-ness.

Mundkur agrees with his commentators about the difficulty of using diffusion as a means for explaining the similarities in the bicephalous art. However, he claims the difficulty lies in the nature of the data. Mundkur states the interactions between societies are factual, but the events leading to cultural exchange may be difficult to reconstruct. He claims material objects reflect human emotion, so the parallelism of objects illustrates the parallelism of culture. As to terminology, Mundkur stresses in Eurasia there is such a thing as animal style. This style refers to religious concepts of the alter egos of animals.

CLARITY: 3
Mundkur’s extensive use of examples to support his argument often makes the article unclear and confusing.
JENNIFER BARKER Michigan State University (Susan Applegate Krouse)

Orquera, Luis Abel. Specialization and the Middle/Upper Paleolithic Transition. Current Anthropology February, 1984 Vol.25(1):73-98

In Specialization and the Middle/Upper Paleolithic Transition, Luis Abel Orquera has three explicit motives. Firstly, he wants to provide a satisfactory distinction between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic which has been lacking. Orquera explains that other authors, including Mellars and White, essentially “[characterize] the Upper Paleolithic in terms of a list of cultural products that appear at more or less the same time but are apparently unrelated.” (73) According to him, such a description is useless without providing connections between the various items. By “subsuming” these features “under some unifying and ordering principle,” they gain meaning. (74) Orquera suggests that this unifying link is the advance from general to specialized hunting and gathering. This transition was accomplished through the adaptation of human cultural behavior and use of adaptive tools which allow us to “improve almost indefinitely our exploitation of particular aspects of the environment without losing the flexibility to exploit other aspects with a high degree of efficiency at the same time or to overcome alterations of the environment that introduce modifications in these interrelations.” (74)

Secondly, he seeks to reduce the heavy focus on Western Europe when considering the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition. Orquera says that “while this regional limitation and proceeding from the particular to the general are legitimate and prudent, they may be insufficient.” (73) An example of this is the Perigord sequence which includes “preference for reindeer” as a “criterion for distinguishing between nonspecialized and specialized hunters.” (73) Such a theory, Orquera argues, clearly cannot be applied to the Americas, at least not directly.

Finally, he wants to argue against the concept that the Middle and Upper Paleolithic “are entities that differ in some kind of essence.” (74) Traditionally, the Middle and the Upper Paleolithic “are seen as superimposed floors of a building that have little in common.” Orquera disagrees with this way of thinking, arguing that a more accurate analogy would be “one of sections of a continuous ramp or of a staircase with steps of different heights but no abrupt changes in level.” (74) He argues that the transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic is an incremental one, characterized by a gradual movement from generalized tool-making and resource use to greater specialization.

Orquera’s writing is highly dense, but not inordinately difficult to follow. Since one of his main goals is to reduce focus on Western Europe, his paper is peppered with examples from a wide variety of regions around the world. This diversity of sources is probably one of the paper’s greatest strengths. Much of the paper is theoretical, but some statistical data about flake tools and archaeological sites in which they were found is included. His purposes for the paper are clearly outlined in the beginning, which is a helpful guide to the rest of the paper.

Comments by other scholars are included between the conclusion and the references pages.

CLARITY: 4
ANDY MEIER: Michigan State University (Susan Applegate-Krouse)

Room, Robin. Alcohol and Ethnography: A Case of Problem Deflation? Current Anthropology. April, 1984. Vol. 25(2): 169-191.

The focus of Room’s article is on the deflationary tendencies among ethnographers with regards to “alcohol-related problems in tribal societies” (177). He discusses his observations regarding the distinct dichotomy between documentation of alcohol consumption and the willingness of ethnographers to acknowledge alcohol. Room suggests a number of factors that may account for the differences between how ethnographers and epidemiologists view the issue of alcohol in the three populations/regions mentioned in the article, Latin America, Papua New Guinea and among Native Americans of North America. While ethnographers say there is relatively little evidence for alcohol abuse, epidemiologists argue that the problem is much larger than ethnographers are admitting. These reasons include differences in the populations being studied (rural versus urban), differences in the way the researchers chose to look at a problem (deflation versus inflation), and the differences in data collection and analysis methods.

It is this final reason that Room sees as the most important. He states that ethnographers tend to look at the mundane while epidemiologists look at the unusual. In other words, while the ethnography may witness the drinking that occurs within a community, he or she may miss the more dramatic effects drinking may have, upon which epidemiologist would be inclined to focus. Ethnographers are more likely, Room posits, to see the social benefits of drinking, rather than the biological downsides, in addition to focusing on the larger social issues rather than on the individual ones. This factor he attributes, in part, to the functionalist perspective of post Durkhemien ethnography.

He suggests that since Prohibition, drinking in America has become normalized and that this is reflected in the stance ethnographers take on alcohol. Data collected from literature suggests that before 1930, ethnographers were more likely to report on high levels of insobriety, supporting Room’s hypothesis that there exists a shift in perception of alcohol problems post-Prohibition. Room also suggests that other reasons for the focus shift to inflation of the problem has been the sources of funding and the cultural biases of the ethnographers towards drinking.

There are a number of commentaries on the article, which offer some important points of criticism, including Room’s interchangeable usage of “anthropology” and “ethnography,” his definitions of “modern period,” and his interpretation of the newer generations of ethnographers (Bennett), his lack of differentiation between the terms used to describe the various alcohol-related problems and his apparent lack of understanding regarding cultural differences (Heath), and his dismissal and over looking of “alcoholism as a culture-bound syndrome” (Madsen), to offer a few. In his reply, Room addresses many of these issues while still supporting his article and the conclusions he reached, expanding on a few of the points he makes in the main article.

It is a lengthy article with commentary both supporting and finding fault with the research. Room provides a number of good points, well supported by evidence, despite contradicting himself at times. All in all, it is an informative, if overly dense article that wanders around the author’s point.

CLARITY: 3
ERICA BEGUN Michigan State University (Susan Applegate Krouse)

Schwartz, Jeffrey. Hominoid Evolution: A Review and a Reassessment. Current Anthropology December, 1984 Vol. 25(5):655-672.

Schwartz argues our closest extant ape is the orangutan, not the chimpanzee or gorilla. He believes, beginning with Darwin’s statement that we descended from African apes, anthropology worked unquestioningly towards proving Darwin’s proposal of human evolution. The current belief is that Homo shares a common ancestor with Pan and Gorilla, while Pongo represents a different cladistic group. Schwartz uses morphological and genetic evidence to prove an opposite phylogenetic relationship- Homo and Pongo are sisters in one group, with Gorilla and Pan in another.

One point Schwartz makes is Homo and Pongo both have thick molar enamel and low-cusped cheek teeth. These features are important aspects of hominoid classification and are shared with Sivapithecus- believed to be an ancestor of the Australopithecines. Many other morphological similarities include anteroposteriorly short scapulae, small supraspinous fossae, delayed forelimb epiphyseal ossification, and wide, axillary emplacement of mammary glands.

Schwartz’s next point lies in nonmorphological genetics studies, which link Pan to Homo. According to Schwartz, studies done by different groups yielded contradictory results and are therefore inconclusive. Many other genetics studies leave out Pongo or Gibbon representatives, so they are certain to show strong correlation between Pan and Homo. In cases including less common extant apes, Schwartz contends that differences could be due to changes in orangutan DNA not found in the more primitive hominoid nuclear of humans and African apes. There is also one study of cleavage sites and associated restriction enzymes that upholds his hypothesis.

The article concludes with comments from other anthropologists. Most of them critique his methods and claim that he fails to analyze the data correctly. They cite various instances where he fails to utilize all available information. Robert Eckhardt states that this confusion is due to an increase in methodologies caused by an influx of new technologies. J. W. Osborn makes what seem to be the most pertinent comments. He believes there is omni-directional evidence, so it is impossible to assert which side is correct. One must simply decide which he/she likes better and do more research. Schwartz replies to these statements saying that his information was not carefully reviewed and then goes on to add that new evidence further indicates the likeness of humans and orangutans.

This article would be very difficult for anyone without extensive knowledge of anatomy and the constant technical terms make it a slow read.

CLARITY: 3.5.
CHRIS MILLER Michigan State University

Shankman, Paul. The Thick and Thin: On the Interpretive Theoretical Program of Clifford Geertz. Current Anthropology June, 1984 Vol.25(3): 261-280

Paul Shankman organizes his article by first laying out a description of Geertz’ ideas on interpretive theory, followed by a critique of various aspects of the theory, and finally uses excerpts of Geertz’ fieldwork to highlight his critiques. The central concept that Shankman is critiquing is Clifford Geertz’ Interpretive Theoretical Program. This is an attempt at shifting the focus of not only the study of anthropology, but the study of social science in general, towards a more humanities-based perspective of science. According to Shankman, Geertz’ position is derived from his view on the notion of culture. “Geertz affirms that culture is symbolic and meaningful, involving neither behavior nor social action directly.” (261) It is with this concept of culture that Geertz surmises that one cannot accurately generate universal scientific rules that express each culture’s behavior. He believes that the fault of conventional science is its formality, which naturally leads to subjectivity. Geertz feels that objectivity is a myth and an unattainable goal in anthropology. Thus, the only way to create an adequate sketch of a culture is to embrace the subjectivity and make it as open as possible. Shankman details Geertz’ belief that the only way to create new ideas in Anthropology is to veer away from the old and tired organismic and mechanistic analogies in favor of those which involve cultural forms.

Shankman is critical of many aspects of Geertz’ divergence from conventional science. Namely, “…It lacks predictability, replicability, verifiability, and law-generating capacity.” (264) By studying each culture exclusively with its own context, Shankman questions the worth of such a system. Beyond this, he also claims that Geertz’ is more interested in distant possibilities and potential than actually developing a system that betters our understanding of culture. Finally, Shankman balks at Geertz’ view that his perspective is not merely a supplementary theory, but rather one that will prove superior to the conventional scientific approach.

Shankman augments his argument with a comparison of Geertz’ fieldwork in Bali to others who used the conventional scientific method. He asserts that by only looking at the significance of Bali trance from within the individual culture, he failed to make connections based upon cross-cultural studies of the significance of trances in various countries concerning sex hierarchies, social groups, and other information. He found Geertz’ account to be merely a description from which no beneficial knowledge could be inferred.

Shankman’s critique brought up many valid points about the dangers of counting on Geertz’ method exclusively. However, many of Shankman’s arguments were directed more at attacking the anti-conventional science aspect of the theory than the parts which promoted interpretive theory. He acknowledges that Geertz is aware of many of the downfalls in his system; however, Shankman claims that they are far more severe than Geertz realizes. Shankman’s constant references to the exciting, imaginative, and alluring interpretive theory compared to the cold, dry, and mechanic conventional science that he is championing, have a negative effect on the tone of his argument.

Clarity: 4
JUSTIN POOL Michigan State University (Susan Applegate Krouse)

Stahl, Ann Brower. Hominid Dietary Selection Before Fire. Current Anthropology April, 1984 Vol.25(2):151-168.

Stahl looks at different types of plants that are not edible without cooking first. This would help to show the limitations of food choices placed on the hominids that did not use fire. The article also looks at toxic compounds present in uncooked plant foods and the possible effects the toxins would have on the body.

Stahl believes that animal protein was used to obtain essential amino acids that were lacking in an all plant diet. She presents information to show that hominids without fire would chose a more digestible diet that would not be highly toxic. In one of the comments at the end of the article Fumiko Ikawa-Smith points out that Stahl shows that there are many gaps in knowledge about wild plants (P. 158). Many of the contributors in the comment section agree that the article was an interesting approach in understanding the human diet.

She provides numerous amounts of evidence concerning toxic chemicals present in plant sources. Stahl explains what type of toxins are present in certain plants, what effects they will have on the human body, and whether cooking the food would change the toxicity or not. A chart ranking the best choices of foods for hominids without fire to eat is included in the article. Stahl explains that fruits are the best choice because it is uncommon for them to contain toxins, there are no factors inhibiting digestion, and they are high in soluble carbohydrates. The worst thing to digest and containing high level of toxins were woody plant parts. Most plant foods are low in protein content; this is why Stahl suggests that animal protein was eaten. Stahl shows how the hominids sought a balanced diet without the help of modern food preparation techniques.

This article was very easy to follow and I thought well written. Stahl provides a lot of information in an interesting and understandable way.

CLARITY: 4.
MELANIE ZWICK Michigan State University (Susan Applegate Krouse).

Tuzin, Donald. Miraculous Voices: The Auditory Experience of Numinous Objects. Current Anthropology. December, 1984. Vol.25 (5): 579-596.

Tuzin investigates the ongoing debate of nature versus nurture by looking at the effect and interpretation of sound and music on different cultures by examining cultural, biological, and environmental circumstances. He structures his argument around his ethnographic research with the Ilahita Arapesh in Papua New Guinea and previous research on the biological effect of sound on the human brain. The author argues that even though there is a common reaction in the human brain to certain sounds, a person’s culture and environment ultimately determines the interpretation of sound and music. An individual must fully understand the society that a sound comes from to understand its cultural significance. If the person does not fully understand the community that a sound comes from, then his or her reaction to the sound will be a personal one and not a culture-specific response.

Sound is music, noise, as well as infrasonic, which is a sound that is so low that it cannot be heard by a person’s ear. Thunder, both infrasonic and audible, is discussed to a great degree. Tuzin studies the effect of bullroarers and amplifying pipes which are used to make the sounds of the spirits and sound somewhat like thunder and distorted voices in the Ilahita Arapesh culture. He says that people from all cultures, react the same way to thunder because it is culturally taught to be a “parental voice.” Therefore everyone would react to the sound, but not necessarily in the same way. Tuzin’s own reaction to the bullroarers and amplifying pipes was very different from the people of the Ilahita Arapesh culture until he understood the society and its customs. Then he was able to interpret the sound in a similar manner.

Tuzin addresses the question of nature versus nurture in hearing sound. After arguing that to understand a sound it is important to understand a culture, Tuzin concedes that perhaps he has taken on an unanswerable question. He states that it is important to identify a query and to try to understand it. Tuzin considers it more beneficial to anthropology to pose a question and then search more the answer that it is to find the answer. The methodology is more important to him that the result.

Comments

The three main criticisms of the article were the oversimplification of religion, no mention of sight, and the use of conjecture instead of proven theories. A few commentators talk about the importance of sight and say that it is actually more important than hearing. Critics, like Blacking, note that Tuzin took on an interesting subject but did not fully develop it and in turn, never fully develops the differences of behavior and action. In addition, Jorge de Carvalho believes that Tuzin took on too many questions in his essay and therefore, it is not as coherent as it should have been. Most commentators agree that this is an interesting subject but many believe that Tuzin oversimplifies it.

Response

In response to the allegation that he oversimplifies religion in his article, Tuzin agrees in some sense by referring to passages in his article where he recognizes the limits of his own investigation. He defends his concept that hearing is the most important sense by saying that the important part of mystery is the ambiguity of it and not the outcome. Tuzin upholds his theories and statements by saying that Blacking did not read the article thoroughly enough and skipped the footnotes entirely thereby he misinterpreted the argument and admissions of uncertainty.

CLARITY RANKING: 2
KARIN KRIEGER Smith College (Suzanne Zhang-Gottschang)

Tuzin, Donald. Miraculous Voices: The Auditory Experience of Numinous Objects. Current Anthropology December, 1984 Vol. 25(5) 579-596

Donald Tuzin attempts to explain how “religious experiences” such as hallucinations, hysteria, euphoria and the like can be induced by sound. The author does not get more specific on his definition, leaving it rather vague.

He first states that sounds such as songs have cultural significance and they help to bring back memories and mental associations with rituals which are part of the religious experience that many claim to have. He then goes further to state that certain aspects of sound such as intense rhythm can help to induce physical sensations that, due to cultural knowledge of the individual, are interpreted as a religious experience. However, he is not very specific, making it difficult to understand completely.

To strengthen this idea of the importance of sound further the author uses the work of previous historians that argue certain well known religious figures simply suffered from a form of epilepsy that can cause odd behavior and sensations associated with those of a religious experience and that these epileptic seizures are caused by an abnormality of temporal lobe. This is the same lobe that interprets audio sensations. The author does point out that the brain is complex organ and therefore no real connection can be made between the religious epilepsy and sound. It is rather confusing that this point is added, as it is discounted in the same article.

Tuzin then goes on to explain that certain machinery or instruments can cause infrasonic waves that are not audible by the human ear but detectable in other ways. These waves can cause nausea, vertigo or physical harm to internal organs. These infrasonic waves are caused by thunder in nature and the physical sensation of the “calm before the storm feeling” are caused by these waves. This can help make sense of the role thunder in many religious activities . This is interpreted by many as a mystical experience, giving the reverence to thunder. He explains that the Arapesh people time their rituals with that of predictable thunder storms and concludes this is because of the sensations caused by these waves given off by the thunder. He states that undoubtedly the instruments used by these peoples would also give off infrasonic waves, even though he has conducted no scientific study to prove this.

This is an area attacked by those commenting on the article. How can the study be scientific at all when conclusions are drawn so quickly? This just adds to the element of confusion to the article. I found this article easy to read and understand but difficult to accept. He is often vague in his wording and draws conclusions rather quickly, even in many insistences discrediting himself.

CLARITY: 3
CODY VANDENHEUVEL Michigan State University (Susan Applegate Krouse)

Varenne, Hervé. Collective Representation in American Anthropological Conversations: Individual and Culture. Current Anthropology, 1984 Vol. 25 (3):281-300.

Varenne examines the growing trend in American anthropology to explain diversity in the face of general statements about a particular culture. Out of three major roles he outlines diversity can take, Varenne argues for the sociological perspective that diversity is may be accounted for by the forces in social groups. He frames his argument around what he considers the American tradition of overly focusing on the individual, theories of holistic anthropology, and methods for incorporating a broad range of perspectives. In support of his argument, he employs analysis of statements and writings of several anthropologists, both early and modern.

In his investigation of statements on diversity in several key anthropologists of great influence in the United States, Varenne attempts to show their propensity for holistic perspectives. He looks at how these anthropologists have contributed to the discourse (conversation) of culture, society, and individual. By these methods, Varenne refutes the assumption that any appearance of an individual’s difference (cultural specificity) from the cultural model is not the fault of the model or reason to invalidate the impact of the model.

Varenne presents consideration of classic anthropological statements as well as more modern ideas, and demonstrates that the multiple means of interpretation of these examples is crucial. An in depth look at Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture, reveals that the manner in which it was written is a major indicator of her perspective on society and the individual. Gregory Bateson’s Naven is examined, especially highlighting the various perspectives which may be read from dual and sometimes ambiguous statements therein. The more contemporary system of symbols of Schneider are presented in terms of meanings for culture and society. Also, Geertz’ “From the Native’s Point of View” is scrutinized for the position that individual encompasses culture, not the reverse. Varenne includes of these as examples of controversial holism in anthropology, and how the authors may or may not foresee application of their work as contributing to the age-old stalemate between collective and individual.

COMMENTS

Commentators generally enjoyed Varenne’s foray into the analysis of American anthropology, but question the limitations of his methods of analyzing discourse. Most comments reveal a lack of persuasion toward the Varenne’s theory that American anthropological concepts are moving in the direction of the individual, forsaking holism and society. It is granted that Varenne powerfully supports is contentions, but he is accused of over-restricting his analysis, therefore leaving out critical variables. He is congratulated on his novel and provocative approach to literary criticism, but is said to rely to heavily on linguistic and semantic discourse.

REPLY

Varenne presents a jovial response, in which he contends that the variety in comments and critiques of his article actually help demonstrate his concepts of conversation and diversity amidst the collective. He agrees with many of the comments made which reveal alternate interpretations to the works examined, as he cites this is precisely the conversation and communication which is required in the practice of discourse. Varenne clarifies that the danger of over-focusing on the individual is not an effect of the relative American-ness of specific anthropologists, but is merely a product of the conversation which takes place in the distinct ideology of the field of anthropology in the United States. Moreover, Varenne dispels any assumptions that anthropology is in progression at all, but that it is either moving or remaining still.

The article was very detailed and scholarly, whilst it remained reflexive and kept a self-critical tone.

CLARITY: 3
ALEXANDER D. HAWLEY Michigan State University (Susan Applegate Krouse)

Westen, Drew. Cultural Materialism: Food for Thought or Bum Steer? Current Anthropology December, 1984 Vol.25(5):639-653.

Drew Westen addresses a critique of the method and theoretical foundation of Marvin Harris’ cultural materialism. Harris’ cultural materialism theory is based on the division of influences in society including infrastructure, structure and superstructure. Infrastructure consists of subsistence, technology, ecosystems and work patterns as components included in the modes of production. Structure involves domestic and political economies regarding household patterns, roles, political organization, social hierarchies and war. Superstructure has two forms; behavioral superstructure comprises the arts, ritual, advertising, recreational activities and science, while mental superstructure includes knowledge, thoughts and ideology.

Harris’ argument is any aspect of culture is determined by infrastructural variables, which construct explanations accordingly. Westen asks questions throughout his piece such as, how can science be superstructural while technology is infrastructural? Westen criticizes cultural materialism as lacking three items, informative mechanisms for vital links in general theory, theory explaining how etic infrastructural functional necessities are translated into conscious and unconscious intentions, and mechanisms explaining how infrastructural adaptiveness creates superstructural ideology.

Another important part of the article was the discussion of male-cattle bovicide in Kerala, India. Westen points out Harris’ argument, “emically the farmers were caring for their cattle in accordance with Hindu law, while etically male cattle were being systematically killed.” (645). In the Hindu religion, cows are sacred, but this killing takes place because there is minimal demand for traction animals in Kerala; the male cows are rejected while female cows are raised. Westen said this practice is more than self-needs and internalized values, which produces an affect to motivate behavior. The farmers’ behavior is to starve male cows but their defense is denial of the action. Westen looks more deeply into this problem and decided, not only do the individual farmers deny what they are doing, but also they refuse to acknowledge the similar actions of other Hindu farmers who are also breaking culturally shared values. Without this cultural acceptance, the defense of the individual would not be acceptable.

Although some of the commentators agreed with Westen’s main points, a few thought his points had already been established in previous works or that he left out more important items. Michael Chibnik wrote, “perhaps because he is not an anthropologist, he does not seem fully aware that many of his points have been made elsewhere.” (646). Other criticisms were that Westen’s arguments were not completely followed through, which trivialized Harris’ life work. Allen Johnson wrote, “The difficulty with critiques such as Westen’s is that they are too scattershot to offer coherent alternatives to the theories they criticize.” (649).

Westen gave a solid critique acknowledging Harris’ thinking and reasoning while pointing out cultural materialism’s flaws. The problem with Harris’ three components, which he defined by his own theory, is they are not easily distinguishable. The divisions between them are weak without a clear line of difference between them. This article was not a difficult read, and for the most part was very interesting.

CLARITY: 4
CHRISTINA BIACHE: Michigan State University (Susan Applegate Krouse)