Current Anthropology 1990

Barbosa de Alemeida, Mauro. Mathematical Metaphors in the Work of Levi-Strauss. Current Anthropology November, 1990 Vol.31 (4): 367-377.

In the article, “Symmetry and Entropy”, the author Mauro W. Barbosa de Alemeida compares the social anthropological works of Levi-Strauss to that of the physical sciences. Alemeida believes that sciences such as physics and math imply continuity between humans and the natural order and at the same time provide two important metaphors that relate the physical sciences to social anthropology. The first metaphor, symmetry, stands for the idea of transformation and is used to explain a number of theoretical assumptions. The second metaphor, irreversibility, stands for the idea of machines which are compared to actual occurrences.

The concept of transformation is important because it allows for the translating of things from one system to another. All “things” appear as they do partly because of the system they are under. At the same time, however, there are certain aspects of these “things” that are independent of their systems. These characteristics are referred to as invariants and result from the symmetry of that “thing”. The existence of invariants makes it possible to go back and forth from one system to another (reversibility). For example, under a given coordinate system a line may appear to be a straight horizontal line while under a different system it appears to be a straight vertical line. Although the orientation of the line (horizontal or vertical) depends upon the system it is under, the fact that it is a “straight” line remains unchanged regardless of the system. This same idea can apply to the concepts of kinship and myths among different cultures. Although the rules for myths and kinships are unique to the culture being studied, there are certain rules among kinship systems that are common to all culture (i.e. incest taboos).

The concept of machines provides a more realistic approach for looking at things within systems that contradicts the first. In real life not all things are reversible, and not all invariants remain unchanged upon transforming. In fact, many of these “things” that we talk of act as machines in that they eventually come to a halt and self-destruct. This is the idea behind the scientific concept of entropy which states that with time all things tend to move towards becoming more disordered. For example, with regard to kinships and myths we see that although they respect the invariants of the transformation group to which they belong, eventually these invariants are exhausted and weakened. It becomes evident that sometimes where we expect to find symmetry instead we find both order and disorder.


Some commentators respond to Alemeida’s work expressing overall positive attitudes along with a few suggestions while others respond very critically. For example, one commentator doubt whether there is a deep connection between the social and physical sciences. He suggests that another writer could just as easily argue that Levi-Strauss’s writing is related to music versus math. Another critic finds the writing to be ambiguous and not reassuring because he believes Alemeida’s use of metaphors does not fully express Levi-Strauss’s ideas but rather they only give us clues. The last commentator finds himself uneasy with the connection made between myth and machines and proposes that maybe it is the myth which is the greatest problem not entropy.


Alemeida writes back agreeing that he could see why commentators find areas in his writing to contain flaws. However, he makes clear his purpose in writing the article and using the comparison technique: His goal is to propose an introductory summary which is bound to leave out some important information. Also, his technique of comparing anthropology to the sciences helps one read and understand Levi-Strauss’s work as a coherent whole. In response to those who criticize Alemeida for his use of mathematics, he explains that he chooses to frame the article as a mathematical paraphrase rather than a musical one because of his own idiosyncrasies. In any case, he does a good job of defending himself against his critics.

SARA AGHASSY and PEDRAM KHOSRAVIAN Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Bateman, Richard et al. Speaking of Forked Tongues. Current Anthropology February, 1990 Vol. 31 (1):1-24.

“Speaking of Forked Tongues” attempts to find the linguistic relationships in regard to the development of languages and genes by analyzing human diversification as proposed by Cavalli-Sforza et al.

To examine the relationships between the genetic phenogram and the linguistic phyla, Bateman et al. attempt to produce a cladogram for comparison with Cavalli-Sforza et al.’s phenogram but are unsuccessful at it. Instead, they accept the authors’ explanation of the phenogram as something similar to a phylogenetic tree and study the foundation of the linguistic phyla among the racial lineages. Bateman et al. point out the numerous shortfalls in the statistical usage with regards to the genetic tree and the debatable nature of the linguistic classification. They suspect that the genetic tree and linguistic phyla are flawed and “… have a highly problematic relation to historical connections.”

Organisms have various markers or universal features, which allow people to group them into certain categories. Languages however lack such markers and the traits that are used to distinguish them are subject to change due to phonological change, leveling, and replacement. Languages make use of vocabulary from unrelated languages, while the exchange of genes between dissimilar species does not occur. Languages unlike genes are not controlled by the genome and can go through extreme and broad change in a shorter time period than the genodeme. Therefore, the best way to study phylogenetic lines is through comparing data from two sets of populations at neighboring times through phonetic methods.

The main question of this study revolves around why there should be any comparison at all between genetic and linguistic evolution. Based on the evidence analyzed by Cavalli-Sforza et al. through linguistic and genetic cladograms, Bateman et al. have shown that the relationship between human and linguistic evolution may not be as clear-cut as the conclusions of Cavalli-Sforza et al. may propose. Nevertheless, they have come to the assumption that there is “considerable parallelism between genetic and linguistic evolution.” The key basis is that the two “follow in principle the same history, namely sequence of fissions.” Two populations that have become separated commence a progression towards the evolution of both genes and languages. Through the construction of a chronological correlation of phylogeny and linguistic relationships allows for the establishment of the absolute time depth of both phylogenetic and linguistic divergences. Bateman et al. believe that the outlook of research at the “regional”, instead of “global” level, may reveal information on whether or not there is any correlation between linguistic and genetic evolutions.


The commentators regarding this study had mixed feelings concerning the results. Some agree on Bateman et al.’s critique of the combined linguistic/phylogenetic approach to analyzing human diversification. However, others like Donn Bayard feel that their critique could have focused more on “realistic and attainable” research goals. Cavalli-Sforza et al. accuse Bateman et al.’s suggestions and concerns regarding this matter as “unrealistic and unnecessary” however, they seem to agree on the advancement for quantitative research in evolutionary history. Nevertheless, according to Kenneth Jacobs, whatever the case may be, the authors’ must be commended for their efforts and “No entente cordiale should be expected…”


Bateman et al. are disappointed regarding the unwillingness of Cavalli-Sforza to publish details of the nature of their data-base, considering that precise reporting is crucial in science. Bateman et al. realize the complexity of problems that Cavalli-Sforza et al. are addressing and acknowledge the argument by some of the commentators that there are many probable methods to their resolutions, however each of them would quite possibly assume a rather different approach. Nevertheless, they all agree that any data used should be clearly stated and explained in regards to standard scientific practice.

DEBORAH FARNOOSH Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Carrithers, Michael. Is Anthropology Art or Science? Current Anthropology June, 1990 Vol. 31(3):263-279.

Anthropology, specifically ethnography, has been characterized as interpretive, explanatory and subjective. Ethnographers have been described as writers of fiction (even by fellow anthropologists), imparting information that is unreliable because it is not rooted in the realm of absolute certainty attributed to the natural sciences. Carrithers argues that comparisons between ethnography and natural sciences are misconceptions, principally basing his arguments upon fieldwork data from Firth and Evans-Pritchard.

Those who deem ethnography not a natural science describe natural sciences as human activities, not so alienated from the world of human practice as to produce an absolute truth. The measure of truth is in its use. These scholars describe scientific representations as useful and effective, but not the touchstone of truth. Science does not transcend the human world and all knowledge is relative to a community of knowers. It is embedded within the human world as one of the things humans do. Scientific practices are human activities, part of human history, and part of what humans do to, and with each other as well as to the natural world. As Carrithers notes, ethnography, thus, is certainly a natural science.

Carrithers observes that the edifice of natural scientific knowledge rests upon perceptual consensibility—peoples’ ability to perceive things in common, to agree upon and share perceptions without conscious effort. Humans have the skill to recognize patterns. This intersubjective pattern recognition is the basis of natural science. It is also the basis of ethnography. The patterns reflected in ethnography are between and among people, their actions and interactions. These interactions are intelligible. They are narrative patterns. Humans perceive current actions within a larger temporal envelope; inside that envelope, any given action can be perceived not only as an immediate reaction to something or someone, but as part of an unfolding story in a stream of events.

The ethnographer engages with persons. Each person has knowledge which is exercised in respect to other persons. The ethnographer knits together this knowledge with actual persons and circumstances to then be verified and corrected in public. Such knowledge must fit into a more abstracted view of human societies and must be corrigible or falsifiable.

A finished ethnography consists of consensible patterns woven together by the ethnographer. It will be subject to the consensus or disagreement of other ethnographers and will therefore be corrected within the ethnographic discipline. Ethnography, the study of variety in human sociality by means of human sociality itself, is a study whichis not certain or absolute, but can be reliable and useful. Carrithers believes a natural science could not be described differently.


Comments on this article note that Carrithers might better ask whether objections raised in the study of art or science give insight to understanding anthropology; that anthropology is a moiety which makes it indivisible as an “artful science”; and that anthropology can be art or science because there is not one truth which is a correct representation of this world.

Roth states that Carrithers neglects social and integrative demands that candidate narrative explanations must satisfy. Keesing notes that the path to cultural translation through patterns is more difficult and less easily crossed than Carrithers believes.


Carrithers response to Roth states that narrativity is the capacity which distinguishes humans from other social primates and that the core of narrativity lies in its relating of our mental life what happens to us. Discernment of human patterns must be counted as narrative understanding.

In response to Keesing, Carrithers states that the slices of evidence gathered by ethnographers are patterns and that ethnography, as a whole and with cultural translation, equals a pattern of patterns. Ethnography is not a documentary. It is fieldwork and the illustration of interaction between the ethnographer and the ethnographized.

CHRISTINE Y. MIAO Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine).

Denbow, James R. and Edwin N Wilmsen. Paradigmatic History of San-speaking Peoples and Current Attempts at Revision. Current Anthropology December,1990 Vol.31(5):489-524.

Denbow and Wilmsen’s argument is the misinterpretation of the history of San-speaking, foraging people and the widespread generalizations about their culture. The paradigmatic or typical history of the characterized tribal group is brought into question to clarify the relative history of groups such as the Kalahari and Dobe Zhu. The authors critique ethnological works concerning the evolution of cultures similar to those of the Kalahari and Zhu, while also including information about these types of civilizations from their direct research in the field. They address the debate concerning whether these people are genuinely unique or if they lack the authenticity to be hailed as a more significant clue to human evolution. Inaccurate descriptions made of such groups are based on insufficient amounts of a variety of sources and data; this leads also a lack of trust in the relevancy of these materials, and has further damaged the integrity of such assumptions.

Siegfried Passarge’s Die Buschmänner der Kalaharir, the first book on genuine foragers, was the starting point of the Kalahari debate. The work of Passarge in the field shows the consistency of the Kalahari people in the midst of industrial changes; the people act as a unit in that they remain in tune with the essence of their culture: the basic instincts passed through blood that bind their people over time. Passarge describes the contrast of the Zhu people who in earlier times had prospered as a group through more natural means like hunting and gathering versus the rise of trade due to external contact. He pays close attention to the origin of San-speaking people, the construction of their societies, and how they live together and continue to develop and prosper. His attention to detail and synthesis of tribal characteristics has made Die Buschmänner a landmark in the ethnological field. Denbow and Wilmsen suggest that if perhaps it had been more widely read, the bridge between past and present ethnographies would be reduced. They agree with the fundamentals of his argument, and include supporting facts throughout the article absent from “the life of Bushmen in earlier times” due to the effects of outside contact.

The authors and Passarge have been challenged by those who disagree, not only with their tactics of observation, but also with the material that they present. Gustav Fritsch is among some of the ethnographers who claim that with limited interaction with few tribes, by no certain means can that attained knowledge transpire into a certifiable claim.


The integrity of this article is brought into question by many who comment. M. G. Biccheiri states that Wilmsen and Denbow only serve to critique the work of others in conjunction with the Bushman debate, rather than make a clear, concise point of their own. All commentators recognize the authors’ chagrin concerning the lack of formidable truth in the history of these people, most notably Jan Vansina. He not only acknowledges Wilmsen and Denbrow’s attempts to dispel the improbable myths of the San-speaking peoples, but also states that for the truth to be accepted as coherent, the historical views of foraging societies must be reshaped. It is also the basis by which comparative anthropology is formatted, questioned, and related to theories concerning human evolution.


The authors were pleased that the majority of those who commented agreed that the subject of their article was indeed relevant, even if some disagreed with their argument. One of the main goals of this article is to spark an interest in the ethnography of San-speaking peoples, to reexamine previous works on the history of these societies; to question and evaluate such records is invaluable to the reinstating of a different view of their history. In relation to the argument that loss of culture is related to contact outside of the group, Denbow and Wilmsen state that as each group is unique to each other, the character of the society remains intact through social consciousness.

SHANTA WILLIAMS Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Hastrup, Kirsten and Peter Elsass. Anthropological Advocacy. Current Anthropology June, 1990. Volume 31(3): 301-311.

The paper deals with examining and defining the parameters of the roles of anthropologists in relation to advocacy. The issue arises from the inevitable situation of involvement that anthropologists find themselves in due to the nature of fieldwork. Anthropologists are in a unique and precarious position where they oftentimes find themselves in the middle of certain ethical, economic, or political issues in regards to the people they are studying. The cultural context and understanding that anthropologists possess certainly provide a significant background for advocacy. The question that is raised is whether advocacy is compatible or appropriate within the field of anthropology.

Their preliminary conclusion, reached by looking at the basic nature of both topics, is that anthropology and advocacy are not compatible. “Anthropology is concerned with context rather than interest, while advocacy means making a choice among interests within the context.” They further distinguish anthropology from advocacy by clarifying that anthropology is legitimated by “established canons of scholarship and the creation of knowledge,” while advocacy rests on “moral commitment and the use of knowledge.” They hold that the moral, subjective nature of advocacy is irreconcilable with the objective nature of anthropology.

The authors further illuminate and debate the question of advocacy by using their personal experience with the Arhuacos of Columbia. Following a period of study and interviews with the Arhuacos, requests were made of the authors to promote certain interests within the group. The requests related to a land development program that the Arhuacos thought would increase their autonomy. These requests compelled the authors to think about what type of “intermediary position” they were meant to take. This consideration brought up several interesting and complex elements.

What had seemed to be a “straightforward case of speaking for a suppressed minority” became more complicated once Hastrup and Elsass began to discover concealed and divided values within the Arhuacos, who were divided on important issues into two groups—the traditionalists and the modernists. (The modernists initially requested the intervention.) The possibility that advocacy work could further split the society made the authors conclude that, at least in this instance, “anthropological advocacy seemed impossible.”

Hastrup and Elsass consider conclude that “what is required of the anthropologist […] is to raise the context awareness of the people themselves so that they may eventually become better equipped to plead their own case.”

After finally examining the role that cultural change and development play, they re-conclude that advocacy cannot be reconciled with anthropology because advocacy is “never ethnographic” and is “essentially moral in the broadest sense.”


Grillo disagrees with the authors’ claim that no cause can be justified in anthropological terms, although he concedes that the argument of Hastrup and Elsass is “reasonable” and “enticing.”

Mathiesen claims that they make the case against their own conclusion without realizing it. As it was their anthropological skills and insights that ultimately resolved their dilemmas and set them on to a likely solution, Mathiesen disagrees that there is a “fundamental difference” between advocacy and anthropology.

Paine also disagrees with the conclusion. He reasons that not only does ethnographic work cross over to benefit advocacy, but also that morality extends into the realms of anthropology. He does allow, however, that there are “circumstances that may lead anthropologists to refuse to undertake advocacy.” He sites the Arhuacos case as one of these—due to the circumstances involved.

Gray disagrees with the focus of their argument and criticizes their “post-modernist” approach saying they ignored the interrelationship between theoretical and practical anthropology.

Heinen agrees with Hastrup and Elsass’ conclusion though takes a slightly different stance stating that it is anthropologists’ “cross-cultural perspective” that is their greatest skill.


In reply, Hastrup and Elsass reaffirm the importance of a dialogue on this subject and address the main point from each commentator. They conclude by maintaining their original position, that there is a distinction between “anthropological advocacy and anthropologists’ advocacy,” and that the former is “impossible.”

KERI CLAUSSEN Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Knapp, Bernard. Production, Location, and Integration in Bronze Age Cyprus. Current Anthropology, 1990. Vol.31(2):147-176.

This article’s major focus is the examination of archaeological data from the Prehistoric Bronze Age. Knapp explicitly explains the dramatic rise of social complexity. In order to study this archaeological data, Knapp tries to establish the correlation between production, economics and location to the rise of sociopolitical power and prestige. The social implications of how metal is made and the development of agriculture are enclosed in a politico-economic system. Developments of social complexity and the concentration of political power has converted the once plain and simple community into a perplexing and complicated one.

During the Bronze Age, there was an early use of the traditional “Three Age” sequence. This sequence was fundamentally grounded on pottery serration. The pottery serration became a dominating indicator of cultural development. Pottery is an exclusive test in evaluating chorological timetables; which all evidence is based on. Yet a cluster of data from the Prehistoric Bronze Age demonstrates a more realistic evaluation of cultural development, than that given by pottery serration.

Certain innovative products such as the plough, cart and rural techniques led the settlers of the Prehistoric Bronze Age to the rise of their economic facilitation. Innovations during the Prehistoric Bronze Age created an economic change. As these transformations began to take effect, human interaction with the environment decreased as control over their surroundings increased. Other innovations such as mortuary practices brought dramatic changes, which associate with prestige and power. Metal objects show connection between resource access, wealth, prestige and power linked to the Bronze Age. The high production of metal for cemeteries indicated the connection between copper production and the Bronze Age.

The impact of copper metallurgy in the Bronze Age was significant. Metallurgy in the Bronze Age stirred up social change. These socio-cultural changes gave a rational assessment of developments in the region. In order to study both the material and social change of the Prehistoric Bronze Age, it must be known that a mixed-farming economy is as valuable as the copper production. Metallurgy in the Cyprus Age developed due to an agrarian society that had never been through such a politico-economic break.

One type of evidence Knapp uses is derived from stratified settlement excavations. He also uses survey work, ceramics and calibrated radiocarbon dating as evidence to form a relationship between environment, production, exchange and location in the development of power and prestige. Due to evidence found by radiocarbon and calibration dispersion diagrams, the entire Prehistoric period seems to have lasted longer than suggested.


As Jan Bouzek critiques Knapp’s article on the issue of “ideology.” She states that the “ideology” in the Bronze Age is similar in many ways to the American ideologies in society today. She also talks about the explanations in terms of the material “base” and how she feels that it is not helpful. According to Steve O. Held, Knapp’s article needs improvement and more complete research. A number of his conclusions have been proven to be erroneous, such as his idea of the Cycladic longboat increasing the islands contacts with the outside world.


In Bernard Knapp’s reply to the commentators, he felt as if they offered him constructive criticism He responds to the comments in a very orderly fashion under three rubrics: chronology or evidence, economy, and external contact or insularity. He does not take the words of advice offered to him by his fellow anthropologists in an offensive way and instead tries to further inform the reader by presenting more accurate data.

JENNIFER MATIAN and MELODY SEPARZADEH Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine).

Riley, Thomas et. al. Cultigens in Prehistoric Eastern North America. Current Anthropology December, 1990 Vol. 31(5):525-537.

In this article, it is speculated that crop plants common to North America, such as maize, beans, tobacco and chenopods, geographically display insufficient evidence to establish a unitary hypothesis pertaining to their origin. Therefore, multiple hypotheses exist regarding the agricultural paths of each one of these cultigens. Riley et. al base their research on the paths leading to and the possible existence of cultigens in certain regions.

The authors present a plausible hypothesis for the introduction of maize into North America across the Caribbean to Florida, which is rooted from either the coast of Mexico, Central America or South America. Alternate hypotheses have been proposed based on a number of lines of evidence. The most substantial of the lines of evidence suggest the existence of two major, genetically different, maize lineages in eastern North America: the 8-rowed Northern flint and the 12-16 rowed maize known as Midwestern 12, which is similar to the tuxpeno maize of the Mexican Gulf Coast. The authors claim that recent research has shown “a difference in intensity of maize use between the two archaeological cultures that together provide the impetus for proposing multiple eastern routes of entry for this cultigen.” Their argument continues by declaring that a single introduction of maize through the Southwest remains to be their primary hypothesis, however, “an early trans-Caribbean entry into eastern North America and a later infusion from the Gulf Coast or the Southwest is the most likely alternative.”

Prior research has shown that tobacco, or Nicotiana rustica may have originated in the Andean region; however, this hypothesis was eliminated because of the lack of evidence existing in this region before historic times. Nicotiana bigelovii, native to the western United States, was hard to distinguish from Nicotiana rustica. Research done by Asch and Asch states that “it is probable that archaeological seeds from west-central Illinois are Nicotiana rustica” thus decreasing the likelihood of the Nicotiana bigelovii as being indigenous to North America. The authors hypothesize that entry routes, such as the Caribbean, are more likely than a route extending from the Southwest.

Riley et. al. suggest that beans entered by means of a path through Florida due to their existence in the Eastern Woodlands, which is supported by site reports and documentation in the Gulf Coast and surrounding regions. Seed-protein analysis has distinguished patterns between Mesoamerican and South American beans and suggested independent centers of domestication. Therefore, the authors hypothesize that if North American beans were to display the same seed-protein patterns then those from South America, “then entry from Florida via the Caribbean would be likely.”

Separate domestication of chenopods may have occurred in eastern North America, Mexico and South America because “North American phenotype predates the archaeological recording in Mexico.” Chenopod quinoa is common to the region of South America but seems improbable to have been grown in Mexico and North America because it is primarily a highland crop, however, original routes of origin cannot be ruled out and neither can a diffusion of the phenotypes.


The comments written about the hypotheses presented in the article suggest that Riley et. al. over generalized upon the possible origins and paths of crop development in their claim. Most of the commentators thought that the vague hypotheses should be validated with more substantial and factual information, such as the use of genetics to find the paths of certain cultigens. All the comments are supported by facts provided by the commentators and bluntly state that it simply raises awareness about the possible origins of cultigens rather than being used as a substantial development in anthropology research.


In response to the remarks of the commentators, Riley et. al. replied by attempting to validate their hypotheses and also very eloquently questioned the claims provided in the comments. The author points out important developments of each commentator, either in Anthropology or Geography, and provides insight upon their argument against the author’s article and their personal findings. The response basically defends the work of the author, who embraces their claim toward being substantial developers in the study of cultigens in North America.

GABRIEL ALBARIAN Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Sieff, Daniela F. Explaining Biased Sex Ratios in Human Populations. Current Anthropology February, 1990 Vol.31(24): 25-48.

This article focuses on the underlying principle of the sex biases in human society. Seiff analyzes many constituents of sex biases such as ecological and social factors as well as the investment of parents given to each sex. Sieff also takes into account other factors that influence the bias for a particular sex, such as ethnic group, birth order, wartime, parental ingestion of cigarettes, environmental stress, nutrition, and societal stress. Although many other studies were stated, the bulk of support in this article is the two parts encompassed in the Trivers and Willard model.

One idea states that it is a parents’ decision which child they will invest their resources on. The resources spent by the parents will rear the offspring’s reproductive endeavors. The other component of this theory suggests that the outcome of a mother producing a particular sex is based on her maternal reproductive condition. The Trivers and Willard model can also be a functional theory used in society as a scale to evaluate parental health in relation to family wealth. Essentially, Sieff believes parental investment is the key in finding the explanation for sex biased ratios.

When providing information supporting the Trivers and Willard model, Sieff uses information from previously researched cases providing counter contentions to her hypothesis, then supplies the reader with additional secondary research sustaining her case, thus further proving her hypothesis. An instance such as this is illustrated by the Silk research in 1988. Among the bonnet macaques, low-ranking females have higher sex ratios in comparison to high-ranking females, consequently breaking the pattern of the Trivers and Willard model. However through other series of findings, Sieff still proves her hypothesis to be true. An example of research that encourages the Trivers and Willard theory is the Boone research in 1986. By studying the genealogies from noble lineages, Boone concludes that rich status males have a higher survival rate than rich status females. Boone maintains that a parent will devote their efforts to the sex with the highest reproductive advantage. In affluent families, the first-born son inherits the family estate while daughters are specified to live in convents. It is demonstrated in the Boone research and many other findings that in high societies special interests from parents are biased toward sons.


Many different interpretations from the commentators add to the beautiful spectrum of ideas and opinion. Sex allocation was a prominent subject among the commentators. Ryan Johansson expresses the idea that sex allocation must be researched deeper and must be arranged in a testable form in order to make a sound conclusion about sex ratios. In contrast to disapproval of Sieff’s work many others concur that Sieff’s work was a job well done. Eric Smith expresses his praise thoroughly in his comment on Sieff’s skills tackling the difficult duty of articulating of the information without “sacrificing clarity”.


Sieff gave further examples to substantiate her theories and findings. The dilemma Flinn and Sattenspiel, Herring, and Sheets addressed is assessing the strict definition of parental investment. Sieff challenges the opposition with Smith’s solution, to use parental labor as a scale of investment. Researchers would not only calculate the time expended on hunting, tending cattle, collecting food and water, and cooking but also measure how the each resource was distributed in addition to its effect on each offspring’s survival. By using Smith’s idea, Sieff rebuttal gave a firm hold on her initial argument, that parental involvement can explain the bias in sex ratios among human beings.

JUSTINE DIAMANTE Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Solway, Jacqueline S. and Richard B. Lee. Foragers, Genuine or Spurious? Current Anthropology April, 1990 Vol.31(2):109-146.

In the 1970s and ’80s, many societies previously viewed as autonomous and self-regulating were critiqued and resituated into the politics, economies, and histories of surrounding regions.

This article focuses on the fallacies in assuming that contact always leads to loss of autonomy. Two 19th-century San groups of the Kalahari Desert are studied to show that contact does not necessarily lead to dependency or abandonment of foraging. One of the San groups became highly dependent on its Bantu-speaking neighbors while the other remained relatively autonomous until recently.

The autonomy or dependency of San groups is shown through observing behaviors traditionally foreign to the San. The San documented in Botswana within the past few hundred years practiced fishing, owning cattle, agriculture, farming, and herding. Still there are San who maintained the traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle. Revisionists claim that this diversity is the result of contact with non-hunters for over a thousand years.

Revisionists redefine the San of the 19th century as practicing trade, warfare, diplomacy, and even being enslaved, clearly not signs of autonomy. The authors approach these claims by numbering them and dealing with each one.

As the first step, the authors examine the societies that came into contact with the San to see if any were powerful enough to dominate and enslave them.

They show that in the period after 1840 the San and Kgalagadi, a pastoralist society, hunted and gathered side by side for a common tribute system. In the end of the 19th century the tribute system was disbanded and the Kgalagadi started accumulating property and herding cattle. Only then did the Kgalagadi have the means to enslave the San.

By 1940, as agro-pastoralism became dominant within the Kgalagadi, a shortage of labor created a need for the San as the new work force. By the mid-20th century, the material differences between the San and the Kgalagadi increased dramatically. It is important to note that these changes have only occurred fairly recently.

The article ends with the authors commenting that to understand history, we must rely on “histories of specific instances and not allow preconceptions to sway us.” Solway and Lee, in creating such a detailed and in-depth analysis, have erased much of those preconceptions.


Most of the commentators agreed with the Lee and Solway on the key points and added a few of their own opinions. Alan Barnard complimented them for setting the record straight on forager-pastoralist relations. However, he says that Lee has become the victim of his own popularity in presenting the !Kung in a state of isolation.

M. G. Bicchieri explains that he, like Lee, is a Post-Stewardian cultural ecologist, siding on the opposite side of the spectrum from the revisionists. He re-emphasizes key points, stating that “change is a given; it is not an option either for the ‘primitive’ or for the ‘civilized.’ As Solway and Lee suggest, it is only the rate and mode of change that are open to observation and interpretation.” He also says that contact and autonomy are not mutually exclusive.

Alec C. Campbell mentions that the amount of research we have today on the Kalahari is limited and that in 50 years, a clearer picture will emerge.


The authors first explain that at least they and all their commentators agree on one thing–the importance of the study of San history. Having set this common ground, Solway and Lee continue to respond to some of the comments.

They agree with Bruce Trigger who stated that because “ethnographic data have ceased to have an ensured significance that is independent of their historical context” using archaeological data to solve problems is crucial.

They quote Ingold who urges not to use the term “society” because it belongs to agrarian discourse, not to that of foraging peoples.

Overall, Solway and Lee express gratitude for what they term “useful suggestions and criticisms to strengthen and/or modify our arguments.”

YAEL MAOZ Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Solway, Jacqueline S. and Richard B. Lee. Foragers, Genuine or Spurious? Situating the Kalahari San in History. Current Anthropology April, 1990 Vol.31(2): 187-220.

In their article, Solway and Lee use case studies of two Kalahari San groups to demonstrate the varied effects of contact with non-San groups. In the 1970s and ‘80s anthropologists were criticized for portraying hunter-gatherer societies as isolated and unchanging- separate entities with minimal contact with outside groups. The Kalahari San were included in this group and were depicted as autonomous and self-regulating. More recently, there has been a backlash to this way of thinking which has resulted in what the authors call “cultural revisionism”. Many anthropologists are now viewing the San in a much wider regional context, focusing on trade and relations with neighboring groups. Although Solway and Lee do not believe that these San were completely isolated from the world, they think that the “cultural revisionists” may be taking their theory too far by assuming that contact leads to lack of autonomy.

One of the case studies focuses on the Kweneng San and their relationship with their Bantu-speaking neighbors, mainly the Kgalagadi. The Kgalagadi began to gain political power as they became sedentary agro-pastoralists. The Kweneng San maintained their hunting and gathering lifestyle in the Kalahari for many years, but as a result of desertification, they were forced to become more sedentary. Presently, they compose much of the Kgalagadi labor force because many of the Kgalagadi men have traveled to find work in the mines. Some still maintain their foraging lifestyle for the most part taking advantage of the roots and berries of the desert.

The Dobe San, or !Kung, were the second case study chosen by Solway and Lee. The !Kung engaged in trading relationships with the Goba. They were involved in a system of pastoralism known as mafisa. In this system, rich Tswana farmed out their cattle to subordinate groups like the !Kung. When permanent settlement came to the area, Herero pastoralists employed about 30% of !Kung people. Presently, there are about 70% of !Kung still living in the desert and maintaining the traditional foraging lifestyle.

While each of these groups has formed relationships with the outside environment, they have done it in different ways and to different extents. In the Dobe San’s case, a great number have abandoned their foraging lifestyles completely for different reasons. The Kweneng San have managed in large part to maintain their foraging lifestyle while also having ties to the city. In this article Solway and Lee are trying to reconcile the two extreme views of hunting and gathering societies: complete autonomy and cultural revisionism (creating relationships that may not have actually been there). Neither example used was completely autonomous or completely dependent upon others.

COMMENTS: A majority of the comments directed towards Solway and Lee were supportive and complimentary. Their peers generally agreed with the fact that there has to be a reconciliation when it comes to the autonomy/dependency of the Kalahari Bushmen. Alec C. Campbell wrote that there needed to be more research on the subject for anyone to start making conclusions about the issue, though. James Denbow also corrects the comment made about a lack of evidence of Iron Age occupation in the Dobe area until the 20th century. Otherwise, the comments made were extremely supportive, and M.G. Bicchieri went so far as to reiterate four points that he believes deserve recognition.

REPLY: Solway and Lee began by thanking their critics for the advice and input on the subject. They addressed the fact that many of their peers agreed with their general position and then went into addressing the critiques of Campbell. Concerning the lack of evidence, they both agree that there may have been better cases to address the issue of regional integration. Denbow’s concern was only addressed in a general statement saying that there was too much evidence and research to be included in this type of paper other than summaries.

AMY GRANMO University of Minnesota Duluth (Jennifer Jones)

Spencer, Jonathan. Writing Within: Anthropology, Nationalism, and Culture in Sri Lanka. Current Anthropology. June, 1990. Vol. 31 (3):283-300.

In this article Jonathan Spencer tries to prove that “nationalism is, like anthropology itself, above all a mode of self-consciousness.” He begins by discussing his own quest during the spring of 1982 where he traveled to a small town in Sabaragamuva Province in Sri Lanka. He was referred to a catholic priest for finding a place suitable to live. Spender discovered that the priest had been relocated due to his involvement with the Tamil laborers on the surrounding tea estates. The bishop moved the priest for his own safety, because the priest’s activities made him unpopular with certain political figures. A mob came shortly thereafter and clubbed one of the parishioners to death. Spencer went on further to explain further about the intense surroundings in which he gathered his information. He explains how the rioting and killing had put certain nationalist ideals into question. This was a major concern for the people because they constantly fought over the exact right of passage regarding their heritage.

He tells the story of two brave left-wing Sinhala intellectuals that read papers at a seminar in Colombo addressing the topic “Do Sinhalese Have a Great Culture?” in September 1984. Newton Gunasinghe, one of the speakers, argued that the Sinhala culture belonged to a small rather than a great tradition. Another speaker, Charles Obeysekera, took the “Sinhala culture” and compared it to the local regional cultures in Sri Lanka. Soon after all the men involved in the seminar were criticized harshly for being manipulated by “external” powers.

Spencer continues by talking about Martin Wrickramasinghe, who wrote a number of novels regarding his childhood where he grew up on the south coast of Sri Lanka. Wrickramasinghe did more than anybody when it came to creating a specific Sinhalese literary culture. His novels are now set texts in Sri Lankan schools. Spencer explains that one of Wrickramasinghe’s books, Aspects of a Sinhalese Culture, “displays a subtle apprehension of ambiguities and problems of the idea of ‘culture’ even as it attempts the difficult task of pinning down and characterizing ‘Sinhala culture’.” Spencer points out that Wrickramasinghe’s perception of Sinhalese culture would have to be that of an anthropological one. He says that Wrickramasinhe sees one of the things in this culture as “elastic” or borrowed from other surrounding cultures.

Spencer then goes on to talk about the time he spent with some of the young intellectuals in the village, young and ambitious men, who spent most of their time with Spencer working on the problems that were going on in their village in deciphering the exact history of how their culture came to be. (This topic is the most important and influential in the culture today.) Spencer says that the task these boys, as well as Wrickramasinghe, identified were “the reinterpretation of the old in terms of the apparently powerful and privileged arguments of the new.”


I agree with Gananath Obeyesekere when he questions the motives behind Spencer’s argument about nationalism. Obeyesekere questions how anyone can be completely sure about nationalism as an “imagined community.” “Is the American or British conception of their society and history real?” Spencer’s “imagined community” doesn’t give the reader any sort of concrete evidence as to the nature of a nationalist’s passion.


Spencer agrees with Obeyesekere in that “nationalism is in sore need of critical attention.” Spencer disagrees with Obeyesekere though on the validity of his research. He goes on to explain that he told Wrickramasinghe’s story with the utmost credibility.

KYLE SIEGEL Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)

Webster, Gary. Labor Control and Emergent Stratification in Prehistoric Europe. Current Anthropology August -October, 1990 Vol.31(4):337-366

Gary Webster’s argument for the emergence of stratified societies hinges on the distinct connection between control of the labor force of a group and the material goods available to the group that enables a ruling minority to evolve. In forming the basis of his argument, he studied numerous agro pastoral groups in Africa. The majority of the groups studied followed a polygamous marriage system. The more wives, the more children, the larger an individual’s personal labor force. As the labor force grows, so does material wealth. Each wife brings goods to the marriage; each offspring becomes a landowner, thus the dawn of chiefdom. As the chiefdom expands numerically, its position within the cone of society escalates.

However, numerical strength alone does not provide a complete basis for a model of stratification. In forming such a model, Webster followed the footsteps of Sander and Webster and focused on diversity, circumscription, productivity potential and agricultural risk. He argues that in a geographically diverse region, stratification is more likely to appear as members of the group congregate in different areas to perform varying tasks. Where land is easily cleared, buildings are built, where soil is rich, farms develop. Webster argues that the circumscription of a group within a boundary affected stratification by necessitating changes in the local economy. The group now housed in a specific region will have to create a complex structure of leadership, political agendas, military protection, etc. As the population of area grows, the productivity of the area needs to grow along with it to provide sufficient resources to sustain the group. In those areas that are productive enough to sustain its inhabitants, the group will prosper. Finally, agricultural risks force communities to prepare for uncertain times. For example, uncertain rain patterns force the development of alternative food supplies and storage. Such “risk-reducing” alternatives tend to be labor intensive and further promote economic diversification.

Webster concludes that “stratification developed with the ability of an emergent elite to produce, attract, and retain the labor of a retinue through which privileged access to material wealth, prestige, and ultimately political power became possible.” An emerging minority rule developed by sheer numbers as it self-populated a community, but its ability to attract non-kin as well was crucial. Further, the geography of the area must have been fertile enough to sustain a community with material goods sufficient enough to meet their needs and superior enough to warrant their remaining.


Following the publication of Webster’s article, various commentators wrote a number of opinions. Douglas W. Bailey had some trouble with the validity of the article. He states that in attempting such a project one must first resolve four critical issues – “defining and identifying elites in time and space, defining and identifying material wealth, establishing the control of labor and of wealth, and establishing a link between the two.” According to Bailey, Webster failed to satisfactorily clear these issues. Timothy Earle fervently agreed that control could be exercised most easily when a leader has the ability to bring real benefits to the people. However, Earle disagrees with Webster’s emphasis on what factors permit control saying he should have focused more heavily on how control is initiated and further extended.


Webster’s response to his colleague’s criticisms was light-hearted. He claimed all made valid points on his methodology and interpretation besides Hodder and Lull, with whom he did not agree. Webster found the input constructive in regards to refining his argument.

STEVEN SCHEPPERS Los Angeles Pierce College (Diane Levine)