Current Anthropology 1979

Attwood, D.W. Why Some of the Poor Get Richer: Economic Change and Mobility in Rural Western India. Current Anthropology September, 1979 Vol. 20(3):495-516.

India is a strict and harsh place when it comes to labor and social mobility. Much of the restrictions of Indians were forced upon by the caste systems and exploitation by the elite. D.W. Attwood writes about a village in Western India that has experienced significant change in social mobility over the past 50 years from 1920 to 1970. Such technologies like the “Green Revolution,” which is a seed that produces a high number of crops to increase farmers’ commercialization, have been proven defective by some villagers because they claim it has no correlation to wealth. Attwood shows that most anthropologists would classify rural western India under the Malthusian and Marxian perspectives, which say that the poor only get poorer, while the rich get richer.

Attwood lists different theories to why social mobility is taking place in western India. One is class-polarization theory. With all these hypotheses, Attwood creates population pressure theory which states that while the land owned by people is decreasing, the Indian population is increasing. Much of Attwoods data comes from the village Olegao, which was a land that lacked cultivation and brought famine. When sugar factories were established during WWII, Olegao became a more productive village because of the many factory jobs. Olegao is now a place of increasing population and social mobility.

This article focuses on the fact that social mobility is dependant on geological location and the overall commercialization within that specific region. Attwood runs into complex situations when trying to figure out the legal terms of a person’s or family’s worth. For example, he discusses that family holdings includes landholdings. If a family member does not live under the same roof, but contributes to the cultivation of the land, then that family member has legal joint holdings with the land.

Much of Attwood’s research for this article centered on the tracking of family units over 50 years and a lot of that research coming straight from the informants was inaccurate. Attwood distinguishes his informants into two groups: the “landkeepers,” which had their land in 1920 and the “landgainers,” who did not have land in 1920. The “landgainers” and “landkeepers” were researched upon the following areas: size of 1920 holdings, number of holdings, total 1920 holdings, purchased from 1920-1970, sales from 1920 to 1970, partitions from 1920 to 1970, other transactions from 1920 to 1970, net change in area, and the average net change per holding. Attowood learned that a majority of people who lost their land between 1920 and 1970 was due to partitions and sales. In conclusion, Attwood documented that “the rich lose more than the poor by every comparison” (Attwood 1979: 505).

KELLY DE LONG Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart).

Feinberg, Richard, Bernhard Bock, Ralph Bolton, Keith S. Chambers, Peter J. Claus, Indra Deva, J. Patrick Gray, Bozkurt Güvenç, Charles Hudson, Roger M. Keesing, Sherwood Lingenfelter, A. K. Mark, Susan P. Montague, Philip L. Ravenhill, Dorita Sewell, Karen Ann Watson-Gegeo. Schneider’s Symbolic Culture Theory: An Appraisal Current Anthropology September, 1979 Vol. 20(3):541-560.

In this article, Schneider’s symbolic culture theory is evaluated and critiqued. Schneider defined symbols as those things that stand for something else and that culture is a system of symbols and meanings. Feinberg and his colleagues agreed on some areas of Schneider’s theory; however, I am going to focus on the disagreement. The differences occurred with the consistency of rules in a culture and the evidence for how symbols are defined.

The inconsistency of cultures following the rules is problematic to Feinberg. Schneider gives an example of traffic rules in America. A red light means “stop” and a green light means “go”. Schneider says one either follows the rules or does not because there is no such thing as a weak rule. This statement brings up many problems for Feinberg. To say that one obeys the rules or does not implies that our culture is perfect consistently. Culture is far from perfect. We want everything to fit into a binary system, but it does not always work out that way.

Finally, Schneider advises scholars to consider only symbols, meanings, rules, and definitions when studying culture. The problem Feinberg has with Schneider’s theory is that individual cultural behaviors are not always observed exteriorly. Feinberg argues that we cannot get inside someone’s head; therefore, there is a need to have some kind of external judgment. Language does provide insight on how individuals think, but an observable action is evidence, too. Feinberg quotes the maxim, “Actions speak louder than words”( 554). One may say he or she is sad, but tears symbolize sadness and happiness, too.

Overall, Schneider provides helpful insight for examining culture as it is in the eyes of the culture and to attempt to understand culturally relative terms. He stated correctly that conceptions, rules, and symbols are not the same as social action. Feinberg and his colleagues gained insight from Schneider’s theory as they were able to agree with Schneider’s theory and then revised the problems into their own theory. The symbolic culture theory was a guide for Feinberg and his colleagues to discovering their own theory of symbolic culture.

AMY GAISS Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart).