Sunday, September 5, 2010

Exploring Cultural Anthropology

As a cultural anthropologist what might you propose to research? Why would you choose this culture and topic for research? What do you hope to discover, accomplish, or address by studying this culture? How could you prepare for culture shock?

Video games in the North American culture

I am very interested in the evolution of video games and their increasing role in our society. As a kid I grew up in the "trenches" as it were, when video games were really taking off. I saw the birth (and death) of the Atari 2600. We owned it's descendant the 5200. I played games on consoles from Collecovision, Intellivision and others. Weekends were often spent lurking around the local convenient store to play or watch others play the latest or most innovative stand-up machine. Then we got a Nintendo and then came our personal computer. The PC opened up a whole new element of video games. While my dad would talk with his friends after school about cars and hunting and fishing, my friends and brothers and I would talk about how to be more efficient in building a fortress or what policies would lead to a global nuclear war. Often times, we would sit around the dinner table and my mother, she told me years later, would think she were listening in on a UN meeting of heads of states or representatives as we discussed how our roles as national leaders would play out in the latest game we were playing. We did not grow up with the first person shooter (FPS) type of games. We grew up with games that stretched the imagination and required problem solving on a local, national or often international scale. Later, real time strategy (RTS) games came about requiring even more consideration to be taken on just how to carry out our strategies. But the most life impacting game I ever played was a simple and crude (by today's standards anyway) driving simulator. I spent $5 a week over a summer teaching myself how to drive a car because unlike my dad, the game didn't blow a gasket every time I crossed a line or went too fast or got too close to a car. At the time, driver's ed was not required so this was how I practiced in preparation for my driver's license.

These explanations/examples from my past I hope answer the other questions. I want to know where video games are taking us. Can our consumerism steer us down a path of entertainment that is actually providing training and life skills for the future (see Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card). What I would not be prepared for is a backlash from anti-video gamers that leads to the abolishment of video games or, as appears to be a growing trend in psychology and sociology, a vilianization of the video game industry and the negative effects of long hours or FPS gaming that teach very little. Only in a few cases do some FPS games teach sportsmanship and teamwork. Most of the time, FPS games are not much more than the version of football where one kid plays quarterback and everyone just runs long for a pass. If you don't run fast because your out of shape or shorter than the other players, you'll rarely touch the ball, if ever. But there are games out there that teach about history, politics, finance, transportation and logistics. Granted, many are based on war/battle scenarios but consumerism dictates that. As was pointed out in the non-animated version of 101 Dalmations by a kid tester of video games, what is important for kids is the ability to annihilate. Maybe if parents exerted more control on the video game industry, this desire could shift and video games could become an integral part of education.

Ideal vs. Actual Cultural Patterns

Explain what is meant by ideal cultural patterns and actual cultural patterns. How could this be frustrating for cultural anthropologists studying cultural patterns? Give an example from your own culture.

Ideal cultural patterns (ICP) are those patterns a people wishes everyone practiced. In deed, the population may generalize that they as a whole behave in such a way. Or they may establish formal norms to spell out the desired ICPs as a means to mitigate the effects of the personal variation in behavior of its people. Actual cultural patterns (ACP) are the patterns which are observed by the population generally. ICPs are usually discussed or taught. ACPs are usually what we do. Example: Obeying the speed limit is an ICP. The corresponding ACP would be driving between 5 and 10 MPH over the posted. It has been my observation that we are taught desired ICPs but human nature inevitably seeks out the limit of society and then pulls back to a line where ACPs do not invoke formal sanctions. Anthropologists must be careful not only to avoid ethnocentrism but must be certain that they distinguish between the two types of patterns so that a clear picture of the groups culture is explained. In some cultures, there is a great divide between ICP and ACP where in others, it is an acceptable practice to point out when someone's ACP is inconsistent with the social ICP.

And some additional comments of mine:

We could say that the ICP of separate living until married could now days be considered maladaptive behavior. ***** explains that living together before marriage serves an adaptive purpose by "testing" the relationship. Another consideration is the savings of one residence, two incomes. Anthropologists will certainly be able to point out the shift of ideals. I extend the question: if a culture does change its ideals, can it ever be said that the change was maladaptive? My thinking that today, most changes in ACPs from ICPs is rarely self imposed. When we see a culture die off, blame is rarely, if ever, placed on the culture. It's almost always placed on another culture and is said that one culture overpowered the other. What is a possible scenario in which cohabitation could be deemed maladaptive and therfore have been a bad choice for our culture? I'd really like to see some discussion.

Let me throw this out: It goes back to *****'s comments but I think it works in this line as well. Cultural patterns evolve out of what is best for the society, so the book says. Here's my problem with that. If society makes up all its own rules without some thing (or God) that is above the social order establishing foundational rules upon which the society can build, eventually the society plummets into a hedonistic chaos. This is what I mean, staying with cohabitation as the example merely for discussion's sake. Why has cohabitation been taboo for so many centuries? Was humanity just totally ignorant or too immature to handle such a thing before? Did humanity, in the last 100 years or so just become so intelligent and responsible that cohabitation is really the way people should live? Maybe, just maybe, the social norm that was practiced in centuries past was on to something. Maybe, our great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents knew there are some lines we humans shouldn't cross. But today we're so much more evolved than they were, right? I mean, we know what's best for ourselves, don't we? Those old rules and traditions don't apply today because, well, we have cell phones and computers and the cost of living is so much higher and contraceptives are so much more effective and....

Many ACPs based on morality and the difference between right/wrong or good/bad seem to be overruled each generation earlier and earlier. It's human nature to seek out the limits of our choices, the precipice over whose edge we know comes pain. But without God, or some thing greater than humanity, telling us where the edge of that precipice is, we groap around in the dark constantly looking for moral boundaries, ignoring the warnings and councils of generations past. And like always, those who fall over the edge are looked at as exceptions to the norm. That won't happen to us, right? Those folks were careless and didn't take the right precautions. We don't take those kind of chances.

ICPs are so important. I'm and idealist and that causes some conflict in my life but I know that if we don't minimize the gaps between our ACPs and ICPs, we risk a lot more than humanity wants to admit.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Anthropological studies and social problems

Discussion requirements:
How can anthropological studies be used to help understand and deal with modern social problems? Give at least one example of how an anthropologist might help solve a social problem that exists today.


The study of humankind is such a huge undertaking. The amount of variables that exist with in just a single family are enormous when comparing it to the family next door. And today, the very concept of family is undergoing a reconstruction; or at least a redfining of what is family. What I find most intriguing is anthropology's search to understand the whys of the past to help us anticipate the destinations of the future.

For example: Polygamy - does it have a place today in our society? Anthropology can seek to understand the impact the polygamist family framework might have had at times in the past and extrapolate its benefits and consequences for today. Right now, I don't think anthropology can solve social problems but rather sheds light on potential outcomes of our choices today based on the choices of the past. Anthropolgical study of same sex marriage in ancient Greece may provide some insight into how the United States of America might mold its society to allow for this new familial framework to exist. However, it could also expose potential dangers to a society that embraces the practice and what the United States of America is getting itself into if same-sex marriage becomes a social norm. (Please keep in mind I'm not arguing the rights/wrongs of eith polygamy or same-sex marriage. They're just two examples I picked.)

But here's the real issue, in my opinion: as we study the past and relate it to the present, can we be unbiased and open to the potential future anthropological studies forecast? When voices from the dust whisper or shout to us, are we really listening? I'm thinking of the parent-child analogy where the findings of anthropology are the parent and we, the students of anthropology, are the child.