Cultural materialism

Named after Marvin Harris in his 1968 book, The Development of Anthropological Theory , Cultural Materialism encompasses three anthropological schools of thought, Cultural Materialism, Cultural Evolution, and Cultural Ecology (1997: 232). Inspired by Marxist materialism, cultural materialism explains cultural similarities and differences and cultural change within a social framework consisting of three distinct levels:

Infrastructure, structure and superstructure .

The infrastructure, consisting of “material things” such as technological, economic and reproductive (demographic), shape and influence the other two aspects of culture.

The culture sector called structure consists of the organizational aspects of culture such as domestic and kinship systems and political economy.

The sector called ” superstructure ” consists of ideological and symbolic aspects of society such as religion.

Therefore, cultural materialists believe that technological and economic aspects play the primary role in shaping a society.

Cultural materialism aims to understand the effects of technological, economic, and demographic factors in shaping the social structure and superstructure through strictly scientific methods.

As Harris claims, cultural materialism strives to “create a pan-human science of society whose findings can be accepted on logical grounds and evidentiarying by the pan-human community” (Harris 1979: XII).

Cultural materialism is an expansion of Marxist materialism. Marx suggested that there are three levels of culture, infrastructure, structure, and superstructure; However, unlike Marxist theory, cultural materialism views productive (economic) and reproductive (demographic) forces as the primary factors that make up society. Therefore, cultural materialism explains the structural characteristics of a society in terms of production within infrastructure only (Harris 1996: 277). As such, demographic, environmental, and technological changes are invoked to explain cultural variation (Field 1997: 232).

Cultural materialism is opposed to the idea that all cultural changes are due only to people’s thinking

Unlike cultural materialists, Marxists argue that production is a material condition located at the base (see page on American materials) that acts on infrastructure (Harris 1996: 277-178). Furthermore, although Marxist theory suggests that production is a material condition located at the base of society that engages in a reciprocal relationship with the social structure, both acting and being acted upon by the infrastructure sector, cultural materialism proposes that production is within infrastructure and that the infrastructure-structure relationship is one-way (Harris 1996: 277-278). Thus, cultural materialists see the infrastructure-structure relationship as mostly in one direction, while Marxists see the relationship as reciprocal.lack of class theory . Although Marxism suggests that cultural change only benefits the ruling class, cultural materialism addresses unequal power relations that recognize innovation or change that benefits the upper and lower classes (Harris 1996: 278). Despite the fact that both cultural materialism and Marxism are evolutionary in claiming that cultural change results from innovations selected by society due to beneficial increases in productive capacities, cultural materialism does not envision a final utopian like that. he was visualized by Marxism (Engels, quoted by Harris 1979: 141-142; Harris 1996: 280).

Cultural materialists believe that all societies operate according to the model in which production and reproduction dominate and determine the other sectors of culture (see the key concepts “infrastructure priority”), effectively serving as the driving forces behind All Development. They propose that all aspects of society not related to infrastructure be created with the purpose of benefiting social productive and reproductive capacities. Therefore, systems such as government, religion, law, and kinship are considered constructs that exist only for the sole purpose of promoting production and reproduction. The call for empirical research and strict scientific methods for making exact comparisons between separate cultures, proponents of cultural materialism believe that their perspective effectively explains intercultural variation and similarities (Harris 1979: 27). As such, demographic, environmental, and technological changes are invoked to explain cultural variation (Field 1997: 232).

Reaction points:

As with other forms of materialism, cultural materialism emerged in the late 1960s as a reaction to cultural relativism and idealism. At that time, anthropological thinking was dominated by theorists who located cultural changes  in human systems of thought rather than in material conditions (ie Durkheim and Levi-Strauss).

Harris criticized the idealistic and relativistic perspectives that claimed that comparisons between cultures are not productive and irrelevant because each culture is a product of its own dynamics.

Marvin Harris argued that these approaches remove culture from its material base and place it only within the minds of the people. With his strictly emic approach, Harris declared that idealists and relativists are not holistic, violating a main tenet of anthropological research (Harris 1979; 1996: 277). By focusing on observable and measurable phenomena, cultural materialism presents an ETIC perspective (viewed from outside the target culture) of society.

Main figures:

Marvin Harris (1927-2001)He was educated at Columbia University where he received his doctorate in 1953. In 1968, Harris wrote the rise of anthropological theory in which he lays out the foundations of cultural materialism (cm) and critically considers other important anthropological theories; This work attracted significant criticism from proponents of other points of view. (field 1997: 232). Harris studied cultural evolution using a cm research strategy. His work with the myth of the sacred cow in India (1966) is seen by many as his most successful analysis of cm (Ross 1980). In this paper, Harris considers the taboo against cow consumption in India, demonstrating how economic and technological factors within infrastructure affect the other two sectors of culture, resulting in a superstructural ideology. In this paper, Harris shows the benefits of juxtaposing both ETIC and emic perspectives in demonstrating how various phenomena that seem non-adaptive are, in fact, adaptable. Harris also made a concerted effort to write for a more general audience. His 1977 Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Culture are laid out in cm terms the evolutionary trajectories leading to all the characteristics of human society (i.e. population growth, technological change, ecological change) (Harris 1977). This work also represents the point in CH many believe that Harris began to place too much emphasis on material conditions in the explanation of human society (Brfield 1997: 232).

 

Despite his critics, Harris left a significant legacy having successfully created an anthropological theory and spread it to students and the public. His work is widely cited by proponents and critics of cultural materialism, and as of 1997, the anthropological culture of Harris’s textbooks, People, Nature was in its seventh edition, attesting to the quality of his work. (field 1997: 232).

 

Julian Steward (1902 – 1972)He developed the principal of cultural ecology, which maintains that the environment is an additional factor that contributes to the conformation of cultures. He defined multilinear evolution as a methodology related to regularity in social change, whose objective is to develop cultural laws empirically. He determined his approach to multilinear evolution, and defined it as “a methodology relating to regularity in social change, the objective of which is to develop cultural laws empirically” (Bohannan and esmalter 1988: 321). In essence, Steward proposed that, methodologically, one should seek “parallel developments in limited aspects of the cultures of specifically identified societies” (Hoebel 1958: 90). Once the parallels in development are identified, one must then seek similar causal explanations. Steward also developed the idea of ​​types of culture that have “intercultural validity and show the following characteristics: (1) they are made up of selected cultural elements rather than cultures as whole; (2) these cultural elements must be selected in relation to a problem and a frame of reference; and (3) the selected cultural elements must have the same functional relationships in all cultures that fit the type “(Bohannan and Glaseador 1988: 321). (2) these cultural elements must be selected in relation to a problem and a frame of reference; and (3) the selected cultural elements must have the same functional relationships in all cultures that fit the type “(Bohannan and Glaseador 1988: 321). (2) these cultural elements must be selected in relation to a problem and a frame of reference; and (3) the selected cultural elements must have the same functional relationships in all cultures that fit the type “(Bohannan and Glaseador 1988: 321).

 

Leslie White (1900 – 1975)I was concerned with ecological anthropology and energy capture as a measure to define the complexity of a culture. It was strongly influenced by Marxist economic theory, as well as by Darwinian evolutionary theory. He proposed that culture = energy * technology, suggesting that “culture evolves as the amount of energy harvested by harvesting per year increases, or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of putting energy to work increases” (Bohannan and esmalter 1988: 340). Energy capture is accomplished through the technological aspect of culture so that a modification in technology can, in turn, lead to a greater amount of energy capture or a more efficient method of energy capture, thereby changing culture. . In other words,

 

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