The Relevance of Anthropology Today Essay

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The Usefulness of Anthropology in a Globalized Society

In his seminal text, The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris examines the biological basis for modern human behaviors in urban settings, and makes the point that some of the more baffling ways that people act today can be traced to evolutionary responses to the exigencies of the prehistoric environment. Since its publication in 1967, this anthropological analysis has been followed by a growing body of scholarship concerning evolution and ecological principles and their implications for modern society (Dunaif-Harris, 1987). Today, the concept of gender is undergoing increased scrutiny and notions such as pansexuality have emerged in response. The fundamental debate concerning nature versus nurture, though, still remains unresolved with respect to extent to which the environment influences modern gender roles, most especially those included in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer (LGBTQ) communities. This paper provides a review of the relevant literature concerning these issues, together with support for the guiding hypothesis which is discussed further below. Finally, a summary of the research and key findings concerning the usefulness of anthropology in a globalized society are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Analysis

For the purpose of this study, the guiding hypothesis would be that the combination of biological as well as environment factors is the more influential factor as opposed to either in isolation in involved in shaping gender roles today. This hypothesis is a good fit for anthropological investigations since the discipline is concerned with “the study of social relations [by] linking up with the work of other social scientists [and] analyzed in a cross-disciplinary manner” (Belshaw, 1974, p. 520). For example, among other fields of interest, anthropologists have investigated questions concerning gender and sexuality using field research and ethnographic studies (Mazzarella, 2002). Likewise, anthropologists have also carefully examined the extent to which these findings can be used to develop a better understanding of the respective roles of biology and the environment on modern gender roles (Mazzarella, 2002).

The use of anthropological studies to investigate the impact of biological influences versus environment factors just makes good sense given the discipline’s focus on developing a better understanding concerning how human society affects modern gender roles. Certainly, the influence of environmental factors has long been of interest to anthropological investigators. For instance, Andrews and Sayers (2011) report that, “As children, we learn from watching other, usually older, children playing [and] watching our parents and comparing their behavior towards us with that of our friends' parents” (p. 4). In sum, these types of environmental influences have been consistently demonstrated as having a profound effect on the development of gender roles within a given society.
As Andrews and Sayers (20110 conclude, “]This] is how we acquire our perspectives, at least initially, on gender roles and parenting, both of which we know, from sociological and anthropological research” (p. 5).

An anthropological study by Jordona-Propper (2013) took into account individual personalities and their social environments in shaping their perspective concerning appropriate gender roles in an increasingly globalized and complex society as exemplified by life in Barcelona, Spain. The overarching finding that emerged from this study was that, “Voluntarily single motherhood is a new way of understanding between women and men, resulting from the progressive changes in their respective gender roles” (p. 43). Moreover, Jordona-Propper (2013) specifically cites the value of these types of empirical analyses in determining the extent, if any, to which biological and environmental factors shape modern views about gender roles. In this regard, Jordona-Propper adds that, “This anthropological research is grounded in a full vital process: from the personal decision of the women to become single mothers to the daily interaction with their children” (2013, p. 44).

Likewise, other anthropological studies have examined the relationship between gender roles and kinship structures in Southt Asia using ethnographic and empirical analyses (Vatuk, 2009). These studies have investigated “how child and adolescent socialization -- and associated life-cycle rituals, songs, and stories, the use of gender-specific linguistic forms, and a wide variety of family practices -- produces Hindu girls (whether in India, Sri Lanka, or Nepal) as gendered subjects” (Vatuk, 2009, p. 609). In other words, what is means to be a boy or girl can vary dramatically from culture to culture, and even within cultures.

Taken together, the foregoing studies underscore the cross-cultural nature of perceptions of gender roles around the world, and a number of anthropological researchers have also studied how gender roles vary depending on the cultural environment in which young people are raised today. For example, one of the more salient findings to emerge from a study of social life among the Vietnamese Hmong people by Symonds (2009) was that “it is a very strictly gender-stratified culture that acknowledges women's power” (p. 106). Among the Hmong….....

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Belshaw, C. S. (1974, December). The contribution of anthropology to development. Current Anthropology, 15(1), 520-526.

Dunaff-Hattis, J. (1987, September). The Illustrated Naked Ape: A zoologist’s study of the human animal. American Anthropologist, 89, 732-733.

Jordana-Propper, O. (2013, Summer). Anthropological approach to voluntarily single motherhood in Barcelona. Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology, 4(1), 41-44.

Mazzarella, W. (2002, Summer). On the relevance of anthropology. Anthropological Quarterly, 75(3), 599-603.

Symonds, P. V. (2009, April). Calling in the soul: Gender and the cycle of life in a Hmong village. Ethnics Studies Review, 106.

Vatuk, S. (2009, September). Anthropological explorations in gender: Intersecting fields. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 8(3), 608.611.

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