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What made the Nuer the prototype structural-functional monograph that it is usually considered to have been?

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Anthropology Seminar talk: introduction to the following topic: What made the Nuer the prototype structural-functional monograph that it is usually considered to have been? Background: What is structural-functionalism and how did it start? Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown are viewed as the founders of Functionalism. Together they changed the shift in British anthropology, rejecting the evolutionary view and moved away from the speculative historical to the ahistorical study of social institutions. The focus was on analysing societies here and now. However, Malinowski's & Radcliffe-Brown's approaches were dramatically different from each other: Malinowski's functionalism concentrated on the individual needs and de-emphasized the social system as having a reason of existence beyond that of the individual. Malinowski's simplistic theory stated that the function of social structure is to satisfy biological, psychological and other human needs and cultural institutions are direct expressions of these human needs. For example, hunting and gathering is performed in some cultures to fulfil the biological need of eating, or according to Malinowski, Kula exchange fulfilled the social needs of the islanders. ...read more.


In 1950s and 1960s anthropologists focused on looking at social structure, which is how people organise into groups. Anthropologists believed that by looking at kinship and marriage systems, they could reveal what was most significant and most relevant about the society studied. They looked at how different kin groups interacted in order to find systematic patterns of rules of behaviour. The aim was to form categories, for example a category of mother instead of looking at a mother called Sandra. Research methods: What do structural-functionalists ask? - Are they patrilineal, matrilineal, inheritage etc.? - What is the social layout of people? - One may write down every incidence of a particular phenomenon and trace back their relationship to each other: is this pattern related to social structure? Looking at kinship and lineage systems became a model for how one can approach and understand tribal societies. Evans-Pritchard (1902-1973) After 1950s, R-Bs influence was dramatically reduced and he lost his professorship to his previous student E-P at Oxford University. ...read more.


Lineage is referred to with the word buth, which means patrilineal descent. The Nuer word mar refers to relatives, and EP translates this to mean blood relations. EP was not satisfied with just describing what the Nuer themselves said about lineages, but he felt the need to add things, of which the Nuer were not conscious of. In this way, EP thinks that anthropologist must do more than just cultural dictionaries. The ultimate aim of research is to make a foreign culture sociologically understandable. Sociological knowledge touches areas that the people studied are not normally aware of or able to explain to outsiders - that is the society's underlying principal structure. When EP discovered the system of segmentary lineages, he was able to explain how this stateless society was able to come together by thousands of people to accomplish collective purposes, especially warfare. When the principle of segmentation was found in many African societies, an organised system emerged from something that first seemed like a social chaos. Many anthropologists have considered segmentation as a form of political organisation, which serves the same functions among 'tribal people' as government, church, court system, and army in our society. ...read more.

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