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Identity and Difference

by: Mariam Nagi

Identity and Difference ANT102

Marketplace > University of Toronto > Anthropology > ANT102 > Identity and Difference
Mariam Nagi
University of Toronto

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Lecture notes.
Sociocultural/Linguistic Anthropology
Todd Sanders
Class Notes
25 ?




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This 3 page Class Notes was uploaded by Mariam Nagi on Sunday September 25, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ANT102 at University of Toronto taught by Todd Sanders in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 2 views. For similar materials see Sociocultural/Linguistic Anthropology in Anthropology at University of Toronto.

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Date Created: 09/25/16
Identity and Difference Who are we? What makes us different/similar to others? Understanding Essentialism. There’s something essential within us that makes us who we are. It can’t be changed. It determines what I share/don’t share with others. It’s an unchanging essence. A popular belief in Western discourse is that everything about human nature can be understood if we break it down to its biological structures; this is called biological essentialism.  Through genetics, we can search what makes us who we are.  The key to who we are resides within us. We are born who we are. The reality of the matter and what anthropologists study is that the truth behind human nature and the aforementioned questions is that they are cultural truths that require exploration and explanation. The similarities and differences we share with others are NOT fixed—they are products of society and culture. In short, human beings can’t be explained by resorting to essentialism, as well as these subunits (they are all products of society and culture):  Gender  Age  Personhood  Time  Kinship  Race  Ethnicity Although we do share things with others, we aren’t identical to them. Nature VS Nurture.  Nature: We are who we are because it’s our innate constitution and can’t be changed. It’s inborne.  Nurture: We are who we are because society and culture shaped us to be that way. We learned to be who we are. This debate can also be worded as Essentialists VS Anthropologists. Anthropologists argue in favor of society and culture being the factors that make us who we are. We are different from each other because we learn. In Western discourse, this is explained in terms of biological/genetic means (everything is natural). How do we know these things (Western discourse)?  Tabloids  Chat shows  Headlines  Pop culture  Ancestry industry Why does it matter?  Plays an important role in what shapes our world.  It’s interesting. Methods:  Cross-cultural comparison. Looking at various cultures and imagining looking at what people consider is different/similar. People everywhere have theories on what makes us who we are and resort to human nature to explain these similarities/differences. There is no agreement across the globe as to who we are, how we identify/relate to each other or what human nature is. For example, in the West, boys are considered aggressive because ‘that’s just how they are’. In certain African tribes, however, aggression on boys is not the norm and they are in fact composed and calm compared to those in the West. People use the idea of human nature to explain sociocultural orders (the world around us). The thing we call ‘nature’ isn’t really nature. Many human natures exist across the globe and there isn’t one definition for it. In fact, there may be no definition at all. Perhaps there is no such thing as human nature. What’s the point?  It’s an intellectual exercise. What makes us who we are?  To expose some common anthropological arguments; one way to teach how to think like an anthropologist.  To question our own assumptions and world views. To call into question the Western discourse.  Opens up space for political action. If it’s true that things are different around the world, then they are different here, too. We can’t generalize human beings and how they are because things are different elsewhere. The world everywhere isn’t the same. Humans can change.  We learn to see the world slightly differently than how we’re used to seeing it.


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