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Cultural Materialism

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Estelle Arcangel

on 12 November 2015

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Transcript of Cultural Materialism

Estelle Arcangel, Hannah Logerfo, Devon Till
Cultural Materialism

Cultural Materialism
This theory was first created by Marvin Harris, an anthropologist and professor at Columbia University, in 1968 when he published one of his books "The Rise of Anthropological Theory" and he further developed it in a later book titled "Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture" published in 1979. This theory deals largely with anthropology and the observation of culture and society.

Doing Laundry in Budapest
by Anya Silver
The dryer, uniform and squat
as a biscuit tin,
came to life and turned on me
its insect eye.
My t-shirts and underwear
crackled and leapt.
I was a tourist there; I didn't
speak the language.
My shoulders covered
themselves up in churches,
my tongue soothed its burn
with slice of pickle.
More I don't remember: only,
weekends now
when I stand in the kitchen
sorting sweat pants
and pairing socks, I remember
the afternoon
I did my laundry in Budapest
where the sidewalks
bloomed with embroidered
linen, where money
wasn't permitted to leave the
When I close my eyes, I recall
that spinning,
then a woman, with nothing
else to sell,
pressing wilted flowers in my
by Pawel Kuczynski
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The City of Walls and Secrets
Blog your interpretation of the painting, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrant, through the lens of Cultural Materialism
Now please split up into 3 groups with 6 people in each group. You are about to do a group activity.
"Seventeen percent of all energy zebus [cow] consume is returned in the form of milk, traction, and dung. American cattle raised on Western range land return only 4 percent of the energy they consume... The relative energy self- sufficiency that the Indian peasant has achieved is a goal American farmers and industry are now striving for."
-Marvin Harris, India's Sacred Cow
Cows in India
"Westerners think that Indians would rather starve than eat their cows... What they don't understand is that they will die if they do eat their cows."
Society is made up of three components: infrastructure, structure, and superstructure.

1. Infrastructure consists of the resources found within any given community; this deals with the population, amount of food, and other raw materials. However, a society is only as good as how well its means of production and reproduction are, or how well it can maintain the level of resources needed in order to function.

2. Structure is the second level, which focuses on the various systems and organizations found in a society (i.e Government, Economy).

3. Ideologies, behavioral patterns, and forms of expression make up superstructure.

One level cannot exist without the others. This results in the complete dependence on infrastructure. These three levels as a collective whole create a culture.

- Marvin Harris, Interview with Psychology Today
"The Hindu ban on killing cows? Absolutely necessary as a strategy for human existence... they are much more valuable for plowing fields and providing milk than they are for a one time steak dinner."
- Marvin Harris, Interview with Psychology Today
Contextual Relevance
The 1960's to 1970's
"As with other forms of materialism, cultural materialism emerged in the late 1960s as a reaction to cultural relativism and idealism."
- Catherine Buzney and Jon Marcoux

The 1960's to 1970's was an eventful time in United States and world history. This time period is best known for the numerous civil rights movements and protests. Many African American citizens were angry about the unfair treatment they were subjected to on a daily basis due to segregation and racism. There was also a strong feminist movement that aimed to bring about equality in the household and workplace for women. It was around this time that the United States entered into a war with Vietnam. As the war waged on, many people grew to oppose the war effort and viewed US involvement with Vietnam as a mistake. The tensions between the United States and the rest of the world were taut due to the on going Cold War with the USSR.
Tenets continued
In order to interpret a society properly, two points of view must be acknowledged. Etic is the viewpoint of a society through the eyes of an outsider. Emic relates to a native's perspective of their own culture. Both perspectives are needed to create a well reasoned and insightful analysis of a culture.
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