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Lecture 3: Structure and function

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1 Lecture 3: Structure and function

2 Radcliffe-Brown: anthropology is a natural science
Similar in essence to the physical and biological sciences. Social phenomena constitute a distinct class of natural phenomena Methodology - empirical observation of social relations Social structure can only be observed in its functioning. The general form is abstracted from the variations of particular instances. A-historical

3 Society as organism Durkheim - social ‘function’ and the needs of society. (normal and pathological societies) The function of any part is the contribution it makes to the life of the organism. Individual human beings are connected by a definite set of social relations into an integrated whole. The system of relations by which these units are related is the structure.

4 Equilibrium The function of any recurrent activity is contribution it makes to the maintenance of the structural continuity. Functional unity - all parts of the social system work together harmoniously without producing persistent conflicts which can neither be resolved nor regulated. If there is functional disunity, a new social health, a new social structure will be found.

5 Social personality and physiology
Social personality is the position occupied by a human being in a social structure. Morals, law, etiquette, religion are all part of social structure The economy, political structures, the law are ‘embedded’. They cannot be studied in abstraction.

6 Witchcraft in Nupe and Gwari
Identical environment and frequent contact. Patrilineal succession, patrilocal residence. Similar political system. Both groups believe in witchcraft - . evil, destroying life, power of witches to ‘eat’ the life-soul of victims.

7 Nupe Witches are always women.
Men posses a power similar to witchcraft. This power is essentially good. control and combat witches. Usually the alleged witch is an older, domineering women who attacks younger men.

8 Gwari Witches and victims are indiscriminately male and female.
Witchcraft discovered by ordinary divination, practiced by both men and women. Anti- witchcraft measures consist in an annual ‘cleansing’ ritual which embraces whole community.

9 Divergences in marriage practice
Role reversal: Nupe wives, are often successful itinerant traders and much richer than their peasant husbands. Husbands in debt to wives. Men resent this Many married women become itinerant traders. In Nupe morality this should be reserved for childless women.

10 Korongo and Mesakin The Korongo have no witchcraft beliefs at all
The Mesakin are literally obsessed by fears of witchcraft and accusations entail violent quarrels, assaults, and blood revenge. Believed to operate only between maternal kin, especially between a mother’s brother and sister’s son, the older relative assailing the younger.

11 Anticipated inheritence
In both tribes a man will inherit his mother’s brother’s herd of cattle Some animals must be transferred to sister’s son after first sporting contest after puberty Both groups have age classes

12 Korongo 6 age classes – gradual process of growing old. Social age and physical age more or less correspond The gift of cattle to the sister’s son can be postponed (until the donor is in fact old).

13 Mesakin 3 age sets: boys before puberty, youths before parenthood, adult men Wrestling, spear-fighting and life in the cattle camps cease at the end of the 2nd grade, at age of about 22. Social old age early in life Gift to sister’s son cannot be delayed, but is always refused and has to be forced by community pressure

14 Structuralist functionalist analysis
Witchcraft beliefs are related to specific anxieties and stresses arising in social life. In both cases the imputation of witchcraft serves to uphold the desired state of society by identifying the witch with the transgressor of social norms. Accusations of witchcraft deflect tensions from the maladjusted institutions which cause them so that these institutions can continue to operate.

15 Evans-Prichard – Nuer social organisation
The Nuer constitute an acephalous state, one which lacks legislative, judicial and executive organs. However, it is , far from chaotic. A level of order is provided by the segmentary tribal structure and the lineage system.

16 Tribal structure tribe primary tribal section secondary tribal section
tertiary tribal section hamlet homestead hut

17 Tribal segments B A X1 X2 z1 z2 Y1 Y2

18 Lineage structure A B C E F G D

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