D.Chapin – Week 2 – Systems of a Difference

Difference between people has been a construction of time and space, as Levi-Strauss points out in his article. In the lecture 2.1 it states “people in the world construct themselves partly through what they are not”. In this way, differences are easily seen because they contrast against our own cultures. Levi-Strauss suggests differences have been constructed through its geographical boundaries, as well as relations to neighboring people, and in short, the way genetic stock exchange is permitted or prohibited within cultures (and in essence the continuation of a culture through its people). Race is a cultural construction of difference. Physical differences are the easiest to compare and contrast between humans. Lecture 2.2 states, “cultural understandings create racial categories that use biological difference to mask their constructed nature”. Race is the number one constructed difference among humans to date, as it is a “way of classifying people rather than representing biologically defined groups”. Culture would then be the second, as Levi-Strauss points out, we as a Western society are quick to judge cultures that evolution does not match ours. Cultures are created within time and space; their differences lie within the fact evolution is more of a card game then a flight of stairs. In Smith’s article, she speaks of the historically constructed difference of Black people within the U.S. and Brazil. We know we have used “science” and others means to dehumanize blacks based solely on appearance. Take for instance the many research papers PBS shows us in “Race: The Power of Illusion” that almost every body part of black people was scrutinized and measured for difference, when in reality there is none. Blackness has been a constructed cultural difference. Difference also comes from influence. Cultures, especially within proximity, can be known to influence one another, unless geography disallows it. Relationships also have an enormous impact as well, we saw in Starn’s article. Specifically the way Native Californians were impacted by white people, and their influence on their culture; in a way we can blame western progress on this. Human evolution is a great facilitator of change, and in return, difference, of people. The faster one culture progresses, the larger the gap in evolution becomes. With this then we have also seen then, the way one progressive culture can influence another, again in time or space, as Levi-Strauss says, “We believe that ideas and tastes move forward, when in fact they often merely go in circles”. Which brings me to my questions, both taken from the Levi-Strauss readings. First is, how can we have an unbiased look at culture when we ourselves are submerged in our own day in and day out? On page 112 he also states, “…two cultures have no interest in each other, simply because they do not resemble each other,” so if interest is the determination of respect of differences between cultures and humans, how do we as anthropologists expedite healthy and respectful curiosity and unbiased difference between people and cultures?

2 thoughts on “D.Chapin – Week 2 – Systems of a Difference

  1. Overall, I agree with the author’s view point on the topic of this post. They argues that known systems of differences are race and culture. Their use of the articles that was provided to us made a valid argument for the case as well.
    One point I would like to bring up was that at the part where they mentioned that race was the number one constructed difference among humans, and how physical appearance helps this. One thing that I find supports this is the activity that was located on the PBS website where you try to identify a person’s race by looking at their face. It shows how even though we may not try to be racist and cause differences, we are still doing it unconsciously.
    As stated above, I feel that this post makes a good argument and uses valid points to support it. The two questions at the end that were both based off of Levi-Strauss readings were thought provoking and, In my personal opinion, inspiring for change. It is my hope that we, not just the author, can find the answer to these questions.

  2. D. Chapin,

    I agree with your point of view on the construction of systems of difference but I believe that your focus on visible differences does not speak as strongly among how our cultures have shaped our psychological differences. You quoted the statement from Article 2.2 that discussed how cultural understandings create racial categories but I believe that better stated this sentence should discuss cultural misunderstandings. Instead of people taking the time to learn the cultures of others and formulate a psychological understanding, people choose to establish difference through surface differences. By doing so, we can make generalizations about other cultures and erect a fairly transparent barrier when in reality, the surface differences are often easily overcome by deep, intellectual similarities. However, the questions you posed at the end of your blog really drive into the ideas that I have just stated and attempt to find an answer how to pull the bias from the systems of difference and approach a healthy and respectful alternative.

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