Z. Wurtz – Week seven – Final Reflections

After looking back at what we learned and read, one thing I noticed was how structures of differences was linked to multiple readings and films. In Lecture 2.1, we learn that people create boundaries between one another by constructing themselves on what they are “not”, and that societies are equally developed, yet they each develop strategies that work for them within their environment. These two ideas can be seen throughout each of the weeks.

In the film “To the Light: Chinese Miners” from week 5 they show how many of the poor and uneducated had to work in the harsh coal mines, in order to support their family and hopefully give their children a good education so they don’t have to experience coal mines. This relates to how societies develop strategies based on their own environment.

In week 6 during the film “Life and Debt” those from Jamaica envy people from the U.S. who come to Jamaica on vacation. This is because Americans are paying to come to a place where Jamaicans in poor areas desperately want to leave, but can’t because they don’t have enough money and have their entire life there. This leads to the thought of “us” and “them” since there is such a large difference between the two groups.

The reading “The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language” by Benjamin Whorf in week 3, Whorf describes multiple occasions where a fire related accident was caused by a difference of interpretation of words. In one scenario, a barrel was labeled “empty” causing someone to believe there is absolutely nothing in it. Yet in this case, “empty” is referring to that the original content (gasoline) was no longer present, yet flammable vapors remained. This type of misinterpretation can be caused by a difference in culture and background of what someone considers, and perceives “empty”.

2 thoughts on “Z. Wurtz – Week seven – Final Reflections

  1. Z. Wurtz,

    Your post was well-written and provided some great examples that I agree are prevalent to the systems of differences societies have erected in one form or another. To paraphrase part of your post, your mentioning of how societies develop strategies that work for them in their environment I believe really captures the idea of systems of differences in a nutshell. Drawing upon the idea of the “us” and “them”, we learn that the viewpoints of certain aspects of culture and society come as a story with two sides. Each example you provided, from the Chinese miners to Jamaican people, helps to illuminate the systems of difference created by the same situation – just dependent on whose eyes you see it from. Not only does this strongly identify the differences between the “us” and “them” in society, but also shows that among these difference, integration between cultures still exists on a global scale. Societies have learned to cope with the systems of differences we have all collectively worked to establish and it is important to harbor these examples as we delve into a greater understanding of why such systems exist.

  2. Great examples for talking about the systems of difference that we’ve encountered in the course. I’d like to add one from the week 2, from Levi-Strauss’ chapter “Recognizing Cultural Diversity”. “Because peoples who do not have the same physical appearance also have different ways of life, customs,and beliefs, it was concluded that physical differences and cultural differences were linked” (Levi-Strauss 89). This really helped me understand what exactly systems of differences meant. Then in the same week, the video “Race: The Power of Illusion”, you can see that even today these systems are still thought to be true. The students in the video figured that those of them that have different skin color must be genetically different from their fellow students, even though genetically there is very little difference. I also agree with your choice to include the example from “Life and Debt” how the Jamaicans view Jamaica as a place they want to escape, and Americans view it as paradise really enforces the idea of systems of difference.

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