I found the systems of difference theme to be most interesting throughout this course, particularly because of its strong connection and elaboration in the various readings and videos. In the systems of difference lesson, this socially constructed concept of the “other” serves as the foundation for all of the following topics. As individuals define and separate themselves by what they are “not,” their differences become the center of attention. Based on individual beliefs and the emphasis on distinct characteristics and “identities,” these categories become constructed and reinforced throughout our society.
By understanding the origin of these categories and acknowledging that these “others” are socially constructed, anthropologists can accurately argue that there is no connection between culture and race, or culture and gender etc. We have learned that various aspects of society such as race, gender, kinship and economic organizations are defined by culture rather than biology, and this has been emphasized in each week’s materials.
In week 2, “Race: The Power of an Illusion Part 1” states that genetically, we are the most similar among all species in the world. By hearing the teenagers share their predictions about who they will be most similar to/different before the DNA test, it demonstrates how strongly this “biology determines race” concept is rooted in society. As Alan Goodman states in the video, “To understand why the idea of race is a biological myth, requires a major paradigm shift.” As we learned earlier, a major aspect of anthropology is working to disprove this idea that biological differences create separate races. In going back to this, I think Mr. Goodman’s one statement solidifies and validates the overarching concept and mission of anthropologists, and this class.
Moving on to week 4, this concept of viewing and categorizing the world from a cultural standpoint continues with the discussion of kinship, descent groups and gender. According to our lecture, gender is a culturally determined set of behaviors that categorizes society based on how our actions align with either a masculine or feminine state of being. In “Performing Gender Identity” by Deborah Cameron, she links back to this overarching concept of the “other” by using gender to explain the classifying of gay individuals. Because gender is a categorical system, any man who fails to “sufficiently” align himself with these masculine characteristics is quickly categorized as gay. Just like the concept of race, these categories that exist in society are created from a biological standpoint (For example, because he is a boy, he should like girls); however, when looked at from a different perspective, it can be seen that gender identification is culturally determined and independent from our biological makeup.
In week 5, we see that cultural influence even determines a society’s economic organization. While it’s generally believed that environment, circumstances and resources impact the market structure, it’s the way that populations develop unique cultural beliefs and behaviors based on their reaction to (and adoption of) these environmental factors, resources etc. By acknowledging that two populations can have opposite lifestyles in same region, we understand how culture serves as the foundation of yet another aspect in modern society.