Beliefs & Behaviors: Benedict, Lévi-Strauss & Leach

What makes people do what they do and believe what they believe? In the following essay I will trace the differing explanations of why people do what they do of three influential anthropologists. The ideas of the relationship between beliefs and behaviors varies significantly among Ruth Benedict, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Edmund Leach. All three of them believed that meanings and values were contextual and historically produced. However, they differed in what they believed was the relationship between a person’s thoughts/beliefs and behaviors/actions. Continue reading

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Political Authority According to Ed and Fred

Both Edmund Leach (“Ed”) and Fredrick Barth (“Fred”) disputed the British Structuralists conception of society as a socially cohesive, culturally homogenous and territorially bound entity that used coercion (military force) to maintain itself. In their fieldwork, both anthropologists found proof of inherently unstable and diverse societies that used other means than coercion to maintain the political authority of its leaders. The following essay will compare and contrast each of their explanations of the forces that underwrote power and authority in Kachin and Pathan tribal societies respectively. Leach, who did his fieldwork during World War II in the Kachin society of Highland Burma was an mentor to Barth at Cambridge University. Barth did his field work with the tribal Pathans of the Swat Valley in highland Pakistan in the late 1940s. Continue reading