Franz Boas was extremely influential in the work of his students, including Ruth Benedict. In Benedict’s work, there is evidence of an adherence to Boas’ historical relativism, cultural relativism and empirical fieldwork, all of which remain important theories in modern American anthropology and it will be discussed in this paper…
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This anthropological method is still considered to be highly effective today, as it reduces bias in analysis (Young, 2005). The idea of cultural relativism is also much championed in the work of Boas. Like Benedict after him, Boas held the belief that each cultural system only has meaning when studied as a whole, apart from other cultural systems. The moral compass of that particular culture should not be judged against our own moral compass, because they have to be seen relatively (Herskovits, 1973). Additionally, both Boas and Benedict understood that culture and cultural systems change over time, which means that there is an element of historical relativism found in both their works (Herskovits, 1973). This means that an anthropologist should look at a culture as an entity in both time and space to fully understand the rituals and symbols found within it (Herskovits, 1973). It is interesting to see how Benedict took these original ideas about cultural anthropology from Boas and developed them with her own fieldwork and evidence. For example, some of Benedict’s early fieldwork was a continuation of Boas’, working with the Kwakiutl Native American group. Benedict began gathering evidence that, whilst the customs of the Kwakiutl may seem strange, they are intelligible when considered as a part of the whole. This thought was followed on with her own fieldwork on the Pueblo group, found in New Mexico. Again, many of the customs and symbols found in Pueblo culture may seem alien to those reading “Patterns of Culture”, but Benedict (like Boas before her) encouraged the reader to think outside of their own culture to aid...
This paper approves that the cultural relativism which was so promoted by Boas and developed by Benedict has come to be a cornerstone of most academic anthropology. Many academic textbooks promote the idea that a degree of neutrality is needed for true anthropological research. It is easy to assume that all cultures share the same moral and ethical values as our own, but many do not. Many make the mistake of assuming that other cultures are somehow ‘wrong’ for not adhering to ‘our’ values, which ruins empirical fieldwork. In this sense, Boas and Benedict had a huge impact on American anthropology and how it has developed into the scientific field that it is today.
Thisreport makes a conclusion that Benedict built on these strong foundations to develop her idea of cultural identity and national personalities, including some of Boas’ fieldwork in her own research. Overall, the work of Boas and Benedict have been highly influential in the field, having been incorporated into the work of important anthropologists such as Margaret Mead. Particularly important are the emphasis that Boas put onto cultural relativism, suggesting that anthropologists need to be careful when examining other cultures to take the culture as a whole without judgement using personal morals and ethics. Additionally, Boas was highly critical of racism within the field, something which is generally championed by anthropologists working in the field today.
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