PEOPLES AND CULTURES OF THE WORLD
The Great Courses
Edward F. Fischer, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University
Why is anthropology such an inherently fascinating subject? Because it's all about us: human beings. As the "science of humanity," anthropology can help us understand virtually anything about ourselves—from our political and economic systems, to why we get married, to how we decide to buy a particular bottle of wine.
Here are just a few of the intriguing questions anthropologists study:
- What does it mean if someone raises his eyebrows when he meets you?
- Is there such a thing as progress? Are modern technological nations really happier and better off than "primitive" hunter-gatherer societies?
- What is the cultural significance of gift giving? What are the subtle social and psychological rules we follow when we give a gift, and what obligates us when we receive one?
- How common is cannibalism today? What are the types of cannibalism and the beliefs associated with them?
- In American garbage dumps, what item of trash serves as a clear stratographic layer, distinguishing one-year's trash from the next?
- What's the difference between a matriarchal and a matrilineal society? Which is more common among world cultures?
- Why are Starbucks coffee shops, reality TV shows, and tourist destinations such as Las Vegas and Disneyland so popular with American consumers?
In Peoples and Cultures of the World, Professor Edward F. Fischer reveals the extraordinary power of anthropology—and his subspecialty, cultural anthropology—as a tool to understand the world's varied human societies, including our own. As a science that incorporates many disciplines, including psychology, biology and genetics, politics, economics, and religion, anthropology probes human behavior from nearly every possible perspective.
The three 30-minute lectures we will watch at this session will be:
Lecture 7: Language and Thought: The linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf argues that linguistic structures determine the way we look at the world. Similarly, scholars have shown how American men and women speak with subtle differences (resulting in much miscommunication) and how common metaphors ("time is money") shape the way we think.
Lecture 8: Constructing Emotions and Identities: In our daily lives we build mental models of the world around us (for example, "high price equals high quality"). These transcend language to affect us physically. This is best seen in culturally specific mental illnesses around the world from "Arctic hysteria" to the Latin American "evil eye."
Lecture 9: Magic, Religion and Codes of Conduct: Anthropologists often distinguish between magic and religion, but in practice the distinction often breaks down. The Fulbe of Northern Cameroon, a nominally Muslim culture, have a rich tradition of magic beliefs. We also see how women are treated in this patriarchal system, and the unexpected ways they assert power.
This "Great Courses" series consists of 24 30-minute lectures, and we will be watching three lectures each week.
Here is a link to the Great Courses website with a complete description of all the upcoming lectures: