Cultural Anthropology and its Misconceptions

Value of Cultural Anthropology for increasing understanding among people

Cultural anthropology being one of the branches of anthropology has played a crucial role in enhancing human understanding. Cultural anthropology is a study focused on cultural variations among people of the world. It involves the collection of data concerning the economic and political processes prevalent in local communities across the world. Such mechanisms as participation, observation and surveys may be used to collect information from such communities. Through these fieldwork mechanisms, anthropologists are able to spend time at the research fields and understand the cultures of the participants, hence appreciating such cultures no matter how different they are from their own cultures.

Cultural anthropology also leads to the appreciation of the tension between local and international cultures. This enables the anthropologist to understand some of the issues that human beings are engaged in from a global perspective such as war and globalization. Through cultural anthropology, a country may understand the cultures of other countries and may be able to use counterinsurgency in wars more appropriately.  Businesses may also understand their global markets so as to enhance their competitiveness and boost their marketing strategies in foreign countries (Giddens, 2003).

Finally, cultural anthropology leads to cultural empathy where individuals from one culture appreciates other cultures and accepts the cultural practices of other communities. As a result, the two communities are able to associate freely and interact. This increases the understanding among individuals from different cultures.

Problems and pitfalls faced by Anthropologists in practicing their discipline

There are some problems which anthropologists face in practicing their discipline. First, they often face a lot of criticisms in their view on cultural understanding. For instance, McFate was highly criticized for suggesting that the US army should have used cultural anthropology to deal with insurgency instead of using force and killings. Stannard (2007) suggests that social scientists such as Hugh Gusterson criticize McFate. Hugh Gusterson is quoted saying that McFate encourages people to practice unethical activities.

The second pitfall of cultural anthropology is hostility among communities. Since cultural anthropology is a fieldwork which requires participation on the cultural settings being studied, it becomes difficult to learn other cultures if the people whose culture is being studied become hostile (Hickey, 2002). Cultural anthropology requires the anthropologist to interact with the people from the cultural setting under study. Sometimes the interactions become difficult and are hampered by resistance or attack from the local communities.

How the abuses of detainees at Abu Gharib were based on erroneous cultural information

US military have been using force to deal with detainees in Abu Gharib. Abu Gharib is famous for the US killings of Iraq’s insurgents. Motgomery McFate opposes this move, claiming that instead of the US army attacking the detainees with force, they would have used cultural anthropology to understand them, and that anthropology is more effective than weapons (Stannard, 2007).  McFate contends that if the US army could have understood how to satisfy the interests of the detainees of Abu Gharib in counterinsurgency, they could have got them to support their side and killing them could not be necessary.

These abuses of detainees in Abu Gharib are seemingly based on erroneous cultural information. Mcfate (2005) contends that counteracting insurgents in should have better been approached by understanding the social cultural standings of the adversary. One of the ways in which the counterinsurgency was based in erroneous cultural information is through the fights of the soldiers with tactical and situational awareness but without cultural awareness (McFate, 2005). The US soldiers understood the technologies used by the insurgents, but they didn’t understand their culture. The success of the insurgents was not based on military ability but tribal organizational structure.

Furthermore, McFate suggests that the Iraq insurgents had no conventional tactics but unconventional ones. The weapons of the Iraq insurgents were also not similar to the tanks and fighter planes of the US but were rather improvised explosives. They also do not abide by the Geneva conventions as the US army does. All these cultural incongruence form the basis of erroneous cultural information which McFate (2005) terms as the cause of US soldiers’ failure to succeed in their counterinsurgency in Abu Gharib.  Therefore, cultural anthropology is necessary for the understanding of the insurgents’ culture.

Freidman’s misunderstandings about globalization – are they based on similar errors?

The errors about cultural information also play a part in Friedman’s misunderstandings bout globalization.  Friedman’s first misunderstanding about globalization is that foreign sales of multinational corporations amount to 50% of the annual revenues of such companies. This may be an accurate claim, but the proponents of such a claim fail to understand that most of the sales of global companies are from the home country (Yip, 2003). This is in line with the errors in cultural information. Global business fail to understand the culture of global economies, hence can’t meet the demands of those economies. They then erroneously claim that they make most sales to foreign countries, failing to understand that their home country is the reason for the increased sales and not the foreign markets.

The second error of globalization according to Friedman (2006) is the belief that global companies are internationally monolithic and exercise excessive political power. This assertion is erroneous in cultural perspectives. The cultures of different countries differ and the size of a multinational company is limited by such cultural differences. It is until cultural anthropology is used that multinational companies may claim to be politically powerful and monolithic in other countries, otherwise the assertion is erroneous on cultural basis.

Finally, it is generally believed that multinational companies produce homogeneous products (Yip, 2003). This, too, is culturally erroneous. This is because the culture of various countries and regions may not be understood by multinational companies; hence the homogeneity assumption is erroneous since the companies’ understanding of their product characteristics may not be interpreted similarly in other cultures.

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