Cognitive Anthropology: Its Evolution and Contemporary Relevance

Scientific Essay, 2011

10 Pages



1. Introduction: What Is Cognitive Anthropology?

2. Association With Other Disciplines

3. Developmental Phases

4. The Scope Of Cognitive Anthropology

5. Contributors

6. Points Of Reaction

7. Criticism to Ethno Science

8. Theoretical Adjustment and Methodological Shifts

9. Achievements

10. Contemporary Trends And Relevance

11. Summary

Cognitive Anthropology: Its Evolution and Contemporary Relevance

1. Introduction: What is cognitive anthropology?

To redefine cogitative anthropology based on the definitions of a range of literature assessed for this paper, it is an idealistic approach, studies the interaction between human thought and human culture. To be specific, it studies how each group of society organize and perceive the physical objects, events, and experiences that make up their world. Cognitive anthropology gives attention how people make sense of reality according to their own indigenous cognitive faculty unlike the anthropologist point of view, known as emic vs. etic theoretical approach. Cognitive anthropology speculates that each culture organizes and understands events material life and ideas to its own standard. Hence, the primary objective of cognitive anthropology is reliably characterizing the underlying logical systems of thought of other people according to criteria, which can be discovered and replicated through analysis (Robertson & Beasley, 2011;Class lecture handout).

Association with other disciplines: cognitive anthropology is aligned with many disciplines since its very earlier period. It is associated with psychology as both explore the cognitive process. It has also adopted theoretical elements and methodological techniques from linguistic and structuralism as will be discussed later. Moreover, it is closely associated with psychological anthropology, cognitive linguistic, psychological linguistic, cognitive psychology and other more cognitive sciences (Robertson & Beasley, 2011).

Developmental phases: Cognitive anthropology developed through three stages. The first formative stages known as ethno science, the period in which cognitive anthropology had adopted some methodological and theoretical orientations from linguistic. Developed by Kenneth Pick , one of the most influential methodology that adopted during this period from linguistic to the field of cognitive anthropology is Emic Vs.Etic, which is analogous to linguistic methodology, phonemic vs. phonetic. Phonemics is the study of linguistic meaning of native speaker while phonetics is the study of linguistic sounds by the linguist. In other words, phonetic represents the outsider’s point of view and phonemic represents the speakers’ point of view. In the same manner, pick applied this method to anthropological fieldwork technique called participant observation . According to pick, participation in the target culture was representing emic, because it looks things from the native point of view, enables the researcher anthropologist to think like natives. In contrast, when participation was etic, it detaches him from the native point of view, that he thinks from outsiders’ point of view (Robertson & Beasley, 2011 ; class handout MU).

The other theoretical orientation developed in this era was known as Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, named after anthropological linguist Edward Sapir(1884-1939) and his student Benjamin lee Whorf(1897-1941).This theory hypothesizes the close relationship between language and culture, that mental structure of languages and cultures are correlated; that the structure of languages influences the structure of cultures and vice versa. Sapir and Whorf put culture inside people’s head; and believed that different languages construct different ways of thinking. Their approach same times said to be language culture determinism (class handout; kooff, 2002 ).

According to Sapir and Whorf, the grammatical categories of different languages produce different thinking about things for its speakers. In English, for example, time is divided into past, present and future but in Hopi language is not a case; and also, English classifies personal cases as he, she, him, her, his, and hers, where as the Palaung tribe in Burma does not. This difference leads the speakers of these languages to think about time and personal cases and realities in different way than English (kooff, 2002,pp140-142) .

The second developmental stage of cognitive anthropology was marked between 1960sand 1970s, being middle period. The school sometimes called Ethno Science, Ethno Linguistics,or The New Ethnography had achieved reputation in Componential Analysis methods developed by Harold Conklin ,Charles Freake and Ward Goodenogh . Componential Analysis method sometimes Known as folk models which in turn produced folk taxonomies of meaning. Folk taxonomies were classifications of cultural domains using hierarchies of categories defined by cultural criteria. Folk taxonomies were analogous to Linnaean taxonomy of Western biology in which living things were classified in to hierarchy of categories by defined biological criteria. Folk taxonomy was achieved through interviewing native informants to elicit meaning about cultural categories through linguistic method adopted and extended from the very beginning of cognitive anthropology. Through componential analysis, several knowledge systems such as cultural grammar, maps of semantic domains ranging from Subanum boils and Zeltal firewood to ethno botanical classifications of Amazon pharmaceutical plants were produced ( Robertson & Beasley, 2011 ; class handout).

During this period, theoretical and methodological shift occurred within cognitive anthropology. Although the field continued to use linguistic analysis method for understanding and accessing the cognitive categories of indigenous people, the analysis was further advanced to analyze categories in terms of mental process , the assumption that there was mental process based on the structure of the mind common to all human being. This assumption leads scholars of the era to extend the study beyond studying components of abstract systems of process to relating it to symbols and ideas (McGee and Warms 1996, cited in Robertson & Beasley, 2011 ).

Third period, beginning 1980 till most recent time, marked by the growth of schema theory and the development of consensus theory. Prior to schema theory, Culture had been conceived from either materialistic or symbolic point of view. Now, anthropologists started to think it in terms of parts instead of wholes. Schema theory paved the way for that culture could be placed in human mind, and cognation of human mind forms the units: such units were features, prototypes, schemas, propositions, and cognitive categories. Hence, culture could be explained by analyzing these units or pieces of culture (Robertson & Beasley, 2011).


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Cognitive Anthropology: Its Evolution and Contemporary Relevance
Anthropology Tehoery
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
733 KB
cognitive, anthropology, evolution, contemporary, relevance
Quote paper
Dessalegn Oulte (Author), 2011, Cognitive Anthropology: Its Evolution and Contemporary Relevance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Cognitive Anthropology: Its Evolution and Contemporary Relevance

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free