Cultural anthropology is an important, informative and interesting discipline that will take you on a journey to practices and traditions of the past. Before you can truly delve into the field you should consider reading through a cultural anthropology glossary to acquaint yourself with terms you will see in your studies.
Glossary of Cultural Anthropology
There are scores and scores of terms related to the field of cultural anthropology. Here are some of the various categories and terms.
Power and Status
- Informal negative sanction: An unofficial, non-governmental punishment for violations of social norms. Informal negative sanctions usually are in the form of gossip, public ridicule, social ostracism, insults, or even threats of physical harm by other members of the community.
- Levels of political integration: A term referring to general types of political systems to organize and manage societies.
- Politics: Competition for power over people and things.
- Raiding: Surprise predatory attacks against other communities or societies.
- Acephalous society: A society in which political power is diffused to the degree that there are no institutionalized political leadership roles such as chiefs and kings.
- Parallel cousin: One's father's brother's children or mother's sister's children. The gender of the children is not relevant in making this distinction.
- Collateral relative: Uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and other consanguinal kinsmen beyond ego's main line of descent.
- Consanguinity: a socially recognized biological descent link, such as between a woman and her father, aunt, or daughter. Individuals who have a consanguinity relationship are "consanguines" to each other. Consanguinity literally means "with the blood," reflecting the old incorrect assumption that biological inheritance is passed on through blood rather than DNA.
Education and Occupations
- Grammar: The part of language analysis that is concerned with how the sounds are used to make sense.
- Informal education: Learning as a result of imitation, experimentation, and repetitive practice of basic skills. This is what happens when children role-play adult interactions in their games.
- Non market economy: An economy with a low level of technological knowledge and a preoccupation with the daily, and at most, seasonal food supply because techniques for long term preservation of food are generally inadequate.
- Pastoralists: People who make their living by tending herds of large animals.
- Modal behavior: The statistically most common behavior patterns within a society. Those who do not exhibit these patterns are usually labeled as socially deviants. What is defined as modal behavior varies from society to society.
- Melting pot: A society in which immigrants and native ethnic/racial minorities are assimilated into the dominant national culture.
- Minority group: An ethnic/racial group that has a smaller population than the controlling majority group in a society. Minority groups may also be based on shared gender, disabilities, political views, age, and so forth.
Other Important Terms
- Potlatch: A complex redistributive system that existed among some of the Indian cultures of the northwest coast of North America.
- Actual behavior: What people really do in their lives rather than what they think they are doing or what they believe they should be doing. In most societies, there is a discrepancy between these three different sorts of behaviors.
- Cultural universals: Cultural traits that are shared by all of humanity collectively.
- Cyclical round of migrations: Seasonal migrations of foragers or pastoralists between different environments in their territories. This often involves migrations that take people from spring to summer camps and then to fall ones and then to winter ones.
- Manifest functions: Functions that are obvious and easily discovered even by strangers to a place.
Definitions for the above terms are from the Palomar Community College District tutorial entitled" Cultural Anthropology Terms," a handy resource for researching terms in this field. For additional terms and definitions you can also research using the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, a 6900+ entry reference to cultural references.