By Jenna McArthur (Jan 11, 2013)
Eric Wolf’s introduction in Europe and the People Without History addresses the different branches of academic fields such as political science, economics, sociology and anthropology. Wolf claims the period in history of the division in disciplines resulted in people focusing on specific areas of study rather than seeing the connections and relations between the different branches. I found his ideas thought provoking as the separation of different disciplines is very important in understanding various aspects of the world. Our classroom is an excellent reflection of his views as people are majoring in different subjects. This helps promote classroom discussion, as based on our specialization there will always be different perspectives. At times I find it challenging to relate to others points of view on topics.
Everyone will interpret and understand things differently. How you were raised, what faith you practiced and where you lived are all crucial questions that shape an individual and influence their understanding and opinions of the world. The very first day of class we had to close our eyes and describe an object to our partner. One of the objects I found interesting was a clear paperweight that had a shape inside which was impossible to see unless one’s eyes were open. When talking about the object the professor mentioned surface description only offers part of the story. This is pivotal for anthropologists as when studying a particular village one has to separate themselves from their own personal bias and look from different points of view to understand the full picture. The paperweight got me thinking about my neighbor who dresses uniquely, wears wigs and has a very loud personality. If meeting my neighbor for the first time, one may be judgmental and see her as a bit crazy. It is only after getting to know her and peeling back all the layers that you realize she is a caring individual and passionate about her beliefs. What people see on the surface is quite different once you get to know her and break down the barriers.
Wolf believed boundaries had been created where societies were isolated therefore ignoring relations with other cultures. Wolf states sociologists study “ties which bind people to people as individuals”(Wolf 1982). Wolf’s analysis made me think about today and how we categorize certain countries and have predetermined ideas. For example, when one thinks of Iraq most people will think of Saddam Hussein. We have created a border around Iraq in which most people fear the country and the people mainly because of a particular individual. Similarly when thinking of Afghanistan one often thinks of Osama bin Laden and terrorism. The world has essentially categorized these countries as autonomous and independent and prefers to dissociate from them.
As mentioned, societies are still often categorized and given predetermined boundaries. Although when I think of Iraq I think of Saddam Hussein, this is greatly shaped by my background in political science. In contrast, a geophysicist would think of oil. It truly depends on what area one specializes in and what philosophies they believe which will continue to be a problem for anthropologists.
Wolf, Eric R.
1982 Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press.