Understanding Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theory by Philip Carl Salzman
173 pages, $24.95 list
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Understanding Culture
An Introduction to Anthropological Theory
Are cows sacred to Indian Hindus because they stand for nature and life, as symbolic analysts explain, or because they pull plows and fertilize the land, providing people with food, as cultural materialists argue? Are witchcraft accusations a scapegoating of the powerless by the elite to maintain their ascendancy, as materialist class theorists argue, or are they social expressions of psychological tensions arising from conflicts in relationships, as functionalist psychological anthropologists have argued? Understanding culture means understanding and appreciating the diverse theories that offer different perspectives on culture.

Salzman’s Understanding Culture explores six major streams of anthropological theory: interdependence in human life (functionalism); agency in human action (processualism and transactionalism); determining factors (materialism and political economy); coherence in culture (configurationalism and structuralism); transformation through time (history and evolution); and critical advocacy (feminism and postmodernism). Each theoretical approach is initially presented in its own terms, to show its assumptions, aims, and accomplishments, and each is elucidated and illustrated through arguments and ethnographic examples offered by original theorists and practitioners.
“Salzman presents anthropological theories with admirable balance and restraint. He makes a case for each theory, offering no criticism until the final chapter in which he offers a brief critique of each. The great strength of Understanding Culture is Salzman’s ability to choose useful and interesting examples.” — The Journal of The Royal Anthropological Institute

“The book looks exceptional. The outline and style are the best I have seen. There are competitive volumes, but I like Salzman better. The humorous tone in places is wonderful.” —David J. Banks, SUNY at Buffalo

“Salzman has provided a lively and accessible survey of current anthropological theory that will be useful to students and practicing social scientists who are eager to update their knowledge. The final chapter catches the current state of debate better than any work I know and brings the survey to a wise and sensible conclusion. The book’s succinctness and attractive style render it highly accessible to a wide readership.” —Bruce G. Trigger, McGill University

“A very good, concise presentation of the subject. I haven’t come across anything like it.” —Thomas E. Durbin, California State University, Stanislaus

“A precise discussion of major streams of anthropological theory that will certainly command a student’s attention. It is highly readable and lays out major arguments without beating any particular theoretical drum.” —Gregory R. Campbell, University of Montana

“Salzman’s book provides a good combination of relevant events and thought in relation to anthropological ideas and commentary on some of the seminal essays that furthered anthropological thought. The appendices are a great bonus, especially the glossary.” —Sharon F. Kemp, University of Minnesota

“Very readable, nicely designed, and affordable. It will work well for an anthropology of theory course.” —George Gmelch, Union College
Table of Contents
1. Introduction to Theory
2. Interdependence in Human Life: Social Structure and Function
3. Agency in Human Action: Social Processes and Transactions
4. Determining Factors: Cultural Materialism and Political Economy
5. Coherence in Culture: Dominant Patterns and Underlying Structures
6. Transformation through Time: History and Evolution
7. Critical Advocacy: Feminism and Postmodernism
8. Reflections on Anthropological Theory
Appendix I. Glossary
Appendix II. Culture Theorists
Appendix III. Further Reading