Popularizing Anthropology

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If we consider that demarcation, it is not surprising that an indigenous people that did not belong to the Tupi-Guarani ethno-linguistic group, who, moreover, used wooden disks in their lips and ears, contributing to their exotic appearance, was chosen by the exhibition organizers as living representatives of the most primitive and brutalized hominids.

In this regard, Ladislau de Souza Melo Neto a, p. When we carefully study the gradual descent of humanity, and we take into account all the superior evolutionary qualities acquired by the Indo-Germanic races - the highest expression of human improvement -, we find a bigger difference between the most educated and beautiful types of this race, and the most bestial and imperfect human groups, than, on the other hand, the distance between the latter and gorillas and chimpanzees.

According to Ladislau Neto, there was a close evolutionary link between the contemporary indigenous races inhabiting Brazil and those pre-human hominids that had supposedly lived in the prehistoric Americas.

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More specifically, the then recent discovery of 'The skull of Lagoa Santa' in Brazil - an extremely old calotte from prehistoric ages - was seen as putative proof, when compared with equivalent Quaternarian human remains from Europe, that indigenous tribes evolved independently in the New World, as an autochthonous hominid species, called Homo americanus. Nevertheless, even though he considered the Botocudo people as one of the most 'brutalized' indigenous breeds in Brazil, Lacerda a asserted that they occupied a slightly higher position in the evolutionary scale of brain development compared with their ancestors from Lagoa Santa.

But this was not the only article characterizing the ethnic group of the Botocudo as current representatives of the primitive Homo americanus , thus explicitly describing them as another human species, separate from the 'white man'. Other works in the exhibition catalogue were focused on the unlikelihood of hybridization between those indigenous people and white Europeans, given the enormous biological distance separating those racial groups, as we will see below. In another of the studies included in the catalogue, Ladislau Neto explained that the modern Botocudo Indians were the evolutionary product of a biological degenerative process.

This same idea of a biological degeneration of the natives had been previously stated by many naturalists who had established contact with different Brazilian tribes, such as von Martius, Agassiz and Auguste de Saint-Hilaire, among others. In the second half of the nineteenth century, degenerative racial processes were diagnosed not only among the Indians, but also among the mixed offspring of blacks, Indians and whites that constituted most of the Brazilian population.

Consequently, a generalized 'fear of degeneration' was found among the intellectual classes of the country Santos ; Schwarcz, , With respect to the Botocudo, Ladislau Neto stated - differently from Lacerda - that the degenerative processes of their race had led them in present times to a lower biological and cultural level than that reached by their better developed ancestors, who, according to Ladislau Neto Melo Neto, b , evolved in the American continent perhaps during the Tertiary period: "For more than three centuries, all the lofty moral and physical characteristics of the American people - very probably, a collateral branch of the oldest sources of humanity - have turned off, one by one.

He supported his biological assertions on an argument taken from philology, stating the philological possibility that Sanskrit - the oldest known language, according to the linguistics of the time - had evolved from an older American source:. If, according to some linguists, Quechua is a corruption of some military language closely related to Sanskrit - and this opinion is based on some glottic sic affinities between them -, why should it not be stated that, contrary to this assumption, Sanskrit could have evolved as a profound alteration of the ancient sources of the primitive language spoken by the men of the Andes p.

In any event, according to Ladislau Neto, a clear degenerative evolutionary hierarchy could certainly be established from the ancient imperial civilizations of Homo americanus to the savages that still occupied the huge Brazilian jungles. This hierarchy - or natural scale 'scala naturae' - of American hominids would spread from the most sophisticated natives - such as the Incas, Mayas or Aztecs - to the most brutalized such as the Botocudos themselves. Actually, in his own words, "all the gradations of a scale of progressive achievement, from the brave troglodyte to the worshipping Quechua, the industrious Aztec and the Maya" could be found Melo Neto, c, p.

Another of Lacerda's studies included in the exhibition's catalogue consisted of a thorough discussion of the dental anatomy of the Botocudo, which was compared to the Europeans' dental anatomy from an evolutionary point of view. The main conclusion was that a comparative analysis of the dental anatomy in those human groups reinforced the idea that they had evolved as different species from the very beginning. According to the deputy director of the National Museum, the conformation of the incisor teeth in the Botocudo was a specific feature of this American hominid.

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For Lacerda b, p. We believe that the overall shape of the teeth in the indigenous races of America can be considered as a biological feature of ethnic inferiority. When you see the entire anthropological collection Lacerda also believed that, in the specific case of the Botocudo, their already brutal physical appearance was further reinforced by the special ornaments they used to deform their lips.

This ethnic tradition would have caused "the Botocudo' physiognomy to present the most repulsive aspect" Lacerda, c, p. Moreover, he argues that "from a moral and intellectual point of view, Botocudo are the perfect example of a human race brought down to its deepest degree of inferiority. Some of them are still fond of the horrible practice of cannibalism, and only with great difficulty can they become adapted to a civilized environment" p. According to Lacerda, the mixture between the aboriginal native and the European had led to a humanitarian catastrophe in modern Brazil.

Among the mestizo population of the Brazilian cities, one could frequently observe, according to him, numerous atavic reversions to almost simian evolutionary stages. These were ideas obviously related to the fear of degeneration of the Brazilian people that afflicted intellectuals of that time. Ladislau Neto noted, in turn, that these atavic reversions of the 'hybrids' were manifested especially during their puberty, even in those who were almost white.

But he also remarked that fortunately, in most cases, "this morbid condition was ephemeral" Melo Neto, d, p. Those evolutionary reversions observed during the puberty of the mestizos were accompanied by a whole range of biological changes in the oral mucosa, eyelids, lips, nipples, and genitals, all of which acquired a very intense pigmentation. Moreover, he argues,. All these changes are accompanied by a sharp increase in their indolence, an excessive apathy, and a deeper state of alienation, or rather intellectual inactivity, similar to the stupid ineptitude of the negro.

There is also a kind of libidinous instinct preceding all of these degenerative symptoms, as well as an outbreak of burgeoning animal sensuality, which can only be eradicated with the efficient dam of the strongest moral education standards p. Moreover, under a particular code of sexual selection, which was completely different from that of the 'white man', the indigenous Botocudos had come to acquire a repulsive morphology to European eyes.

According to Neto, this differential eroticism of the indigenous races had adaptive causes and, perhaps, no greater ethological contrast between two human groups could be found than that concerning the Europeans' refined sexuality and the sexual behavior of those 'semi-beasts', who, "because of an evolutionary degeneration of their deplorable race, became little more than animals" Melo Neto, e, p. Among the amatory rituals of this indigenous people, an entire deployment of manifestations of brutality reflected, in Melo Neto's view, their 'pithecoid' primitivism with respect to the 'white man'.

In his view,. This ignorance of kissing must have been also helped by the way in which sexual unions are conducted among many of these native people. Whether or not this kind of sexual union could be a concomitant cause - along with the use of labial ornaments - for the absence of kissing; whether or not we consider that ignorance, rather, as an immediate effect of the adornment itself, I am led to believe that among peoples relegated to such a wild state, so far from the height reached by the civilized nations, their sexual union would always happen ad instar animalium p.

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Concluding remarks: the current significance of examining the history of scientific exhibitions. At the dawn of the twentieth century and in many countries, a significant portion of the leading experts on physical anthropology was contributing to the scientific characterization of 'non-Caucasian' populations as a sort of missing link, lost creatures on the evolutionary border between human and animal. For many of the best physical anthropologists of the period, a good portion of the ethnic groups living on our planet could not properly be called humans, based on rigorous scientific analysis.

They were merely, as in the case of the Botocudo, "creatures who only had the form and the physical nature of man; individuals whose almost absolute deprivation of a modulative language capable of expressing their thoughts and whose crude gestures and ape-like customs revealed much of the character of those animals with which they live in complete promiscuity" Melo Neto, c, p. Consequently, the public exhibition of members of those populations did not constitute a problem for many of those scientists, even when natives were shown in zoos alongside with animals, as in the case of Ota Benga, who was taken to the Bronx Zoo in at the suggestion of the director of the American Museum of Natural History himself.

During the last half of the nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth, this kind of 'popularization' of scientific knowledge constituted an ordinary educational practice in the field of physical anthropology, as shown by many of the colonial exhibitions held in Europe up to the s. This kind of dissemination of scientific knowledge was considered a valuable instructive activity for many of the best physical anthropologists of the period.

What can we derive from an analysis of these exhibitions with regard to current efforts to produce, popularize, and teach scientific knowledge? It is our view that studying these exhibitions, which are a largely forgotten part of our scientific legacy, can play a key role in science education and popularization, since it highlights how ideological commitments substantially influence our efforts to produce and diffuse knowledge, not just in the past, but certainly also today.

We believe that the consideration of this kind of historical episode - full of ideological, cultural, ethical, and philosophical features - can play an important role in science education, since it can help us address the human, personal, ethical, cultural, and political side of the construction of scientific knowledge, and also promote a richer understanding of the complex relationships between science and the overarching intellectual and social environment. From the perspective of what has been called 'contextual approaches to science teaching' e.

Science is not weakened, but rather strengthened when these dimensions are included within its study and diffusion, since our students and audience are offered a clearer view of the scientific endeavor as a human activity. Symptomatically, since the beginnings of the twentieth century, several science educators have been stressing the necessity of teaching students not only about the contents of science, but also about the nature of science. Since the s, however, there has been a significant change in the landscape of teaching about the nature of science, since the need to focus on the history and philosophy of science themselves has been increasingly highlighted, going beyond instruction regarding 'the scientific method' Abd-El-Khalick, Lederman, More timidly, we also see in that landscape a plea for teaching about sociological and cultural aspects of science e.

In the face of the current crisis of science teaching, related, among other issues, to the perception of a low level of scientific literacy among people from several different countries, more and more attention has been given to contextual approaches to science teaching. Symptomatically, several educational reform documents have emphasized understanding the nature of science as a central component of scientific literacy e. Indeed, we think that a contextual approach to science teaching is a key element for making science education not only more effective, but also - and even most importantly - more conducive to the development of critical thinkers.

In this paper, we have discussed attempts to popularize scientific knowledge about anthropology through exhibitions of natives in United States and Brazil from the nineteenth century to the beginnings of the twentieth century, focusing in particular on the First Brazilian Anthropological Exposition. The discussion about these exhibitions in a typical high school science classroom, for instance, can lead, in our view, to a treatment of science as a human practice in a way that makes it closer to personal, ethical, cultural, and political concerns. This may, in turn, contribute to students' understanding of how the production of scientific knowledge takes place in a social milieu, in the sense that it is both the product of a social group, the scientific community, and is influenced by the larger social networks in which it is embedded, above all, by the social institutions that finance it.

Moreover, we consider that this can be done without taking contextual science education away from epistemic issues, such as the relationship between theory and experiment or the theory-ladenness of observation, while focusing also on sociocultural factors. To address such efforts to popularize scientific knowledge, which no science teacher is likely to relate to an innocent visit to a zoo, also contributes to improving teacher education by promoting a richer and more authentic understanding of science and its place in the intellectual and social milieu.

In particular, it would stress the need to consider the ideological undertones of scientific knowledge while teaching and learning about science, not only in the past, when those exhibitions were held, but also in present times. After all, the analysis of these exhibitions as attempts to popularize scientific knowledge about physical anthropology clearly shows the ideological undertones of the construction of scientific knowledge.

But is this just a feature of the past, of a science which was not sufficiently mature yet? We do not think an affirmative answer to this question can be properly supported, since it is still the case - and how could it be different?

Popularizing Anthropology (Electronic book text)

But it is not also the case, in our view, that science is only an ideological apparatus of the capitalist society, or something similar. It is rather the case that science is a complex endeavor, involving a great number of determinants that are internal to the scientific community, but also determinants that are external to it, so that any completely internalist or externalist account is not sufficient to understanding it.

  1. Popularizing Anthropology.
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  4. Moreover, we think that it is possible to find particularly illuminating ways of understanding science in points of contact and interaction between the scientific community and other social institutions, such as governments, corporations, or society at large, as in the case of the scientific exhibitions discussed here. We cannot see, thus, how science as practiced today might be free of any ideological undertones.

    They are inevitable for the simple fact that the construction of scientific knowledge is undeniably a social human endeavor. Therefore, to consider past approaches to the production and popularization of scientific knowledge, such as those discussed here, is not a task to be made merely for archaeological purposes.

    It is something to be taken into account in current scientific practice, as well as in science education. What are the ideological undertones of the scientific knowledge of our times? To consider the past events discussed here can open the way for both science teachers and scientists to pose this difficult, but inevitable question. And, certainly, one can see the hints of ideological commitments in our current discourse about science. Just consider, for instance, the social discourse about genes that pervades our societies today, with its deterministic approach to the understanding of genes and their relationships to phenotypic traits, with several political, economic and social implications.

    Or consider the ideas about optimizing the human species through genetic engineering, cloning, gene therapy, and so on. What would be the optimal human?

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    Is it not plausible that the old views about the superiority of some races or genres are being translated into these new ideals of improving ourselves? It is possible that, by addressing our anthropological discourse of the past, a teacher and his or her students can raise such questions, and, thus, move to a more critical attitude towards current scientific knowledge and its relationship with technological approaches to our individual and social lives.

    The authors wish to thank the anonymous editors of the original manuscript, who offered important and constructive contributions to the improvement of the final paper.