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Very big and very small societies

Miller, D; (2008) Very big and very small societies. In: Ribeiro, A, (ed.) The Urgency of Theory. (79 - 105). Carcanet Press: Manchester.

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Originally anthropology was conceived as applying to entities variously described as cultures or societies. It occupied a position between psychology - dedicated to understanding individuals, and sociology - concerned with larger, industrial and global scenarios. In this paper I argue that anthropology should be applied directly to those areas that were previously excluded from its domain. The intention is not to produce a psychological anthropology or a sociological anthropology. Instead this paper argues that the very same ideas, methods and analyses previously applied to societies or cultures as holistic entities may be reapplied, on the one hand, to the world as a global society and on the other hand to individuals and households as very small societies. Examples of global phenomenon treated as though a single society include religion and sex. For the study of individuals and households. examples are taken from an eighteen months ethnography of a street in South London. For this study one hundred individuals and households were researched, with the emphasis upon their material culture. Their relative autonomy from the state and relatively high level of resources, plus the cosmopolitan context of London means that people on this street can construct cosmologies and practices analogous to those of societies and cultures as conceptualised in traditional anthropology. So in this paper each person is considered as through they were a tribe in New Guinea, examined for their cosmological integrity as expressed in their material practice. The result provides new avenues for a future anthropology to explore additional domains of human creativity.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Very big and very small societies
ISBN-13: 9781857549751
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/117772
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