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    ABSTRACT: The paper concerns the role of intentionality in reasoning about wrong doing. Anthropologists have claimed that, in certain non-Western societies, people ignore whether an act of wrong doing is committed intentionally or accidentally. To examine this proposition, we look at the case of Madagascar. We start by analyzing how Malagasy people respond to incest, and we find that in this case they do not seem to take intentionality into account: catastrophic consequences follow even if those who commit incest are not aware that they are related as kin; punishment befalls on innocent people; and the whole community is responsible for repairing the damage. However, by looking at how people reason about other types of wrong doing, we show that the role of intentionality is well understood, and that in fact this is so even in the case of incest. We therefore argue that, when people contemplate incest and its consequences, they simultaneously consider two quite different issues: the issue of intentionality and blame, and the much more troubling and dumbfounding issue of what society would be like if incest were to be permitted. This entails such a fundamental attack on kinship and on the very basis of society that issues of intentionality and blame become irrelevant. Using the insights we derive from this Malagasy case study, we re-examine the results of Haidt's psychological experiment on moral dumbfoundedness, which uses a story about incest between siblings as one of its test scenarios. We suggest that the dumbfoundedness that was documented among North American students may be explained by the same kind of complexity that we found in Madagascar. In light of this, we discuss the methodological limitations of experimental protocols, which are unable to grasp multiple levels of response. We also note the limitations of anthropological methods and the benefits of closer cross-disciplinary collaboration.
    Frontiers in Psychology 02/2015; 6:136. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00136
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    ABSTRACT: Anthropology combines two quite different enterprises: the ethnographic study of particular people in particular places and the theorizing about the human species. As such, anthropology is part of cognitive science in that it contributes to the unitary theoretical aim of understanding and explaining the behavior of the animal species Homo sapiens. This article draws on our own research experience to illustrate that cooperation between anthropology and the other sub-disciplines of cognitive science is possible and fruitful, but it must proceed from the recognition of anthropology's unique epistemology and methodology.
    Topics in Cognitive Science 05/2012; 4(3):453-61. DOI:10.1111/j.1756-8765.2012.01191.x
  • Culture Medicine and Psychiatry 03/2012; 36(2):409-18. DOI:10.1007/s11013-012-9256-0
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    ABSTRACT: Deep South (1941) is an ethnography of racial caste and class in Natchez, Mississippi, in the 1930s. This classic of functionalist social anthropology is particularly interesting because it describes a deeply divided and unequal modern society. In the American South, the population was divided into two endogamous 'castes' and segregation ensured their almost complete social separation, with whites dominant over blacks. Each racial group was also divided by class, so that Natchez society was based on an elaborate caste-class hierarchy, whose characteristics are subtly explored in Deep South. None the less, although the caste concept was used by other American writers, most later social scientists preferred 'ethnic group' or 'race' itself. Caste in India has been compared with American racial caste, but anthropologists of India have scarcely exploited the insights to be derived from Deep South and similar studies. For understanding the institutions and values of hierarchy, Deep South remains invaluable.
    Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 08/2011; 17(3):604 - 621. DOI:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2011.01709.x
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    ABSTRACT: Anthropology isn't in the crisis that parts of the media would have you believe, but it must do better, argue Adam Kuper and Jonathan Marks.
    Nature 02/2011; 470(7333):166-8. DOI:10.1038/470166a
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    ABSTRACT: Since the nineteenth century, Tamil Brahmans have been very well represented in the educated professions, especially law and administration, medicine, engineering and nowadays, information technology. This is partly a continuation of the Brahmans' role as literate service people, owing to their traditions of education, learning and literacy, but the range of professions shows that any direct continuity is more apparent than real. Genealogical data are particularly used as evidence about changing patterns of employment, education and migration. Caste traditionalism was not a determining constraint, for Tamil Brahmans were predominant in medicine and engineering as well as law and administration in the colonial period, even though medicine is ritually polluting and engineering resembles low-status artisans' work. Crucially though, as modern, English-language, credential-based professions that are wellpaid and prestigious, law, medicine and engineering were and are all deemed eminently suitable for Tamil Brahmans, who typically regard their professional success as a sign of their caste superiority in the modern world. In reality, though, it is mainly a product of how their old social and cultural capital and their economic capital in land were transformed as they seized new educational and employment opportunities by flexibly deploying their traditional, inherited skills and advantages.
    Indian Economic & Social History Review 12/2010; 47(4):473-96. DOI:10.1177/001946461004700403
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    ABSTRACT: The majority of undocumented Congolese refugee children living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, experience extreme poverty and social exclusion, harassment and discrimination. Their fear of deportation, forcible removal to refugee camps and imprisonment is coupled with a strong feeling that they are unwelcome in Tanzania. These realities require that most children devote a huge amount of their energy to survival, both literally, in terms of physical needs such as food and water, and figuratively, in terms of maintaining their sense of self-worth, dignity and purpose. This article is based on extensive fieldwork with more than 100 young people aged 7–18 years. I explore the ways children cope with the challenges posed by the conditions of everyday life and the strategies they employ in their quest to ‘find a life’, or make a future for themselves. I argue that by imagining a future, they are fighting against not only what war has done to them and their families but also against the very fact of being a refugee.
    Children &amp Society 06/2010; 24(4):261 - 270. DOI:10.1111/j.1099-0860.2010.00310.x
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    ABSTRACT: We welcome the critical appraisal of the database used by the behavioral sciences, but we suggest that the authors' differentiation between variable and universal features is ill conceived and that their categorization of non-WEIRD populations is misleading. We propose a different approach to comparative research, which takes population variability seriously and recognizes the methodological difficulties it engenders.
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 06/2010; 33(2-3):83-4. DOI:10.1017/S0140525X10000026
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    ABSTRACT: The association of men and women with birds, as expressed in dance, is a common theme in Melanesian ritual. Often, this is seen as a means by which humans attain some relation with a transcendental reality. But this is only part of the picture. Pigs, in contrast to birds, represent an opposite sort of reality. It is argued here — by an interpretation of the gab — that through such rituals, men and women symbolically situate themselves between the two. The rituals are performed to overcome the precarious nature of human sexuality, appearance and aging associated with the life-cycle process, which contrast with that of both birds and pigs.
    The Australian Journal of Anthropology 02/2009; 17(1):1 - 14. DOI:10.1111/j.1835-9310.1987.tb00736.x
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    ABSTRACT: It is proposed that explaining religion in evolutionary terms is a misleading enterprise because religion is an indissoluble part of a unique aspect of human social organization. Theoretical and empirical research should focus on what differentiates human sociality from that of other primates, i.e. the fact that members of society often act towards each other in terms of essentialized roles and groups. These have a phenomenological existence that is not based on everyday empirical monitoring but on imagined statuses and communities, such as clans or nations. The neurological basis for this type of social, which includes religion, will therefore depend on the development of imagination. It is suggested that such a development of imagination occurred at about the time of the Upper Palaeolithic 'revolution'.
    Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 07/2008; 363(1499):2055-61. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2008.0007
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