Further Information: Daniel Sullivan: Explaining Riddles of Culture – “Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches”

Expanded description:

Each class will be a guided discussion of readings, paying close attention to the texts. One book—Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, by Marvin Harris—will need to be purchased or borrowed (the Carleton Library has 6 copies). It’s available for purchase through Amazon in multiple forms—e-book, hard-cover and paperback, used and new—at prices ranging from $1.99 to $35.83. It’s also available to borrow for free electronically through Internet Archive. Copies of all other readings, along with questions to think about and areas of the readings to focus on, will be shared via e-mail a week prior to the relevant class.

Tentative Course Schedule:

Week 1—Introduction to cultural ecology as a way of thinking about how societies work. The evolutionary perspective in anthropology. How is cultural evolution different from biological evolution? Cultural adaptation and stability. Reading: excerpts from Marshall D. Sahlins and Elman R. Service, Evolution and Culture, pages 1-65. I have downloaded and saved a free .pdf of this book and will share relevant sections with the class electronically.

Week 2—The sacred cow and other food taboos—Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, preface and pages 3-45.

Week 3—Pig love and cyclical warfare—an in-depth case study of the Tsembaga, a Maring tribe in New Guinea. Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, pp. 46-80; Roy Rappaport, “Ritual, Sanctity and Cybernetics.”

Week 4—Origins of the savage male—a case study of the Yanomamo people on the Brazil/Venezuela border. Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, pp. 83-107; and Harris, Cannibals and Kings, 67-97.

Week 5—Competitive feasts—the northwest coast Indian potlatch system. Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, 111-130; Barbara Nelson and Robbin Carlson, “A Re-Examination of the Northwest Coast Indian Potlatch.”

Week 6—Cannibalism—Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings, 127-166.

Week 7—Explaining the evolution of “higher” forms of culture. Sahlins and Service, Evolution and Culture, 69-122.

Week 8—Reflecting on the relationship between the energy sources that fuel the economy of a society and the prospect for democracy—Harris, Cannibals and Kings, “Epilogue and Moral Soliloquy,” 287-292; and Timothy Mitchell, “Carbon Democracy.”