The Life Of Edward Sapir As An Anthropologist Essay

The Life Of Edward Sapir As An Anthropologist Essay

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Based off of previous courses in psychology I had never thought of Edward Sapir as an anthropologist. However, the section of Sapir’s, The Unconscious Patterning of Behavior in Society and Richard Handler’s Vigorous Male and Aspiring Female reveal Sapir’s influences on linguistic and cultural anthropology. Sapir’s method of anthropology blends together psychological aspects in order to maintain that studying the nature of the relationships between different individual personalities is important for the ways in which culture and society develop.

Sapir was born in Lauenberg Germany but as a young child he and his family emigrated to the United States. Family dynamics were often turbulent and strained, but Sapir’s parents instilled in Edward a love of learning and academics. While studying at Columbia University Sapir took courses with Boas, which sparked his interest in Native American linguistics and culture. Sapir graduated with a degree in linguistics and with the encouragement of Boas, Sapir completed his field work among the Wishram Indians of Washington. After publishing his fieldwork Sapir was recognized as an esteemed academic in the field of anthropology due to his extensive and precise methods of recording difficult and dying out languages. Later in his career Sapir taught at the University of Chicago and Yale University were he developed coursework that intersected theoretical linguistics, psychology and anthropology. Sapir believed that anthropological studies of personality were vital to understanding a culture.

Sapir’s work in The Unconscious Patterning of Behavior in Society places him in the school of cognitive anthropology due to his conceptualization of culture as a mental map composed on interlocking and hie...


... middle of paper ...


... view highly individualistic view of language and consequently experiences that shaped culture, give individuals tremendous agency within their culture. Therefore, Sapir fundamentally disagreed with the “superorganic” approach to culture.
In contrast to many other anthropologists that we have studied Sapir emphasized intracultural variability, disagreement, and individual agency. He distinguished carefully between, on the one hand, subjective meanings and experience, and, on the other, the public symbols and social conventions prescribing the forms a person’s behavior takes. Although he was interested in the relationships between culture and personality, Sapir criticized approaches which, in his view, failed to distinguish collective and individual levels of analysis, confusing conventional patterns of behavior with the personality patterns of actual individuals.

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