Public Policy is a field of study, which values the utility of certain programs (education, law, urban development) and then tries to distribute these gains in a fair manner. One example of this is tax breaks for a home. This tax break offers many citizens equal opportunity to own a home. These policies may sometimes be ineffective. I believe that cultural anthropology should be introduced to policy makers and analysts when creating legislation. Although the approach would apply universally, we will limit our discussion to policies in the United States on a national, state or local level.
By showing that culture and "natural" human behavior affect policies, hopefully decision makers will take these factors into account before implementing any legislation. The intent of this paper is to illustrate the fact that culture and universal human behavior do affect policies. To prove this we will examine one facet of human life studied by cultural anthropologists: the family. Cultural anthropologists define five functions of the family: economic, child-rearing, emotional/psychological, transmitting traditions, and controlling sexual behavior. Now we will examine the anthropology and public policy behind each of these functions.
In The Harmless People, the women have to gather roots and prepare hides and make the home. The family benefits from being taken care of. The community acquires arrows, or hides the women cure. This gives women a chance to be social as well. This work is very important to the family and tribe. Since foraging cultures are similar to industrial cultures, shouldn't we expect the "homemaker", whether man or woman, to still do some work?
One of t...
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By now, it should be clear to the reader that culture affects societies in a profound way. Since anthropology affects all these facets of a person's life, culture must be considered to maximize decisions regarding public policy. By passing legislation to affect the parts of society that are "culturally relative", policymakers can be more effective. By making laws that run counter to "natural" human behavior, lawmakers are guaranteeing more work for themselves later. It is imperative that alternative methods of evaluation are used to analyze poor policies.
Briggs, Jean. Never In Anger. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1970.
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. Death Without Weeping. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1992
Thomas, Elizabeth Marshall. The Harmless People. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
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