chapter  3
16 Pages

What Social Anthropologists Study: the Need for Theory

IN THE LAST CHAPTER I said that social anthropologists have made much use of the idea of totality, and I suggested that this was partly because the earlier fieldworkers were chiefly concerned with human communities which were small-scale and relatively easily comprehensible. Some anthropologists, for example, Radcliffe-Brown, have suggested that social anthropologists can and ought to compare whole societies, as though these were some kind of empirical realities. But this is a dangerous and misleading way of thinking, and provides a typical example of Whitehead’s ‘fallacy of misplaced concreteness’, the error of supposing that conceptual entities are ‘real’ ones, given to the senses like material objects. It derives much of its plausibility from the analogy which is often drawn between societies, which are not ‘things’, and physical organisms, which are: I examine this analogy more closely in the next chapter.