Talk:Cultural materialism (anthropology)

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Hello, im the one who adds to this page. However, i do not have the computer skills to really clean it up well. I really enjoy Cultural Materialism both the Anthropological methodology as well as the cultural and literary methodology. If someone would like to open up discussions with me or help to clean this site up with me it would be greatly appreciated. Please reach me at

Now I'm preparing for a test in Anthropology tomorrow (Sociology's Master in Tel Aviv University), but after that maybe I will take a look at this page to clean it (maaaaaaybe). User: Horzer

Cultural Materialism and Epistemology[edit]

In words of Harris; The cultural Materialism is more near to David Hume empirism. Harris made several critics to Comte Positivism


why is there a NPOV tag on this page if there's no talk about it? Removing it now. Dabomb691 21:07, 8 June 2007 (UTC)

Split article[edit]

Hello. I've split the Cultural materialism article into separate articles for the anthropological and literary versions. The original page should be a disambiguation page now. Copying the talk page contents from that into both versions. DionysosProteus 01:05, 29 October 2007 (UTC)

Hello: This is for Mr Horzer, and sorry, but I am not a member of Wiki and don´t know how it works. But in the future I would be interested in helping with this because I really appreciate Harris work. (My mail is

Now I will put a dissertation about Cultural Materialism.(long and written in a horrible English, sorry: But it could be worst, I have a 70 pages essay in Spanish about this). If you are in Tel Aviv you could know Nira Reiss, don´t you? If it were so, I would strongly thank you if you were so kind to tell her about this page and the discussion below, and if you don’t know her I think you might not loose the opportunity ... if she is still among us, I do not know her biography.

The "discussion"

Harris theories had been widely criticize by the Spanish Philosopher David Alvargonzález , who belongs to the Gnoseologic Materialism School, founded by Gustavo Bueno. His widely documented work about Cultural Materialism “Science and Cultural Materialism” (Ciencia y Materialismo Cultural UNED Madrid España 1989, 396 pp. As far as I know, it is not translated) makes a very interesting and well argued contribution: He considers Harris a hidden liberal (Hidden also for himself) who takes an individualist approach to the problem of culture/society.

What Alvargonzales criticize, Nira Reiss somehow praises in “The Emic-Etic distinction as applied to language”(In the well known, and fundamental to understand Harris thought: “Emics and Etics: The Insider Outsider debate). And Harris clearly do not understand “what in hell” Ms Reiss is talking about, because he has an individualistic POV what makes his studies quite more reflexive and interesting that the ones of the “classical” materialists, but he is not aware of that difference and indeed he is proud of his supposed pure Marxist origins.

And, what is this difference about? Ms Reiss contribution has been neither understood nor recognized, as far as I know: Marvin Harris has talked about EMIC Mental and EMIC Conductual, ETIC Mental and ETIC Conductual. Usually critics and followers stay in the 70s distinction between EMICS and ETICS without regarding the evolution on Harris thought.

But that is not the case neither with Ms Reiss nor with Mr. Alvargonzález. Both see (On an “ETIC POV”) an individualistic shift in Harris perspective, if indeed it was not there since the beginning.

From that point of view, and in complete coherence with the initial historical review made by Harris in his “Cultural Materialism”, Harris is not an Naturalist and Structural Anthropologist (As, otherwise, his continuous critics to Levi-Strauss shows), and then, is not a “true” Marxist. He is in theory and furthermore in practice, a follower of Popper and Kuhn, a (weak)relativist. But he believes, against Feyerabend (Strong relativism), in the intrinsic content and utility of the Scientific Method. A method that is not more, but no less, than the common trial-and-error behavior, linked to worldview-building, and structured knowledge communication. So it builds, on the long term, quite precise models of the world and so, quite “true” images of reality. That is the superior character of Science (Of Emic Mental and Conductual arguments) over the “Common Sense” (Feyerabend concept of Science as “what is accepted by scientists” is nothing but that, “the common sense among the scientists”, but that removing the word “scientist” and writing “person” is also a good definition of Custom. Harris disagree and considers that Science is much more than Common Scientific Sense).

So, Harris takes unconsciously and individualistic approach to the problem of Scientific Method and establish 4 categories: EMIC Mental, what people believe they are thinking, EMIC Conductual, what people believe they are doing, ETIC Mental, what other person says about somebody else thoughts, and the main one, ETIC Conductual, what a person says about somebody else actions and about the world in general. For him, Science is not the process to "unveil the truth" but of building a -personal- truth, a personal model of reality. But it doesn´t mean that “all the models are the same”. You can, and must, compare models, and social systems (“Civilizations”) success, and make judgments, and choices.

All is about building models of the world. The Ethic ones are not intrinsically different from the Emic ones, and that is why we can find in Harris a defense of Castaneda (But not of his ideas or followers: Read Harris´ Response to Pike in Emics and Etics, cited). The difference between Emics and Etics is that Etics are really the Emics of a Scientist. And a Scientists, or any person acting, knowingly or not, as a scientist, makes clear arguments, cite sources, and tries to communicate his model of the world without argument’s tricks, appellations to feelings or “common sense”. In a cold, rational, way, a scientific theory is exposed to criticism, although it could talk about how many angels can stand over a nail.

From that relativist starting point, Harris build a concept of Science based on the long liberal tradition, and mixes it with the materialist approach, creating what Alvargonzález has attack, and I praise, as a Liberal Materialism. (Quite US Made: Americans are so deeply individualistic that they don’t even realize and Europeans have to taught them the difference).

With this simple construction, he (Or more precisely, Nira Reiss) put an end to the endless discussion about “the native POV and the specificity of Anthropology”, and he do the best thing that a scientist can do: He works and produces many theories about real topics in a coherent framework (As Mr Abner Cohen, from a different School, has already set). He makes anthropology instead of talking about Anthropology. (As unfortunately I am doing now, but as many so called anthropologists has done, gaining an unfair reputation of “theoretically serious scholars”, and being so proud to know themselves as to call Harris, a quite superior researcher, “vulgar materialist”).

And, once you are on it, it is as easy as this: Which theory explains the past more comprehensively, and which makes better predictions in for the future in each case? So obvious is the idea of Science in "Natural Sciences" and so boringly discussed is this topic on "Human/Social Sciences". And Harris theories are simply great ones, well argued, "winner ones". (For example, his 1992´s theory about the fall of Communism and the corruption on it, and on any "good" dictatorship, as a result of a deficit of information: It preceded in 10 years to Mr Amartya Sen Theories, but the latest is perhaps better known because he has received in 1998 the Economy Nobel Prize for this ones, the same, ideas) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:29, 12 December 2007 (UTC)

Technical Language[edit]

While I am normally a proponent of using the right words to describe the right thing, this article strikes me as being the exact opposite of the article it was split from, the Dialectical Materialism. Where Dialectical materialism is written to exactly the technical requirement of the subject, it seems very strongly that this article could be improved through the use of less technical language to describe the study. Or perhaps the more technical side of things could be moved to a Technical Discussion section and let less technical discussion of the subject be nearer the top of the page.--Bpmitche (talk) 22:47, 9 April 2008 (UTC)