Glossary of Terms


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acculturation  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the process by which a culture is transformed due to the massive adoption of cultural traits from another society--it is what happens to a culture when alien traits diffuse in on a large scale and substantially replace traditional cultural patterns.  See transculturation.
anomie  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a feeling of alienation and isolation from all other people, including family and friends.
applied anthropology
the branch of anthropology oriented towards using anthropological knowledge for practical purposes.  The work of most applied anthropologists has the goal of helping small indigenous societies adjust to the massive acculturation pressures that they are now experiencing without their suffering culture death and genocide.
assimilation  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the absorption of an individual or minority group of people into another society or group.  This is achieved by learning and adopting the cultural traditions of the society to which assimilation occurs.  It is also often hastened by intermarriage and by de-emphasizing cultural and or biological differences.
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cult  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a devoted religious group, often living together in a community with a charismatic prophet leader.  Cults are generally considered to be potentially dangerous, unorthodox, extremist groups by the dominant religious organizations in a society.
culture  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the customs, skills, arts, language, and other interrelated learned behavior patterns of a people that set them apart as a distinct group or society.
culture death
the complete disappearance of a culture as a result of the total acculturation or the death of all of the people who shared it.
culture loss
the loss of cultural traits.  As cultures change and acquire new traits, old no longer useful or popular ones inevitably disappear.  An example of culture loss is the disappearance over time of certain words and phrases in a language.  In some cases, the words continue to be used but acquire new, very different meanings.  Culture loss is accelerated during periods of acculturation and transculturation.
culture shock
mental distress caused by the strain of rapidly adjusting to an alien culture.  This is a common phenomenon for travelers who are totally immersed in the language and customs of another society, day and night, without a break.  It is largely due to being forced to constantly experience new, unfamiliar cultural traditions.  Transculturating people also are likely to experience culture shock.
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developed nation
a nation that is relatively wealthy and usually industrialized.  Most of the people in developed nations have at least adequate access to food, electricity, fossil fuels, education, and medicine with the consequence that their lives are materially more comfortable and their life spans are significantly longer than those in underdeveloped nations.  The United States, most of Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand are developed nations.
diffusion  propnounce word
the movement of cultural traits and ideas from one society or ethnic group to another.  While the form of a trait may be transmitted to another society, the original meaning may not.  For instance, McDonald's hamburgers are thought of as a cheap, quick meal in North America, but  they are generally considered to be a special occasion food in China.
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ethnocentrism  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the feeling that your own group's cultural traditions and values are correct and superior to all others.  This is usually coupled with a generalized dislike and even contempt for people who have other cultural traditions.   Ethnocentrism is universal in that all people around the world are ethnocentric to some degree.
ethnocide  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the act or attempt to systematically destroy another people's ethnicity or culture.  Usually the term ethnocide is applied to intentional acts resulting in culture death.  The legalized "kidnapping" of Native American children so that they could be educated as Europeanized Canadians and Americans during the late 19th and early 20th centuries is an example of ethnocide.  See genocide.
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foragers  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
see hunters and gatherers.
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genocide  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the act or attempt to systematically kill all members of an ethnic group or society.  The Nazi extermination of Jews and gypsies by the millions before and during World War II is an example of genocide.  See ethnocide.
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holism  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the view that human existence can be adequately understood only as a multifaceted whole.  Human beliefs and actions must be seen in terms of their interrelatedness with all other aspects of culture, human biology, social interaction, and environmental influences.
horticulturalists  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
people who obtain most of their food by rudimentary farming.   They usually practice slash and burn field clearing methods and do not add additional fertilizer or irrigate.  They often have a partial reliance on foraging for wild foods.  Their societies are usually larger and more sedentary than those of hunters and gatherers but still are at a low technological level and relatively small-scale.
hunters and gatherers
people who live in more or less isolated, small-scale societies and obtain their food by foraging wild plants and hunting wild animals.  Hunters and gatherers are also referred to as foragers.
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indigenous  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
referring to the native population of an area.
Industrial Revolution
the transition from a society primarily dependent on hand tools produced by individual craftsmen to one with machine and power tools developed through large-scale industrial production.  In Western Cultures, this began to occur during the last half of the 18th century.  It resulted in increased individual wealth, progressive urbanization, and globalization of the economy.
ingroup-outgroup dynamics
the social and psychological forces that operate in the interaction between groups of people and societies.  In this interaction, ethnocentrism and the desire to defend ethnic boundaries generally inhibits clear communication and cultural diffusion.
something new that is created.  Invented cultural traits may be new things or ideas.  It is rare for inventions to be based on entirely new principles, functions, and forms.  Most often, old principles are applied to new functions and/or forms.  Inventions may also result from stimulus diffusion.
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large-scale society
generally a society with cities, industry, intensive agriculture, and a complex international economy.  Such societies have socio-economic classes and a government with hierarchies of officials.  The importance of kinship is diminished in comparison to small-scale societies.
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  map of Melanesia
Melanesia  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
New Guinea and other nearby islands in the Southwest Pacific Ocean.  Indigenous people from this region are referred to as Melanesians.
messianic movement  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced 
A millenarian movement led by a prophet who is either perceived as a new messiah or who predicts the imminent arrival of one.
millenarian movement  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a conscious, organized movement that attempts to revive or perpetuate selected aspects of an indigenous culture or to gain control of the direction and rate of culture change being forced on them.  These movements have also been referred to as messianic, nativistic, and revitalization movements.  They were especially common among indigenous societies of European colonies.  The Cargo Cults of New Guinea and the Ghost Dance Movements of the North American Plains Indians are examples.  Millenarian movements typically have a prophet leader and religious beliefs requiring a major leap of faith by their followers.
millennium  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a golden age of great happiness, peace, and prosperity expected in the near future.  This sort of belief is characteristic of millenarian movements.  Literally, "millenium" refers to a period of 1000 years or the ending of such a period.
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nativistic movement  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
see millenarian movement.
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panga  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
an East African (Swahili) name for a large, broad knife used as a brush cutting tool and weapon.  In Latin America, it is called a machete click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced.
patriarch  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a powerful man who is the dominant ruling member of a family, community, or society. Patriarchs are usually elders who are given a great deal of respect and authority.
prophet  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
an individual who receives divine revelation concerning a restructuring of religious practices and usually of society as well.  See millenarian movement.
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revitalization movement  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a millenarian movement in which the followers focus on recreating and revitalizing their indigenous culture in response to tremendous pressure to acculturate to the culture of another society that dominates them.
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small-scale society
generally a society of a few dozen to several thousand people who live by foraging wild foods, herding domesticated animals, or non-intensive horticulture on the band or village level.  Such societies lack cities as well as complex economies and governments.  Kinship relationships are usually highly important in comparison to large-scale societies.
stimulus diffusion  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a genuine invention sparked by an idea that diffused in from another culture.  The invention of a unique Cherokee writing system by Sequoyah around 1821 after seeing English is an example.
sub-Saharan Africa  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the region of Africa south of the Sahara desert.
syncretism  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
an amalgamation or incorporation of traditional and introduced alien culture traits.  In Southern Mexico and Guatemala, the Maya Indian combination of mutually exclusive indigenous religious and European Christian beliefs to create a new composite religion is an example.  Syncretism is often a psychologically more satisfying alternative to rapid acculturation that totally replaces indigenous cultural beliefs and customs since one's own cultural identity is maintained.
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third world
Nations that are underdeveloped.
transculturation  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
what happens to an individual when he or she moves to a new society and adopts their culture.  See acculturation.
transnational corporation
a corporate business that has outgrown its national roots and identity as it became multinational with facilities in many countries and no overriding feeling of obligation or loyalty to any one of them.  Such companies typically move their production facilities from nation to nation in response to labor costs and tax advantages.  As a result, they are generally independent and beyond the control of any one national political system.  Transnational corporations have had a major impact on previously isolated indigenous societies in the late 20th century.
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underdeveloped nation
a nation in which most of the people are persistently poor due to the way they are integrated into the world economic system.  They usually provide cheap raw materials and labor for the rich, developed nations and purchase their manufactured goods at high prices.  The economies of underdeveloped societies are largely dependent on the richer nations.  Bangladesh and Guatemala are examples of underdeveloped, or third world, nations.  See developed nation and undeveloped society.
undeveloped society
a largely isolated society that has a low technological level but is economically self-reliant. They are not participants in the world economic system.  Such societies mainly consist of indigenous peoples who have subsistence economies.  By definition, undeveloped societies are not underdeveloped.  Tibet and Afghanistan up until the 1950's are examples of undeveloped societies.
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This page was last updated on Thursday, September 10, 2009.
Copyright 1997-2009 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.
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