Keith Douglas' Web Page

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Intellectual/professional influences Influences on my work, including an organization chart. Here you can also buy many good books on philosophy and other subjects via I have included brief reviews of hundreds of books.
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Book Influences - Anthropology

Purchase / Enjoy Cover
Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race Stewart (ed.) Another textbook satire from the folks at The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. A lot of reasonably erudite jokes and many, many pictures of weird and wonderful things.
Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Burkert (trans. by Bing) A detailed (often almost excessively so) and well documented (many, many references across a wide variety of classical sources) study of the role of death and violence in the ancient Greek religion. It is amazing how much of that attitude and "spirit" is found even to this day amongst Christians. Christianity is in many ways a direct continuation of much of what is seen here. One thing which is not addressed which would have been interesting is the connections (if any) between the use of bulls as sacrificial animals in antiquity and the (still ongoing in some places) practice of the "bull fight".
Indians of North America Driver Old, but still has useful information. Foods and geographic distributions of various groups have proved the most interesting to me.
Meaning, Medicine and the 'Placebo Effect' Moerman

(Note: I have classified this book under anthropology for lack of anything better; this reflects the publisher and author's classification.) This slim book defends the notion that we should expand our notion of placebo to enclose all psychosociocultural factors affecting health and healing, to emphasize that it is not the treatment per se that alone does something, but instead expectations, conditioning, and over all what he calls the "meaning response". The examples (including some of the "nocebo effect") provided are clear and riveting. However, the positive thesis is still very vaguely defended by the end of the book. If the idea is simply that psychosociocultural factors in health and healing need to be better understood, then I am in agreement. If there's something more to it, I cannot see it adequately explored in this book. (One, alas, has the feeling of retreading the same point several times in this work.) The author is also a bit too subjectivist and does not seem to be aware of the modest evidence for CBT (as opposed to other means of psychotherapy) and the antievidence for psychoanalysis. (In both cases relative to some conditions.) He is also a bit too hasty to shoehorn things into the responses of patients; as a medical anthropologist he is no doubt aware of the psychosociocultural factors which affect how people answer questions about such things. (I am thinking about the menopause studies he talks about.) There are a few other quibbles, but over all the book is a fair introduction to a complicated topic. Birds, if you ever read this, this one is for you.

Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family Briggs This is the cleaned up and semi-popularized version of a dissertation from the 1960s (hence the out of date terminology in the title). Nevertheless it is a readable and sympathetic account of the lifestyle (as it was then) of a few groups of Inuit still living in their traditional environment. Most valuable is the analysis provided of the Inuit views of emotion (or at least those of the group studied).
Readings in Anthropology Jennings and Hoebel (ed.) A collection of over sixty articles and excerpts on all branches of anthropology and its relations to other fields such as economics, linguistics, primatology, etc. Also includes a few selections on what might be called the anthropological technologies. No doubt dated now, but there is still some methodological insight that could be gleaned from some of the remarks.
Religion Explained Boyer A discussion of the social/anthropological "use" of religion.
Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality Ryan and Jethá This breezy but detailed book defends the hypothesis that humans have (to some extent) been shoehorned into monogamy by the introduction of agriculture. We are more like bonobos than chimpanzees, it seems. The authors are careful to note that does not have as immediate consequence of "free love for everyone" but does predict (or rather confirm) why marriage is in such a sorry state. They also stress that for a society to (re)develop sexual openness and fluidity of relationships will also require communal raising of children and social responsibility for them, rather than the extreme focus on the biological parents as is common in agricultural based social groups. Another key feature of the book is pointing out the great disservice (some) anthropologists have done by using terms like "wife", "husband" and "marriage" where really these are inapplicable. Finally, as a matter of personal interest, I am pleased that the authors mention the Inuit.
Social Anthropology Evans-Pritchard An explanation of social anthropology as a study of "culture", as opposed to social systems per se that the sociologist studies. The author adopts the viewpoint that social anthropology is a humanities discipline on the grounds that (a) there are no (known?) laws in his field and (b) the analogy to history. Both seem spurious, especially as (a) is hardly argued for: in fact, he says repeatedly there are objective patterns to be found. I suppose what he might mean is that there are no laws that apply to all or most societies, but his own words betray that as well. He also addresses what might be called the "technology" (or craft, if he is right about social anthropology being a humanities discipline) associated with anthropology. It is here that the book looks the most dated, as the use is to help govern colonies.
The Arctic Sky: Inuit Astronomy, Star Lore and Legend MacDonald This book is more or less correctly named and perfectly descriptive, if you read "astronomy" in the "folk" sense. This is good, as one tradition amongst the Inuit is to make names out of descriptions. Contentwise, the book is gorgeous, with many illustrations, making for excellent value. Like people around the world, the Inuit did make use of the sky and its contents; here we learn what for and such. Some views are naturalistic, some not and some are common across the arctic and some not. But much in here is interesting. A bit of an apologia for some of the more superstitious elements, but as I told my friend (after watching Atanarjuat) who got me interested in matters Inuit, she is like her kin (indeed, like all our kin): highly intelligent, very resourceful and deeply superstitious. The three are not incompatible; indeed one merit of learning about other people is to check one's own limitations.
The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature Atran and Medin An anthopologist and a cognitive psychologist have joined up to make a non-squishy, non-excessively-evolutionary-psychology focused manifesto for a new field of "cognitive anthropology". Despite the book's semisubjectivist title, it is not pomo friendly at all, with plenty of hard data and detailed analysis (though with more to come) on how various native American groups and others conceptualize various aspects of the living world. A bit hard to follow in places and including (fortunately) many methodological rmarks, this is a good introduction to what will hopefully be a fruitful field (though, as one might suspect, there are other works in this area of approximately appropriate character).

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