Here is Your Short Essay on Ethnology

These characteristics make the American society an ethnic society. Ethnicity is also applied to races. In a broader way, therefore, ethnicity is con­cerned with shared common traits including the customs, dress and food.

Yet another aspect of ethnicity is the ethnography. The diction­ary defines ethnography as “scientific description of the races of the earth”. When we discuss ethnology as a branch of anthropology, we consider ethnic and ethnography as parts of the branch.

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Ethnology, as we understand it, treats the varieties of the human race in technical terms. In USA, ethnology is considered to be a part of cultural anthro­pology.

Before we carefully examine the concept of ethnology as an established branch of anthropology, we must discuss the new signifi­cance and importance which this branch has recently assumed. At the outset, we must advance a caution that the traditional meaning of eth­nology has now undergone a watershed change.

Contemporary Ubiquity of Ethnology:

It would be erroneous to think that social anthropology and ethnol­ogy are conservative social sciences and have no relevance to the mod­ern, fast changing social life. It must be observed that not only in anthropology but in other social and natural sciences also, a tremen­dous change has come about in their conceptualization.

As a matter of fact, the conceptual tool of social sciences has undergone vast transfor­mation. It we look at the anthropological journals and monographs published during the last five decades, from 1950 to 2000, we would quickly find that a radical change has come in the language of the sub­ject.

“The terminology has generally become more influenced by hermeneutics and literary theory than by natural science during this period. Words such as ‘function’ and ‘social structure’ have become less common.

Those like ‘class’, ‘infrastructure’ and ‘contradiction’ had a brief spell of popularity in the 1970s, while terms such as ‘dis­course’, ‘de-construction’, ‘resistance’ and ‘symbolic capital’ have steadily grown more popular since the early 1980s.”

Traditionally, the chapter scheme of ethnology and social anthro­pology is followed by the description of ‘subject matter’ and ‘scope’. Such concepts are now replaced with ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’. In In­dia, it is fashionable to use the terms ‘tribe’ and ‘weaker sections’. Obviously, such uses have given place to ethnic minorities.

In fact, a new interest has arisen in the discussion of ethnology. Earlier, ethnology was taken up as a theme of cultural description. And, in anthropology, cultural description, that is, ethnology was a theme of queer customs, folkways of the tribal people, etc.

That kind of orientation restricted only to the tribals has gone today. A new in­terest has now emerged for the analysis of ethnological behaviour. Now, the anthropological branch of ethnology has assumed a perva­sive importance ranging from local to national and international level. Observing on the newly emerging importance of ethnology, Eriksen very rightly opines:

For one thing, a term like ‘ethnic group’ which has largely replaced that of ‘tribe’ simultaneously expresses that tribal organization is no longer common and that anthropology no longer works from a rigid boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’. For ethnic groups (and nations) are omnipresent or ubiquitous and exist in the anthropologist’s own society as well as elsewhere.

Looking at the political situation in the world at the end of the 20th century, the immediate impression is that most of the serious armed conflicts today have an important ethnic dimension.

From Punjab to Northern Ireland, from Tibet to Bosnia, from Sri Lanka to the for­mer Soviet Union, there is conflict and competition between different ethnic groups regarding political sovereignty and control over territories.

There are also other kinds of conflicts where ethnic groups emerge as corporate groups. Indigenous peoples and immi­grant groups may, for example, demand the right to cultural survival and the right to equality with the majority, usually without demand­ing their own state.

The observations of Eriksen help us to understand the new im­portance of ethnology in analyzing the situation of the Indian subcontinent. The relations between Pakistan and India revolve round ethnic considerations.

Religion and history, which are ethnological in character, determine the relationship between the two countries. The conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalis in Sri Lanka is also based on ethnic conflict. Again, the movement started by the tribals in India for autonomy as well as resettlement is basically ethnic conflicts.

However, ethnology in the present-day world is not concerned necessarily with conflict. It can be expressed in quite undramatic ways through everyday definitions of situations.

This can be seen in religious cults and other peaceful phenomena. It can also be identified at different levels of scale-from dyadic interaction to civil war. Eriksen has provided the definition of ethnology in a new context:

The phenomenon of ethnicity (that is, ethnology) is, in other words, a complex one. In everyday language, the concept of ethnic group is normally used to describe a minority group which is culturally distin­guishable from the majority, and as such the term encompasses groups in very different situations ranging from New York Jews to the Yanomamo in Brazil.

In anthropology, the expression ethnic group may also be used to describe majority groups, and ethnicity concerns the relationship between groups whose members consider each other culturally distinctive.

The way Eriksen has illustrated and described the concept of eth­nology makes it clear that this branch of anthropology is cultural at its core. It tries to identify common or shared cultural traits found in a group minority or majority.

These cultural or ethnic traits encour­age conflict or cooperation. Ethnology, therefore, can be seen in all kinds of groups including nation, race, caste, class, region or village.

Cultural anthropology in the United States is essentially ethnol­ogy. Kroeber considers ethnology as a part of general cultural anthropology. He says that ethnology is the science of peoples and their cultures and life history as groups, irrespective of their degree of advancement. He also makes a differentiation of ethnology from eth­nography.

Accordingly, ethnography is more descriptive than ethnology, as more theoretically or more historically inclined. As a matter of fact, ethnology and cultural anthropology are two sides of the same coin. Viewed in this way ethnology is the oldest of the sister­hood of sciences.

Every savage is a bit of an ethnologist about neighbouring tribes and knows a legend of the origin of mankind. Herodotus, the ‘father of history’, devoted half of his nine books to pure ethnology.

Lucretius, a few centuries later, tried to solve by philosophical deduction and poetical imagination many of the same problems that modern anthropology is cautiously attacking with con­crete methods.

Until nearly 2,000 years after these ancients, neither in chemistry, nor geology, nor biology was so serious an interest devel­oped as in anthropology.

Evans-Pritchard, who has defined ethnology from the British per­spective of social anthropology, observes that despite social anthropology and ethnology having the same subject matter, they dif­fer in their perspective.

In the beginning, no distinction was made in Britain between ethnology and social anthropology; however, the two are now considered as separate branches. Evans-Pritchard writes:

Though in the past no clear distinction was made between ethnology and social anthropology, they are today regarded as separate disci­plines.

Having established ethnology and social anthropology as inde­pendent social disciplines, Evans-Pritchard spells out the definition of ethnology as under:

The task of ethnology is to classify peoples on the basis of their social and cultural characteristics and then to explain their distribution at the present time or in the past times, by the movement and mixture of peoples and the diffusion of cultures.

Evans-Pritchard argues that the basic task of ethnology-is to make a classification of peoples and cultures. When this is done social an­thropology makes comparisons between primitive societies.

If we take the Indian situation, we will find that K.S. Singh in his report on the People of India (POI) classifies the tribal groups into four social stocks, namely, the Negrito, the Protoaustraloid, the Mongoloid and the Caucasoid.

According to him, the Jarawas, the Gonds, the Nagas, and the Gujjars fall into these categories, respectively. This is the work of pure ethnology. Based on this classification, Singh compares the devel­opmental scales of these tribal groups.

The usefulness of ethnology as a branch of anthropology helps us to reconstruct the history of primitive peoples, for whose past histori­cal records are lacking. The ethnologists are compelled to rely on references from circumstantial evidence to reach their conclusions, which in the nature of the case, can never be more than probable re­construction.

Thus, Indian ethnology, which is a part of social anthropology, in much influenced by British ethnology. K.S. Singh has discussed the development of ethnology in India in his Tribal Society in India (1985). He accepts that Rai Bahadur Sarat Chandra Ray was the father of In­dian ethnography. He is given this status because of his book The Mundas and their Country (1912). Sarat Chandra has written a large number of monographs on the tribals of Bihar. As a matter of fact, ethnology is concerned with three basic things:

(1) Classification of groups on the basis of racial types,

(2) Narration of culture, and

(3) Study of tribals and primitives.


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