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Publisher's Summary

As the "science of humanity," anthropology can help us understand virtually anything about ourselves, from our political and economic systems, to why we get married, to how we decide to buy a particular bottle of wine. This 24-lecture course reveals the extraordinary power of anthropology - and its subspecialty, cultural anthropology - as a tool to understand the world's varied human societies, including our own.

Is there such a thing as progress? Are modern nations really happier and better off than "primitive" hunter-gatherer societies?
How common is cannibalism today? What are the different types of cannibalism, and the beliefs associated with them?
What's the difference between a "matriarchal" and a "matrilineal" society? Which is more common among world cultures?
These lectures will immerse you in the world of the Trobriand Islanders of Melanesia; the Yanomamö of the Brazilian Amazon; the Dobe Ju'hoansi or Kung Bushmen of Botswana and Namibia; and other indigenous peoples.
Professor Fischer leads an excursion through cultural practices that often seem, to us, quirky, exotic, and even repulsive - marriages that include as many as 20 husbands, matrilineal societies, magic spirits and witchcraft, cannibalism, and incest - practices that will make you question your assumptions about what is natural, or what is human nature.

As you review these customs, the professor describes the issues that cultural anthropologists face in dealing with them. For example, what should anthropologists do in cases such as female circumcision or ritualized rape, in which customs seriously conflict with our own sense of morality and human rights?
Professor Fischer also applies the lessons of cultural anthropology to our own culture by considering the U.S. economy and consumer behavior. Is our economy really based on rational decision making? If so, why do we eat cattle and pigs, but not horses? Why are we willing to shop around to save $10 on a clock radio, but not on a big-screen TV?
You will grow to appreciate how valuable an understanding of cultural anthropology is in a world of ever-increasing globalization, in which members of even the most remote cultures come into more frequent and more influential contact through international travel, migration, business, and the Internet.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2004 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2004 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Pedro M on 11-19-14

The world is not only made of tribes

Actually the world is made of tribes, but I was left with the feeling that the book was too much focused on small tribes (interesting as they may be... and they are). I was expecting a more overarching perspective of big tribes: modern peoples and nations... it would be more useful.
It was a good anthropological exercise though...

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8 of 8 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By A. Smith on 02-07-14


Would you listen to Peoples and Cultures of the World again? Why?

I would like to hear these lectures again. Professor Fischer describes the culture and habits of peoples all over the globe. I loved that he guided us through the lives of those in remote villages and people who are rarely studied. These lectures were really enjoyable.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

I think for me, when he explained why cannibals think we are wrong and wasteful when we bury (instead of eat) our dead he was most compelling because it helped me to see them as humans with reasons for their actions. I never understood the "why" behind what they do. He has a way of teaching delicate subjects in an academic manner, so the listener can accept the information easier. He told stories of peoples so dramatically different than traditional Americans, I found it very interesting. I also learned that acts that can seem barbaric to us are seen in a very different light by others.

Have you listened to any of Professor Edward Fischer’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not, but would like to hear a sequel.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, I think it is too long for that, but I did listen to one a day and really looked forward to each one.

Any additional comments?

Really fascinating, many good lessons on human nature. I enjoyed it very much.

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Chris on 09-29-16

Interesting introduction but too diffuse

This course introduces the four main fields of anthropology - physical, cultural, linguistic and archaeological - before focussing on cultural anthropology for the majority of the lectures.

Topics covered include rites of passage, organisational structures of societies and systems of exchange (gift giving, market economies etc.). The professor takes several societies to which he returns repeatedly - some tribal like the Yanomami and some more familiar like modern Americans - and discusses them with respect to the kinds of anthropological theories that have been developed.

The first two thirds is very interesting, introducing concepts which were completely new to me and well worth learning about. Some of these were quite horrible - rituals in the rites of passage lecture stick out as being particularly disgusting - but always discussed with maturity and explained with reference to cultural models. I think there are important lessons in these lectures for anyone interested in human societies and how varied humans are.

The final third shifts focus substantially to how large societies and their economic systems impact smaller societies. I found this a bit out of nowhere, I certainly did not expect lectures on Marxist theory in an anthropology course (perhaps thats just my ignorance of the subject showing...) and I would really have preferred more lectures just on different cultures and how varied they can be. The final few lectures on how people integrate other cultures into their own just felt a bit wasted - the lecturer was more interested in telling us about how the Japanese integrate McDonalds into their culture by cutting up burgers than he was in telling us why they feel the need to cut up burgers and not eat with their hands.

It's a shame, I'm giving a three stars because I could have just stopped listening after the first two thirds and it would have been a better course. However, the first two thirds are really worth your time.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Mario on 08-31-15

Extremely insightful and well presented

Great build up, well explained and generally entertaining. Thank you very much for providing this podcast.

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1 of 4 people found this review helpful

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