Chapter

Epilogue: The Anthropologist as Onion-Peeler

A. L. Epstein

in In the Midst of Life

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 1992 | ISBN: 9780520075627
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520911642 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520075627.003.0008
Epilogue: The Anthropologist as Onion-Peeler

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The central aim of this book has been to present some account of the way of life of a specific group of people, the Tolai of the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain, that takes full cognizance of the part the emotions play in the various aspects of their social existence. In their own efforts to explain the emotions, a number of psychologists have invoked evolutionary theory: the emotions are to be understood in terms of the adaptive functions they subserve. But if, as anthropologists have been tireless in pointing out, there is such a degree of diversity as between cultures, it seems that we have to think not only in terms of general, that is, panhuman, adaptation, but no less of special or local adaptation. Progress along these lines calls for more intensive cross-cultural studies than are currently available to allow for meaningful generalization at this stage; studies of regional homogeneity and variation might seem a useful first step in this direction. It is with this in mind that this chapter attempts to sketch the author's own approach to the problem, which he has likened to the efforts of an onion-peeler. Because shame is one of the few affects that has received a certain amount of attention in the Melanesian ethnography, it provides a convenient focus for exploring the different ways in which the human capacity for feeling shame is adapted, elaborated, and put to use in a number of societies within the region, as well as seeking to account for them.

Keywords: Tolai; Gazelle Peninsula; ethnography; emotion; shame

Chapter.  15076 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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