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Man Takes Control

Man Takes Control: Cultural Development and American Aid

Charles J. Erasmus
Copyright Date: 1961
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Man Takes Control
    Book Description:

    Man Takes Control was first published in 1961. This is an inquiry into the causes and cultural behavior, the nature of its development, and problems of foreign aid in relation to cultural development. Professor Erasmus examines technical assistance programs in some of the underdeveloped areas of the world and relates the significance of such programs to a general concept of cultural change. Most of the examples are drawn from his own experiences. He presents a case study of cultural development in northwestern Mexico, where road and irrigation projects have created new opportunities for commercial expansion. The study is based on his observations in Sonora, Mexico, made while he was associated with the University of Illinois Cultural Change Project. Before presenting the case study, Professor Erasmus discusses his theories of cultural causality and cultural development. He projects and original theory of cultural causality with the causal components of cognition, motivation, and limitation. In a modification of Thorstein Veblen’s concepts of conspicuous consumption and invidious comparison, he offers a three-level view of cultural development which includes conspicuous giving, conspicuous ownership, and conspicuous production, with their corresponding types of invidious comparison.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6227-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction

    • I A Man from the Past
      (pp. 3-14)

      For several months in 1948, I studied the life of Mayo Indian peasants in an isolated village on the coast of southern Sonora in northwestern Mexico. When I left, I decided to take one of the villagers back to the United States so that I might observe his reactions to modern urban life. Juan was an intelligent young man of about thirty who had become a close friend during my stay in his village. Since in many ways life in Las Bocas was more like that of the sixteenth century than that of the twentieth, I was in a sense...

  2. PART I. Cultural Causality

    • II Motivation and Cognition
      (pp. 17-32)

      The “needs” a social planner feels or perceives for his subjects may be quite different from those felt by the subjects themselves. Unless otherwise stated, “wants” and “felt needs” are used synonymously in this work to refer to needs felt by the public rather than the expert or the social planner. How motivation and cognition produce wants or felt needs will be illustrated in this chapter by examples of technical assistance. Special attention is given to the process of “frequency interpretation” and to the way it operates among preliterate or uneducated peoples, who learn chiefly through casual rather than technical...

    • III Cognition and Probable Knowledge
      (pp. 33-56)

      The examples of change in the preceding chapter showed that even uneducated and illiterate people are not simply tradition-bound puppets of their culture. Given adequate opportunity to measure the advantages of a new alternative, they act to maximize their expectations. Yet some writers on the subject of culture change are of the opinion that tradition or culture has a kind of determining force of its own. Culture becomes the active agent of its own causality, and man is relegated to passivity.

      Francis Hsu’s study of a Chinese town’s reaction to a cholera epidemic is a good example of this kind...

    • IV Limitation
      (pp. 57-76)

      In the last two chapters I emphasized the cognitive component of cultural causality in order to demonstrate that man is not simply a passive agent manipulated by his own behavior patterns. But the determination of limitative causes is usually of greater usefulness for applied purposes than is the consideration of motivational and cognitive factors. The latter can generally be taken for granted, particularly by the practical man who is too busy modifying his surroundings to believe that he is nothing but the pawn of historical forces.

      Although limitative causes were not discussed as such in the preceding two chapters, they...

    • V Limitation and Society
      (pp. 77-98)

      The last chapter emphasized man’s cognitive interaction with his environment through his artifacts and technology. In this chapter, we shall be concerned with interaction among men, especially with that between innovators and subjects. The problems discussed will be divided into three categories according to their degree of complexity. First will be situations in which an innovation may be passed, after an initial demonstration, from person to person independently of the innovator. Here the problem is largely one of presentation, as in the case, for example, of introducing improved plant varieties. The second category contains problems of prolonged interaction. Though in...

  3. PART II. Cultural Development

    • VI Conspicuous Giving and Closed Societies
      (pp. 101-134)

      The word “culture,” as used in this book, refers to observable phenomena — the muscular, vocal, and symbolic behavior learned by men as members of social groups. So defined, culture is only a means to understanding culture capital or knowledge, the basis of all forms of human capital. We know of culture capital and “observe” it indirectly through the written and spoken word. Although the stream of symbolic consciousness of which culture capital consists is not directly observable, it increases man’s control over his environment and himself in ways which are observable.

      The material category of culture I have excluded by...

    • VII Conspicuous Ownership and the Opening of Society
      (pp. 135-156)

      In the last chapter conspicuous giving was related to the lack of variety in durable goods, a limitation of closed societies where the division of labor is rudimentary. This chapter deals with the growth of “acquisitiveness,” which parallels the increasing abundance and variety of durable goods made available by the division of labor. The strictures of invidious sanction weaken as the opportunities to possess goods spread within a population. Men become more interested in emulating each other’s consumption habits than in pressing for redistribution. As invidious emulation takes precedence over invidious sanction, the importance of conspicuous ownership grows, while that...

    • VIII Conspicuous Production in Free and Coercive Societies
      (pp. 157-180)

      With the opening of society through the development of transportation and the use of money, commerce and specialization increase and with them the variety and abundance of durable goods. Conspicuous ownership can then predominate over conspicuous giving. Even in primitive closed societies, of course, there is always some conspicuous ownership. Often it is in the form of the sumptuary privileges of important personages; such persons have the largest and most imposing dwellings in the village or the most wives or the exclusive right to wear certain ornaments. Invidious sanction and the relative absence of durable goods tend nevertheless to limit...

  4. PART III. A Case Study of Cultural Development in Northwestern Mexico

    • IX Introduction to the Area
      (pp. 183-208)

      In the story of Juan in Chapter I, I told of seeing him again seven years after his trip to California. This was during the summer of 1955 when I made a quick reconnaissance of southern Sonora to appraise the changes. As a result of that preliminary visit, I had four major reasons for wishing to return to Sonora, in the fall of 1957 when the opportunity arose.

      First, technological developments had been happening very rapidly during the ten years since I had lived there; I wanted to see what effect they were having on the people and their way...

    • X The Land Reforms
      (pp. 209-237)

      In the discussion of exchange labor in Chapter VII we saw that a strong ethic reinforced by sanctions of reciprocity guaranteed the equivalence of the work exchanged. In these very simple cases where man-days of unskilled labor are reciprocated, the so-called labor theory of value, associated with Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx seems applicable. But in even the rudest societies, when goods are produced by special skill some additional reward accrues to the specialist. As such rewards become more and more delayed and differentiated with increasing specialization, the labor investments in the various goods, skills, and services exchanged...

    • XI Mobility and Emulation
      (pp. 238-268)

      The Mexican land reforms did not end all exploitation of the lower classes, but sudden reforms seldom work permanent miracles in a dual society, especially where the lower classes themselves hold a weak sanctioning position in the creation or enforcement of the negative controls. The land reforms have, however, certainly helped to open the social structure for greater mobility. The breakup of the large landholdings and the new ownership limit of one hundred hectares did not terminate latifundios, as we have seen; but they have helped to shake up the established order of vested interest and keep it flexible. The...

    • XII Religious Ceremonies and the Indians
      (pp. 269-306)

      After the Spanish conquest, older habits of conspicuous giving combined, in many parts of Latin America, with Roman Catholic ritual to form a ceremonial pattern including the sponsorship of annual calendrical fiestas for Catholic saints. Those who sponsor the fiesta often do so at great sacrifice of time and wealth, but in the process they gain public esteem. The Mayo and Yaqui Indians of Sonora still sponsor fiestas, but in both groups the practice of conspicuous giving of food is declining. Participation is declining much more rapidly, however, among the Mayos than among the Yaquis, and the reasons for that...

  5. Conclusions

    • XIII Implications for the Future
      (pp. 309-332)

      The concept of prestige or status as used to interpret culture in this book is not to be confused with the concept of the economic man. Although I view self-interest as the underlying stimulus to action, the striving activity which results, I believe, is not directed merely toward the acquisition of useful goods. Nor have I invoked any self-regulating mechanism such as a competitive market system to keep self-interest working for the greater good of all. Here I contend that man’s cognitive symbolizing ability, stimulated mainly by the desire for social recognition, accounts for the dynamic quality of progressive cultural...