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Cultural Practice And Theory: Symbolic Anthropology (Essay Sample)


Choose one controversial, contested, or ‘unusual' cultural practice that you will research and analyze from the perspective of one of the theories we have discussed in class, listed above. Some examples of controversial and/or seemingly strange cultural practices include Tibetan sky burials, the running of the bulls in Spain, and psychic surgery in the Amazon (among others).
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Student's Name
Cultural Practice and Theory
All over the world, people engage in various cultural practices that could be perceived to be strange by others in different societies. Sometimes it becomes hard to understand why such practices continue to be upheld in spite of them being controversial or unusual. The French greeting, La bise is one such unusual cultural practice that is unique to the people of France. In order to understand the reason for these behaviors and practices, it is necessary to examine them using theoretical approaches. In the above case, the theory to be used is the symbolic anthropology theory. The theory centers on the idea that the way people interpret various aspects of life determines their actions.
In France La bise is a common form of greeting that is widely practiced. While the name is interpreted to mean the cheek kiss, the practice does not involve actual kissing instead, the cheeks of those involved brush against each other lightly. This is then followed by a kissing sound produced by the lips. There is no contact between the cheek and lips during this greeting and male friends rarely use it. Generally, the cheek kiss is not optional for anyone who finds himself or herself in France because any meeting with a friend is usually a chance to La bise. The place where one is at in France will determine which cheek to begin with and the number of kisses that have to be given (Rabson N.p). According to Tu (N.p), the cheek kiss is widely appreciated and practiced because it symbolizes equality. The idea of equality is supported by the fact that the cheeks of those involved are on the same plane. The process involved makes this practice very personal, and that explains why it is often used between friends. The practice of la bise, or kissing as a way of greeting has it background in Rome where kisses of different types were used by the Romans. The Romans divided these greeting kisses in three groups, romantic, religious and greeting kisses. Each group had a special name usually referred to as Saevium, osculum, and et basium respectively. The last one, et basium then became the basis of the French la bise which is a shortened version of the word kiss or le baiser. Just as the Romans used the greeting kiss as a show of integrity and honesty, the French adopted the same method in their greeting. The middle ages saw the use of La bise in France although it was not used as extensively as it is today and it was less of a social greeting. Tu (N.p) notes that the practice ended with the onset of the Black Plague but was later after the French revolution it was revived. Given that it was revived during this period, it made the practice to be viewed as an equality and liberty symbol. With time, those in high society used hand kisses as a form of greeting while the rest of the people used cheek kisses, hence eventually leading to the acceptance of la bise as a cultural custom in France.
Symbolic anthropology is one of the anthropological theories used to explain cultural practices. Ideally, cultural symbols are studied under this theory, which goes ahead to offer a clear interpretation of such symbols in a way that makes it easy to understand the people in the culture that uses them. In their study, Hudson, Smith, Loughlin and Hammerstedt (N.p) point out that symbolic anthropology also helps other society members to be understood in relation to their utterances and actions. As the people in society interpret these symbols, they are able to derive meaning from them and as a result, they form a cultural system that is shared by all. Cultural symbols are s

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