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  • Class and social differentiation in Oceania

    V. A. Shnirelman

    Chapter from the book: Siikala, J. 2021. Culture and History in the Pacific.


    The rise of cognitive anthropology has recently stimulated a growing interest in intercultural variation. Separate social groups and strata endowed with various ranks and statuses already appeared at the dawn of history when the socioeconomic classes were developing. Hence that was also the time when various distinct social subcultures were emerging. Some Soviet scholars conceptually divide culture in two related ways. The first is determined by the principle which claims that each cultural form includes both productive and reproductive activities (technic-technological aspects) and the objectivized results of such activities. The second one has to do with various real cultural forms: production culture, consumption culture, interaction culture (or etiquette), socionormative culture, physical culture, artistic culture and so on. It seems quite evident that the emerging social differentiation affected distinct forms of ethnic culture rather differently. In order to understand this process, an extensive survey of the ethnic cultures of New Guinea, Melanesia and Polynesia has been conducted. The implication of this analysis is that it is necessary to correct some points in the methodology of Melanesian and Polynesian ethnic culture studies, because evidence of ordinary folk culture is inappropriate for the description of elite culture, and vice versa. The marshalled data put the investigation of the social differentiation process in a new perspective, particularly concerning the interpretation of prehistoric cultural frontiers.

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    Shnirelman, V. 2021. Class and social differentiation in Oceania. In: Siikala, J (ed.), Culture and History in the Pacific. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.33134/HUP-12-9

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    Published on Sept. 29, 2021


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