Culture and Inference: A Trobriand Case Study

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Overview

This book takes a major step in psychological anthropology by applying new analytic tools from cognitive science to one of the oldest and most vexing anthropological problems: the nature of "primitive" thought.

For a decade or more there has been broad agreement within anthropology that culture might be usefully viewed as a system of tacit rules that constrain the meaningful interpretation of events and serve as a guide to action. However, no one has made a serious attempt to write a cultural grammar that would make such rules explicit. In Culture and Inference Edwin Hutchins makes just such an attempt for one enormously instructive case, the Trobriand Islanders' system of land tenure.

Using the propositional network notation developed by Rumeihart and Norman, Hutchins describes native knowledge about land tenure as a set of twelve propositions. Inferences are derived from these propositions by a set of transfer formulas that govern the way in which static knowledge about land tenure can be applied to new disputes. After deriving this descriptive system by extensive observation of the Trobrianders' land courts and by interrogation of litigants, Hutchins provides a test of his grammar by showing how it can be used to simulate decisions in new cases.

What is most interesting about these simulations, generally, is that they require all the same logical operations that arise from a careful analysis of Western thought. Looking closely at "primitive" inference in a natural situation, Hutchins finds that Trobriand reasoning is no more primitive than our own.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674179707
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1980
  • Series: Cognitive Science Series , #2
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 153
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Background

Classification

Inference

A Naturalistic Approach

Organization of the Argument

2. Trobriand Land Tenure

Relations between Men and Land

The Transfer of Land Rights

Titles in Land

The Institutional Context of Litigation

3. The Model

Notation

Inference

Descendant

Schemata

4. Case Analysis

Motabasi's Presentation

Analysis of Motabasi's Presentation

Kailimila's Presentation

Analysis of Kailimila's Presentation

The Testimony of Witnesses

Kwaiwai's Opinion

Analysis of Kwaiwai's Opinion

The Chief's Decision

5. Uses of the Cultural Code

Abbreviate Discourse, Reconstruct Abbreviated Discourse

Chunking

Understanding and Explanation

Problem Solving

Judgments of Sense, Truth, and Likelihood

Decision Making

Expectations and Plans

Violations of Expectations

Attribution

Speech Acts

6. Conclusion

Notes

References

Glossary

Index

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