Cosmologies in the Making: A Generative Approach to Cultural Variation in Inner New Guinea

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Cambridge University Press, Jan 26, 1990 - History - 99 pages
All culture, particularly that of non-literate traditions, is constantly being recreated, and in the process also undergoes changes. In this book, Fredrik Barth examines the changes that have taken place in the secret cosmological lore transmitted in male initiation ceremonies among the Mountain Ok of Inner New Guinea, and offers a new way of explaining how cultural change occurs. Professor Barth focuses in particular on accounting for the local variations in cosmological traditions that exist among the Ok people, who otherwise share similar material and ecological conditions, and similar languages. Rejecting existing anthropological theory as inadequate for explaining this, Professor Barth constructs a new model of the mechanisms of change, based on his close empirical observation of the processes of cultural transmission. This model emphasises the role of individual creativity in cultural reproduction and change, and maintains that cosmologies can be adequately understood only if they are regarded as knowledge in the process of communication, embedded in social organization, rather than as fixed bodies of belief. From the model he derives various theoretically grounded hypotheses regarding the probable courses of change that would be generated by such mechanisms. He then goes on to show that these hypotheses fit the actual patterns of variation that are found among the Ok.
 

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Contents

The problem
1
An attempt at systematic comparison descent and ideas of conception
10
The possible interrelations of subtraditions reading sequence from distribution
18
The context for events of change
24
The results of process variations in connotation
31
Secret thoughts and shared understandings
38
The stepwise articulation of a vision
46
Experience and concept formation
55
The insights pursued by Ok thinkers
65
General and comparative perspectives
74
Some reflections on theory and method
83
Bibliography
89
Index
93
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