Evans-Pritchard explores a “closed system of thought”

In a previous post, I’ve discussed an overview of the career of Sherry B. Ortner, an anthropologist that I learned about through reading work by another anthropologist, Marjorie Harness Goodwin. In this post, I will discuss another anthropologist.

Photo from antique show at Cloverdale Mall, Toronto, 2014. Reunions have to do with things that happened in the past. Jaan Pill photo

Ortner has studied the anthropology of the Sherpas of Nepal, the life stories of a 1950s New Jersey high school class, and the American independent film industry.


Goodwin has studied cliques of popular girls in American elementary schools.

Cliques are a part of life; they occur at all ages; among other things, they offer a particular means whereby agency is manifested in everyday life.

Means exist whereby the influence of cliques can be modulated, and can be directed toward goals that benefit the public good assuming that there is a belief that such a thing as “the public good” exists.

What’s an example, in this context, of a “means whereby”?

By way of a small example, if you’re having a meeting to make a decision or share information, you can ensure that each person at the meeting has an equal say and gets to speak roughly the same amount of time as every other person at the meeting.

Search function now available at this website

Photo from antiques display, Cloverdale Mall, Toronto, 2014. Jaan Pill photo

I’ve added a search function to my website, so that you can locate posts in which I’ve discussed anthropology or others topics. Anthropology is a topic, among others, that I write about to organize my own thinking. Topics of more interest to readers in general include other topics such as reflections by Graeme Decarie or the history of the Marlborough golf club.

It was because I wanted to do background reading related to a high school reunion, that I’m helping to organize, that I came across work by Goodwin and Ortner.

E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1910-89)

A book entitled Fifty Key Anthropologists (2011) includes blurbs or overviews regarding, among others, E.E. Evans-Pritchard.

Evans-Pritchard is described as having done a good job of exploring what he called a “closed system of thought,” in a particular society. In this context, he describes a situation in which all things that could not be explained on the basis of empirical evidence were explained by other means such as witchcraft.

The expression “closed systems of thought” is described as probably derived from the work of Karl Popper. It is noted that the insights shared by Evans-Pritchard “have informed a number of political and philosophical discussions about Marxism, Freudianism, and many forms of religious thought” (p. 58).


A Sept. 30, 2015 New York Times editorial is entitled: “Slipping Backward in Nepal.”

A Dec. 19, 2015 Guardian article is entitled: On strike at 8,848 metres: “Sherpa and the story of an Everest revolution: Jennifer Peedom set out to make a documentary about the untold role the Sherpas play in helping wealthy western climbers conquer Mount Everest, but when an avalanche hit during her shoot, she ended up with an even bigger story.”

A Feb. 27, 2015 CBC The Current article is entitled: “Mt. Everest guide calls for better working conditions for Sherpas.”

A March 5, 2015 CBC The Current article is entitled: “Checking-In on Sherpas, immigration limbo, tax-free tampons & more.”

A caption for a photo at the latter link reads: “It has been nearly a year since 16 Sherpas were killed in a devastating avalanche on Mount Everest. And now, with a new climbing season on the horizon, many Sherpas say the risks they’re being asked to take on the trek to the summit are just too high. ”

A June 18, 2016 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Who needs the truth in this post-factual world?’

An Aug. 24, 2016 Poynter article is entitled: “The more partisan your online media diet, the less likely you are to believe fact-checkers.”

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