The British Journal of Sociology. December 1963, Vol 14 no. 4, p381-382.

Traditional Cultures: and the impact of technological change by GEORGE M. FOSTER. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1962 292 pp. S6.5o.

THIS book is chiefly a warning against ethnocentrism. It appears to be intended mainly for Americans with little or no training in anthropology who contemplate service overseas in technical aid programmes. Using a wide range of examples Professor Foster cautions them of the dangers of assuming American values to be universal, of the difficulties in altering the motor patterns of individuals, of expecting gratitude, of allowing technical programming to become a substitute for a careful consideration of the problems facing a particular region. He warns them against 'culture shock', a condition brought on by poor communication and feelings of inadequacy which leads the sufferer to seek the company of fellow nationals and become pre-occupied with minor physical ailments, diet and the conviction that he is being cheated by the local inhabitants.

The warnings are useful. They are presented simply and clearly, but the method of drawing together fragmentary examples from many societies means that 3 generalizations tend to be very broad and the analysis of particular situations A. very shallow. Can we be sure, for example, that an Eskimo child who refused immunization demonstrates the child's authority over his own person, as the author implies? Might it not be a way by which the parents could avoid immunization for the child without appearing to oppose themselves to the doctor? We cannot judge from the three sentences devoted to this example. We cannot see how this incident fits into the social context from which it was wrested. Thus although the reader is frequently told to look at societies as wholes, he is rarely given the opportunity of doing so.

Professor Foster believes that anthropologists should play a more active part in technical aid programmes. They should be brought in at each stage of a project, for prestudying the existing social patterns, for planning the project, for on-going analysis and for evaluation -of the project. This involves the anthropologist in a commitment to the aims of a project and to the values underlying these aims. He may warn about ethnocentrism and the relativity of cultural values, but he is closely committed to changing them in terms of the values of the project which, presumably, must ultimately be related to his own.


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