Art, Behavior, and the Anthropologists [and Comments and Reply] Academic Article uri icon


  • Can Social activities be understood as having important and persistent social functions which are unintended by members of the society in which they are performed? In arguing that the answer is no, I draw methodological comparisons between aesthetic criticism is shown to make use of a broader sense of "intention" than many anthropologists have wished to employ in describing the functional significance of social activities. Yet the persistent functional values of such activities resemble in important respects the purposiveness characteristic of works of art. These values (the social unity brought about by the Hopi rain dances, for instance) cannot be regarded as merely inadvertent by-products of actions directed toward other goals (producing rain), but must be understood as strategies, as matters of intelligent human design, and hence as implicitly intentional. The inclination of so many anthropologists to treat intention virtually as an irrelevant component of functional analysis is shown to be part of the misguided impulse to treat human activity "scientifically," in the same way that a chemist or biologist regards a physical or organic process. Understanding a primitive society more resembles understanding a work of art than a physical process: in this respect, anthropology has much to learn from aesthetic criticism.

published proceedings

  • Current Anthropology

author list (cited authors)

  • Dutton, D., Brook, D., Clegg, J. K., Cudjoe, S. D., Delaquis, H. A., Green, T. A., ... Teilhet, J.

citation count

  • 37

complete list of authors

  • Dutton, Denis||Brook, Donald||Clegg, John K||Cudjoe, Seth D||Delaquis, H Alto||Green, Thomas A||Hatch, Elvin||Huxley, Frederick C||Jarvie, IC||Lawal, Babatunde||Lehmann, Arthur C||Merriam, Alan P||Morab, SG||Aguirre, Carlos Munizaga||Pohorecky, Zenon||Seeger, Anthony||Teilhet, Jehanne

publication date

  • September 1977