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The Intertwining of Culture and Nature: Boas, Dewey, and Deweyan Strands of American Anthropology

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Charles Hobbs
Gonzaga University
United States

Gabriel Torres
Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN
United States

In this paper we share our initial findings on the intellectual relationship between Boasian and Deweyan thought as a way of exploring the relationship between culture and nature. Our main argument is that John Dewey, influenced by Franz Boas and early American anthropology, made the first attempt to understand nature from an anthropological perspective. We shall first discuss how Boas helped develop the culture concept, which played a key role in the development of American cultural anthropology, while also addressing the conceptual role of "nature" in early anthropology. Then we explain Dewey on the relationship between culture and nature, arguing that his account of nature is essentially anthropological. Finally, in support our interpretation of Dewey’s anthropology of nature, we conclude by considering how Dewey’s "anthropological philosophy" served as an inspiration for Ruth Benedict and Leslie White, founders of two quite distinct anthropological traditions.


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