Categories Anthropology I

I. Holism Vs Atomism in Anthropology

Holism is the total study while atomism is part study. Holism is anthropological approach while atomism is used in other social studies. Anthropologist study total aspect of human being to ensure generalization of human behavior. On the other hand, Atomism or social atomism is a sociological theory arising from the scientific notion atomic theory, coined by the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus and the Roman philosopher Lucretius. 

Holism is the perspective on the human condition that assumes that mind, body, individuals, society, and the environment interpenetrate, and even define one another. In anthropology holism tries to integrate all that is known about human beings and their activities. From a holistic perspective, it is a complex subject matter, it attempts to divide reality into mind and matter isolate and pin down certain aspects of a process that, by very nature, resists isolation and dissection.

An easier understanding of holism is to say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Humans who grow and live together are inevitably shaped by shared cultural experiences and develop into a much different person than they would have if developing in isolation.

In the scientific rendering of the word, atomism refers to the notion that all matter in the universe is composed of basic indivisible components, or atoms. When placed into the field of sociology, atomism assigns the individual as the basic unit of analysis for all implications of social life. This theory refers to “the tendency for society to be made up of a collection of self-interested and largely self-sufficient individuals, operating as separate atoms.” Therefore, all social values, institutions, developments and procedures evolve entirely out of the interests and actions of the individuals who inhabit any particular society. The individual is the “atom” of society and therefore the only true object of concern and analysis.

Atomism means reduction of an element onto a particular thing so it is a part study. This approach is adopted by all social sciences except Anthropology.

The belief that the universe is divisible into simple and similar particles and that all wholes (forms) are fundamentally made up of these particles and nothing more can be termed atomism. The different concrete wholes, like rocks, trees, planets, and air, are simply different configurations of these particles; and change in wholes, such as the growth of a rose from seed to flower, comprise only changes in the configurations of particles. Nature’s wholes were simply a sum (configuration) of its parts (atoms).

Because particles were considered similar, if not identical,  mechanistic perspective generally led to emphasizing quantity over qualities, “primary” over “secondary” characteristics. Mass, length, and velocity become fundamental concepts of reality, superordinate to “subjective” qualities like color, texture, odor, taste, and shape. Reality was seen as a universal machine, set in motion, perhaps by God, constructed of elementary particles, governed by mathematical laws, and fully determined.

Holism – anthropology deals with humans in totality in terms of time and space. The subject matter includes-

  1. physical anthropology
  2. archeological anthropology
  3. sociocultural anthropology

This holistic approach have made anthropology the widest discipline as it is related to biological sciences and other social sciences. Anthropology takes pride in it to present  a total picture of human being. This gives overall holistic understanding of human society. This approach has made anthropology a unique discipline in comarison to other social sciences.

Leave a Reply