Anthropologists make attempts to establish the relationships between cultural and economical sides of the life of the society, deciding between the materialistic and spiritualistic approaches or trying to integrate both of them. Weber’s theory of religious beliefs as the basis for the division of labor forces in capitalistic society can coexist with Malinowski’s and Lewi’s views but is opposed by Geertz who put emphasis on culture.
The key issue of Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Weber is the definition of the primary principles of capitalism and the prioritized values of people living in a capitalistic society. Defining the leading principle of capitalism, he notes that “man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life” (Weber 53). The researcher is aimed at establishing the relationships between the individual’s motivation for working, the principles of division of labor forces and materialistic values in the society and the level of its cultural development.
Considering the religious beliefs as an integral element of culture having a significant impact on people’s decision making, Weber finds the rational explanation for prioritizing the materialistic values in the principles of the asceticism. Not limiting the concept of capitalistic culture to the economical structure of the society, Weber attempts to evaluate the influence of the religious beliefs on the citizens’ obedience to the existing economical laws. The anthropologist analyzes the protestant principle of calling as the main argument for faithful labor at low wages for the lowest strata that have no other opportunities. “The capitalism of to-day, which has come to dominate economic life, educates and selects the economic subjects which it needs through a process of economic survival of the fittest” (Weber 55). On the one hand, Weber points at the utilitarian nature of humans and their passion for acquisition of the material values, underestimating the importance of culture. On the other hand, he analyzes the evolution of the Christian beliefs and considers faithful calling to be the prototype for the division of labor forces in the contemporary capitalistic society.
“One of the fundamental elements of the spirit of modern capitalism, and not only of that but of all modern culture: rational conduct on the basis of the idea of the calling, was born … from the spirit of Christian asceticism” (Weber 180). Despite all his assertions as to the place of culture and religion in the system of beliefs, in the final conclusion part of his work Weber denies the effectiveness of one-sided interpretation of history from materialistic or spiritualistic perspective, considering the complex character of the issue. The anthropologists Malinowski, Levi and Geertz shed light upon the main principles of the development of the society, drawing the parallels between the present day beliefs and culture of primitive tribes, ancient myths and contemporary science. For instance, researching the social code of Kula population, Malinowski contrasts their preferences and beliefs of capitalistic society. At the same time, evaluating the place of materialistic values in the system of beliefs of the tribe, the researcher establishes the relationship between the property and the social status because for Kula people “to possess is to be great, and that wealth is indispensable appanage of social rank and attribute of personal virtue (Malinowski 103).
Describing the competition of generosity among the richest members of the tribe, Malinowski still points at the significance of economical acquisition of the population as the marker of their position in the society and corresponding obligations. Analyzing the common features of the myths structure, Levi uses their content as the basis for interpreting the principle of the division of labor forces in present day society. “The problem often regarded as insoluble, vanishes when it is shown that the clowns-gluttons who may with impunity make excessive use of agricultural products – have the same function in relation to food production as the war-gods” (Levi 223). Similar to Weber’s analysis of the Christian beliefs, Levi finds the roots for the present day social injustice in ancient myths, explaining the inequality of various strata of population and other social phenomena with the gods’ will. As opposed to all the previous researchers, Geertz focuses his studies on the concept of culture, giving preference to the spiritualistic interpretation of the life of the society. Altering the traditional definition of culture, he points at its significance and impact on other spheres. Geertz develops Weber’s theory of a man as an animal in the significance webs which he/she creates “I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning” (Geertz 6).
Thus, the views of Malinowski and Levi do not contradict Weber’s theory and can coexist, while Geertz shifts emphasis to culture as the significant element of the life of society. Drawing the parallels between the system of beliefs and the organization of society, anthropologists try to make understanding of social phenomena and people’s consciousness more comprehensive. Weber, Malinowski, Levi and Geertz used the definition of the concept of culture as the basis for explaining the main principle of division of labor forces.
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books Publishers, 1973.
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Claire Jacobson and Brooke Schoepf. New York: Basic Books Publishers, 1963. Print.
Malinowski, Bronislav. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: Routledge. 1932.
Print. Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans.
Talcott Parsons. New York: Routledge. 1992.