Initiating Change in Highland Ethiopia: Causes and Consequences of Cultural Transformation

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In a rural community in Southern Ethiopia, there are two types of rituals performed by the same people. Historical evidence suggests that one has shown remarkable stability over the years, while the other has undergone massive transformations. External factors are the same, so how is this to be explained? In this 2002 book, Dena Freeman focuses on ethnographical and historical data from the Gamo Highlands of Southern Ethiopia to tackle the question of cultural change and transformation. She uses a comparative perspective and contrasts the continuity in sacrificial rituals with the rapid divergence and differentiation in initiations. Freeman argues that although external change drives internal cultural transformation, the way in which it does is greatly influenced by the structural organization of the cultural systems themselves. This insight leads to a rethinking of the analytic tension between structure and agency that is at the heart of contemporary anthropological theory.