Published on November 23, 2007
Culture, Theory, Ethnocentrism: Culture, Theory, Ethnocentrism Introduction: Introduction How anthropology began: awareness of cultural differences Definitions of culture: a desireable quality we can acquire by attending a sufficient number of plays and concerts and visiting art museums and galleries a set of learned behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, values, and ideals that are characteristic of a particular society or population Enculturation is the process by which a child learns his or her culture. Culture is Shared: Culture is Shared Culture is located and transmitted in groups. The social transmission of culture tends to unify people by providing us with a common experience. The commonalty of experience in turn tends to generate a common understanding of future events. Subculture - commonly shared customs of a group within a society (e.g. Russian-American customs) Western culture - example of commonly shared customs of some group that includes different societies Society - A group of people who occupy a particular territory and speak a common language not generally understood by neighboring peoples. Variation Levels of Culture: Levels of Culture National culture refers to the experiences, beliefs, learned behavior patterns, and values shared by citizens of the same nation. International culture refers to cultural practices which are common to an identifiable group extending beyond the boundaries of one culture. Subcultures are identifiable cultural patterns existing within a larger culture. Cultural practices and artifacts are transmitted through diffusion. Direct diffusion occurs when members of two or more previously distinct cultures interact with each other. Indirect diffusion occurs when cultural artifacts or practices are transmitted from one culture to another through an intermediate third (or more) culture. Levels of Culture: Levels of Culture Levels of culture, with examples from sports and food. Culture is Learned: Culture is Learned For something to be cultural, it must be both learned and shared. hair color culture what, where, when people eat = culture Cultural learning is unique to humans. Cultural learning is the accumulation of knowledge about experiences and information not perceived directly by the organism, but transmitted to it through symbols. Symbols are signs that have no necessary or natural connection with the things for which they stand. Symbols are very important in language. Culture is Learned: Culture is Learned Culture is learned through both direct instruction and through observation (both conscious and unconscious). Anthropologists in the 19th century argued for the “psychic unity of man.” This doctrine acknowledges that individuals vary in their emotional and intellectual tendencies and capacities. However, this doctrine asserted that all human populations share the same capacity for culture. Culture is Symbolic: Culture is Symbolic The human ability to use symbols is the basis of culture (a symbol is something verbal or nonverbal within a particular language or culture that comes to stand for something else). While human symbol use is overwhelmingly linguistic, a symbol is anything that is used to represent any other thing, when the relationship between the two is arbitrary (e.g. a flag). Other primates have demonstrated rudimentary ability to use symbols, but only humans have elaborated cultural abilities—to learn, to communicate, to store, to process, and to use symbols. (Example: teaching a child to avoid a snake.) Individual Variation: Individual Variation A culture is a system: changes in one aspect will likely generate changes in other aspects. There is variation in culture, in behavior. Core values are sets of ideas, attitudes, and beliefs which are basic in that they provide an organizational logic for the rest of the culture. Norms - Standards or rules about what is acceptable behavior. Cultural constraints - direct and indirect Can be found out through observation or interviews. People Use Culture Creatively: People Use Culture Creatively Humans have the ability to avoid, manipulate, subvert, and change the “rules” and patterns of their own cultures. Ideal culture refers to normative descriptions of a culture given by its natives. Real culture refers to actual behavior as observed by an anthropologist. Culture is both public and individual because individuals internalize the meanings of public (cultural) messages. Discovering Cultural Patterns: Discovering Cultural Patterns Statistics modal response - most often stated response frequency distribution, modal pattern = bell curve random sampling Culture is Adaptive and Maladaptive: Culture is Adaptive and Maladaptive Culture is an adaptive strategy employed by hominids, a cultural version of natural selection. Adaptive only with respect to a specific physical and social environment. Because cultural behavior is motivated by cultural factors, and not by environmental constraints, cultural behavior can be maladaptive. Determining whether a cultural practice is adaptive or maladaptive frequently requires viewing the results of that practice from several perspectives. Example: Kwashiorkor and pregnancy in tropical areas Culture is Integrated: Culture is Integrated Elements or traits that make up that culture are not just a random assortment of customs but are mostly adjusted to or consistent with one another. Culture is generally adaptive. Traits of a culture are attitudes, values, ideals, and rules for behavior Culture: Universal: Culture: Universal Cultural universals are features that are found in every culture, those that distinguish Homo sapiens from other species. Biological: infant dependency, sexuality, brain that enables us to use symbols, languages, and tools. Psychological: ways in which humans think, feel, and process information. Social: incest taboos, life in groups, families (of some kind), and food sharing. Culture: General: Culture: General Cultural generalities include features that are common to several, but not all human groups; certain practices, beliefs, and the like that may be held commonly by more than one culture, but not universal. Diffusion and independent invention are two main sources of cultural generalities. (Definitions follow.) The nuclear family is a cultural generality since it is present in most, but not all societies. Culture Change: Diffusion: Culture Change: Diffusion Diffusion is the spread of culture traits through borrowing from one culture to another. It has been a source of culture change throughout human history. Diffusion can be direct (between to adjacent cultures) or indirect (across one or more intervening cultures or through some long distance medium). Diffusion can be forced (through warfare, colonization, or some other kind of domination) or unforced (e.g., intermarriage, trade, and the like). Acculturation: Acculturation Acculturation is the exchange of features that results when groups come into continuous, firsthand contact. Acculturation may occur in any or all groups engaged in such contact. A pidgin is an example of acculturation, because it is a language form that develops by borrowing language elements from two linguistically different populations in order to facilitate communication between the two. Independent Invention: Independent Invention Independent invention is defined as the creative innovation of new solutions to old and new problems. Cultural generalities are partly explained by the independent invention of similar responses to similar cultural and environmental circumstances. The independent invention of agriculture in both the Middle East and Mexico is an example. Culture: Particularity: Culture: Particularity Cultural particularities are features that are unique to certain cultural traditions. That these particulars may be of fundamental importance to the population is indicative of the need to study the sources of cultural diversity. Birth control in tropical areas to prevent kwashiorkor Theory in Cultural Anthropology: Theory in Cultural Anthropology 19th Century Evolutionism Historical Particularism Functionalism Cognitive and Symbolic Approaches Postmodernism 19th Century Evolutionism: 19th Century Evolutionism Premise: That culture generally develops (or evolves) in a uniform and progressive manner. It was thought that most societies pass through the same series of stages, to arrive ultimately at a common end. The sources of culture change were generally assumed to be embedded within the culture from the beginning, and therefore the ultimate course of development was thought to be internally determined. Divided the ethnological record into evolutionary stages ranging from the most primitive to the most civilized based on Darwin’s work and new cross-cultural, historical, and archaeological evidence--savagery, barbarism, civilization (Morgan). Main forces of cultural evolution: psychic unity among all peoples that explained parallel evolutionary sequences in different cultural traditions (different societies often find the same solutions to the same problems independently) simple diffusion Leading figures: Lewis Henry Morgan, Edward Tylor Historical Particularism - 1900s to 1930s: Historical Particularism - 1900s to 1930s While cultural evolution offered an explanation of what happened and where, it was unable to describe the particular influences on and processes of cultural change and development. To accomplish this, an historical approach was needed for the study of culture change and development to explain not only what happened and where but also why and how. Main forces of cultural change: Diffusionism (psychic unity of mankind) Culture circles (Venn diagrams) Leading proponent: Franz Boas Believed that one had to carry out detailed regional studies of individual cultures to discover the distribution of culture traits and to understand the individual processes of culture change at work. In short, Boas sought to reconstruct their histories. Boas stressed the meticulous collection and organization of ethnographic data on all aspects of many different human societies. Only after information on the particulars of many different cultures had been gathered could generalizations about cultural development be made with any expectation of accuracy. Yellow - Clovis Pink - Mousterian Green - Oldowon Purple - Acheulean Blue - Bamboo tools Functionalism - 1920s to 1950s: Functionalism - 1920s to 1950s Premise: Underlying functionalist theory is the fundamental metaphor of the living organism, its several parts and organs, grouped and organized into a system, the function of the various parts and organs being to sustain the organism, to keep its essential processes going and enable it to reproduce. Similarly, members of a society can be thought of as cells, its institutions its organs, whose function is to sustain the life of the collective entity, despite the frequent death of cells and the production of new ones. Functionalist analyses examine the social significance of phenomena, that is, the purpose they serve a particular society in maintaining the whole. Functionalism was an attempt to move away from the evolutionism and diffusionism that dominated American and British anthropology at the turn of the century. There was a shift in focus from the speculative nature of anthropology to the study of social institutions within current societies. Main proponent: Bronislaw Malinowski Suggested that individuals have physiological needs and that social institutions develop to meet these needs--uniform psychological responses are correlates of physiological needs. Four basic "instrumental needs" (economics, social control, education, and political organization). Cognitive and Symbolic Approaches: Cognitive and Symbolic Approaches Premise: Cognitive anthropology focuses on the study of the relation between human culture and human thought. In contrast with some earlier anthropological approaches to culture, cultures are not regarded as material phenomena, but rather cognitive organizations of material phenomena. Cognitive anthropologists study how people understand and organize the material objects, events, and experiences that make up their world as the people they study perceive it. Cognitive anthropology posits that each culture orders events, material life and ideas, to its own criteria. The fundamental aim of cognitive anthropology is to reliably represent the logical systems of thought of other people according to criteria, which can be discovered and replicated through analysis. Example: Proverbial idea that Eskimos have 50 words for snow. Premise: Symbolic anthropology views culture as an independent system of meaning deciphered by interpreting key symbols and rituals. Beliefs, however unintelligible, become comprehensible when understood as part of a cultural system of meaning Actions are guided by interpretation, allowing symbolism to aid in interpreting ideal as well as material activities. Traditionally, symbolic anthropology has focused on religion, cosmology, ritual activity, and expressive customs such as mythology and the performing arts as they key to understanding culture. Postmodernism - 1980s to present : Postmodernism - 1980s to present Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (1996): Post-modernism is defined as an eclectic movement, originating in aesthetics -- architecture and philosophy. Postmodernism espouses a systematic skepticism of grounded theoretical perspective. Applied to anthropology, this skepticism has focused from the observation of a particular society to the observation of the observer. Postmodernists are suspicious of authoritative definitions and singular narratives of any trajectory of events. Post-modern attacks of ethnography are based on the belief that there is no true objectivity. Scientific method is not possible. What does the anthropologist feel about this culture? Can he separate himself from his job, his culture, his own beliefs in order to chronicle another culture? Ethnocentrism: Ethnocentrism Ethnocentrism is the use of values, ideals, and mores from one’s own culture to judge the behavior of someone from another culture. Ethnocentrism is a cultural universal. Ethnocentrism contributes to social solidarity. Ethnocentrism hinders our understanding of the customs of other people and, at the same time, keeps us from understanding our own customs. Miner’s The Nacirema 10-Minute Break: 10-Minute Break Ethnocentrism Activity - What’s happening in this picture? Read pages 219-220 Cultural Relativism Activity - Discussion Read pages 220-222, including blue box on page 221 Ritual and Culture: Ritual and Culture U.S. - Virginia, 2000 Happy anniversary to me Ritual and Culture: Ritual and Culture Great Britain - 1966 Ritual and Culture: Ritual and Culture Guinea Bissau, Africa Ritual and Culture: Ritual and Culture The Americas Ritual and Culture: Ritual and Culture The Netherlands Ritual and Culture: Ritual and Culture Italy Ritual and Culture: Ritual and Culture Tibet, 1997 Ritual and Culture: Ritual and Culture Mexico - November 1 Cultural Relativism: Cultural Relativism Cultural relativism asserts that cultural values are arbitrary, and therefore the values of one culture should not be used as standards to evaluate the behavior of persons from outside that culture. A society’s customs and beliefs should be described objectively. Strong form - there are no wrong cultures or aspects of culture. Weak form - strive for objectivity and don’t be quick to judge Current Issues Discussion: Are we, as Westerners, trying to force our customs onto the rest of the world?