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Chap2 - Cccr’EJH'e:15"The Lir my Life:1 The...

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Unformatted text preview: Cccr’EJH'e :15 "The Lir:_\' my; Life :1 The Idemmmaa’ Ccvrcspiz'm: of (Edna's f: For-11m? fir.‘ Sociafiy Transmmmf . . . Knowledge . . r Siam-ed by Sauna: Gran}: of People {mnpnnncnis L Cuiunfii E-ana'lenige chi;;:ok)gic‘af Krmza';’czf;_;;-‘ Non; :5- I/hfuc‘o‘ C‘or'fccffrc’ LEIcI'L'J's‘HaH 1’ Categories? and 0'" of Reafr'rlx' W0er Il'z‘en'a‘ Culiun‘ :md Each-21 -' The Advantages of Culture The term (“hm-e refers m Hm sociaflv {canted knom‘en’gc shared by a group of peopfe. Nurse Sm: dn‘idren n'fh’ 33cm? (heir cm’nu'c through (1 proved; Krzmtw as L‘Ht'm’rm'an'ou. 17 f you should ask a hundred cultural anthropologists what their field is all about—what, more than anything else, is its subject matter—most would answer "culture." If you were to find another hundred and ask them what characteristic of humanity most distinguishes us from other animals, probably seventy or eighty would respond r‘the capacity for culture." What is this phenomenon called culture, and why is it so critical in understanding humanity? What Is Culture? Culture as “The Way of Life” In anthropology, the term culture generally refers to the way of life of some group of people. So we can speak of Chinese culture. meaning the way the Chinese people lire—their religion, their fam- ily life, and attitudes towards strangers; how the}r organize their economy and government; and so forth. Often the word culture emphasizes the unique or distinctive aspects of a peoples' cus- toms and beliefs. The definition of culture as the whole way of life of some people was proposed by E. B. Tylor in 18?], when scientific anthropology was in its infancy. He wrote, “Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, lax-v, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquire-:1 by man as a member of soci~ err." This definition is still quoted widely as a useful way of bolting at culture. The main thing to notice about it is that culture is defined in such a way as to include almost everything about a people—their thoughts about the world-their be- liefs about how people should live, their actions, and all other “capabilities and habits" that they acquire while growing up in a particular society. Since Tyler's day, numerous anthropologists have tried to improve on this definition of the key concept in their discipline. Ralph Linton, writing in 1940, defined culture as “the sum total of knowledge, attitudes and habitual behavior pat- terns shared and transmitted by the members of a particular society.” This way of looking at the concept rightly draws attention to two major characteristics of culture: it is shared by some group, and it is transmitted between generations. 18 Part ‘[ This definition also is quite broad. Notice the in- clusion of all "knowledge, attitudes and habitual behavior patterns." Knowledge and attitudes are things people carry in their mindsflthey are mental phenome- na. We cannot observe knowledge, attitudes, and other kinds of mental phenomena directly. We can ask people what they think or how they feel about someone or some event and thus find out about their knowledge and attitudes. But we have no way of knowing by direct observation what’s in their minds. Behavior, in contrast, is directly observable. Of course, behaviors are strongly influenced by the knowledge, attitudes, and other things stored - in peoples’ minds. Information {including knowl- edge and attitudes) underlies behavior, which means that we can infer something about how a person thinks and feels by watching what he or she does in certain situations. In sum, culture often is defined broadly as the whole way of life of a people. It consists both of the shared information stored in people’s brains and their behavior. By this definition, cul- ture includes both mental phenomena (ideas, in- cluding ways of thinking and feeling) and behav- ioral phenomena (ways of acting). mm The ldeationai tlonceptien of {in turn Recently, influential anthropologists such as Rog- er Keesing, Ward Goodenough, and Clifford Geertz have proposed a narrower, less inclusive definition of culture. It is useful for some pur— poses to make a distinction between the shared information (ideas) people carry in their heads and the way they actually behave. We have just Seen one reason why this distinction is useful: the information stored in someone's brain cannot be Concepts of Cultural Anthropology observed directly, but behavior is observable. An- other reason is that people everywhere have ideas about how they should behave, but their actual behavior dees not always reflect their shared ideas. People can agree, in principle, that some things ought to be done in certain ways, and yet large numbers of individuals may not abide by these agreements. Finally, the more broadly we define a concept, the more confusion its use can cause. If culture is defined as the whole way of life of a peeple, then mental and behavioral phev nomena tend to get lumped together and cone fused. and for some purposes it is useful to distin- guish them. For these and other reasons, in this book we use the term culture to refer to mental phenome— na rather than to behavior. This way of conceptu~ alizing culture often is called the ideational defi- nition of culture. Culture consists not of activities—not of what Linton called "habitual bee harior patterns"—but of shared and learned ideas. Of course, shared ideas influence behavior profoundly. But they are not the only influences on how individuals act, for shared ideas generally provide only guidelines for behavior, as we shall see. If we define culture to include onl}r learned and shared ideas, we need another concept that encompasses other aspects of how a people live. Unfortunately, no such single word now exists. The phrase most commonly used is sociocultural system. Sociocultural is a composite word, made up of social and cultural. We discuss the "social" part of the term in chapter 3; for now, think of social as referring to relationships between indi- viduals, to the kinds of groups people form, and to the relationships between these groups. The word system empltasiaes that-the various aspects (subsystems) of a way of life are integrat- ed, meaning that they mutually affect one anoth— er. To say that a way of life is integrated means that each of its elements is tied up with the others, so that many elements fit together to make up a sociocultural whole. The holistic perspective of anthropology is derived from our assumption that the sociocultural system of a people is inte- grated. Systcm and integration are important con~ cepts for two major reasons. First, sometimes we can make puzzling beliefs and practices intelligi— ble by seeing them as parts of a system, when we cannot understand them in isolation. Second, in- tegration implies that changes introduced in one component of a sociocultural system may have impacts on other components that are unintend- ed, hard to foresee, and often undesirable or harmful to a people and to the persistence of their customs and beliefs. Ordinarily the group that shares a sociocul- tural system is called a society, or a territorially distinct group whose members speak a common language and share a feeling of common identity relative to other societies. {However, some socie- ties—notably many modern nations—winclude eth— nic or racial minorities who share a sociocultural system that differs in some respects from that of the so-called mainstream.) Behavior refers to what individuals actually do. In most of their behavior, individuals are in- fluenced by other people with whom they interact socially and with whom they form groups. The behavior of any individual also is influenced by the ideas (culture) he or she shares with other people in the society. Because the behavior of in— dividuals is so greatlyr affected by culture and by the existing relationships between individuals and groups, most individuals adopt similar be- havior in similar circumstances. We therefore speak of patterns of behavior, meaning what most people tend to do when they are in certain situations (cg, in church, at a wedding or funer- al, at a convention). So the phrase sociocultural system encompasses the patterns of behavior. the shared ideas, and the prevalent relationships be- tween individuals and groups of a society. In this book, we use sociocultural system and'way of fife (or ft’feway) interchangeably. To avoid tedious repetition, we shall sometimes use the phrase "customs and beliefs" to mean the same thing. Culture, however, always means shared ideas. assaults ;—'='-.. _ . _ ;. ._.4m(1%:5:37;"5‘55-Ea‘fi't-‘-'i'€J:\-E¢Ef:"afar!" Eva g A Formal Definition of Culture The concept of culture is so important that we need a formal definition of what we shall mean by the term: Culture is the socially transmitted knowledge shared by some group of people. Chapter 2 Culture 1 9 This definition is used partly because it is easy to break up into components that can be discussed separately. Socially Transmitted . . . To say that culture is socially transmitted is to say that it is learned, but learned in a special way. Two kinds of learning can be distinguished. The first is called trial-and-error learning. With this type. found even among many relatively simple animals such as snails, an animal tries out a be- havior without any preconceptions as to whether it will work—that is. bring a reward. If it does not work, another behavior is tried, and so on until one trial works, after which it is repeated. By trial-and—error learning any animal, including a human, can acquire behaviors that work. But the trials are costly: they require time and energy that could be spent on behaviors that are rewarding. If there were a way to avoid the erroneous trials, learning would be more efficient. The second kind of learning does away with the necessin to engage in costly trials that do not work, and therefore it is more efficient. This kind is called social learning because an indiriduai learns by imitating or communicating with other individuals, thus benefiting from their experi— ence. Information that some individuals have ac- cumulated about what works in some situation is socially transmitted to other individuals. So if wyou have learned through trial and error that some. food is good to eat, I don‘t have to learn this on my own but can instead profit from the knowledge you have'gained through experience. If you and I are contemporaries, and if previous generations have somehow learned about this food, both of us can benefit from their experience if they teach us their food habits. _ Social learning not only spares each individ- ual the costs of ordinary learning, but the knowl- edge that each generation acquires through its experience can be passed OD—SOCiEllly transmit- tedfito future generations. Social learning pro- tides a mechanism by which the knowledge that underlies and guides behavior (i.e., culture) is transmitted between generations. The process of cultural transmission from ::e generation to the next is called encultura— tion. Because of enculturation, the younger peo— E: a society share the culture of the older ; :ple. When rapid change occurs, there may be I'll 3 Part 1 generation gaps, in which members of a younger generation do not share—or have consciously re- jected—some of the culture of their elders. Gener~ ation gaps can appear large to members of differ— ent gene_rations in the same society. The youngsters frequently think they have little in common with their elders, and the elders may wonder how future generations will fare with such low standards of, say, sexual morality. But actually the widest generation gaps in a society often are insignificant when compared to the much larger gaps between the sociocultural sys- tems of different peoples. If your parents or grandparents are outraged at the number of op» posite—sex people in their early twenties living to, gether, think how both of you no uld react if large numbers of girls in their early teens married men in their sixties, or if a typical young man's first marriage was to an elderly widow. Yet these are common marriage patterns among the Tiwi peo- ple of Australia. in spite of generation gaps, you and your elders are a lot more alike Culturally than either of you care to admit! Besides being socially transmitted “dot-fin" Diffusion refers to the spread of socioculturaf etements geo- graphically, from one people to another. Many tools j c'. material goods have virtually worldwide distribution one C. . fusion. These African women are drawing water from a wen using buckets and tubs made of galvanized iron. Concepts of Cultural Anihroriology through time to new generations, culture can be transmitted “out” through Space to other groups of people. This prOCess whereby cultural ele— ments (or elements of an entire sociocultural sys- tem) are spread out geographically "from place to place and people to people is known as diffusion. Through diffusion, which results when members of different societies come into direct- or indirect contact, some‘customs and beliefs spread from one society to another, and so the ways of life of the two societies become more similar. When members of a society with a more ad- vanced technology (especially with superior weaponsllcome into contact with another people, lis'l'herecan: he ‘riol'duestion about the: average I. ..soeiiizénfsjAherisariisinnihisflsieét Etoziareéerve _- this sessile-islets at it” uses: fixiev'eiih'ele'ss',’ " senile insidious-foreign ideas have alreadyworn‘led I-‘ti'ie‘ir‘tigay trite-tits Civilization without hisrealizing Whistles" trims Dni Tiles dawn.iiind$Z-ttié" 7 ' "en's-Li's'p'e'otiiitj 'Itia't‘riot garbed'in satisfies garment ,b'i Easiiiidian'drigin; and-tying matted; suitor: a pattéin whichicriginated in either 'Pe'r'sialij'r Asia 5 .' Mines-He? rimmed mine earsin'ii'n’rarrierican imateriatszjcotton. first domesticated-in'_-lndia; linen, dornesticated in the Near'-East;-wool trod} an animal native to Asia Minor; or_.,s_ill{ whose uses 'were'firsi discovered "by the Ch'ine‘sef-Alllthesie ' “substances haveibeen tranSfo'rrnied into cloth by methods invented in_Southwestern Asia.'lf the weather is celcl enough he may even be sleeping under an eiderdown quilt invented in Scandinavia. Onia‘aiakenlng'he glances at the‘ciock,’ a ' medieval European invention. u'ses'one' potent i'La‘tiri‘i-ivord in abbreviated forni;"rises' haste, and "goes-to thé‘bhihrbmifneie. if'he' stripe to thirtk' I'ali'tititli‘tljhegrnyu's't-feéi himself inithé:'hresEhce of a rgreai'american institution; he will haveheard ' stories of both the quality and frequency of foreign plumbing and will know that in noctner country -2°+9'e..2-'3..Ereri';-n' ' and the latter adopt some of the sociocultural ale- ments of the formerge. process. of change known as acculturation occurs. We commonly hear to- day that the whole world is becoming modern- ized. Indeed, the various peoples of the world probably-are more similar to one another today than they were a century ago, because of accul— turation. But the notion that Westerners invented practically everything important, which subse- quently diffused to the rest of the world, is ethno- centric (as well as wrong). Diffusion has gone from "them" to “us,” as well as in the opposite direction. as you can see in Box 2.1. _ . . sentient. iii-the .. . J...ih'é'i'ihéicliofls‘friieisn _ _ _ _ him-eves" here: eiziis'sfjwas _ Jaineientjégvptians; the use-of 57-, gla lies'ilo'r._-éflo_ors aridliivalls in the-Near East; porcelain}anthrja; and-thieart oi enari'iéling on. ' metal, 'o'y .Médite'rr'arje'an' .ar'lti—sans'o'f the. Bronze 'r I- I d.:.toilet_-are'li_ut slightny modified-copies; .. "Bunyanoriginategrhéonly ' ' purely' to the 'ensernnle is” th’e s_tean'i-'radiei‘ttfit'v agaiiist'iwhich_lour patriot very brieilv-EandElie-intentionain 'plac'es his posterior . . . . “Retaining to the bedroom. the unconscious viCtiniof tin-AmeriCan practices-removeshis ' cloth'es'fro'rn achair; invented in the Near-East, . andproceedstodress.‘ Heputs on close-fitting. tailoied garments .whose‘torm derives from the skin clothingofgins-ancient‘nornads cf the Asiatic _ Steppes: arid fastens-them with buttons: whose :-' prototypes 'aopeared in'Edrope at the close of the Stone Age. . . . He gives himself a finai appraisal in theirhirror, an'ol‘ci' Mediterraneaninventiori, and __ _ goes dowri’stairs to breakta‘St. ‘ Heie'a'whole 'new series'ot foreign things _ sentient; {limit-its food'and drink are placed _' before hirn'in pottery vessels, the popular name of Chapter 2 Culture 21 I plentyof butter. originally a Near-Eastern cosmetic. As a'side‘rdish'he may have the egg of a bird __ domesticated in Southeastern Asia or strips of the flesh Of an animal domeStieated in the same ‘- region, which have been salted and smoked by a process invented in Northern Europe. Breakfast over, he places upon his head a mottled piece of felt. invented by the nomads of Eastern Asia, and, if it looks like rain, puts on outer shoes of rubber. discovered by the ancient Mexicans, and takes an umbrella, invented in lndia. . .. Knowledge . . . People who have sociall}r learned a common cul- ture believe certain postulates about the world, take certain “facts” for granted, accept certain standards of behavior, and share certain assump— tions about themselves and the natural world. By cultural knot-Madge we certainly do not mean truth. What matters about cultural’knowl- edge is not its correctness by some objective stan— dard of truth. lNhat is most important is that 0 individuals share enough of it that they are ca- pable of behaving in ways that are acceptable and meaningful to others; that is, individuals do not constantly misunderstand one another's behavior; - it leads to behavior that Works at least well enough to allow the population to survive and perpetuate itsslf; - it is to some extent consistent: that is, it makes logical sense at least to the degree that actual events in the world can be interpreted in such a 22 Part ‘1 el- _. .t as '-a'noiédt-'$ea1ites' by. apro rialtéstiiéfli h a. sets-invented. by the cafes: misses -iit';eoer'many. '- uponga' :e'ria "talented .irtithiriat-ffistheisoans the; ' riallpi "out dire _r_ésult:é'_to_our'" institutions at acbepttn‘g 'to‘r'eign‘ideas'L-i'hje ‘wiii nor: - - fail to‘ thank a Hebrew God in an 'indoéEuropean languagethat he is a one hundred per cent [decimal system invented by the Gr'eeksiAmeriCan ' ii'rorn'_'Arlie_'—'ricus vespucei; Italian geographer). ' " Source: This artiste by Ralph Linton first appeared 'in i ' The American Memory in 1937. it still-carries- a vital m'es‘sagetmany of the objects we use in everyday life. and many ot our customs and beiiefsrtverej derived irorn ' people who lived long ago and tar atvav. ' I way that they do not diseonfirm the facts and assumptions of cultural knowledge. To put this in a few words, cultural knowledge must lead to behavior that is meaningful and adaptive, and the knowledge itself must not be so out of tune with reality that it is constantly falsi- fied. On the last point, it is important to add that an event that would falsify some Cultural assump- tion or belief to an outside observer does not nec— essarily diSprove the belief to one who believes it. To an outsider, the fact that a particular rain dance does not bring immediate rain shows that rain dances do not work. But those who believe in rain dances are more likely to reason that per- haps this one was performed incorrectly; or may- be an enemy is performing more powerful magic to make the drought continue; or, more likely, the dance will bring rain later, as rain dances have in previous years. To take a more familiar example, we quote a minister one of us knows: “God...
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