Culture - 98 CULTURAL PLURALISM der roles Mark Cohen(1977 has devel oped a cultural-materialist explanation of the origins of agriculture and

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Unformatted text preview: 98 CULTURAL PLURALISM der roles, Mark Cohen (1977) has devel- oped a cultural-materialist explanation of the origins of agriculture, and Robert Carneiro (1970) has developed a famous materialist theory of the origin of the state. (An excellent summary of the wide anthro- pologicai application of cultural-materialist principles is provided in Harris 1979: 77—114.) SS See also EVOLUTION, MATERIALISM further reading E. Ross 1980 cultural SOCIETIES pluralism See PLURAL cultural relativism expresses the idea that the beliefs and practices of others are best understood in the light of the particu- lar cultures in which they are found. The idea is predicated on the degree to which human behavior is held tO be culturally determined, a basic tenet of American cul- tural anthropology. This is often joined with the argument that because all extant cultures are viable adaptations and equally deserving Of respect, they should not be subjected to invidious judgments of worth or value by outsiders. Alternatively, some argue that since all norms are specific to the culture in which they were formulated, there can be no universal standards of judgment. Cultural relativism in American cultural anthropology is often attributed to the cri— tique of social evolutionist perspectives by Franz BOAS and his students, especially Ruth BENEDICT, Margaret Mean, and Melville HERSKOVITS. Boas criticized the use of EvOLUTIONARY STAGES as the basis for organizing museum displays, arguing that exhibits should display artifacts in the context of specific cultures. Most societies are not relativist: they view their own ways as good, other people’s as bad, inferior, or immoral — a form of ETHNDCENTRISM. However, the reverse is also possible, a syndrome Melford Spiro (1992b: 62—7) termed “inverted ethnocentrism,” in which some anthro- pologists go well beyond relativism to assert that Western culture is globally inferior to Primitive or Third World cultures. Cultural relativism as an approach can be contrasted with the search for human UNIVERSALS, the latter often grounded in claims based on such analytic perspectives as Freudian psychology, marxist political economy, Darwinian natural selection, or technoenvironmental determinism. Strong cultural relativists often see anthropology more as an art than a science and prefer to interpret symbolic meanings rather than explain social mechanisms. Clifford GEERTZ (1984b) has been an influential spokesman for this approach. In the broader philosophical context, cultural relativism is sometimes merged with cognate forms of relativism (moral, ethical, cognitive, linguistic, historical, etc.) under the general rubric of Relativism, which is then seen in opposition to Ratio- nalism, or occasionally, Fundamentalism (see M. Hollis & Lukes 1932). In treating the lively debates on cultural relativism in anthropology and philosophy, Spiro (1992b) discussed cultural relativism in re- lation to both cultural diversity and cultural determinism. Taking the existence of cultural variation as well documented, as do most anthropologists, be distinguished three types of cultural relativism — descrip- tive, normative, and epistemological — each with its attendant subtypes. These detailed distinctions have not be- come conventional within the discipline. Most anthropologists remain content to distinguish the first—order methodological use of cultural relativism in anthropology from insensitive ethnocentric attempts to arrive at final ethical, moral, or scientific judgments. 115 culture The earliest anthropological use of “culture” was by E. B. TYLOR {1871), who defined it memorably as that “com- plex whole which includes knowledge, he- lief, art, morals, Iaw, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." Tyler’s formulation can still serve today to express anthropol- ogists‘ views. First, culture comprises those human traits that are learned and leamable and are therefore passed on socially and mentally, rather than biologically. Second, Culture is in some sense a “complex 'irhole.” Although hotly debated, the findsmental idea that all those “capabili- flea and habits" can and should be con- together is a powerful one. It means that vast areas of human life, span- ning everything from techniques of food production to theories of the afterlife, have some coherence and a distinct lOgic that can be discovered by a single discipline. It was Franz Boas who championed the concept of culture, and with it the disci- pline of anthropology, to challenge the elaborate and influential late—nineteenth— century theories that attributed most hu— man diEerences to RACE — that is, biological inheritance. Anchored in the new science of biology by evolutionary ideas, they sug- gested that some races, when compared to northern Europeans, were more primi- tive and therefore more animal-like in bodily form, mental ability, and moral development. Boas (191 i) broke the evidently seamless simplicity of this theory by showing that bodily form was not linked to language nor to any of the matters we associate with culture. in addition, he challenged the assumption that other “races” were less moral or less intelligent than northern Eu- ropeans. Whereas Tylor had spoken of “culture” in the singular, on the assump- tion that all societies possessed a more or less advanced version of the same heritage, Boas wrote of plural “cultures” that were difierent and could not be measured against some supposed single standard of advancement. Moreover, he argued that the complex forms and patterns in human life, when investigated through FIELD- WORK, were so various that they could not arise from a uniform process of social or cultural EVOLUTION, or from biological or geographical causes, but were fruits of complex local historical causes that escape simplification. These ideas were later elaborated by his students, including Edward SAPIR, Alfred KROEBER, Margaret MEAD, and Ruth BENEDICT. They argued that although hu- man beings everywhere possessed much the same biological heritage, human nature was so plastic that it could sustain kaleido- CULTURE 99 scopically different sets of values, institu- tions, and behaviors in different cultures. Margaret Mead, for example, spent a long career of fieldwork demonstrating how matters that might appear to be easily ex- plained by human biology — the experience of ADOLESCENCE, patterns of SOCIALIZA— TION, SEX roles in society - vary so greatly that no simple natural scientific expla- nation could comprehend them. And Kroeber espoused the notion that Culture is “superorganic,” possessing a unique character within itself that goes beyond anything that could arise in the course of biological evolution. Other Boasians devoted themselves to exploring the notion of culture within the bounds of anthropology. Benedict (1934a) argued that a culture was not simply a “planless hodgepodge” or an afiair of “shreds and patches,” as her older contem- porary Robert Lows. supposed. Rather, each culture “discarded elements which were incongruous, modified others to its purposes, and invented others that ac- corded with its taste” (p. 34). The result was a way of life arranged around a few aesthetic and intellectual principles that produced a unique Weltartschauwtg, a WORLDVIEW. These arguments contributed to setting an aspiration that is still very powerful today: the task of the anthropolo- gist is not just to record a myriad of details about a people, but to demonstrate a deeper unity integrating different features of a culture. Running through her, and oth— ers’, arguments were an aspiration to toler- ance and a mutual informing and respect among societies. It is difficult today to realize how impor- tant the ideas of Boas and his students were. At the end of World War II, US cultural anthropology set out upon an ex— pansion that has made it by far the largest, and perhaps alongside French anthropol— ogy, the most generally influential national body of anthropology in the world. It was Boas and his students who set the agenda for that expansion, by establishing a faith and proposing a project. The faith lay in the force of culture, which distinguished human beings from animals and created an autonomous cultural and mental logic. IUU CULTURE Leslie WHITE (1959c) asserted that, in some hypothetical beginning, “Between man and nature hung the veil of culture, and he could see nothing save through this medium . . . the meanings and values that lay beyond the senses.” Over the next half- century the ceaseless efferts of biological scientists to comprehend the whole of hu- man behavior in their schemes would only confirm anthropologists in this faith. Contemporary anthropologists have approached culture in a variety of ways, all designed to realize the concept in a more full-bodied and cogent way that menves beyond the defensive assertion that culture is not single but unimaginany various and that it makes people different from animals. One choice has been to treat culture as a system of symbols that includes language, art, religion, morals, and (in principle) any- thing else that appears organized in human social life. This has the effect of giving to culture some of the orderliness and con- creteness that one observes, and can study systematically, in LANGUAGE. However, to treat culture as symbols stressed purely mental phenomena even more than Benedict had done and excluded the ma- terial and practical dimension of culture. And where the notion of symbolic system has been rigorously rather than loosely applied, as in COGNITIVE ANTHROPOLOGY, research has concentrated on only small domains of culture, such as the animal- CLASSIFICATION system of a people or even a single concept, such as marriage in America, and so the “complex whole" has quite disappeared. An alternative to this focus on culture as symbol has been to take as an object of study those material dimensions underval- ued by symbolic anthropologists, such as food production, crafts, and relationships to the physical envirOnment. ECOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY in particular has at- tempted to provide a new logic for under- pinning cultural forms. The most famous (and least persuasive) example of this CUL- TURAL MATERIALISM is Marvin Hams’s (1966) attempt to explain the worship of cattle in India by reference to the useful- ness of cowdung to Indian farmers. A more plausible example is Roy Rappaport’s (1967) painstaking attempt to explain the religion of a Papua New Guinea people by their ecology and mode of livelihood. Here the integration of culture is causal: the conditions of livelihood and the relations of production caused (in some sense) the other dimensions of culture, the religious life and worldview. But these explanations are characteristically thin when they at- tempt to cover religion and related matters, and so hardly count as perspectives on cul- ture as a whole. A third school of anthropologists ac— cepted wholeheartedly Benedict’s vision of culture as aesthetic choice and began to regard anthropology as the “translation of culture,“ as EVANS—PRITCHARD (1956) called it. On this view, wrote Clifford GEERTZ. (1973: 5), “man is an animal sus- pended in webs of significance he himself has spun . . .I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be . . . not an experimental science in search of law but arr interpretive one in search of meaning." The consequence was not only to place culture firmly beyond die bounds of natu— ral science, but to set anthropology along- side such interpretive disciplines as literary criticism, which seek mainly to make the obscure clear and the unintelligible intelli- gible. But a sense of cultural unity is not very prominent in this enterprise, any more than it is in literary criticism, and Geertz could only manage to find as much integra- tion in culture as in “an octopus, a rather badly integrated creature — what passes for a brain keeps it together, more or less, in one ungainly whole” (1984a: 19). If anthropology were philosophy, then this failure to establish a satisfyineg general and robust view of culture‘s integration might be depressing. But the vast weight of effort in anthropology has fallen upon the doing of ETHNOGRAPHY, and here anthro- pologists now routinely demonstrate close connections, and underlying themes, that span different Spheres of life within one Culture or another, such as hierarchy in South Asia. The judgment here must be that the notion of culture is, in everyday practice if not in theory, a resounding and heroic success. Despite the importance of culture to the discipline, anthropologists cannot realisti- cally afford allegiance to the banner of cul— ture alone, whether in theory or practice. Eric Wolf(1982) has shown that the idea of culture has often led anthropologists to a series of illusions: that cultures are homo- geneous, that the world is divided into atomistic societies or “peoples,” or that societies studied by anthropologists are traditional and unchanging. Yet societies are hardly autonomous; they exist in relations of commerce, of mutual depen- dence, and (above all) in relationships of dominance and subjection with others. Today more than half the world’s people are multilingual, and this global changing and mingling is not recent (or posttnodem) but dates right back to the period of the great European explorers and long before. The irony is that the notion of culture was born partly as a response to the en— counter of societies with each other on a world scale, and as a largely humane re- sponse that aimed to create a sound coin- age of knowledge to support a traffic of tolerance and mutual understanding be- tween people. Now only a modified notion of culture will do, one that challenges a notion that it is fixed, bounded, and unchanging. Human groups, however de— fined, are shifting and uncertain, and people belong to many competing catego- ries, often involving power and subjuga- tion. People work actively upon what they have received in order to respond to present circumstances, and in so acting, change their cultural inheritance. Finally, in recognizing that the social nature of the human species transcends the limits sup- posed by the idea of culture, we must also recognize that infants do bring something biological and innate into the world: an innate capacity for social relations. This capacity is set in motion by the acts of those around them, and then forms a scaffolding upon which, in the course of development, the “capabilities and habits” of culture can ‘be acquired. MC See (2150 ANTHROPOLOGY, CULTURAL AND SOCIAL further reading Carrithers 1992 culture and personality was the name for a movement that related cultural CULTURE AND PERSONALITY 10] anthropology to psychiatry and psychology from about 1928 to 1955. After 1960, this field became known as PSYCHOLOGICAL .swuaororoov, and in the academic psychology of the 19905, cultural psychology. The school and its aims Culture and personality was a broad and unorganized movement that brought to- gether anthropologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists who agreed on the mutual relevance of their disciplines but lacked a common theoretical position, an acknowl- edged leader, and an institutional base. Its founders were Margaret MEAD, Ruth BENEDICT, and Edward SAPIR, all students of Franz Boas, whose influential concept of CULTURE had implied a psychological dimension they attempted to spell out and translate into research. They argued that culture played a role in individual psycho- logical development (Mead) and in the emotional patterns typical ofparticular cul- tures (Benedict), and also that individuals of a particular society realized its culture in different ways (Sapir). They criticized psy— chological theories that posited UNIVER- SALS for the human species without taking into account human variability as revealed by anthropological fieldwork in diverse cultures. At the same time, they were influenced by those psychological and psychiatric theories that emphasized social influences on the individual, such as the moo-Freudian formulations of Karen Horney and the interpersonal psychiatry of Harry Stack Sullivan. Although the move— ment had no formal organization, its an- thropological founders were joined at seminars, conferences, and in publications by sociologists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts — including W. I. Thomas, john Dollard, Erik Erikson, Abram Kardiner, Henry A. Murray — and by a growing circle of anthropologists — Ralph Linton, A. Irving Hallowell, Gregory Bateson, Cora Du Bois, Clyde Kiuckhohn, and John W. M. Whiting, to name but a few. The field of culture and personality studies was very active during the 1930s and in the postwar period 1945—50, as a new generation of anthropologists con- ducted studies among Native American peoples and in the Pacific. ...
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Culture - 98 CULTURAL PLURALISM der roles Mark Cohen(1977 has devel oped a cultural-materialist explanation of the origins of agriculture and

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