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CULTURE AND CULTURES S ocial learning takes various forms. Some behaviour is acquired because animals are imprinted onto a habitat; for instance, young salmon and migratory birds are attached to the habitat where they were born. Animals learn by following adults. Some behavioural traits develop only if the young observe some behaviour. For example, young female rhesus macaques need companions in order to develop normal maternal behavior later in life . The most elaborate form of social learning happens when individuals imitate the behaviour of members of their species or when the models (often parents) teach their offspring by reinforcing appropriate behaviour. Social learning can be called ‘culture’ and is the object of this course. Social learning also exists among non-human animals. Culture We act in specific ways because a) we are biological organisms and b) we have learned to act in these ways. Learned ways of acting can be referred to as culture . Some learning is explicit and conscious; more often, we learn tacitly through experience. Genetic information is transmitted only by mating. Social learning is considerably broader: we learn not only from our parents, but potentially from any member of the society and from members of other societies. Cultures When we talk of cultures , we make the hypothesis that human activity is packaged in bundles, e.g. "American culture", "French culture", "Chinese culture". This notion of culture is partially useful, partially misleading. It is true that we can make some generalisations, e.g. people we call "French" are likely to behave in ways which are not the same as what, say, the Chinese do. However, the distinction between what we call "cultures" is also misleading: it treats "cultures" as if they were biological species. Each species has basic characteristics because all its members share genetic similarities. Each species is different from the others because they do not share the same genetic profile. By contrast, people can adopt traits from wherever they want, and invent new traits. Hence, by talking of "French culture" or "Inuit culture", we are creating artificial boundaries. The notion of culture is a consequence of nationalism. It also arises because people mistakenly think that, if people speak different languages, they must think differently. ICON, INDEX, SYMBOL, SIGN ? Icons are based on a similarity between the carrier of meaning and what it refers to. A map refers iconically to the territory it depicts. Pointing with the finger is iconic.
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? Indices are based on contiguity in space or time: smoke relates indexically to fire, red spots on the face to chickenpox, footprints to the animal which made them. ? Symbols have no basis other than convention: the Cross refers to Christianity, the lion to bravery.
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