Ses2_CULTURE - 21A.100 Professor James Howe BEING CULTURAL...

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21A.100 – Professor James Howe BEING CULTURAL September 14, 2004 The culture concept is fundamental to anthropology Years ago, we used to have more trouble introducing the concept, because people tended to think of the other meaning of culture, i.e., high culture, esp. art, music, refinement. But today the anthropological meaning is pervasive. Accepted all over the world It is used in the popular media to explain almost everything: What was the problem with shuttle disaster? The culture at NASA. One hears of corporate culture, academic culture, the culture of just about anything. But it wasn’t always so. Culture concept arose, mostly in 19 th century, as way to talk about systematic nature of human thought and action. Previously, many explanations of human actions and thought were put in terms of environmental determinism. Why do people in Alps believe in witches?---because of the thin mountain air. Why are people in Latin America or Indonesia inferior to us Europeans? Their hot, unchanging climate doesn’t challenge them like our cold winters do. The famous essayist Montesquieu said Northerners were brave, vigorous, insensitive to pain, weakly sexed, intelligent, and drunkards. Another Frenchman of the Enlightenment said Northerners faithful, loyal to government, cruel, undersexed. Southerners were malicious, crafty, wise, expert in science but bad in government. Another said northern languages have lots of consonants, because people afraid to open mouths and let in cold air. It sounds silly now, but was very common, still pops up today. At other extreme, many things explained in terms of some basic traits common to all humans, so-called human nature, or else by traits thought to vary biologically from one population to another. Something innate. With development of racial and biological thinking human nature was thought to be in our blood or genes. So explanations of human action were caught between external nature, the environment, and internal nature, heredity There was a vague sense that there was something in the middle, neither biologically nor environmentally determined, called custom / tradition / lifeway / mentality / habit / usos y costumbres. But unclear just what this middle area consisted of, how to think about it. Then, in the 19 th century, word culture adopted. Borrowed from art/music, expanded to encompass everything. Most often associated with early British anthropologist, Edward Tylor. He said it was a complex whole that humans carried with them and passed on non-biologically.
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Learned, not biologically programmed. Culture thus varies independently of biology.
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This note was uploaded on 11/06/2011 for the course ANTHR 100 taught by Professor Howe during the Fall '09 term at MIT.

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Ses2_CULTURE - 21A.100 Professor James Howe BEING CULTURAL...

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