Defining Culture
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Defining Culture

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Defines Culture and describes their main characteristics.

Defines Culture and describes their main characteristics.

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Defining Culture Defining Culture Presentation Transcript

  • Defining Culture The Central Concept of Anthropology
  • Culture: The Original Definition
    • E.B. Tylor , anthropology’s founder, gave a definition to start with:
    • “ That complex whole which includes
    • Knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, custom
    • And any other capabilities and habits
    • Acquired by man [both genders]
    • As a member of society”
  • Tylor’s Definition: Knowledge, Beliefs, and How They Fit
    • “ That Complex Whole” We study all aspects of a culture, from making a living to organization of families and larger groups to its supernatural beliefs
    • “ Knowledge” People of all cultures rely on knowledge, whether of the sources of food and how to get and prepare it, of shelter construction, or of their surrounding environment.
    • “ Beliefs” All cultures have a world view of the unseen, including the creator(s) of the world, the gods, spirits, and forces of the supernatural, myths, and much else. That includes us Westerners, who have one religion or another—even no religion is a confession of faith in no god or gods.
  • Tylor’s Definition: Skills to Values to Social Control
    • “ Arts” Everyone in a culture has skills, whether hunting, gathering plants, cultivating crops, constructing shelter, and much else
    • “ Morals” Every culture has its morality. Even the warlike Yanomamö are very conscientious about reciprocity; stinginess is punishable by their version of Hell.
    • “ Law” Every culture has its own means of social control
    • “ Custom” Every culture has its own way of doing things, from family values to norms of behavior
  • Tylor’s Definition: Shared Behavior
    • “ Capabilities and Habits Acquired by Man: Culture is a human feature, although certain apes may also have something resembling culture
    • “ As a Member of Society: We all belong to a network or structure of social relations, from family to band to tribe to nation-state .
  • Culture as a Blueprint for Action
    • If we are pressed for a sentence defining culture, this is probably the best:
    • Culture is a blueprint for action.
    • Blueprints are plans for constructing a house or car
    • Everything we do or say is a product of this intangible blueprint
    • Humans are designed physically, as both images suggest
    • They also acquired designs in their mental patterns
    • They come in two sexes—and therefore genders—each with a cultural definition of who and what they are.
  • Characteristics Of Cultures
    • All cultures have at least five characteristics in common:
    • Culture is learned
    • Culture is based on symbols
    • Culture is shared
    • Culture is patterned or integrated
    • Culture is usually adaptive
  • Culture is Learned
    • All we do, say, or believe is learned, as these photos show.
    • This Yanomamö mother is about to teach her daughter how to garden (upper photo)
    • These Yanomamö boys are learning to hunt by shooting a lizard with their toy bows and arrows (lower photo)
    • These are examples of e nculturation , or learning the ways of a culture
  • Culture is not Genetically Acquired
    • We acquire our skills by learning
    • We inherit our capacity for culture
    • But, unlike bees, we do not inherit our specific abilities, like hunting or gardening
    • Bees do inherit their behavior: This scout bee is dancing to tell the other bees where the pollen source (flower) is located
    • But the bees’ abilities are genetic
    • Our specific behavior is learned; our genes enable our ability to learn.
  • Culture is Not Acquired by Conditioning
    • This dog learned to carry the remote to its owner. It was trained by being rewarded repeatedly with something else—a bone or biscuit
    • These parrots learned to talk owing to being rewarded with food time and again
    • Both dog and birds were conditioned; they associated their behavior with the rewards
    • We do not learn culture only from rewards for desired behavior
  • Another Example of Conditioning: The Birds
    • Story: a grad student spread seeds on the field for the birds
    • As he did so, when the birds arrived, he blew a whistle for 15 minutes.
    • When the first match came and referees first blew the whistle, the birds filled the field
    • It took half an hour to clear the birds
    • The grad student wrote a thesis on this topic
    • The conditioning; birds learned to land of the field when they heard the whistle
  • Culture is Symbolic
    • Culture is based on symbols, including the following:
    • Language
    • Objects with meaning
    • Events with Significance
    • What do these items have in common?
    • They are each a symbol, or o bject or event that is Intrinsically unrelated to another object or event to which it refers
  • The American Flag as a Symbol
    • Ask yourself some questions about this U.S. flag: What do the stars represent? The U.S. states, of course. What do the stripes represent? The 13 original colonies
    • Does that mean we confuse the stars with the U.S. States or the stripes with the 13 colonies?
    • So both the stars and stripes are symbols; they are not intrinsically related to either states or colonies.
  • There Are Other Symbols
    • What does the octagon represent? How about the inverted triangle?
    • Again, would you confuse the octagon with braking to stop or the triangle to yield?
    • Each symbol could be associated with something else—the octagon with a Jacuzzi or the inverted triangle with a city limits sign for Beverly Hills, CA. Both are symbols
    • These Mayan figures are conversing using a language. This is the most symbolic event of all
    • Even what they wear is symbolic—of their nobility and their Maya-ness
  • Signs and Symbols
    • But now look at this arrow; it is pointed at one end
    • It does have an intrinsic meaning: it tell you what direction to go
    • So does Uncle Sam’s pointing finger
    • Original meaning: to have the pointee join the Army in the First World War.
    • But can you doubt that his finger is pointing at—you?
  • Cultures are Based on Symbolism Called Language
    • Expression “cat” comprises 3 sounds:
    • C-a-t or in International Phonetic Alphabet
    • [k æ t]: IPA is designed for one letter, one sound
    • [k] means nothing, nor do [æ] or [t]
    • Put together, they mean a feline animal (which one?)
    • But you wouldn’t confuse “cat” with the symbol
  • The Flexibility of Language Symbols
    • Switch the symbols around and you have [æ k t] “act”
    • Switch them again and you have [t æ k], “tack”
    • Bottom line: none of the three sounds has any meaning, in and of itself
    • But they can be combined to mean many things in English
    • That is why language is so flexible and is called an open communication system.
  • Symbolism and Culture
    • Symbols are the root of all culture
    • Bees cannot change their behavior
    • Dogs cannot be trained except by imitation and reward
    • But humans can change behavior at will or when forced to do so
    • Evidence: Cultures are diverse
    • Evidence: Cultures can and do change
    • (Just as language can and does change)
  • Culture is Acquired Through Symbols Called Language
    • Culture is learned through language
    • Babies learn language from birth:
    • Through language they acquire culture
    • Language is based on symbols; again meaning is bestowed to sounds
    • Their capacity for language is inherited, but not their own language.
    • So, is it surprising that culture is learned, after all?
  • Culture is Shared
    • A group with common language and custom shares a culture
    • Groups may be as small as 50 (!Kung band (upper photo)
    • They may comprise a nation of millions, such as Japan, the most uniform ethnic nation in the world (represented by these schoolgirls in the lower photo)
  • Shared Behavior and Subcultures
    • Definition: subcultures share some features with dominant culture
    • But have distinctive attributes of their own
    • Counterculture is regarded by some as a subculture
    • (Frank Zappa, counterculture icon, had a Berlin street named after him)
    • But the counter-”culture” did not survive into the next generation.
  • Shared Behavior and Subcultures:
    • The Amish are a true subculture
    • Amish seem similar to dominant culture (farm in Indiana)
    • Until you notice all farming
    • Is by horsepower (literally)
    • There are no machines, no cars
    • Other features: have own (German) schools, communal residences, Anabaptist religion, 17 th century style clothing
    • The Amish have persisted through the generations since the 17 th century
  • Culture is Patterned/Integrated
    • One aspect of culture reflects other aspects
    • They all fit into a pattern as a whole
    • Examples of integration
    • Extreme example: Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Sun (upper photo) probably wasn’t built by tribesmen like these Kawelka (lower photo)
    • But pig feasts did fit in with Kawelka tribal culture. How did they?
  • Example of Cultural Integration: Pyramid Construction
    • To construct a pyramid like the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, you need a large crew
    • The crew has to be organized by a state-level society
    • It would be similar to this depiction of work at an Assyrian site
    • The effort requires a large population base, estimated at 75,000-200,000 in Teotihuacan
  • Example of Cultural Integration: Kawelka
    • The Kawelka of New Guinea organize their culture around pig feasts held every decade
    • There is no state; war was prevalent until Australia colonized New Guinea in the 1940s
    • Big men like Ongka (left) directed both war and feasts
    • Unlike emperors, he could not boss his tribesmen around
    • Population was about 1,000
    • Pig feasts replaced warfare
  • Culture is Generally Adaptive
    • Technology generally reflects features of environment
    • Settled communities: usually indicate stable food supply,
    • Examples are the very productive Aztec chinampas (raised agricultural platforms)
    • Grasslands, which cannot be hand-cultivated, are best for pastoralism
    • This Mongolian camp is an example
  • Maladaptation: Soil Depletion, Deculturation
    • Cultures can become poorly adapted during rapid change
    • One example: loss of rainforests through clean cutting
    • Another example: deculturation.
    • These lacandon farmers are descendents of the Maya, but tribal rather than peasants of a state
    • The Spanish Conquest brought this deculturation about.
  • Conclusion: Cultures and Their Features
    • Cultures are learned and the product of symbols, especially language
    • They comprise groups from 40-50 to millions of people who share common languages and customs
    • In more complex societies, subcultures may develop, like the Amish
    • They are generally integrated and adaptive
    • Exceptions occur when resources become exhausted or they are forced into rapid changes
    • For several definitions of culture, log on to this website: www.wsu.edu/gened/learn-modules/top_culture/culture-index.html