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Lecture 2 What Is Culture
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Lecture 2 What Is Culture


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  • 1. ANTH45 Summer 2008 Section 101 What is Culture?
  • 2. vs.
  • 3. In Pursuit of Culture (Goodenough)
    • How people become anthropologists
      • Early interest in culture
      • No previous knowledge about the field
    • Influence of and relationship with other fields: linguistics, psychology, biology, sociology
    • Introduction to several themes of the course: language and communication, property systems, marriage rules, etc.
  • 4.  
  • 5. The Concept of Culture
    • Concept used by all social sciences
    • Central to ethnology, archaeology, and biological anthropology
    • Anthropology has done more than any other discipline to refine our understanding of the concept of culture
  • 6. Defining Culture
    • Over 160 definitions have been identified
    • Tylor’s definition (1871)
      • That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.
    • Goodenough’s definition
      • The product of learning in society
        • As opposed to simply patterns of recurring events
        • Focus on the content of culture (observed from behavior)
      • Criteria for: categorizing phenomena; deciding what can be; preferences and values; what to do about things; how to do those things; skills needed to perform
  • 7. A better definition…
    • Focuses on what culture is , but also on what it does
    • Culture is the only thing that separates us from all other animals (not social behavior)
  • 8. When Do We First See Culture?
    • Anatomically Modern Peoples and the Upper Paleolithic (100,000 years ago)
    • Culture
      • Emerges as a ‘more
      • potent’ force than
      • biology
      • Symbolic behavior
          • Art
          • Decoration
          • Sculpture
          • Pendants
          • Cave painting
  • 9. When Do We First See Culture?
    • More Symbolic Behavior
      • Ritual
        • Burial
  • 10. Culture is …
    • A major adaptive tool for humans
      • can be direct and can rapidly change
    • Learned through enculturation
    • Transmitted
    • Universal and specific
    • Shared and integrated
    • Constantly changing
    • Based on human ability to create symbols
    • Exchanged between societies through a process called acculturation
  • 11. Culture is Adaptive
      • Humans have adapted by manipulating environments through cultural means.
      • Humans have come to depend more and more on cultural adaptation.
        • Because it works and fast!!
        • Polar bear vs. Inuit
      • What is adaptive in one context may be seriously maladaptive in another
  • 12. Culture is Adaptive
    • Not every aspect of culture is adaptive
      • Some are neutral
      • Some are maladaptive
        • Sex in Papua New Guinean tribe
        • American energy policy
  • 13. Culture is Generally Integrated
    • Integration
      • The tendency for all aspects of a culture to function as an interrelated whole.
      • System: a set of connected elements such that if you change one of them, you change the others
      • Concept of holism in anthropology
  • 14. Individual Cultures
    • Core values
      • Unique to each culture
    • Constantly changing
      • Language evolves, customs change, beliefs and behaviors change
    • Ideal culture vs. real culture
      • What people say should do and what they say they do vs. what the anthropologist observes
      • Anthropological use of emic vs. etic perspective
  • 15. Emic vs. Etic: why cows are sacred in India
    • Emic idea: cows are sacred because our religion tells us so
    • Emic behavior: we don’t eat cows
    • Etic idea: cows are crucial for farm labor. It is maladaptive to eat a cow because it produces more on a farm
    • Etic behavior: people sometimes eat old cows
  • 16. Culture is Symbolic
    • The most fundamental aspect of culture is the capacity to symbolize
      • Culture is dependent upon symbols
      • Symbol: something that represents something else with which it is not intrinsically related
      • Symbols are powerful
  • 17. Culture is Shared
    • For a thing, idea, or behavior pattern to qualify as being cultural, it must have a meaning shared by most people in a society
      • Society: a group of people who have a common homeland, are interdependent, and share a common culture
      • More to come: how people in States have shared culture and the institutions that help give common sense of identity
  • 18. Culture is Differentially Shared
    • Degree with which traits are shared varies between cultures
    • Sources of variation
      • Sex and Gender
      • Age
      • Class
      • Religion
      • Etc.
  • 19.
    • Differences exist in different sections of society
    • Subcultures
      • Subsets of a wider culture
      • Share traits with mainstream
      • But still unique
    • Subcultures can be threatening to the mainstream
  • 20. Culture is Learned
    • Enculturation
      • The process of acquiring culture
      • Learning or interacting with one’s cultural environment
      • Observation, direct learning, experience
      • Not all learned behavior is cultural
        • Conditioning by repeated training is not enculturation
        • “ Brain-washing”
  • 21.
    • Ward Goodenough:
      • Because culture is learned, it’s in your head
      • No two people have the exact same criteria
      • As long as differences don’t affect the ability to interact with each other, you have a sense of shared culture
    • … but sometimes they do!
    • … that’s why we squash them
    • … who’s we? Mainstream, powerful groups, lobbies, governments…
  • 22. Culture’s Influence on Biology
    • Functions
      • Eating
      • Sleeping
      • Work/exercise
    • Body types and images
      • Attitudes
      • Modification
  • 23. Culture and Change
    • All cultures change over time for one reason or another
      • Meeting environmental crises
      • Responding to intrusions by outsiders
      • Evolving internal behavior and values
    • Results may be beneficial or disastrous
  • 24. Mechanisms of Cultural Change
    • Internal Changes
      • Innovations
        • Ultimate source of all culture change
    • External changes
      • Diffusion
        • Spreading of a cultural element from one culture to another
        • Responsible for the greatest amount of change in any given society
          • Because people have never been isolated
  • 25.
    • Acculturation: process of adopting foreign cultural elements (beliefs, customs, behaviors)
  • 26. Cultural Universals
    • Despite variation in many aspects there are basic similarities
      • System(s) of production
      • Marriage and family
      • Education
      • Social control
      • Supernatural beliefs
      • Communication
  • 27. As Individuals…
    • Culture influences our behavior, but…
    • It does not determine our behavior
    • Deviance from cultural norms exists in all societies
  • 28. Short Exercise
    • Describe American culture to a foreigner: food, religion, education, political system, values
    • Which aspects of American culture are a result of innovation?
    • Which resulted from diffusion from another culture?
    • List 2 American symbols besides the flag: what do they represent?
    • List and describe 2 American subcultures. How does the mainstream view these subcultures? Are they respected, feared, ignored?