CULTURE• Defining Culture• Methods of Studying Culture: Observation and Ethnography, Identifying and Weighting Sources• Key Aspects of Culture:• Language• Religion• Politics• Social Conventions
Defining Culture• “Culture, as a body of learned behaviors common to a given human society, acts rather like a template (i.e. it has predictable form and content), shaping behavior and consciousness within a human society from generation to generation.” http://www.wsu.edu:8001/vcwsu/commons/t opics/culture/culture-definition.html
Defining Culture• “Obviously, culture is a very broad concept; it is frequently used to describe the whole of human experience. In order to avoid the ensuing problem of overgeneralization, it is important to make analytical distinctions between aspects of social life. For example, we associate the adjective economic with the production, exchange, and consumption of commodities. If we are discussing the political, we mean practices related to the generation and distribution of power in societies. If we are talking about the cultural, we are concerned with the symbolic construction, articulation, and dissemination of meaning. Given that language, music, and images constitute the major forms of symbolic expression, they assume special significance in the sphere of culture.” --Manfred B. Steger, Globalization: A Very Short Introduction.
Defining Culture• In this course, we will be examining the impact that globalization has had on the evolution, dissolution, and definition of culture throughout the world.• As noted before, “CULTURE” can be a very broad term. Therefore, it is important to narrow down the meaning through methods of studying various “cultures” in an attempt to define, as closely as possible, the key elements that make up a society’s unique cultural experience.
Methods of Studying Culture• Observation and Ethnography:This approach involves being a participant observer in aparticular culture that one wishes to study. Immersion inthe culture for a period of weeks and months allows theparticipant to observe key aspects and elements ofeveryday life and practices, thus allowing for reflectiveobservation. This means that the anthropologist whostudies the Maasai people in Africa not only lives amongthem and observes their daily lives, but also conductsinterviews of members of the tribe. This reflectiveobservation is essential in coming to an understanding ofwhat constitutes that particular culture with thatparticular group of people.
The Maasai• The Maasai are an ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and Northern Tanzania.
Ethnography• “Ethnography is the descriptive study of a human society, based on data obtained primarily from fieldwork. The ethnographer immerses himself or herself in the life of a social group in order to collect all the necessary data. Ideally, the ethnographic method should allow the researcher to completely understand another culture, and the behavior of the people who live in it. However, there are various difficulties involved in gathering authentic data in this way, due to the tendency of people to see and act from the perspective of their own culture. By making effort to divest themselves of self-centered thinking, ethnographers are able to gain deeper understanding of those formerly "alien" societies, and thus to bring the various cultures of the world into deeper understanding and more harmonious relationships.”—New World Encyclopedia.
Identifying and Weighting Sources• As with any research project, it is important to identify reasonable and reliable sources for information. For example, journalists may write for newspapers or magazines, but they are doing so in order to sell those publications. Therefore, statements recorded in the second or third person should weigh differently in the reader’s mind than a first-person interview.• Approach all readings for this course after taking into account the source, background of the author, author’s viewpoint, and purposes for which the article was written.
Key Aspects of Culture• Language: common understanding• Religion: values and beliefs• Politics: hierarchy, methods of organization and rule• Social Convention: generally accepted norms, standards, customs