Patterns of Culture


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Written by one of the giants of anthropology, Ruth Benedict, in 1934. She defines culture, as we know it, for the first time. Studied with Franz Boas and Margaret Mead.

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Patterns of Culture

  1. 1. Patterns of Culture RUTH BENEDICT HOUGHTON MIFFLIN, 2005 (ORIG. 1934)
  2. 2. In the beginning God gave to every people a cup of clay, and from this cup they drank their life. Proverb of Digger Indians
  3. 3. “That today the modern world is on such easy terms with the concept of culture . . . is in a very great part due to this book (Patterns of Culture).” - Margaret Mead
  4. 4. Introduction “As Ruth Benedict points out, not every culture is characterized by a dominant character, but it seems probable that the more intimate our knowledge of the cultural drives that actuate the behavior of the individual, the more we shall find that certain controls of emotion, certain ideals of conduct, prevail that account for what seem to us as abnormal attitudes when viewed from the standpoint of our civilization. The relativity of what is considered social or asocial, normal or abnormal, is seen in a new light.” Franz Boas the "Father of American Anthropology “
  5. 5. Ruth Fulton Benedict (1887 – 1948) was an American anthropologist and folklorist. She was born in New York City, attended Vassar College and graduated in 1909. She entered graduate studies at Columbia University in 1919, where she studied under Franz Boas.
  6. 6. Chapter: The Science of Custom • No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes. • John Dewey has said in all seriousness that the part played by custom in shaping the behavior of the individual as over against any way in which he can affect traditional custom, is as the proportion of the total vocabulary of his mother tongue over against those words of his own baby talk that are taken up into the vernacular of his family. • The life history of the individual is first and foremost an accommodation to the patterns and standards traditionally handed down in his community. pp. 2, 3
  7. 7. Chapter: The Diversity of Cultures • It is in cultural life as it is in speech; selection is the prime necessity. The numbers of sounds that can be produced by our vocal chords and our oral and nasal cavities are practically unlimited. • Each language must make its selection and abide by it on pain of not being intelligible at all. • A language that used even a few hundred of the possible – and actually recorded – phonetic elements could not be used for communication. p. 23
  8. 8. Chapter: The Diversity of Cultures • In culture too we must imagine a great arc on which are ranged the possible interests provided either by the human age-cycle or by the environment or by man’s various activities. • A culture that capitalized even a considerable proportion of these would be as unintelligible as a language that used all the clicks, all the glottal stops, all the labials, dentals, sibilants, and gutturals from voiceless to voiced and from oral to nasal. p. 24
  9. 9. Chapter: The Diversity of Cultures • Its identity as a culture depends on the selection of some segments of this arc. Every human society everywhere has made such selection in its cultural institutions. Each from the point of view of another ignores fundamentals and exploits irrelevancies. • One culture hardly recognizes monetary values; another has made them fundamental in every field of behavior. One builds an enormous cultural superstructure upon adolescence, one upon death, one upon after-life. p. 24
  10. 10. Chapter: The Nature of Society • There is no royal road to a real Utopia. There is, however, one difficult exercise to which we may accustom ourselves as we become increasingly culture-conscious. • We may train ourselves to pass judgment upon the dominant traits of our own civilization. • It is difficult enough for anyone brought up under the power of these dominant traits to recognize them. p. 249
  11. 11. Chapter: The Nature of Society • It is still more difficult to discount, upon necessity, our predilection for them. • They are as familiar as an old loved homestead. Any world in which they do not appear seems to us cheerless and untenable. • Yet it is these very traits which by the operation of a fundamental cultural process are most often carried to extremes. p. 249
  12. 12. Chapter: The Nature of Society • They overreach themselves, and more than any other traits they are likely to get out of hand. • Just at the very point where there is greatest likelihood of the need of criticism, we are bound to be least critical. • Revision comes, but it comes by way of revolution or of breakdown. p. 249
  13. 13. Chapter: The Nature of Society • The possibility of orderly progress is shut off because the generation in question could not make any appraisal of its overgrown institutions. • It could not cast them up in terms of profit and loss because it had lost its power to look at them objectively. • The situation had to reach a breaking-point before relief was possible. p. 249
  14. 14. Chapter: The Individual and Culture • The vast proportion of all individuals who are born into any society always and whatever the idiosyncrasies of its institutions, assume, as we have seen, the behavior dictated by that society. • This fact is always interpreted by the carriers of that culture as being due to the fact that their particular institutions reflect an ultimate and universal sanity. • The actual reason is quite different. p. 254
  15. 15. Chapter: The Individual and Culture • Most people are shaped to the form of their culture because of the enormous malleability of their original endowment. • They are plastic to the moulding force of the society into which they are born. • It does not matter whether, as with the Northwest Coast, it requires delusions of self-reference, or with our own civilization the amassing of possessions. pp. 254-255
  16. 16. Chapter: The Individual and Culture • In any case the great mass of individuals take quite readily the form that is presented to them. • When each culture is a world in itself, relatively stable like the Eskimo culture, for example, and geographically isolated from all others, this issue is academic. • But our civilization must deal with cultural standards that go down under our eyes and new ones that arise from a shadow upon the horizon. p. 271
  17. 17. Chapter: The Individual and Culture • We must be willing to take account of changing normalities even when the question is of the morality in which we were bred. • Just as we are handicapped in dealing with ethical problems so long as we hold to an absolute definition of morality, so we are handicapped in dealing with human society so long as we identify our local normalities with the inevitable necessities of existence. p. 271
  18. 18. Synergy: Some Notes of Ruth Benedict' Selected by ABRAHAM H. MASLOW Brandeis University JOHN J. HONIGMANN University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Introduction by MARGARET MEAD American Museum of Natural History 1 Note: For twenty-eight years we have held these notes of Ruth Benedict’s Bryn Mawr lectures as we awaited publication of the complete series of lectures from which they were excerpted. Ruth Benedict’s literary executrix, Margaret Mead, reports that unfortunately the original typescript of the lectures has disappeared; perhaps Ruth Benedict even destroyed it. American Anthropologist Volume 72, Issue 2, pages 320–333, April 1970
  19. 19. Cultural Relativity • The recognition of cultural relativity carries with it its own values, which need not be those of the absolutist philosophies. • It challenges customary opinions and causes those who have been bred to them acute discomfort. • It rouses pessimism because it throws old formulas into confusion, not because it contains anything intrinsically difficult. p. 278
  20. 20. Cultural Relativity • As soon as the new opinion is embraced as customary belief, it will be another trusted bulwark of the good life. • We shall arrive then at a more realistic social faith, accepting as grounds of hope and as new bases for tolerance the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence. p. 278
  21. 21. 4/17/2014 Veritas