Culture In Practice by Marshall Sahlins, Introduction
Culture in Practice Selected Essays Marshall SahlinsMETU Faculty of Architecture Department of Industrial DesignID501 Advanced Project DevelopmentNur Yıldırım
Overview• From a historical point of view, Sahlins covers the movements and ideas that effect understanding of notion of culture through late history• From anthropologic and sociologic literature, various determinist views on culture are evaluated• Economic, ideologic and political reasons that inﬂuence culture studies are examined
Keywords• Culture studies, anthropology, modernity, imperialism, capitalism,• New Criticism, relativism, historicism, poststructuralism, structuralism, cosmography Aim and Scope• written over the course of thirty years, text collected here represent a temporal succession of interests and topics• cultural integrity of indigenous peoples; marginal to history and modernity, their struggle to encompass what is happening to them in the terms of their own world system: peripheral culture of modernity.• cultural distinctiveness of the peoples, not apart from or before Western capitalism but even as they endure world-capitalist juggernaut.
Reviewed Literature60s and 70s cultural studies,Vietnam War with its transitional role, Whitesanthropology, structuralist and functionalist approaches and Boass cosmographyLeslie White; (positivist materialism and foundationalist symbolism), Culture is anindependent, self moving order, of which human action could only be theexpression. Culture is determining, individual subjects determined.‘Discourse’: the process through which social reality comes into being.Anthropology serves to Western imperialsm: ‘Cultural diversity: a hegemonic actof differencing. The concept of culture is an instrument of discrimination,incarcerate the peoples otherness.’How people indigenize their modernity and their history?
Symbolic side of White’s anthropology: The symbol is the origin of humanbehavior,Ways in which people meaningfully construct their existence,Ordering and disordering,and not genetically determined: different cultures as various human forms of life.Along Whites determining technology, Sahlins mentions Ferdinand de Saussureand John Locke among the determination of human signifying.Ideas determine how people classify and relate to objects in different ways.White as technological determinist: Hunters and gatherers with axes and simpletools should have a correspondingly simple social order and limited ideas ofcosmos.
American cultural anthropologists vs British social anthropologistsAnglo-French tradition of ‘civilization’ as something of an ideological overlay onthe more basic stuff of human behavior and interaction.Structural functionalists, culture was the ideational and representationalcomplement of the real objectCulture is the expressive and customary means by which a social system ismaintained (common in Western social sciences)Culture, in positivism before 60s, is difference in customs.Culture and society relation, former is historical, where latter is generalizableacross societies, (therefore one can have a science of society but only a historyof culture.).Cultural forms as abstractions, and what is the anthropological object, culturalorder or social structure? Inclusive of system of social relations.With inclusion of social relations, culture concept encompasses any kinds ofhuman practice, everything organized symbolically.
Culture of a people includes their social structures as well as their economy,their technology, language and ideas.Culture of politics or economy is misuse according to Sahlins, since they areculture themselves.Material and the symbolic contradiction,60s, antithesis between domestic ideas of cultural ecology and the importationof French structuralism,Structuralist approach reduces everything to utilitarian behavior.Utilitarian economics and rational-cultural logics on economic bases to explainthe values and uses of things.Levi-Strauss (The Savage Mind) with due homeages to Marx; there is always amediator between praxis and practice, namely the conceptual scheme by theoperation of which matter and form, neither with any independent existence,are realized as structures, that is as entities which are both empirical andintelligible (1966:130)
Tension between utilitarian determinism of culture and cultural determinationsof utility: symbolic has resolved partly.Sahlins continues with Boass point of view, cosmography: in opposition toscientiﬁc generalization, it emphasizes single facts. Law searching and fact-dominating physicist vs cosmographer with his object of afﬁliation.Cultural relativism; the practices must be placed in their own context andpositional values in order to be understood.Vietnam War - transformed a cultural physicist to cosmographer: Antiwarmovement in University of Michigan in 1965.‘Historical agency is a relationship to the cultural order: an embodiment ofcollective powers in individual persons.’Social take up of individual doings whose consequences were due to the society,not the intention, a social-historical conjuncture.
Teach-in in Michigan University is contingent and idiosyncratic, a special casethat depends on persons and situation. It was logical but not logicallydetermined.Sartre, personiﬁcation of cultural universals; individuality had only a mediatedrelation to the totality. ‘Valery is a petit bourgeois individual, but not every petitbourgeois individual is Valery’. Social formation does not determine theindividuality of the leaders it gives itself.Different expressions; practices whose reasons are sufﬁcient to their existencebut never necessary.Anthropological cosmography, history of structures through the understandingof a particular and distinctive things.
Cultures are relative and historical forms of life with particular validity withoutsome universal necessity.According to Sahlins, anthropology is a science that examines the reasonsbehind human things, not causes, therefore it is a different science that uses itsobject as its method.Symbolic and material expression of things; anthropologist recapitulatessymbolic operations by which customs are produced.Also referring to culture and nature idiom, he states that anthropologicalscience should respect the speciﬁcity of the cultural object in order tounderstand its through its attributes that can be found in human mind.
Sum upIn his introduction, Sahlins evaluates the notion of culture historically, anddiscusses the movements that effect approaches to culture through time.Culture as a concept has been examined through social sciences byanthropologists and sociologists. They tried to come up with determinants thatshape culture such as biological, economic or utilitarian.History, societies and speciﬁcity of cultures in context are evaluated in relation,where the role of individual is also questioned.