Lecture: Culture

Lecture: Culture
Defining Culture
A. Everything humans perceive, know, think, value, make and feel is
learned through their participation in a sociocultural system
1. Human potential can only be realized within a structure of
human culture and through growing up in close contact
with other humans
a) Even things that strike us as instinctive are often
b) The “wildboy of Aveyon could not adjust adequately
to human society after being isolated from it so long.
2. In 1873, Sir Edward B. Tylor, sometimes called the father of
anthropology, defined culture as the “complex whole
which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, customs and
any other capabilities acquired (learned) by men as a
member of society.” He
a) Defined anthropology as the scientific of human
b) Suggested that culture was found to a greater or
lesser extent among all human populations
c) Claimed that members of different societies possessed
in different degrees, a single human culture
3. Modern anthropologists do not agree entirely with Tylor’s
definition. Instead they claim:
a) A culture is fully possessed by all human societies
b) There is no universal culture, but rather a great many
different cultures.
B. Today, anthropologists generally agree that all cultures share, to
some degree the following characteristics:
1. They are made up of learned behaviors
a) learning culture is a continuous process
b) cultures are learned through the process of
2. They all involve the use of language and symbols—things
that stand for something else
3. To some degree cultures are patterned and integrated
a) Elements of culture have some logical relationship to
one another
b) The degree to which elements of culture are related is
hotly contested
4. In some way, members of group share values and norms
a) Although important to consider when understanding
a culture, the study of individual personalities is the
subject of psychology
b) The way people learn to interact with one another
with a culture is the domain of anthropology.
5. Cultures are in some way adaptive
a) Cultures contain information about how to survive in
the world
b) Cultures can also contain many elements that are
6. Cultures are subject to change
a) Cultural changes may result from internal dynamics
or by outside forces
b) The speed in which a culture changes may vary
much through places and times
7. Culture is a shared system of norms and values—or is it?
a) Norms are the ideals members of a culture share
about the way things ought to be done.
b) Norms cluster around identities, roles, or positions in
a society: We have ideas about how people such as
parents, politicians, or priests ought to behavior
c) Values are shared ideas about what is true, right and
beautiful that underlies cultural patterns and guide
members of a society in response to the physical and
environment. For example, in the U.S., technology is
an important value. We believe that we can and
should transform nature for our own benefit. More
importantly, we believe we are right about this point
of view.
8. Human behavior is not always consistent with cultural
norms or values
a) Upper class Hindus in large cities in India have a
norm of social equality; but this is not the actual
behavior. Social interaction between high and lowest
castes on a basis of equality is rare.
b) Norms can also be contradictory and manipulated. It
is a norm/belief that Indian women should be at
home, and should be religious; Actually, Indian
women join religious clubs which meet outside of the
9. We have learned that people in a given society do not all
act the same way in the same situation; nor do they attach
the same meaning and values to cultural patterns.
a) Anthropologist Ralph Linton in 1936 noted that
everybody participates equally in their culture.
b) In a society with great sex segregation like New
Guinea, men and women do not attach the same
meaning to many myths and rituals that maintain the
system of male dominance
10. Issues of to what extent people share a single culture are
more obvious in larger societies where the term subculture
designates groups that share norms and values
significantly different from those of the dominant culture.
a) Dominant does not indicate superior; does it indicate
more powerful control of information through which
images of the subculture are filtered.
b) Dominant means control of social institutions such as
the law, which may criminalize sub-culture practices
that conflict with and may weaken the dominant
11. Norms and values are constantly changing and being
renegotiated. The dynamic process of change is important
to understand because cultural ideas are influential. For
a) In the United States there is a debate over whether
failure to succeed is the fault of the individual or the
society. The opinion of those in power determines the
amount of public support for programs that have an
economic impact on our lives. The fault lies with each
the individual and society. It’s all about life chances
and life opportunities.
b) The vast majority of people in the U.S. consider
themselves American, yet they do not necessarily
share a set of common beliefs
12. Shared information is important; it may be the result of
human interaction not the cause.
a) The notion that culture is a shared set of norms is
associated with American anthropology in the first
half of the 20th century; Ruth Benedict and Cora Du
Bois are associated with the perspective known as
culture and personality.
b) Benedict in particular viewed culture as “personality
writ large” and tried to identify and describe the
beliefs, values and psychological characteristics
central to individual cultures.
c) Neo-Marxist and feminist and post modern
anthropologists contend that culture is a context in
which norms and values are contested. They do not
assume a cultural core of shared beliefs and values
but they try to describe the processes through which
norms and values are both subverted and
C. Anthropologists may agree on culture’s basic characteristics but no
consensus has ever emerged on the perceived definition of culture
or the proper means of studying it
1. A theoretical position directs those who adopt it to study a
different aspect of society
2. Definitions of culture may overlap or reveal totally
different aspects of a society.
Humans depend on learned and taught behavior more than any other
A. No other species has as lengthy of a period of childhood training as
1. Each society has both formal and informal means of
enculturation or transmitting its culture
2. Society is reproduced socially as well as biologically
3. Cultures vary in their perspective of when life actually
begins and when someone should be considered a human
being. This is linked to many factors:
a) The productive base of society
b) The relations between the sexes
c) The social stratification system
d) The culturally-defined divisions of the life cycle
e) Attitudes toward death and infant mortality rates
4. Social birth—time at which one is considered a human
being and a member of human society.
a) May be much later than biological birth in cultures
with high infant mortality rates
b) Newborns may not be given names and sometimes
they are not considered human at all
c) Social birth is usually marked by a public ritual, such
as the “face opening” ceremony practiced by the Toda
of India
5. In the poverty-stricken region of northeastern Brazil,
where children are mainly raised in single parent families,
a child is only considered a social person when it shows
the physical and emotional signs of being able to survive
a) Babies may be left home alone while mother works
and, if weak, will not survive
b) Deaths are viewed as the child “wants to die” and
mothers learn to distance themselves emotionally
from vulnerable infants
c) As Catholics, the mothers believe they are
cooperating with God’s plan
d) This learned behavior functions as a rational response
to desperate economic conditions
6. In the United States, abortion views are really a debate of
when one becomes a social person
a) Almost all Americans agree that biological birth
marks the entrance of a new human into society,
b) Abortion opponents argue that a fetus or embryo is a
social person with established rights.
B. Cross-cultural variation in child rearing
1. After birth, all humans learn to deal with the physical and
social environment by passing through a series of
developmental phases
a) Physically, the infant gains muscular coordination
b) Mentally, it increases its capacity to differentiate and
classify objects and people in the environment
c) Psychologically, the infant increasingly develops a
sense of itself and others
d) In thousands of different ways, the human infant
slowly develops into a social person
2. Human development is acknowledged differently crossculturally
a) Childhood is not considered as a distinct stage of life
in many non-Western cultures and was only
recognized as a developmental stage in Western
societies after the introduction of formal schooling in
the 16th and 17th centuries. This applies to the children
of high status and wealthy individuals
b) Child-rearing practices in all cultures are designed to
pattern children’s attitudes, beliefs values,
perceptions and behavioral patterns so that they are
in harmony with their society
3. Inuit adapt to the conditions of uncertainty in their
environment, testing the limits of danger and their own
individual abilities to cope with it
a) They develop skills for problem solving quickly and
b) Children are brought up to constantly test physical
skills to learn their own pain and endurance
c) The initiative for learning skills rests largely with the
child and each is expected to find solutions to
problems independently
d) Play often provides an opportunity to lean the
consequences of various actions, thus developing a
careful attention to detail