Chapter 2: The Concept of Culture

Chapter 2:
The Concept of Culture
Define culture and describe its development in
the field of anthropology
Distinguish between the three major types of
Evaluate common metaphors for culture
Appreciate culture as a good part of God’s
The Ethnic Fair
What do you put in an American booth?
 Thinking about your own culture can make you
aware of diversities that make generalizations
Facts about culture
 Culture cannot be primarily expressed through
food, clothing, and holiday trinkets.
 Culture is not a fixed, bound entity
 An individual can be familiar with or belong to
more than one culture.
History of the Culture Concept
of “culture”
Comes from the German
word kultur, meaning to grow
or develop
Was conceived in terms of
unilinear evolution
Was considered to exist in
terms of “high” or “more” in
some societies, and “low” or
“less” in others
How is this conception of culture expressed in
contemporary U.S. English?
History of the Culture Concept
Challenges to unilinear cultural evolution
Historical particularism (Boas)
 fully developed cultures take different paths
on the basis of particular historical and
environmental contexts
Postmodern critique
 emphasizes power, individual creativity,
Anthropologists now emphasize power dynamics,
change, complexity
Cultural Relativism
The position that practices and beliefs
can be understood only in relation
to their entire context
Cultural Relativism
 The position that
cultural practices
and beliefs can be
understood only in
relation to their
entire context
As Distinct From
Moral relativism
Something is only right or
wrong according to
context-specific criteria
Epistemological relativism
The validity of knowledge is
limited to the context in
which it was produced
Varieties of Ethnocentrism
Putting one’s own culture at the
center of interpretation
 racism/xenophobia
 cultural superiority
 tacit ethnocentrism
Varieties of Ethnocentrism
The belief that humans are organized
into race groupings that are
different from one another in
intelligence and worth
Varieties of Ethnocentrism
Cultural Superiority
The belief that one culture is more
enlightened, advanced, civilized, or
intelligent than another
Varieties of Ethnocentrism
Tacit Ethnocentrism
The assumption that one’s own way
of life is just normal, not cultural
The Culture Concept Today
The total way of life of a group of
people that is learned, adaptive,
shared, and integrated, and is
shaped by power, motivations, and
The Culture Concept Today
Metaphors for Culture
water in which we swim
lenses through which we see the world
Christ and culture
rules of the game
a map
a many layered onion, a parfait
What are the problems with each metaphor?
What does each get right? What does each leave out?
The Culture Concept Today
The preferred metaphor:
Culture as a conversation