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Thursday, 26 July 2018

Culture: A few definitions and theories


Contents







 

Culture:


 

Culture (from Latin: cultura, meaning. "cultivation")is a term that has many different meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. However, the word "culture" is most commonly used in three basic senses:

  • Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
  • An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
  • The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group



 

Edward Burnett Tylor:


The earliest anthropological use of "culture" was by E. B. TYLOR (1871), who defined it memorably as that "complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."

 

Tylor's formulation can still serve today to express anthropologists' views. First, culture comprises those human traits that are learned and learnable and are therefore passed on socially and mentally, rather than biologically. Second, culture is in some sense a "complex whole." Although hotly debated, the fundamental idea that all those "capabilities and habits" can and should be considered together is a powerful one. It means that vast areas of human life, spanning everything from techniques of food production to theories of the afterlife, have some coherence and a distinct logic that can be discovered by a single discipline. Tylor had spoken of "culture" in the singular, on the assumption that all societies possessed a more or less advanced version of the same heritage, Boas wrote of plural "cultures" that were different and could not be measured against some supposed single standard of advancement.

The focus of anthropology is upon the diversity of ways in which human beings establish and live their social lives in groups, and it is from this diversity that the anthropological notion of culture, at least in the twentieth century, is derived. This idea of the plurality of culture contrasts with the idea of culture in the singular, an interpretation that began its development in eighteenth century European thought (see Williams 1983a), and became predominant in the nineteeth century. Framed through the social evolutionary thought linked to Western imperialism, culture in the singular assumed a universal scale of progress and the idea that as civilizations developed through time, so too did humankind become more creative and more rational, that is, people’s capacity for culture increased. The growth of culture and of rationality were thought to belong to the same process. In other words, human beings became more ‘cultivated’ as they progressed over time intellectually, spiritually and aesthetically.

It was Franz BOAS who championed the concept of culture, and with it the discipline of anthropology, to challenge the elaborate and influential late-nineteenth-century theories that attributed most human differences to RACE   that is, biological inheritance. Anchored in the new science of biology by evolutionary ideas, they suggested that some races, when compared to northern Europeans, were more primitive and therefore more animal-like in bodily form, mental ability, and moral development.
These ideas were later elaborated by his students, including Edward SAPIR, Alfred KROEBER, Margaret MEAD, and Ruth BENEDICT. They argued that although human beings everywhere possessed much the same biological heritage, human nature was so plastic that it could sustain kaleidoscopically different sets of values, institutions, and behaviors in different cultures. Margaret Mead, for example, spent a long career of fieldwork demonstrating how matters that might appear to be easily explained by human biology   the experience of ADOLESCENCE, patterns of SOCIALIZATION, SEX roles in society vary so greatly that no simple natural scientific explanation could comprehend them. And Kroeber espoused the notion that culture is "superorganic," possessing a unique character within itself that goes beyond anything that could arise in the course of biological evolution.

Alfred Kroeber:


A widely recognized and often repeated definition of culture was given by Alfred Kroeber and Clyde

Kluckhohn in Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions[1]:

 

“Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other as conditioning elements of further action.”

 

Kroeber is most famous for his idea of culture as ‘super organic’ – a term which he borrowed from Herbert Spencer. He proposed a three-tier level of psychological and cultural understanding, Kroeber developed a hierarchy of fields of inquiry called inorganic, organic and superorganic. The basic fields dealing with subject matter of non-living forms such as chemistry and physics were labelled inorganic. Second, the organic were fields dealing with psychological and biological life. And the third in the hierarchy were what Kroeber called the superorganic: fields which dealt with collective (as opposed to individual) phenomena, such as anthropology or sociology.

 

This view was first put forward by A. L. Kroeber in a famous 1917 article, and it occupied him through much of his lifetime. Kroeber regarded culture as, above all, sui generis: this meant that it could only be explained in terms of itself, and not reduced to racial, psychological or (other) non-cultural factors. It was also ‘superorganic’ (a term which he borrowed from Herbert Spencer) in the sense that it had to be explained with reference to a level of understanding above that of the individual organism. Thus Kroeber and his followers came to see culture less as a product of individual human beings, and rather more as that which produced or directed those actions. While his initial formulation of the idea was in part an attack on racism (as stemming from racial determinism), the radical thrust of his more general concern was that culture developed its own logic independently of the thoughts of specific individuals. He cited objects and ideas in the history of science which came to be invented or discovered simultaneously by more than one individual, and later he described cyclical features in culture, most famously women’s fashions, which he saw as the product of the laws of culture, and not merely of the whims of individual women or fashion designers.  By 1952 it came time for American anthropologists to take stock of what they meant by ‘culture’. In that year Kroeber and Kluckhohn divided ‘complete’ definitions of culture into six categories: descriptive (e.g. Tylor’s), historical (those with an emphasis on tradition), normative (with an emphasis on rules or values), psychological (e.g. with an emphasis on learning or habit), structural (with an emphasis on pattern), and genetic. The last was certainly the most diverse and included definitions with an emphasis on culture as a product or artefact, definitions with an emphasis on ideas or on symbols, and residual-category definitions.

 

Leslie White:


Leslie White was a neoevolutionist at a time when nineteenth century evolutionism virtually disappeared from anthropology following its rejection by Franz Boas and his students. He is best known for his strict materialist approach to evolution, particularly his model relating energy use to social complexity (White 1943). At the same time he argued equally strongly for a theory of cultural determinism he labelled "culturology" (White 1940). His position, stated most completely in The evolution of culture (1959), was strongly materialist and became best known for its assertion that use of energy per capita was the best way to measure social complexity and rank societies in an evolutionary scheme.  

 

White (1959) asserted that, in some hypothetical beginning, "Between man and nature hung the veil of culture, and he could see nothing save through this medium . . . the meanings and values that lay beyond the senses." Over the next half-century the ceaseless efforts of biological scientists to comprehend the whole of human behaviour in their schemes would only confirm anthropologists in this faith. He was of the opinion that culture is a process, sui generis.

Clifford Geertz:


Clifford Geertz and David Schneider, both of whom had been in Parsons’ Harvard Department of Socal Relations in the late 1940s and early 1950s, advanced this position in their work of the 1960s, culminating in Geertz’s massively influential Interpretation of Cultures:

The concept of culture I espouse…is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he has himself spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning. (Geertz 1973:5)

For Geertz, culture is like a novel. It is an “ensemble of texts… which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong” (Geertz 1973: 531). He meant that culture is a story people tell themselves about themselves. Like all good stories, culture engrosses us and helps us understand the nature and meaning of life. It comments on who we are and how we should act in the world. Geertz, together with Schneider and Sahlins, managed something denied to their American predecessors - the partial conversion of non-American anthropology. In Britain, the symbolic or interpretive approach of the 1970s chimed with the vague talk of the ‘translation of culture’.

The difference between an explanatory science and an interpretative science is also a feature that tends to distinguish between the social and the cultural anthropologists. However, the differences between them need not be so rigidly defined, as people who concentrate on social organisation, social phenomena “on the ground,” must also pay attention to culture and conversely, those whose primary interest is ‘culture’ – the symbols and meanings – must investigate the way they are expressed and embedded in social activity.

N.K. Bose:


Culture “As the crystallised phase of Man’s life-activities. It includes certain forms of action closely associated with particular objects and institutions habitual attitudes of mind transferable from one person to another with the aid of mental images conveyed through speech-symbols.



[1]
Kroeber, Alfred Louis; Kluckhohn, Clyde. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Harvard University Peabody Museum of American Archeology and Ethnology Papers 47, p. 357.
Contents
 

Culture:

 
Culture (from Latin: cultura, meaning. "cultivation")is a term that has many different meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. However, the word "culture" is most commonly used in three basic senses:
  • Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
  • An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
  • The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group

 

Edward Burnett Tylor:

The earliest anthropological use of "culture" was by E. B. TYLOR (1871), who defined it memorably as that "complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."
 
Tylor's formulation can still serve today to express anthropologists' views. First, culture comprises those human traits that are learned and learnable and are therefore passed on socially and mentally, rather than biologically. Second, culture is in some sense a "complex whole." Although hotly debated, the fundamental idea that all those "capabilities and habits" can and should be considered together is a powerful one. It means that vast areas of human life, spanning everything from techniques of food production to theories of the afterlife, have some coherence and a distinct logic that can be discovered by a single discipline. Tylor had spoken of "culture" in the singular, on the assumption that all societies possessed a more or less advanced version of the same heritage, Boas wrote of plural "cultures" that were different and could not be measured against some supposed single standard of advancement.
The focus of anthropology is upon the diversity of ways in which human beings establish and live their social lives in groups, and it is from this diversity that the anthropological notion of culture, at least in the twentieth century, is derived. This idea of the plurality of culture contrasts with the idea of culture in the singular, an interpretation that began its development in eighteenth century European thought (see Williams 1983a), and became predominant in the nineteeth century. Framed through the social evolutionary thought linked to Western imperialism, culture in the singular assumed a universal scale of progress and the idea that as civilizations developed through time, so too did humankind become more creative and more rational, that is, people’s capacity for culture increased. The growth of culture and of rationality were thought to belong to the same process. In other words, human beings became more ‘cultivated’ as they progressed over time intellectually, spiritually and aesthetically.
It was Franz BOAS who championed the concept of culture, and with it the discipline of anthropology, to challenge the elaborate and influential late-nineteenth-century theories that attributed most human differences to RACE   that is, biological inheritance. Anchored in the new science of biology by evolutionary ideas, they suggested that some races, when compared to northern Europeans, were more primitive and therefore more animal-like in bodily form, mental ability, and moral development.
These ideas were later elaborated by his students, including Edward SAPIR, Alfred KROEBER, Margaret MEAD, and Ruth BENEDICT. They argued that although human beings everywhere possessed much the same biological heritage, human nature was so plastic that it could sustain kaleidoscopically different sets of values, institutions, and behaviors in different cultures. Margaret Mead, for example, spent a long career of fieldwork demonstrating how matters that might appear to be easily explained by human biology   the experience of ADOLESCENCE, patterns of SOCIALIZATION, SEX roles in society vary so greatly that no simple natural scientific explanation could comprehend them. And Kroeber espoused the notion that culture is "superorganic," possessing a unique character within itself that goes beyond anything that could arise in the course of biological evolution.

Alfred Kroeber:

A widely recognized and often repeated definition of culture was given by Alfred Kroeber and Clyde
Kluckhohn in Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions[1]:
 
“Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other as conditioning elements of further action.”
 
Kroeber is most famous for his idea of culture as ‘super organic’ – a term which he borrowed from Herbert Spencer. He proposed a three-tier level of psychological and cultural understanding, Kroeber developed a hierarchy of fields of inquiry called inorganic, organic and superorganic. The basic fields dealing with subject matter of non-living forms such as chemistry and physics were labelled inorganic. Second, the organic were fields dealing with psychological and biological life. And the third in the hierarchy were what Kroeber called the superorganic: fields which dealt with collective (as opposed to individual) phenomena, such as anthropology or sociology.
 
This view was first put forward by A. L. Kroeber in a famous 1917 article, and it occupied him through much of his lifetime. Kroeber regarded culture as, above all, sui generis: this meant that it could only be explained in terms of itself, and not reduced to racial, psychological or (other) non-cultural factors. It was also ‘superorganic’ (a term which he borrowed from Herbert Spencer) in the sense that it had to be explained with reference to a level of understanding above that of the individual organism. Thus Kroeber and his followers came to see culture less as a product of individual human beings, and rather more as that which produced or directed those actions. While his initial formulation of the idea was in part an attack on racism (as stemming from racial determinism), the radical thrust of his more general concern was that culture developed its own logic independently of the thoughts of specific individuals. He cited objects and ideas in the history of science which came to be invented or discovered simultaneously by more than one individual, and later he described cyclical features in culture, most famously women’s fashions, which he saw as the product of the laws of culture, and not merely of the whims of individual women or fashion designers.  By 1952 it came time for American anthropologists to take stock of what they meant by ‘culture’. In that year Kroeber and Kluckhohn divided ‘complete’ definitions of culture into six categories: descriptive (e.g. Tylor’s), historical (those with an emphasis on tradition), normative (with an emphasis on rules or values), psychological (e.g. with an emphasis on learning or habit), structural (with an emphasis on pattern), and genetic. The last was certainly the most diverse and included definitions with an emphasis on culture as a product or artefact, definitions with an emphasis on ideas or on symbols, and residual-category definitions.
 

Leslie White:

Leslie White was a neoevolutionist at a time when nineteenth century evolutionism virtually disappeared from anthropology following its rejection by Franz Boas and his students. He is best known for his strict materialist approach to evolution, particularly his model relating energy use to social complexity (White 1943). At the same time he argued equally strongly for a theory of cultural determinism he labelled "culturology" (White 1940). His position, stated most completely in The evolution of culture (1959), was strongly materialist and became best known for its assertion that use of energy per capita was the best way to measure social complexity and rank societies in an evolutionary scheme.  
 
White (1959) asserted that, in some hypothetical beginning, "Between man and nature hung the veil of culture, and he could see nothing save through this medium . . . the meanings and values that lay beyond the senses." Over the next half-century the ceaseless efforts of biological scientists to comprehend the whole of human behaviour in their schemes would only confirm anthropologists in this faith. He was of the opinion that culture is a process, sui generis.

Clifford Geertz:

Clifford Geertz and David Schneider, both of whom had been in Parsons’ Harvard Department of Socal Relations in the late 1940s and early 1950s, advanced this position in their work of the 1960s, culminating in Geertz’s massively influential Interpretation of Cultures:
The concept of culture I espouse…is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he has himself spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning. (Geertz 1973:5)
For Geertz, culture is like a novel. It is an “ensemble of texts… which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong” (Geertz 1973: 531). He meant that culture is a story people tell themselves about themselves. Like all good stories, culture engrosses us and helps us understand the nature and meaning of life. It comments on who we are and how we should act in the world. Geertz, together with Schneider and Sahlins, managed something denied to their American predecessors - the partial conversion of non-American anthropology. In Britain, the symbolic or interpretive approach of the 1970s chimed with the vague talk of the ‘translation of culture’.
The difference between an explanatory science and an interpretative science is also a feature that tends to distinguish between the social and the cultural anthropologists. However, the differences between them need not be so rigidly defined, as people who concentrate on social organisation, social phenomena “on the ground,” must also pay attention to culture and conversely, those whose primary interest is ‘culture’ – the symbols and meanings – must investigate the way they are expressed and embedded in social activity.

N.K. Bose:

Culture “As the crystallised phase of Man’s life-activities. It includes certain forms of action closely associated with particular objects and institutions habitual attitudes of mind transferable from one person to another with the aid of mental images conveyed through speech-symbols.

Following are a few lectures (bilingual, meant for for my students)








[1] Kroeber, Alfred Louis; Kluckhohn, Clyde. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Harvard University Peabody Museum of American Archeology and Ethnology Papers 47, p. 357.

1 comment:

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