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[[File:|thumb|The Persian Hasht-Behesht Palace]]

Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate")[1] is a term that has 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.[2] 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.

When the concept first emerged in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, it connoted a process of cultivation or improvement, as in agriculture or horticulture. In the nineteenth century, it came to refer first to the betterment or refinement of the individual, especially through education, and then to the fulfillment of national aspirations or ideals. In the mid-nineteenth century, some scientists used the term "culture" to refer to a universal human capacity.

In the twentieth century, "culture" emerged as a concept central to anthropology, encompassing all human phenomena that are not purely results of human genetics. Specifically, the term "culture" in American anthropology had two meanings: (1) the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and (2) the distinct ways that people living in different parts of the world classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively. Following World War II, the term became important, albeit with different meanings, in other disciplines such as sociology, cultural studies, organizational psychology and management studies.


19th century discourses of culture

English Romanticism

In the nineteenth century, humanists such as English poet and essayist Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) used the word "culture" to refer to an ideal of individual human refinement, of "the best that has been thought and said in the world."[3] This concept of culture is comparable to the German concept of bildung: "...culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world."[3]

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British poet and critic Matthew Arnold viewed "culture" as the cultivation of the humanist ideal

In practice, culture referred to an élite ideal and was associated with such activities as art, classical music, and haute cuisine.[4] As these forms were associated with urbane life, "culture" was identified with "civilization" (from lat. civitas, city). Another facet of the Romantic movement was an interest in folklore, which led to identifying a "culture" among non-elites. This distinction is often characterized as that between "high culture", namely that of the ruling social group, and "low culture." In other words, the idea of "culture" that developed in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries reflected inequalities within European societies.[5]

Matthew Arnold contrasted "culture" with "anarchy;" other Europeans, following philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, contrasted "culture" with "the state of nature." According to Hobbes and Rousseau, the Native Americans who were being conquered by Europeans from the 16th centuries on were living in a state of nature; this opposition was expressed through the contrast between "civilized" and "uncivilized." According to this way of thinking, one could classify some countries and nations as more civilized than others and some people as more cultured than others. This contrast led to Herbert Spencer's theory of Social Darwinism and Lewis Henry Morgan's theory of cultural evolution. Just as some critics have argued that the distinction between high and low cultures is really an expression of the conflict between European elites and non-elites, some critics have argued that the distinction between civilized and uncivilized people is really an expression of the conflict between European colonial powers and their colonial subjects.

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British anthropologist Edward Tylor was one of the first English-speaking scholars to use the term culture in an inclusive and universal sense

Other 19th century critics, following Rousseau, have accepted this differentiation between higher and lower culture, but have seen the refinement and sophistication of high culture as corrupting and unnatural developments that obscure and distort people's essential nature. These critics considered folk music (as produced by working-class people) to honestly express a natural way of life, while classical music seemed superficial and decadent. Equally, this view often portrayed indigenous peoples as "noble savages" living authentic and unblemished lives, uncomplicated and uncorrupted by the highly stratified capitalist systems of the West.

In 1870 Edward Tylor (1832-1917) applied these ideas of higher versus lower culture to propose a theory of the evolution of religion. According to this theory, religion evolves from more polytheistic to more monotheistic forms.[6] In the process, he redefined culture as a diverse set of activities characteristic of all human societies. This view paved the way for the modern understanding of culture.

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Johann Herder called attention to national cultures
Adolf Bastian developed a universal model of culture

German Romanticism

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) formulated an individualist definition of "enlightenment" similar to the concept of bildung: "Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity."[7] He argued that this immaturity comes not from a lack of understanding, but from a lack of courage to think independently. Against this intellectual cowardice, Kant urged: Sapere aude, "Dare to be wise!" In reaction to Kant, German scholars such as Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) argued that human creativity, which necessarily takes unpredictable and highly diverse forms, is as important as human rationality. Moreover, Herder proposed a collective form of bildung: "For Herder, Bildung was the totality of experiences that provide a coherent identity, and sense of common destiny, to a people."[8]

In 1795 the great linguist and philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) called for an anthropology that would synthesize Kant's and Herder's interests. During the Romantic era, scholars in Germany, especially those concerned with nationalist movements — such as the nationalist struggle to create a "Germany" out of diverse principalities, and the nationalist struggles by ethnic minorities against the Austro-Hungarian Empire — developed a more inclusive notion of culture as "worldview." According to this school of thought, each ethnic group has a distinct worldview that is incommensurable with the worldviews of other groups. Although more inclusive than earlier views, this approach to culture still allowed for distinctions between "civilized" and "primitive" or "tribal" cultures.

In 1860, Adolf Bastian (1826-1905) argued for "the psychic unity of mankind". He proposed that a scientific comparison of all human societies would reveal that distinct worldviews consisted of the same basic elements. According to Bastian, all human societies share a set of "elementary ideas" (Elementargedanken); different cultures, or different "folk ideas" (Volkergedanken), are local modifications of the elementary ideas.[9] This view paved the way for the modern understanding of culture. Franz Boas (1858-1942) was trained in this tradition, and he brought it with him when he left Germany for the United States. Template:Clr

20th century discourses of culture

American Anthropology

Although anthropologists worldwide refer to Tylor's definition of culture, in the 20th century "culture" emerged as the central and unifying concept of American anthropology, where it most commonly refers to the universal human capacity to classify and encode their experiences symbolically, and communicate symbolically encoded experiences socially. American anthropology is organized into four fields, each of which plays an important role in research on culture: biological anthropology, linguistics, cultural anthropology and archeology. Research in these fields have influenced anthropologists working in other countries to different degrees.

Biological Anthropology: the Evolution of Culture

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Taxonomic relations between 4 surviving species of the clade Hominoidea: Hylobatidae, Gorillini, Homo, Pan and Pongo.

Discussion concerning culture among biological anthropologists centers around two debates. First, is culture uniquely human or shared by other species (most notably, other primates)? This is an important question, as the theory of evolution holds that humans are descended from (now extinct) non-human primates. Second, how did culture evolve among human beings?

Gerald Weiss noted that although Tylor’s classic definition of culture was restricted to humans, many anthropologists take this for granted and thus elide that important qualification from later definitions, merely equating culture with any learned behavior. This slippage is a problem because during the formative years of modern primatology, some primatologists were trained in anthropology (and understood that culture refers to learned behavior among humans), and others were not. Notable non-anthropologists, like Robert Yerkes and Jane Goodall thus argued that since chimpanzees have learned behaviors, they have culture.[10][11] Today, anthropological primatologists are divided, several arguing that non-human primates have culture, others arguing that they do not.[12][13][14][15]

This scientific debate is complicated by ethical concerns. The subjects of primatology are non-human primates, and whatever culture these primates have is threatened by human activity. After reviewing the research on primate culture, W.C. McGrew concluded, "[a] discipline requires subjects, and most species of nonhuman primates are endangered by their human cousins. Ultimately, whatever its merit, cultural primatology must be committed to cultural survival [i.e. to the survival of primate cultures]."[16]

McGrew suggests a definition of culture that he finds scientifically useful for studying primate culture. He points out that scientists do not have access to the subjective thoughts or knowledge of non-human primates. Thus, if culture is defined in terms of knowledge, then scientists are severely limited in their attempts to study primate culture. Instead of defining culture as a kind of knowledge, McGrew suggests that we view culture as a process. He lists six steps in the process:

  1. A new pattern of behavior is invented, or an existing one is modified.
  2. The innovator transmits this pattern to another.
  3. The form of the pattern is consistent within and across performers, perhaps even in terms of recognizable stylistic features.
  4. The one who acquires the pattern retains the ability to perform it long after having acquired it.
  5. The pattern spreads across social units in a population. These social units may be families, clans, troops, or bands.
  6. The pattern endures across generations.[16]

McGrew admits that all six criteria may be strict, given the difficulties in observing primate behavior in the wild. But he also insists on the need to be as inclusive as possible, on the need for a definition of culture that "casts the net widely":

Culture is considered to be group-specific behavior that is acquired, at least in part, from social influences. Here, group is considered to be the species-typical unit, whether it be a troop, lineage, subgroup, or so on. Prima facia evidence of culture comes from within-species but across-group variation in behavior, as when a pattern is persistent in one community of chimpanzees but is absent from another, or when different communities perform different versions of the same pattern. The suggestion of culture in action is stronger when the difference across the groups cannot be explained solely by ecological factors ....[17]

As Charles Frederick Voegelin pointed out, if “culture” is reduced to “learned behavior,” then all animals have culture.[18] Certainly all specialists agree that all primate species evidence common cognitive skills: knowledge of object-permanence, cognitive mapping, the ability to categorize objects, and creative problem solving.[19] Moreover, all primate species show evidence of shared social skills: they recognize members of their social group; they form direct relationships based on degrees of kinship and rank; they recognize third-party social relationships; they predict future behavior; and they cooperate in problem-solving.[19]

Cast of the skeleton of Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis

[[File:|thumb|left|One current view of the temporal and geographical distribution of hominid populations]] Nevertheless, the term "culture" applies to non-human animals only if we define culture as any or all learned behavior. Within mainstream physical anthropology, scholars tend to think that a more restrictive definition is necessary. These researchers are concerned with how human beings evolved to be different from other species. A more precise definition of culture, which excludes non-human social behavior, would allow physical anthropologists to study how humans evolved their unique capacity for "culture".

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus) are humans' (Homo sapiens) closest living relative; both are descended from a common ancestor which lived around five or six million years ago. This is the same amount of time it took for horses and zebras, lions and tigers, and rats and mice, to diverge from their respective common ancestors [20] The evolution of modern humans is relative rapid: Australopithicenes evolved four million years ago and modern humans in past several hundred thousand years. [21] During this time humanity evolved three distinctive features:

(a) the creation and use of conventional symbols, including linguistic symbols and their derivatives, such as written language and mathematical symbols and notations; (b) the creation and use of complex tools and other instrumental technologies; and (c) the creation and participation in complex social organization and institutions.[22]

According to developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello, “where these complex and species-unique behavioral practices, and the cognitive skills that underlie them, came from” is a fundamental anthropological question. Given that contemporary humans and chimpanzees are far more different than horses and zebras, or rats and mice, and that the evolution of this great difference occurred in such a short period of time, “our search must be for some small difference that made a big difference – some adaptation, or small set of adaptations, that changed the process of primate cognitive evolution in fundamental ways.” According to Tomasello, the answer to this question must form the basis of a scientific definition of “human culture.”[22]

In a recent review of the major research on human and primate tool-use, communication, and learning strategies, Tomasello argues that the key human advances over primates (language, complex technologies, complex social organization) are all the results of humans pooling cognitive resources. This is called “the ratchet effect:” innovations spread and are shared by a group, and mastered “by youngsters, which enables them to remain in their new and improved form within the group until something better comes along.” The key point is that children are born good at a particular kind of social learning; this creates a favored environment for social innovations, making them more likely to be maintained and transmitted to new generations than individual innovations. [23] For Tomasello, human social learning — the kind of learning that distinguishes humans from other primates and that played a decisive role in human evolution — is based on two elements: first, what he calls “imitative learning,” (as opposed to “emulative learning” characteristic of other primates) and second, the fact that humans represent their experiences symbolically (rather than iconically, as is characteristic of other primates). Together, these elements enable humans to be both inventive, and to preserve useful inventions. It is this combination that produces the ratchet effect.

[[File:|thumb|Chimpanzee extracting insects]]

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The Japanese Macaques at Jigokudani hotspring in Nagano

The kind of learning found among other primates is “emuluation learning,” which “focuses on the environmental events involved – results or changes of state in the environment that the other produced – rather than on the actions that produced those results.”[24][25][26] Tomasello emphasizes that emulation learning is a highly adaptive strategy for apes because it focuses on the effects of an act. In laboratory experiments, chimpanzees were shown two different ways for using a rake-like tool to obtain an out-of-reach-object. Both methods were effective, but one was more efficient than the other. Chimpanzees consistently emulated the more efficient method.[27]

Examples of emulation learning are well-documented among primates. Notable examples include Japanese macaque potato washing, Chimpanzee tool use, and Chimpanzee gestural communication. In 1953, an 18-month-old female macaque monkey was observed taking sandy pieces of sweet potato (given to the monkeys by observers) to a stream (and later, to the ocean) to wash off the sand. After three months, the same behavior was observed in her mother and two playmates, and then the playmates’ mothers. Over the next two years seven other young macaques were observed washing their potatoes, and by the end of the third year 40% of the troop had adopted the practice.[28][29] Although this story is popularly represented as a straightforward example of human-like learning, evidence suggests that it is not. Many monkeys naturally brush sand off of food; this behavior had been observed in the macaque troop prior to the first observed washing. Moreover, potato washing was observed in four other separate macaque troops, suggesting that at least four other individual monkeys had learned to wash off sand on their own.[29] Other monkey species in captivity quickly learn to wash off their food.[30] Finally, the spread of learning among the Japanese macaques was fairly slow, and the rate at which new members of the troop learned did not keep pace with the growth of the troop. If the form of learning were imitation, the rate of learning should have been exponential. It is more likely that monkeys the washing behavior is based on the common behavior of cleaning off food, and that monkeys that spent time by the water independently learned to wash, rather than wipe their food. This explains both why those monkeys that kept company with the original washer, and who thus spent a good deal of time by the water, also figured out how to wash their potatoes. It also explains why the rate at which this behavior spread was relatively slow. [31]

Chimpanzees exhibit a variety of population-specific tool use: termite-fishing, ant-fishing, ant-dipping, nut-cracking, and leaf-sponging. Gombe chimpanzees fish for termites using small, thin sticks, but chimpanzees in Western Africa use large sticks to break holes in mounds and use their hands to scoop up termites. Some of this variation may be the result of “environmental shaping” (there is more rainfall in western Africa, softening termite mounds and making them easier to break apart, than in the Gombe reserve in eastern Africa. Nevertheless it is clear that chimpanzees are good at emulation learning. Chimpanzee children independently know how to roll over logs, and know how to eat insects. When children see their mothers rolling over logs in order to eat the insects beneath, they quickly learn to do the same. In other words, this form of learning builds on activities the children already know.[25][32]

[[File:|thumb|left|Mother and child]]

[[File:|thumb|left|Girls in Xinjiang in northwestern China]] [[File:|thumb|left|Children in Jerusalem]]

The kind of learning characteristic of human children is “Imitative learning,” which “means reproducing an instrumental act understood intentionally.”[33] Human infants begin to display some evidence of this form of learning between the ages of nine and twelve months, when infants fix their attention not only on an object, but on the gaze of an adult which enables them to use adults as points of reference and thus “act on objects in the way adults are acting on them.” [34] This dynamic is well-documented and has also been termed “joint engagement” or “joint attention.”[35][36] Essential to this dynamic is the infants growing capacity to recognize others as “intentional agents:” people “with the power to control their spontaneous behavior” and who “have goals and make active choices among behavioral means for attaining those goals.”[37]

The development of skills in joint attention by the end of a human child’s first year of life provides the basis for the development of imitative learning in the second year. In one study 14-month old children imitated an adult’s overly-complex method of turning on a light, even when they could have used an easier and more natural motion to the same effect.[38] In another study, 16-month old children interacted with adults who alternated between a complex series of motions that appeared intentional and a comparable set of motions that appeared accidental; they imitated only those motions that appeared intentional.[39] Another study of 18-month old children revealed that children imitate actions that adults intend , yet in some way fail, to perform.[40] Tomasello emphasizes that this kind of imitative learning “relies fundamentally on infants’ tendency to identify with adults, and on their ability to distinguish in the actions of others the underlying goal and the different means that might be used to achieve it.”[41] He calls this kind of imitative learning “cultural learning because the child is not just learning about things from other persons, she is also learning things through them — in the sense that she must know something of the adult’s perspective on a situation to learn the active use of this same intentional act.” [42][43] He concludes that the key feature of cultural learning is that it occurs only when an individual “understands others as intentional agents, like the self, who have a perspective on the world that can be followed into, directed and shared”[44]

Emulation learning and imitative learning are two different adaptations that can only be assessed in their larger environmental and evolutionary contexts. In one experiment, chimpanzees and two-year-old children were separately presented with a rake-like-tool and an out-of-reach object. Adult humans then demonstrated two different ways to use the tool, one more efficient, one less efficient. Chimpanzees used the same efficient method following both demonstrations. Most of the human children, however, imitated whichever method the adult was demonstrating. Were chimps and humans to be compared on the basis of these results, one might think that Chimpanzees are more intelligent. From an evolutionary perspective they are equally intelligent, but with different kinds of intelligence adapted to different environments.[27] Chimpanzee learning strategies are well-suited to a relatively stable physical environment that requires relatively little social cooperation (compared to humans). Human learning strategies are well-suited to a complex social environment in which understanding the intentions of others may be more important than success at a specific task. Tomasello argues that this strategy has made possible the “ratchet effect” that enabled humans to evolve complex social systems that have enabled humans to adapt to virtually every physical environment on the surface of the earth.[45]

Tomasello further argues that cultural learning is essential for language-acquisition. Most children in any society, and all children in some, do not learn all words through the direct efforts of adults. “In general, for the vast majority of words in their language, children must find a way to learn in the ongoing flow of social interaction, sometimes from speech not even addressed to them.”[46] This finding has been confirmed by a variety of experiments in which children learned words even when the referent was not present, multiple referents were possible, and the adult was not directly trying to teach the word to the child.[47][48][49] Tomasello concludes that “a linguistic symbol is nothing other than a marker for an intersubjectively shared understanding of a situation.[50]

Tomasello’s 1999 review of the research contrasting human and non-human primate learning strategies confirms biological anthropologist Ralph Holloway’s 1969 argument that a specific kind of sociality linked to symbolic cognition were the keys to human evolution, and constitute the nature of culture. According to Holloway, the key issue in the evolution of H. sapiens, and the key to understanding “culture,” “is how man organizes his experience.” Culture is “the imposition of arbitrary form upon the environment.[51] This fact, Holloway argued, is primary to and explains what is distinctive about human learning strategies, tool-use, and language. Human tool-making and language express “similar, if not identical, cognitive processes” and provide important evidence for how humankind evolved.[52]

In other words, whereas McGrew argues that anthropologists must focus on behaviors like communication and tool-use because they have no access to the mind, Holloway argues that human language and tool-use, including the earliest stone tools in the fossil record, are highly suggestive of cognitive differences between humans and non-humans, and that such cognitive differences in turn explain human evolution. For Holloway, the question is not whether other primates communicate, learn or make tools, but that the way they do these things. “Washing potatoes in the ocean … stripping branches of leaves to get termites,” and other examples of primate tool-use and learning “are iconic, and there is no feedback from the environment to the animal .”[53] Human tools, however, express an independence from natural form that manifests symbolic thinking. “In the preparation of the stick for termite-eating, the relation between product and raw material is iconic. In the making of a stone tool, in contrast, there is no necessary relation between the form of the final product and the original material.”[54]

In Holloway’s view, our non-human ancestors, like those of modern chimpanzees and other primates, shared motor and sensory skills, curiosity, memory, and intelligence, with perhaps differences in degree. “It is when these are integrated with the unique attributes of arbitrary production (symbolization) and imposition that man qua cultural man appears.”[55]

I have suggested above that whatever culture may be, it includes “the imposition of arbitrary forms upon the environment.” This phrase has two components. One is a recognition that the relationship between the coding process and the phenomenon (be it a tool, social network, or abstract principle) is non-iconic. The other is an idea of man as a creature who can make delusional systems work—who imposes his fantasies, his noniconic constructs (and constructions) , upon the environment. The altered environment shapes his perceptions, and these are again forced back on the environment, are incorporated into the environment, and press for further adaptation.[56]

This is comparable to the “ratcheting” aspect suggested by Tomasello and others that enabled human evolution to accelerate. Holloway concludes that the first instance of symbolic thought among humans provided a “kick-start” for brain development, tool complexity, social structure, and language to evolve through a constant dynamic of positive feedback. “This interaction between the propensity to structure the environment arbitrarily and the feedback from the environment to the organism is an emergent process, a process different in kind from anything that preceded it .”[57]


[[File:|thumb|Magritte The Treachery of Images]]

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Simple-Edge Chopper

Linguists Charles Hockett and R. Ascher have identified thirten design-features of language, some shared by other forms of animal connunication. One feature that distinguishes human language is its tremendous productivity; in other words, competent speakers of a language are capable of producing an infinite number of original utterances. This productivity seems to be made possible by a few critical features unique to human language. One is “duality of patterning,” meaning that human language consists of the articulation of several distinct processes, each with its own set of rules: combining phonemes to produce morphemes, combining morphemes to produce words, and combining words to produce sentences. This means that a person can master a relatively limited number of signals and sets of rules, to create infinite combinations. Another crucial element is that human language is symbolic: the sound of words (or their shape, when written) bear no relation to what they represent.[58] In other words, their meaning is arbitrary. That words have meaning is a matter of convention. Since the meaning of words are arbitrary, any word may have several meanings, and any object may be referred to using a variety of words; the actual word used to describe a particular object depends on the context, the intention of the speaker, and the ability of the listener to judge these appropriately. As Tomasello notes,

An individual language user looks at a tree and, before drawing the attention of her interlocutor to that tree, must decide, based on her assessment of the listener’s current knowledge and expectations, whether to say “that tree over there,” “it,” “the oak,” “that hundred-year-oak,” “the tree,” “the bagswing tree,” “that thing in the front yard,” “the ornament,” “the embarrassment,” or any of a number of other expressions. … And these decisions are not made on the basis of the speaker’s direct goal with respect to the object or activity involved, but rather that they are made on the basis of her goal with respect to the listener’s interest and attention to that object or activity.

This is why symbolic cognition and communication and imitative learning go hand-in-hand.[59]

Holloway argues that the stone-tools associated with genus Homo have the same features of human language:

Returning to matter of syntax, rules, and concatenated activity mentioned above, almost any model which describes a language process can also be used to describe tool-making. This is hardly surprising. Both activities are concatenated, both have rigid rules about eh serialization of unit activities (the grammar, syntax), both are hierarchical systems of activity (as is any motor activity), and both produce arbitrary configurations which thence become part of the environment, either temporarily or permanently. [60]
productivity can be seen in the facts that basic types were probably used for multiple purposes, that tool industries tend to expand with time, and that a slight variation on h basic pattern may be made to met some new functional requisite. Elements of a basic “vocabulary” of motor operations—flakes, detachment, rotation, preparation of striking platform, etc.—are used in different combinations to produce dissimilar tools, with different forms, and supposedly, different uses. . . . Taking each motor event alone, no one action is complete; each action depends on the prior one and requires a further one, and each is dependent in another ay on the original plan. In other words, at each point of the action except the last, the piece is not “satisfactory” in structure. Each unit action is meaningless by itself in the sense of the use of the tool; it is meaningful only in the context of the whole completed set of actions culminating in the final product. This exactly parallels language.[61]

As Tomasello has demonstrated, symbolic thought can operate only in a particular social environment:

Arbitrary symbols enforce consensus of perceptions, which not only allows members to communicate about the same objects in terms of space and time (as in hunting) but it also makes it possible for social relationships to be standardized and manipulated through symbols. It means that idiosyncracies are smoothed out and perceived within classes of behavior. By enforcing perceptual invariance, symbols also enforce social behavioral constancy, and enforcing social behavioral constancy is a prerequisite to differential task-role sectors in a differentiated social group adapting not only to the outside environment but to its own membership.[62]

Biological anthropologist Terrence Deacon, in a synthesis of over twenty years of research on human evolution, human neurology, and primatology, describes this "ratcheting effect" as a form of "Baldwinian Evolution." Named after psychologist James Baldwin, this describes a situation in which an animal's behavior has evolutionary consequences when it changes the natural environment and thus the selective forces acting on the animal.[63]

Once some useful behavior spreads within a population and becomes more important for subsistence, it will generate selection pressures on genetic traits that support its propagation ... Stone and tymbolic tools, which were initially acquired with the aid of flexible ape-learning abilities, ultimately turned the tables on their users and forced them to adapt to a new niche opened by these technologies. Rather than being just useful tricks, these behavioral proshteses for obtaining food and organizing social behaviors became indispensible elements in a new adaptive complex. The origin of "humanness" can be defined as that point in our evolution where these tools became the principle source of selection on our bodies and brains. It is the diagnostic of Homo symbolicus.[64]

According to Deacon, this occurred between 2 and 2.5 million years ago, when we have the first fossil evidence of stone tool use and the beginning of a trend in an increase in brain size. But it is the evolution of symbolic language which is the cause — and not the effect — of these trends.[65] More specifically, Deacon is suggesting that Australopithecines, like contemporary apes, used tools; it is possible that over the millions of years of Australopithecine history, many troops developed symbolic communication systems. All that was necessary was that one of these groups so altered their environment that "it introduced selection for very different learning abilities than affected prior species."[66] This troop or population kick-started the Baldwinian process (the "ratchet effect") that led to their evolution to genus Homo.

The question for Deacon is, what behavioral-environmental changes could have made the development of symbolic thinking adaptive? Here he emphasizes the importance of distinguishing hmans from all other species, not in order to privilege human intelligence but to problematize it. Given that the evolution of H. sapiens began with ancestors who did not yet have "culture," what led them to move away from cognitive, learning, communication, and tool-making strategies that were and continued to be adaptive for most other primates (and, some have suggested, most other species of animals)? Learning symbol systems is more time consuming than other forms of communication, so symbolic thought made possible a different communication strategy, but not a more efficient one than other primates. Nevertheless, it must have offered some selective advantage of H. sapiens to have evolved. Deacon starts by looking a two key determinents in evolutionary history: foraging behavior, and patterns of sexual relations. As he observes competition for sexual access limits the possibilities for social cooperation in many species; yet, Deacon observes, there are three consistent patterns in human reproduction that distinguish them from other species:

  1. Both males and females usually contribute effort towards the rearing of their offspring, though often to differing extents and in very different ways.
  2. In all societies, the great majority if adult males and females are bound by long-term, exlusive secual access rights and pronibitions to particular individuals of the opposite sex.
  3. They maintain these exclusive sexual relations while living in modest to large-sized, multi-male, multi-female, cooperative social groups.[67]

Moreover, there is one feature common to all known human foraging societies (all humans prior to ten or fifteen thousand years ago), and markedly different from other primates: "the use of meat. . . . The appearance of the first stone tools nearly 2.5 million years ago almost certainly correlates with a radical shift in foraging behavior in order to gain access to meat."[68] Deacon does not believe that symbolic thought was necessary for hunting or tool-making (although tool-making may be a reliable index of symbolic thought); rather, it was necessary for the success of distinctive social relations.

The key is that while men and women are equally effective foragers, mothers carrying dependent children are not effective hunters. They must thus depend on male hunters. This favors a system in which males have exclusive sexual access to females, and females can predict that their sexual partner will provide food for them and their children. In most mammalian species the result is a system of rank or sexual competition that results in polygyny, or life-long pair-bonding between two individuals who live relatively independent of other adults of their species; in both cases male aggression plays an important role in maintaining sexual access to mate(s). What is unique about humans?

Human reliance on resources that are relatively unavailable to females with infants selects not only for coopartion between a child's father and mother but also for the cooperation of other relatives and friends, including elderly individuals and juveniles, who can be relied upon for assistance. The special demands of acquiring meat and caring for infants in our own evolution together contribute to the underlying impetus for the third characteristic feature of human reproductive patterns: cooperative group living.[69]

What is uniquely characteristic about human societies is what required symbolic cognition, which consequently leads to the evolution of culture: "cooperative, mixed-sex social groups, with significant male care and provisioning of offspring, and relatively stable patterns of reproductive exclusion." This combination is relatively rare in other species because it is "highly susceptible to disintegration." Language and culture provide the glue that holds it together.[70]

Chimpanzees also, on occasion, hunt meat; in most cases, however, males consume the meat immediately, and only on occasion share with females who happen to be nearby. Among chimpanzees, hunting for meat increases when other sources of food become scarce, but under these conditions, sharing descreases. The first forms of symbolic thinking made stone-tools possible, which in turn made hunting for meat a more dependable source of food for our nonhuman ancestors while making possible forms of social communication that make sharing—between males and females, but also among males, decreasing sexual competition:

So the socio-ecological problem posed by the transition to a meat-supplemented subsistence strategy is that it cannot be utilized without a social structure which guarantees unambiguous and exclusive mating and is sufficiently egalitarian to sustain cooperation via shared or parallel reproductive interests. This problem can be solved symbolically.[71]

Symbols and symbolic thinking thus make possible a central feature of social relations in every human population: reciprocity. Evolutionary scientists have developed a model to explain reciprocal altruism among closely related individuals. Symbolic thought makes possible reciprocity between distantly related individuals.[72]

Language and Culture

"Of all aspects of culture, it is a fair guess that language was the first to receive a highly developed form and that its essential perfection is a prerequisite to the development of culture as a whole"[73]
"Language is a great force in socialization, probably the greatest that exists. By this is meant not merely the obvious fact that significant social intercourse is hardly possible without language but that the mere fact of a common speech serves as a peculiarly potent symbol of the social solidarity of those who speak the language"[74]
"It does not follow, however, that there is a simple correspondence between the form of a language and the form of the culture of those who speak it. ... There is no general correspondence between cultural type and linguistic structure"[75] Sapir is, I think, responding to deterministic theories in 19th & early 20th century social science. Compare Boas [1911]: "If it were true that anatomical form, language, and culture are all closely associated, and that each subdivision of mankind is characterized by a certain bodily form, a certain culture, and a certain language, which can never become separated, we might expect that the results of the various investigations would show better agreement. If, on the other hand, the various phenomena which were made the leading points in the attempt at classification are not closely associated, then we may naturally expect such contradictions and lack of agreement as are actually found" [76]
"For the notion of culture as learned patterns of behavior and interpretive practices, language is crucial because it provides the most complex system of classification of experience" [77]
"So much of our social life is conducted, mediated, and evaluated through linguistic communication that it should be no surprise that social scientists such as Levi-Strauss used concepts developed in linguistics as tools for the study of culture. Language also provides a useful link between inner thought and public behavior. Even when we articulate our thoughts in our own mind we are only partly doing something 'private.' We are also relying on a set of cultural resources (including categorizations, theories, and problem-solving strategies) that probably belong not only to us but to a community" [78]
"Finally, the view of language as a set of practices emphasizes the need to see linguistic communication as only a part of a complex network of semiotic resources that carry us throughout life and link us to particular social histories and their supporting institutions" [79]
"[We] have seen that the primary concern of caregivers is to ensure that their children are able to display and understand behaviors appropriate to social situations. A major means by which this is accomplished is through language. Therefore, we must examine the language of caregivers primarily for its socializing functions, rather than only its strict grammatical input function. Further, we must examine the prelinguistic and linguistic behaviors of children to determine the ways they are continually and selectively affected by values and beliefs held by those members of society who interact with them"[80]
"[Cultures] are continuously produced, reproduced, and revised in dialogues among their members. Cultural events are not the sum of the actions of their individual participants, each of whom imperfectly expresses a pre-existent pattern, but are the scenes where shared culture emerges from interaction" [81]

Cultural Anthropology

1899-1946: Universal versus Particular

[[File:|thumb|upright|Franz Boas established modern American anthropology as the study of the sum total of human phenomena]]

Ruth Benedict was instrumental in establishing the modern conception of distinct cultures being patterned

The modern anthropological understanding of culture has its origins in the 19th century with German anthropologist Adolf Bastian's theory of the "psychic unity of mankind," which, influenced by Herder and von Humboldt, challenged the identification of "culture" with the way of life of European elites, and British anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor's attempt to define culture as inclusively as possible. Tylor in 1874 described culture in the following way: "Culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is 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."[82] Although Tylor was not aiming to propose a general theory of culture (he explained his understanding of culture in the course of a larger argument about the nature of religion), American anthropologists have generally presented their various definitions of culture as refinements of Tylor's. Franz Boas's student Alfred Kroeber (1876-1970) identified culture with the "superorganic," that is, a domain with ordering principles and laws that could not be explained by or reduced to biology.[83] In 1973, Gerald Weiss reviewed various definitions of culture and debates as to their parsimony and power, and proposed as the most scientifically useful definition that "culture" be defined "as our generic term for all human nongenetic, or metabiological, phenomena" (italics in the original).[84]

Franz Boas, founded modern American anthropology with the establishment of the first graduate program in anthropology at Columbia University in 1896. At the time the dominant model of culture was that of cultural evolution, which posited that human societies progressed through stages of savagery to barbarism to civilization; thus, societies that for example are based on horticulture and Iroquois kinship terminology are less evolved that societies based on agriculture and Eskimo kinship terminology. One of Boas's greatest accomplishments was to demonstrate convincingly that this model is fundamentally flawed, empirically, methodologically, and theoretically. Moreover, he felt that our knowledge of different cultures was so incomplete, and often based on unsystematic or unscientific research, that it was impossible to develop any scientifically valid general model of human cultures. Instead, he established the principle of cultural relativism and trained students to conduct rigorous participant observation field research in different societies. Boas understood the capacity for culture to involve symbolic thought and social learning, and considered the evolution of a capacity for culture to coincide with the evolution of other, biological, features defining genus Homo. Nevertheless, he argued that culture could not be reduced to biology or other expressions of symbolic thought, such as language. Boas and his students understood culture inclusively and resisted developing a general definition of culture. Indeed, they resisted identifying "culture" as a thing, instead using culture as an adjective rather than a noun. Boas argued that cultural "types" or "forms" are always in a state of flux.[85][86] His student Alfred Kroeber argued that the "unlimited receptivity and assimilativeness of culture" made it practically impossible to think of cultures as discrete things.[87].

File:Wovoka Paiute
WovokaPaiute spiritual leader and creator of the Ghost Dance

[[File:|thumb|upright|Zuñi girl with jar, 1903]]

[[File:|thumb|upright|Tu'i Manu'a Elisala]]

Hopi Basket Weaver

Boas's students dominated cultural anthropology through World War II, and continued to have great influence through the 1960s. They were especially interested in two phenomena: the great variety of forms culture took around the world,[88] and the many ways individuals were shaped by and acted creatively through their own cultures.[89][90] This led his students to focus on the history of cultural traits — how they spread from one society to another, and how their meanings changed over time[91][92] — and the life histories of members of other societies.[93][94][95][96][97][98][99][100] Others, such as Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) and Margaret Mead (1901-1978), produced monographs or comparative studies analyzing the forms of creativity possible to individuals within specific cultural configurations.[101][102][103] Essential to their research was the concept of "context": culture provided a context that made the behavior of individuals understandable; geography and history provided a context for understanding the differences between cultures. Thus, although Boasians were committed to the belief in the psychic unity of humankind and the universality of culture, their emphasis on local context and cultural diversity led them away from proposing cultural universals or universal theories of culture.

There is a tension in cultural anthropology between the claim that culture as a universal (the fact that all human societies have culture), and that it is also particular (culture takes a tremendous variety of forms around the world). Since Boas, two debates have dominated cultural anthropology. The first has to do with ways of modeling particular cultures. Specifically, anthropologists have argued as to whether "culture" can be thought of as a bounded and integrated thing, or as a quality of a diverse collection of things, the numbers and meanings of which are in constant flux. Boas's student Ruth Benedict suggested that in any given society cultural traits may be more or less "integrated," that is, constituting a pattern of action and thought that gives purpose to people’s lives, and provides them with a basis from which to evaluate new actions and thoughts, although she implies that there are various degrees of integration; indeed, she observes that some cultures fail to integrate. [104] Boas, however, argued that complete integration is rare and that a given culture only appears to be integrated because of observer bias.[105] For Boas, the appearance of such patterns — a national culture, for example—was the effect of a particular point of view.[106]

The first debate was effectively suspended in 1934 when Ruth Benedict published Patterns of Culture, which has continuously been in print. Although this book is well known for popularizing the Boasian principle of cultural relativism, among anthropologists it constituted both an important summary of the discoveries of Boasians, and a decisive break from Boas's emphasis on the mobility of diverse cultural traits. "Anthropological work has been overwhelmingly devoted to the analysis of cultural traits," she wrote "rather than to the study of cultures as articulated wholes."[107] Influenced by Polish-British social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, however, she argued that "The first essential, so it seems today, is to study the living culture, to know its habits of thought and the functions of its institutions" and that "the only way in which we can know the significance of the selected detail of behavior is against the background of the motives and emotions and values that are institutionalized in that culture."[108] Influenced by German historians Wilhelm Dilthey and Oswald Spengler, as well as by gestalt psychology, she argued that "the whole determines its parts, not only their relation but their very nature,"[109] and that "cultures, likewise, are more than the sum of their traits."[110] Just as each spoken language draws very selectively from an extensive, but finite, set of sounds any human mouth (free from defect) can make, she concluded that in each society people, over time and through both conscious and unconscious processes, selected from an extensive but finite set of cultural traits which then combine to form a unique and distinctive pattern."[111]

The significance of cultural behavior is not exhausted when we have clearly understood that it is local and man-made and hugely variable. It tends to be integrated. A culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action. Within each culture there come into being characteristic purposes not necessarily shared by other types of society. In obedience to their purposes, each people further and further consolodates its experience, and in proportion to the urgency of these drives the heterogeneous items of behavior take more and more congruous shape. Taken up by a well-integrated culture, the most ill-assorted acts become characteristic of its particular goals, often by the most unlikely metamorphoses.[112]

Although Benedict felt that virtually all cultures are patterened, she argued that these patterns change over time as a consequence of human creativity, and therefore different societies around the world had distinct characters. Patterns of Culture contrasts Zuňi, Dobu and Kwakiutl cultures as a way of highlighting different ways of being human. Benedict observed that many Westerners felt that this view forced them to abandon their "dreams of permanence and ideality and with the individual's illusions of autonomy" and that for many, this made existence "empty."[113] She argued however that once people accepted the results of scientific research, people would "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."[113]

This view of culture has had a tremendous impact outside of anthropology, and dominated American anthropology until the Cold War, when anthropologists like Sidney Mintz and Eric Wolf rejected the validity and value of approaching "each culture" as "a world in itself" and "relatively stable.".[114] They felt that, too often, this approach ignored the impact of imperialism, colonialism, and the world capitalist economy on the peoples Benedict and her followers studied (and thus re-opened the debate on the relationship between the universal and the particular, in the form of the relationship between the global and the local). In the meantime, its emphasis on metamorphising patterns influenced French structuralism and made American anthropologists receptive to British structural-functionalism.

Turkish nomad clan with the nodes as marriages
Mexican village with the nodes as marriages

[[File:|thumb|left|300px|Iroqois Kinship Structure]]

Culinary triangle

The second debate has been over the ability to make universal claims about all cultures. Although Boas argued that anthropologists had yet to collect enough solid evidence from a diverse sample of societies to make any valid general or universal claims about culture, by the 1940s some felt ready. Whereas Kroeber and Benedict had argued that "culture" — which could refer to local, regional, or trans-regional scales — was in some way "patterned" or "configured," some anthropologists now felt that enough data had been collected to demonstrate that it often took highly structured forms. The question these anthropologists debated was, were these structures statistical artifacts, or where they expressions of mental models? This debate emerged full-fledged in 1949, with the publication of George Murdock's Social Structure, and Claude Lévi-Strauss's Les Structures Élémentaires de la Parenté.

Opposing Boas and his students, Yale anthropologist George Murdock, who compiled the Human Relations Area Files. These files code cultural variables found in different societies, so that anthropologists can use statistical methods to study correlations among different variables.[115][116][117] The ultimate aim of this project is to develop generalizations that apply to increasingly larger numbers of individual cultures. Later, Murdock and Douglas R. White developed the standard cross-cultural sample as a way to refine this method.

Jewish-French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss's structuralist anthropology brought together ideas of Boas (especially Boas's belief in the mutability of cultural forms, and Bastian's belief in the psychic unity of humankind) and French sociologist's Émile Durkheim's focus on social structures (institutionalized relationships among persons and groups of persons). Instead of making generalizations that applied to large numbers of societies, Lévi-Strauss sought to derive from concrete cases increasingly abstract models of human nature. His method begins with the supposition that culture exists in two different forms: the many distinct structures that could be inferred from observing members of the same society interact (and of which members of a society are themselves aware), and abstract structures developed by analyzing shared ways (such as myths and rituals) members of a society represent their social life (and of which members of a society are not only not consciously aware, and which typically stand in opposition to, or negate, the social structures of which people are aware). He then sought to develop one universal mental structure that could only be inferred through the systematic comparison of particular social and cultural structures. He argued that just as there are laws through which a finite and relatively small number of chemical elements could be combined to create a seemingly infinite variety of things, there were a finite and relatively small number of cultural elements which people combine to create the great variety of cultures anthropologists observe. The systematic comparison of societies would enable an anthropologist to develop this cultural "table of elements," and once completed, this table of cultural elements would enable an anthropologist to analyze specific cultures and achieve insights hidden to the very people who produced and lived through these cultures.[118][119] Structuralism came to dominate French anthropology and, in the late 1960s and 1970s, came to have great influence on American and British anthropology.

Murdock's HRAF and Lévi-Strauss's structuralism provide two ambitious ways to seek the universal in the particular, and both approaches continue to appeal to different anthropologists. However, the differences between them reveal a tension implicit in the heritage of Tylor and Bastian. Is culture to be found in empirically observed behaviors that may form the basis of generalizations? Or does it consist of universal mental processes, which must be inferred and abstracted from observed behavior? This question has driven debates among biological anthropologists and archeologists as well.

The Structural-Functionalist Challenge: Society versus Culture

In the 1940s the Boasian understanding of culture was challenged by a new paradigm for anthropological and social science research called Structural functionalism. This paradigm developed independently but in parallel in both the United Kingdom and in the United States (In both cases it is sui generis: it has no direct relationship to "structuralism" except that both French structuralism and Anglo-American Structural-Functionalism were all influenced by Durkheim. It is also analogous, but unrelated to, other forms of "functionalism"). Whereas the Boasians viewed anthropology as that natural science dedicated to the study of humankind, structural functionalists viewed anthropology as one social science among many, dedicated to the study of one specific facet of humanity. This led structural-functionalists to redefine and minimize the scope of "culture."

In the United Kingdom, the creation of structural functionalism was anticipated by Raymond Firth's (1901-2002) We the Tikopia, published in 1936, and marked by the publication of African Political Systems, edited by Meyer Fortes (1906-1983) and E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1902-1973) in 1940.[120][121] In these works these anthropologists forwarded a synthesis of the ideas of their mentor, Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942), and his rival, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955). Both Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown viewed anthropology — what they call "social anthropology" — as that branch of sociology that studied so-called primitive societies. According to Malinowski's theory of functionalism, all human beings have certain biological needs, such as the need for food and shelter, and humankind has the biological need to reproduce. Every society develops its own institutions, which function to fulfill these needs. In order for these institutions to function, individuals take on particular social roles that regulate how they act and interact. Although members of any given society may not understand the ultimate functions of their roles and institutions, an ethnographer can develop a model of these functions through the careful observation of social life.[122] Radcliffe-Brown rejected Malinowski's notion of function, and believed that a general theory of primitive social life could only be built up through the careful comparison of different societies. Influenced by the work of French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), who argued that primitive and modern societies are distinguished by distinct social structures, Radcliffe-Brown argued that anthropologists first had to map out the social structure of any given society before comparing the structures of different societies.[123] Firth, Fortes, and Evans-Pritchard found it easy to combine Malinowski's attention to social roles and institutions with Radcliffe-Brown's concern with social structures. They distinguished between "social organization" (observable social interactions) and "social structure" (rule-governed patterns of social interaction), and shifted their attention from biological functions to social functions (for example, how different institutions are functionally integrated, and the extent to, and ways in, which institutions function to promote social solidarity and stability. In short, instead of culture (understood as all human non-genetic or extra-somatic phenomena)they made "sociality" (interations and relationships among persons and groups of people) their object of study. (Indeed, Radcliffe-Brown once wrote "I should like to invoke a taboo on the word culture.")[124]

Coincidentally, in 1946 sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) founded the Department of Social Relations at Harvard University. Influenced by such European sociologists as Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, Parsons developed a theory of social action that was closer to British social anthropology than to Boas's American anthropology, and which he also called "structural functionalism." Parson's intention was to develop a total theory of social action (why people act as they do), and to develop at Harvard and inter-disciplinary program that would direct research according to this theory. His model explained human action as the result of four systems:

  1. the "behavioral system" of biological needs
  2. the "personality system" of an individual's characteristics affecting their functioning in the social world
  3. the "social system" of patterns of units of social interaction, especially social status and role
  4. the "cultural system" of norms and values that regulate social action symbolically

According to this theory, the second system was the proper object of study for psychologists; the third system for sociologists, and the fourth system for cultural anthropologists.[125][126] Whereas the Boasians considered all of these systems to be objects of study by anthropologists, and "personality" and "status and role" to be as much a part of "culture" as "norms and values," Parsons envisioned a much narrower role for anthropology and a much narrower definition of culture.

Although Boasian cultural anthropologists were interested in norms and values, among many other things, it was only with the rise of structural functionalism that people came to identify "culture" with "norms and values." Many American anthropologists rejected this view of culture (and by implication, anthropology). In 1980, anthropologist Eric Wolf wrote,

As the social sciences transformed themselves into "behavioral" science, explanations for behavior were no longer traced to culture: behavior was to be understood in terms of psychological encounters, strategies of economic choice, strivings for payoffs in games of power. Culture, once extended to all acts and ideas employed in social life, was now relegated to the margins as "world view" or "values."[127]

Nevertheless, several of Talcott Parsons' students emerged as leading American anthropologists. At the same time, many American anthropologists had a high regard for the research produced by social anthropologists in the 1940s and 1950s, and found structural-functionalism to provide a very useful model for conducting ethnographic research.

The combination of American cultural anthropology theory with British social anthropology methods has led to some confusion between the concepts of "society" and "culture." For most anthropologists, these are distinct concepts. Society refers to a group of people; culture refers to a pan-human capacity and the totality of non-genetic human phenomena. Societies are often clearly bounded; cultural traits are often mobile, and cultural boundaries, such as they are, are typically porous, permeable, and plural.[128] During the 1950s and 1960s anthropologists often worked in places where social and cultural boundaries coincided, thus obscuring the distinction. When disjunctures between these boundaries become highly salient, for example during the period of European de-colonization of Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, or during the post-Bretton Woods realignment of globalization, however, the difference often becomes central to anthropological debates.[129][130][131][132][133]

1946-1968: Symbolic versus Adaptive
Huli Wigman from the Southern Highlands

[[File:|thumb|upright|In Hinduism, the cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, and selfless giving]] [[File:|thumb|Cleveley's depiction of Captain Cook]] [[File:|thumb|Vietcong troops pose with new AK-47 rifles]] Parsons' students Clifford Geertz and David M. Schneider, and Schneider's student Roy Wagner, went on to important careers as cultural anthropologists and developed a school within American cultural anthropology called "symbolic anthropology," the study of the social construction and social effects of symbols.[134][135][136][137] Since symbolic anthropology easily complemented social anthropologists' studies of social life and social structure, many British structural-functionalists (who rejected or were uninterested in Boasian cultural anthropology) accepted the Parsonian definition of "culture" and "cultural anthropology." British anthropologist Victor Turner (who eventually left the United Kingdom to teach in the United States) was an important bridge between American and British symbolic anthropology.[138]

Attention to symbols, the meaning of which depended almost entirely on their historical and social context, appealed to many Boasians. Leslie White asked of cultural things, "What sort of objects are they? Are they physical objects? Mental objects? Both? Metaphors? Symbols? Reifications?" In Science of Culture (1949), he concluded that they are objects "sui generis"; that is, of their own kind. In trying to define that kind, he hit upon a previously unrealized aspect of symbolization, which he called "the symbolate"—an object created by the act of symbolization. He thus defined culture as "symbolates understood in an extra-somatic context."[139]

Nevertheless, by the 1930s White began turning away from the Boasian approach.[140] He wrote,

In order to live man, like all other species, must come to terms with the external world.... Man employs his sense organs, nerves, glands, and muscles in adjusting himself to the external world. But in addition to this he has another means of adjustment and control.... This mechanism is culture.[141]

Although this view echoes that of Malinowski, the key concept for White was not "function" but "adaptation." Whereas the Boasians were interested in the history of specific traits, White was interested in the cultural history of the human species, which he felt should be studied from an evolutionary perspective. Thus, the task of anthropology is to study "not only how culture evolves, but why as well.... In the case of man ... the power to invent and to discover, the ability to select and use the better of two tools or ways of doing something- these are the factors of cultural evolution."[142] Unlike 19th century evolutionists, who were concerned with how civilized societies rose above primitive societies, White was interested in documenting how, over time, humankind as a whole has through cultural means discovered more and more ways for capturing and harnessing energy from the environment, in the process transforming culture.

At the same time that White was developing his theory of cultural evolution, Kroeber's student Julian Steward was developing his theory of cultural ecology. In 1938 he published Basin-Plateau Aboriginal Socio-Political Groups in which he argued that diverse societies — for example the indigenous Shoshone or White farmers on the Great Plains — were not less or more evolved; rather, they had adapted differently to different environments.[143] Whereas Leslie White was interested in culture understood holistically as a property of the human species, Julian Steward was interested in culture as the property of distinct societies. Like White he viewed culture as a means of adapting to the environment, but he criticized Whites "unilineal" (one direction) theory of cultural evolution and instead proposed a model of "multilineal" evolution in which (in the Boasian tradition) each society has its own cultural history.[144]

When Julian Steward left a teaching position at the University of Michigan to work in Utah in 1930, Leslie White took his place; in 1946 Julian Steward was made Chair of the Columbia University Anthropology Department. In the 1940s and 1950s their students, most notably Marvin Harris, Sidney Mintz, Robert Murphy, Roy Rappaport, Marshall Sahlins, Elman Service, Andrew P. Vayda and Eric Wolf dominated American anthropology.[145][146][147][148][149][150][151][152][153] Most promoted materialist understandings of culture in opposition to the symbolic approaches of Geertz and Schneider. Harris, Rappaport, and Vayda were especially important for their contributions to cultural materialism and ecological anthropology, both of which argued that "culture" constituted an extra-somatic (or non-biological) means through which human beings could adapt to life in drastically differing physical environments.

The debate between symbolic and materialist approaches to culture dominated American Anthropologists in the 1960s and 1970s. The Vietnam War and the publication of Dell Hymes' Reinventing Anthropology, however, marked a growing dissatisfaction with the then dominant approaches to culture. Hymes argued that fundamental elements of the Boasian project such as holism and an interest in diversity were still worth pursuing: “interest in other peoples and their ways of life, and concern to explain them within a frame of reference that includes ourselves.”[154] Moreover, he argued that cultural anthropologists are singularly well-equipped to lead this study (with an indirect rebuke to sociologists like Parsons who sought to subsume anthropology to their own project):

In the practice there is a traditional place for openness to phenomena in ways not predefined by theory or design – attentiveness to complex phenomena, to phenomena of interest, perhaps aesthetic, for their own sake, to the sensory as well as intellectual, aspects of the subject. These comparative and practical perspectives, though not unique to formal anthropology, are specially husbanded there, and might well be impaired, if the study of man were to be united under the guidance of others who lose touch with experience in concern for methodology, who forget the ends of social knowledge in elaborating its means, or who are unwittingly or unconcernedly culture-bound..[155]

It is these elements, Hymes argued, that justify a “general study of man,” that is, “anthropology”.[156]

During this time notable anthropologists such as Mintz, Murphy, Sahlins, and Wolf eventually broke away, experimenting with structuralist and Marxist approaches to culture, they continued to promote cultural anthropology against structural functionalism.[157][158][159][160][161]

1940 - present: Local versus Global
File:Big Tree the Kiowa 83d40m Addoeette Adoeette
Big Tree, a Kiowa chief and warrior
mountain dominates views from Tepoztlán.]]

.]] Boas and Malinowski established ethnographic research as a highly localized method for studying culture. Yet Boas emphasized that culture is dynamic, moving from one group of people to another, and that specific cultural forms have to be analyzed in a larger context. This has led anthropologists to explore different ways of understanding the global dimensions of culture.

In the 1940s and 1950s, several key studies focused on how trade between indigenous peoples and the Europeans who had conquered and colonized the Americas influenced indigenous culture, either through change in the organization of labor, or change in critical technologies. Bernard Mishkin studied the effect of the introduction of horses on Kiowa political organization and warfare.[162] Oscar Lewis explored the influence of the fur trade on Blackfoot culture (relying heavily on historical sources).[163] Joseph Jablow documented how Cheyenne social organization and subsistence strategy between 1795 and 1840 were determined by their position in trade networks linking Whites and other Indians.[164] Frank Secoy argued that Great Plains Indians’ social organization and military tactics changed as horses, introduced by the Spanish in the south, diffused north, and guns, introduced by the British and French in the east, diffused west.[165]

In the 1950s Robert Redfield and students of Julian Steward pioneered "community studies," namely, the study of distinct communities (whether identified by race, ethnicity, or economic class) in Western or "Westernized" societies, especially cities. They thus encountered the antagonisms 19th century critics described using the terms "high culture" and "low culture." These 20th century anthropologists struggled to describe people who were politically and economically inferior but not, they believed, culturally inferior. Oscar Lewis proposed the concept of a "culture of poverty" to describe the cultural mechanisms through which people adapted to a life of economic poverty. Other anthropologists and sociologists began using the term "sub-culture" to describe culturally distinct communities that were part of larger societies.

One important kind of subculture is that formed by an immigrant community. In dealing with immigrant groups and their cultures, there are various approaches:

  • Leitkultur (core culture): A model developed in Germany by Bassam Tibi. The idea is that minorities can have an identity of their own, but they should at least support the core concepts of the culture on which the society is based.
  • Melting Pot: In the United States, the traditional view has been one of a melting pot where all the immigrant cultures are mixed and amalgamated without state intervention.
  • Monoculturalism: In some European states, culture is very closely linked to nationalism, thus government policy is to assimilate immigrants, although recent increases in migration have led many European states to experiment with forms of multiculturalism.
  • Multiculturalism: A policy that immigrants and others should preserve their cultures with the different cultures interacting peacefully within one nation.

The way nation states treat immigrant cultures rarely falls neatly into one or another of the above approaches. The degree of difference with the host culture (i.e., "foreignness"), the number of immigrants, attitudes of the resident population, the type of government policies that are enacted, and the effectiveness of those policies all make it difficult to generalize about the effects. Similarly with other subcultures within a society, attitudes of the mainstream population and communications between various cultural groups play a major role in determining outcomes. The study of cultures within a society is complex and research must take into account a myriad of variables.

Archeological Approaches to Culture: Matter and Meaning

File:Orkney Skara
Excavated dwellings at Skara Brae, Europe's most complete Neolithic village

[[File:|thumb|Bifacial points, engraved ochre and bone tools from the c. 75 -80 000 year old M1 & M2 phases at Blombos cave]]

File:Monte Albán archeological site,
Monte Alban archaeological site

[[File:|thumb|Excavations at the South Area of Çatal Höyük]]

File:Museum of Anatolian
Mural of an aurochs, a deer, and humans from Çatalhöyük, sixth millennium BC - Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey.

In the 19th century archeology was often a supplement to history, and the goal of archeologists was to identify artifacts according to their typology and stratigraphy, thus marking their location in time and space. Franz Boas established that archeology be one of American anthropology's four fields, and debates among archeologists have often paralleled debates among cultural anthropologists. In the 1920s and 1930s, Australian-British archeologist V. Gordon Childe and American archeologist W. C. McKern independently began moving from asking about the date of an artifact, to asking about the people who produced it — when archeologists work alongside historians, historical materials generally help answer these questions, but when historical materials are unavailable, archeologists had to develop new methods. Childe and McKern focused on analyzing the relationships among objects found together; their work established the foundation for a three-tiered model:

  1. an individual artifact, which has surface, shape, and technological attributes (e.g. an arrowhead)
  2. a sub-assemblage, consisting of artifacts that are found, and were likely used, together (e.g. an arrowhead, bow and knife)
  3. an assemblage of subasemblages that together constitute the archeological site (e.g. the arrowhead, bow and knife; a pot and the remains of a hearth; a shelter)

Childe argued that a "constantly recurring assemblage of artifacts" to be an "archaeological culture."[166][167] Childe and others viewed "each archeological culture ... the manifestation in material terms of a specific people."[168]

In 1948 Walter Taylor systematized the methods and concepts that archeologists had developed and proposed a general model for the archeological contribution to knoweldge of cultures. He began with the mainstream understanding of culture as the product of human cognitive activity, and the Boasian emphasis on the subjective meanings of objects as dependent on their cultural context. He defined culture as "a mental phenomenon, consisting of the contents of minds, not of material objects or observable behavior."[169] He then devised a three-tiered model linking cultural anthropology to archeology, which he called conjunctive archeology:

  1. Culture, which is unobservable and nonmaterial
  2. Behaviors resulting from culture, which are observable and nonmaterial
  3. Objectifications, such as artifacts and architecture, which are the result of behavior and material

That is, material artifacts were the material residue of culture, but not culture itself.[170] Taylor's point was that the archeological record could contribute to anthropological knowledge, but only if archeologists reconceived their work not just as digging up artifacts and recording their location in time and space, but as inferring from material remains the behaviors through which they were produced and used, and inferring from these behaviors the mental activities of people. Although many archeologists agreed that their research was integral to anthropology, Taylor's program was never fully implemented. One reason was that his three-tier model of inferences required too much fieldwork and laboratory analysis to be practical.[171] Moreover, his view that material remains were not themselves cultural, and in fact twice-removed from culture, in fact left archeology marginal to cultural anthropology.[172]

In 1962 Leslie White's former student Lewis Binford proposed a new model for anthropological archeology, called "the New Archeology" or "Processual Archeology," based on White's definition of culture as "the extra-somatic means of adaptation for the human organism."[173] This definition allowed Binford to establish archeology as a crucial field for the pursuit of the methodology of Julian Steward's cultural ecology:

The comparative study of cultural systems with variable technologies in a similar environmental range or similar technologies in differing environments is a major methodology of what Steward (1955: 36-42) has called "cultural ecology," and certainly is a valuable means of increasing our understanding of cultural processes. Such a methodology is also useful in elucidating the structural relationships between major cultural sub-systems such as the social and ideological sub-systems.[174]

In other words, Binford proposed an archeology that would be central to the dominant project of cultural anthropologists at the time (culture as non-genetic adaptations to the environment); the "new archeology" was the cultural anthropology (in the form of cultural ecology or ecological anthropology) of the past.

In the 1980s, there was a movement in the United Kingdom and Europe against the view of archeology as a field of anthropology, echoing Radcliffe-Brown's earlier rejection of cultural anthropology.[175] During this same period, then-Cambridge archeologist Ian Hodder developed "post-processual archeology" as an alternative. Like Binford (and unlike Taylor) Hodder views artifacts not as objectifications of culture but as culture itself. Unlike Binford, however, Hodder does not view culture as an environmental adaptation. Instead, he "is committed to a fluid semiotic version of the traditional culture concept in which material items, artifacts, are full participants in the creation, deployment, alteration, and fading away of symbolic complexes."[176] His 1982 book, Symbols in Action, evokes the symbolic anthropology of Geertz, Schneider, with their focus on the context dependent meanings of cultural things, as an alternative to White and Steward's materialist view of culture.[177] In his 1991 textbook, Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology Hodder argued that archeology is more closely aligned to history than to anthropology.[178]

Cultural Studies

In the United Kingdom, sociologists and other scholars influenced by Marxism, such as Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams, developed Cultural Studies. Following nineteenth century Romantics, they identified "culture" with consumption goods and leisure activities (such as art, music, film, food, sports, and clothing). Nevertheless, they understood patterns of consumption and leisure to be determined by relations of production, which led them to focus on class relations and the organization of production.[179][180] In the United States, "Cultural Studies" focuses largely on the study of popular culture, that is, the social meanings of mass-produced consumer and leisure goods. The term was coined by Richard Hoggart in 1964 when he founded the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies or CCCS. It has since become strongly associated with Stuart Hall, who succeeded Hoggart as Director.

From the 1970s onward, Stuart Hall's pioneering work, along with his colleagues Paul Willis, Dick Hebdige, Tony Jefferson, and Angela McRobbie, created an international intellectual movement. As the field developed it began to combine political economy, communication, sociology, social theory, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, cultural anthropology, philosophy, museum studies and art history in order to study cultural phenomena or cultural texts. In this field researchers often concentrate on how particular phenomena relate to matters of ideology, nationality, ethnicity, social class, and/or gender.[citation needed] Cultural studies is concerned with the meaning and practices of everyday life. These practices comprise the ways people do particular things (such as watching television, or eating out) in a given culture. This field studies the meanings and uses people attribute to various objects and practices. Recently, as capitalism has spread throughout the world (a process called globalization), cultural studies has begun to analyse local and global forms of resistance to Western hegemony.[citation needed]

In the context of cultural studies, the idea of a text not only includes written language, but also films, photographs, fashion or hairstyles: the texts of cultural studies comprise all the meaningful artifacts of culture.[citation needed] Similarly, the discipline widens the concept of "culture". "Culture" for a cultural studies researcher not only includes traditional high culture (the culture of ruling social groups)[181] and popular culture, but also everyday meanings and practices. The last two, in fact, have become the main focus of cultural studies. A further and recent approach is comparative cultural studies, based on the discipline of comparative literature and cultural studies.[citation needed]

Scholars in the United Kingdom and the United States developed somewhat different versions of cultural studies after the field's inception in the late 1970s. The British version of cultural studies was developed in the 1950s and 1960s mainly under the influence first of Richard Hoggart, E. P. Thompson, and Raymond Williams, and later Stuart Hall and others at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. This included overtly political, left-wing views, and criticisms of popular culture as 'capitalist' mass culture; it absorbed some of the ideas of the Frankfurt School critique of the "culture industry" (i.e. mass culture). This emerges in the writings of early British cultural-studies scholars and their influences: see the work of (for example) Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Paul Willis, and Paul Gilroy.

Whereas in the United States Lindlof & Taylor say that "cultural studies was grounded in a pragmatic, liberal-pluralist tradition".[182] The American version of cultural studies initially concerned itself more with understanding the subjective and appropriative side of audience reactions to, and uses of, mass culture; for example, American cultural-studies advocates wrote about the liberatory aspects of fandom.[citation needed] The distinction between American and British strands, however, has faded.[citation needed] Some researchers, especially in early British cultural studies, apply a Marxist model to the field. This strain of thinking has some influence from the Frankfurt School, but especially from the structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser and others. The main focus of an orthodox Marxist approach concentrates on the production of meaning. This model assumes a mass production of culture and identifies power as residing with those producing cultural artifacts. In a Marxist view, those who control the means of production (the economic base) essentially control a culture.[citation needed] Other approaches to cultural studies, such as feminist cultural studies and later American developments of the field, distance themselves from this view. They criticize the Marxist assumption of a single, dominant meaning, shared by all, for any cultural product. The non-Marxist approaches suggest that different ways of consuming cultural artifacts affect the meaning of the product. This view is best exemplified by the book Doing Cultural Studies: The Case of the Sony Walkman (by Paul du Gay et al.), which seeks to challenge the notion that those who produce commodities control the meanings that people attribute to them. Feminist cultural analyst, theorist and art historian Griselda Pollock contributed to cultural studies from viewpoints of art history and psychoanalysis. The writer Julia Kristeva is influential voices in the turn of the century, contributing to cultural studies from the field of art and psychoanalytical French feminism.[citation needed]

Cultural change

[[File:|thumb|left|A 19th century engraving showing Australian "natives" opposing the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770]] Cultural invention has come to mean any innovation that is new and found to be useful to a group of people and expressed in their behavior but which does not exist as a physical object. Humanity is in a global "accelerating culture change period", driven by the expansion of international commerce, the mass media, and above all, the human population explosion, among other factors. (See The Third Wave.)

Cultures are internally affected by both forces encouraging change and forces resisting change. These forces are related to both social structures and natural events, and are involved in the perpetuation of cultural ideas and practices within current structures, which themselves are subject to change[183]. (See structuration.)

Social conflict and the development of technologies can produce changes within a society by altering social dynamics and promoting new cultural models, and spurring or enabling generative action. These social shifts may accompany ideological shifts and other types of cultural change. For example, the U.S. feminist movement involved new practices that produced a shift in gender relations, altering both gender and economic structures. Environmental conditions may also enter as factors. Changes include following for the film local hero. For example, after tropical forests returned at the end of the last ice age, plants suitable for domestication were available, leading to the invention of agriculture, which in turn brought about many cultural innovations and shifts in social dynamics[184].

Full-length profile portrait of Turkman woman, standing on a carpet at the entrance to a yurt, dressed in traditional clothing and jewelry.

Cultures are externally affected via contact between societies, which may also produce—or inhibit—social shifts and changes in cultural practices. War or competition over resources may impact technological development or social dynamics. Additionally, cultural ideas may transfer from one society to another, through diffusion or acculturation. In diffusion, the form of something (though not necessarily its meaning) moves from one culture to another. For example, hamburgers, mundane in the United States, seemed exotic when introduced into China. "Stimulus diffusion" (the sharing of ideas) refers to an element of one culture leading to an invention or propagation in another. "Direct Borrowing" on the other hand tends to refer to technological or tangible diffusion from one culture to another. Diffusion of innovations theory presents a research-based model of why and when individuals and cultures adopt new ideas, practices, and products.

Acculturation has different meanings, but in this context refers to replacement of the traits of one culture with those of another, such has happened to certain Native American tribes and to many indigenous peoples across the globe during the process of colonization. Related processes on an individual level include assimilation (adoption of a different culture by an individual) and transculturation.

See also

Culture portal


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  156. Dell Hymes 1969 Reinventing Anthropology p. 43
  157. Sidney Mintz 1985 Sweetness and Power New York:Viking Press
  158. Robert Murphy 1971 The Dialectics of Social Life New york: Basic Books
  159. Marshall Sahlins 1976 Culture and Practical Reason Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  160. Eric Wolf 1971 Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century
  161. Eric Wolf, 1982 Europe and the People Without History Berkeley: University of California Press
  162. Mishkin, Bernard 1940 Rank and Warfare in Plains Indian Culture. Mongraphs of the American Ethnological Society no. 3. New York: J.J. Augustin.
  163. Lewis, Oscar 1942 The Effects of White Contact upon Blackfoot Culture, with Special Reference to the Role of the Fur Trade. Monographs of the American Ethnological Society no. 6. New York: J.J. Augustin.
  164. Jablow, Joseph 1951 The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations, 1795-1972. American Ethnological Society Monograph 19. New York: J.J. Augustin.
  165. Secoy, Frank 1953 Changing Military Patterns on the Great Plains(17th Century througn Early 19th Century). American Ethnological Society Monograph 21, New York: J.J. Augustin.
  166. V. Gordon Childe 1929 The Danube in Prehistory Oxford: Clarendon Press
  167. By R. Lee Lyman and Michael J. O'Brien, 2003 W.C. McKern and the Midwestern Taxonomic Method. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa
  168. Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn, 2008 Archeology: Theories, Methods and Practice Fifth edition. New York: Thames and Hudson. p. 470
  169. Walter Taylor 1948 A Study of Archeology Memoir 69, American Anthropological Association, reprinted, Carbondale Il: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. p. 96
  170. Walter Taylor 1948 A Study of Archeology Memoir 69, American Anthropological Association, reprinted, Carbondale Il: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. p. 100
  171. Patty Jo Watson 1995 "Archeology, Anthropology, and the Culture Concept" in American Anthropologist 97(4) p.685
  172. Robert Dunnel 1986 "Five Decades of American Archeology" in American Archeology past and Future: A Celebration of the Society for American Archeology, 1935-1985. D. Meltzer and J. Sabloff, eds. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. p.36
  173. Lewish Binford 1962 "Archeology as Anthropology" in American Antiquity 28(2):218; see White 1959 The Evolution of Culture New York:McGraw Hill p.8
  174. Lewish Binford 1962 "Archeology as Anthropology" in American Antiquity 28(2):218; see Steward 1955 Theory of Culture Change. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
  175. Patty Jo Watson 1995 "Archeology, Anthropology, and the Culture Concept" in American Anthropologist 97(4) p.684
  176. Patty Jo Watson 1995 "Archeology, Anthropology, and the Culture Concept" in American Anthropologist 97(4) p.687-6874
  177. Ian Hodder 1982 Symbols in action: ethnoarchaeological studies of material culture Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  178. Ian Hodder 1986 Reading the past: current approaches to interpretation in archaeology Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  179. name="Williams">Raymond Williams (1976) Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. Ed. (NewYork: Oxford UP, 1983), pp. 87-93 and 236-8.
  180. John Berger, Peter Smith Pub. Inc., (1971) Ways of Seeing
  181. Bakhtin, Mikhail 1981. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin, TX: UT Press, p.4
  182. (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002,p.60
  183. O'Neil, D. 2006. "Processes of Change".
  184. Pringle, H. 1998. The Slow Birth of Agriculture. Science 282: 1446.


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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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From Latin cultūra (cultivation; culture), from cultus, perfect passive participle of colō (till, cultivate, worship) (related to colōnus and colōnia), from earlier *quelō, from Proto-Indo-European *kʷel- (to move; to turn (around)).





culture (plural cultures)

  1. The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.
  2. The beliefs, values, behavior and material objects that constitute a people's way of life.
  3. (microbiology) The process of growing a bacterial or other biological entity in an artificial medium.
  4. (anthropology) Any knowledge passed from one generation to the next, not necessarily with respect to human beings.
  5. The collective noun for a group of bacteria.
  6. (botany) cultivation
    The Culture of Spring-Flowering Bulbs[1]

Derived terms

Related terms



to culture

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to culture (third-person singular simple present cultures, present participle culturing, simple past and past participle cultured)

  1. (transitive) To maintain in an environment suitable for growth (especially of bacteria).
  2. (transitive) To increase the artistic or scientific interest (in something).


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

Related terms

See also



From Latin cultūra (cultivation; culture), from cultus, perfect passive participle of colō (till, cultivate, worship), from earlier *quelō, from Proto-Indo-European *kʷel- (to move; to turn (around)).



culture f. (plural cultures)

  1. crop
  2. culture (“arts, customs and habits”)



culture f.

  1. Plural form of cultura.



culture (infinitive: culturar)

  1. formal second-person singular (usted) imperative form of culturar.
  2. first-person singular (yo) present subjunctive form of culturar.
  3. formal second-person singular (usted) present subjunctive form of culturar.
  4. third-person singular (él, ella, also used with usted?) present subjunctive form of culturar.

Simple English

Culture is a word for people's 'way of life', meaning the way they do things. Different groups of people may have different cultures. A culture is passed on to the next generation by learning, whereas genetics is passed on by heredity. Culture is seen in people's writing, religion, music, clothes, cooking, and in what they do.

The concept of culture is very complicated, and the word has many meanings.[1] The word 'culture' is most commonly used in three senses:

Now, 'culture' includes all human phenomena which are not purely results of human genetics. The discipline which investigates cultures is called anthropology, though many other disciplines play a part.


National cultures

Cultures are what make countries unique. Each country has different cultural activities and cultural rituals. Culture is more than just material goods, that is things the culture uses and produces. Culture is also the beliefs and values of the people in that culture. Culture also includes the way people think about and understand the world and their own lives.

Different countries have different cultures. For example, some older Japanese people wear kimonos, arrange flowers in vases, and have tea ceremonies.

Regional or local cultures

Culture can also vary within a region, society or sub group. A workplace may have a specific culture that sets it apart from similar workplaces. A region of a country may have a different culture than the rest of the country. For example, Canada's east coast Maritime region has a different culture than the rest of Canada, which is expressed by different ways of talking, different types of music, and different types of dances.

A family may have a specific set of values, morals or beliefs that differ from other families of the same ethnic background. For example, a family may emphasize community values.

Company cultures

Companies or other organizations (groups of people) can have a separate culture. Japanese manufacturing companies often have a different culture than other companies; the workday starts with exercise, and the workers are very loyal to the company.

Companies in the high-technology sector often have a different culture than other companies. Software and computer companies sometimes allow employees to play games during the workday, or take time off work to relax, because these companies believe that this will help the workers to think better.


Anthropology is studying human beings and how they relate to each other. An anthropologist is a person who studies anthropology. Anthropologists believe that people use symbols to communicate (express) their experiences -- who they are, what they believe, where they started.

Anthropologists call this use of symbols "culture". For example, immigrants (people who move from one country to another) may keep some of their customs and traditions from their old country. By keeping their culture in this way, they express who they are and that they came from somewhere else.

Other pages


  1. Kroeber A.L. and C. Kluckhohn 1952. Culture: a critical review of concepts and definitions.


Citable sentences

Up to date as of December 13, 2010

Here are sentences from other pages on Culture, which are similar to those in the above article.

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