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Concept of Culture. What is Culture? Holism Assumptions of Culture Cultural Relativism Cultural Universals. What is Culture?. Culture socially transmitted knowledge shared by some group of people. everything that people have, think, and do as members of society.

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Concept of Culture

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Concept of culture

Concept of Culture

What is Culture?


Assumptions of Culture

Cultural Relativism

Cultural Universals

What is culture

What is Culture?

  • Culture

    • socially transmitted knowledge shared by some group of people.

    • everything that people have, think, and do as members of society.

    • the nonbiological means of human adaptation.

    • all cultures are made up of material objects, ideas, values and attitudes and patterned ways of behaving.

  • In 1873, Edward Tylor, sometimes called the "father of anthropology" introduced the concept of culture as an explanation of the differences among human societies.

    • Tylor defined culture as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society." He defined anthropology as the study of culture.



  • The philosophical view that no complex entity can be considered to be only the sum of its parts; as a principle of anthropology, the assumption that any given aspect of human life is to be studied with an eye to its relation to other aspects of human life.

  • Anthropological concept denoting a "totalizing, all-encompassing perspective".

    • A holistic analysis will take the social whole into consideration - the context - that surrounds the phenomena. In the history of anthropology, holism is associated in part with a methodological ideal (to see as many connections as possible), in part with a theoretical ideal in structural functionalism, where social phenomena a priori were assumed to "maintain the whole".

    • As a methodological ideal, holism implies i.e. that one does not permit oneself to believe that our own established institutional boundaries (e.g. between politics, sexuality, religion, economics) necessarily may be found also in foreign societies. One of the greatest advances of structural functionalism was their detailed documentation of how e.g. religion, economy and politics were interconnected. Kinship was the "glue" that held these spheres together.

Assumptions of culture

Assumptions of Culture

  • Culture is based on symbols

  • Symbol-something verbal or nonverbal within a culture that comes to stand for something else.

  • Language is most important symbol.

    • primary means by which culture is transmitted from one generation to another.

    • language is a symbolic replacement for meanings.

    • *i.e. symbols-wedding rings, crucifixes, Red Dragon.

Assumptions of culture1

Assumptions of Culture

  • Culture is learned

  • We learn what the symbols are for, not born with cultures we learn it from our parents, surroundings, & friends through enculturation.

    • enculturation is the process by which a society's culture is transmitted from generation to another.

    • acquiring culture after we are born, everyone acquires culture-this is enculturation.

    • Children learn about their culture through observation of their parents, teachers, friends, TV.

    • learn correct value systems and appropriate modes of behavior.

    • culture can be seen as a plan or recipe.

  • Humans are the learning animals beyond all others. We have more to learn, take longer, and learn it in more complex ways.

  • *i.e. how did you learn to speak English or other native language? What other things have you learned without being conscious of it?

Assumptions of culture2

Assumptions of Culture

  • Culture is Shared

  • We share the same meanings for symbols to be a part of a culture, it's a way of thinking and interacting.

    • results in a certain amount of regularity, predictability.

    • people can predict how others will behave.

    • BUT-culture does not determine behavior, does not imply we lack free will.

    • *i.e. We get confused when someone doesn't act predictably-murder, violence, dressing differently.

  • There is variability in the sharing of culture.

    • a. age variation-generation gaps.

    • b. sex variation-males and females are different.

    • *i.e. Women in Citidel-confusion.

    • c. subcultures-a system of values and beliefs that are different from main stream. There succes varies from society to society.

    • *i.e. Amish-active isolation, other religious groups.

Assumptions of culture3

Assumptions of Culture

  • Culture is Integrated

  • All aspects of culture function as an inter-related whole.

  • If one part of a culture changes it tends to affect another part.

    • *i.e. Most American women in the 1950s expected to have domestic careers as homemakers and mothers, today college women expect to get jobs when the graduate. As women enter the work force their attitudes toward marriage, family, and children change. Changes include later marriages, increased divorce rates, and daycares.

    • Also related to economic changes and families not being able to make it on one income.

Assumptions of culture4

Assumptions of Culture

  • Culture is Adaptive

  • Adaptation-the way living pops relate to their environment so they can survive and reproduce.

    • Humans are the only animals that mainly depend on their culture for survival.

    • Exploitation of marginal environments like arctic or desert would not be possible without culture.

    • Most other animal use anatomical or physiological mechanisms as a means to survive.

    • animals such as dogs, large cats get meat by using teeth, etc. while humans use weapons.

  • Not all cultural behaviors are adaptive.

    • some are neutral & some are maladaptive.

    • *i.e. poaching endangered animals to support cultural material such as jewelry can be seen as maladaptive, or automobiles are great but pollute environment.

  • Avenues for Cultural Adaptation

    • Technological-material buffers between humans and their environments-tools, clothes.

    • Organizational-ordering of groups-kinship, family, marriage.

    • Ideological-beliefs such as religion.

Assumptions of culture5

Assumptions of Culture

  • Cultures are Dynamic

  • They are ever-changing, non-static, referred to as cultural evolution.

  • Many cultures today are very different from what they were years ago.

    • some aspects of culture change little but can have larger effect.

    • relationship between people and the sun mediated by culture.

    • *i.e. In early 20th century people stayed out of sun, then became "sunworshippers", now with threat of cancer-change again.

  • Culture change can come from outside (domination of other culture) or inside (women entering work force).

    • American Indian cultures are very different from what they were 200-300 years ago-due to outside forces.

  • Culture Change by invention and diffusion

    • Invention (internal)-new thing or idea.

    • Diffusion (external)-spreading of cultural elements from one culture to another.

Cultural relativism

Cultural Relativism

  • Definition-any part of a culture must be viewed from within its cultural context-not that of the observer.

    • First formulated by Franz Boas at the turn of the century-no culture should be judged by the standars of another.

    • Related to ethnocentrism-the supposed superiority of one's own group.

    • *i.e. Nazi Germany would be a good example of ethnocentrism, or not practicing cultural relativism.

    • * Anthros are as guilty of this as other people, but since they take the responsibility for studying many different cultures, they make efforts not to do this.

  • A specific example of this would be studies of the Eskimo. Traditionally, if an elderly member was unable to keep up with the group they were left in the cold to die. We would think it is cruel and heartless, but in the eyes of the Eskimo it is seen as someone unable to support themselves and a detriment to the whole group.

Cultural universals

Cultural Universals

  • Despite many differences, there are some underlying similarities with cultures.

  • Can you think of what they are?

  • Some Cultural Universals

    • Art

    • Bodily Adornment

    • Cooking

    • Education

    • Family

    • Incest Taboos

    • Language

    • Music

Concept of culture


Bodily adornment piercing

Bodily Adornment: Piercing

Male with pierced ear,Iraq, 9th century B.C

A woman with pierced ears and stretched lobes, Borneo, 1988

Male with multiple ear piercings,suburban Philadelphia, 1998

Bodily adornment tattooing

Bodily Adornment: Tattooing

tattooed chief at Taiohae, Nukuhivadrawing, 19th century

Portrait ofTawhaiao Potatau Whero, a Maori chief, New Zealand, 19th century

Tattooing comb, The plate of the comb is made of bone and turtle shell.Samoan Islands, 19th century

Bodily adornment painting

Bodily Adornment: Painting

woman with face painting Papua, New Guinea, 1982Decorated for an annual festival

Need I say more?

Bodily adornment neck rings

Bodily Adornment: Neck Rings

The Pa Dong Village of Nai Soi, Thailand

Ndebele woman, S. Africa

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