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Themes in Cultural Geography

Themes in Cultural Geography. Different lenses on the world. “There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.” Michel de Montaigne . Five Themes. Culture Region Cultural Diffusion Cultural Interaction Cultural Ecology Landscape Studies.

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Themes in Cultural Geography

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  1. Themes in Cultural Geography Different lenses on the world

  2. “There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.” • Michel de Montaigne

  3. Five Themes • Culture Region • Cultural Diffusion • Cultural Interaction • Cultural Ecology • Landscape Studies


  5. Culture • Culture trait • Culture region • Formal • Functional • Vernacular • Cultural diffusion • Expansion diffusion • contagious expansion diffusion • hierarchical expansion diffusion • Relocation diffusion

  6. What is culture? • Pervasive • Difficult to perceive from “inside” • Learned • Transmitted through socialization • Shared • What makes “us” different from “them” • Contested • Culture includes forms of social control and oppression that are resisted and negotiated by those in the subordinate position • Contestation may lead to occasional shifts in cultural norms

  7. What is Culture? • Culture is the set of learned behaviors and symbolic systems transmitted through socialization, as well as the set of material artifacts and systems used by a social group. • You are to your culture as a fish is to water: normally it is so thoroughly ubiquitous that you have no way of recognizing it; you can only know of its existence by temporarily leaping out (through thought or intercultural encounters) • “It's frightening to think that you mark your children merely by being yourself. It seems unfair. You can't assume the responsibility for everything you do -or don't do.” • Simone De Beauvoir


  9. Three types of culture traits • Traits are the essential elements of culture • artifacts (material) • mentifacts (symbolic) • sociofacts (organizational) • These three types of culture traits are interrelated: a trait like the can opener implies the can (artifact), which implies a market-based economy (sociofact), which implies the idea of money (mentifact), etc… • Remember “hidden geographies” ?

  10. ARTIFACTS • What sociofacts and mentifacts might go along with them?

  11. Feet like this were considered pretty for over 1000 years in China

  12. Sociofacts: Confucianism Children are expected to be subservient to adults Women are expected to be subservient to men Status Human presence in a place is always embodied Embodied performance in place always reflects power relations Mentifacts: Tolerance for odd-smelling feet Physical impairment understood collectively as a sign of a family’s prestige In the “best” families women are obviously dependent and helpless In other words, a family shows that it is “good” (powerful) by displaying the “prettiness” (powerlessness) of its women Part of Culture Complex

  13. New Chinese Fad • Leg stretching (leg-lengthening.jpg) • Why? • For economic success • “Short people cannot succeed” • The body’s size conveys its power to succeed in business, law, etc. • Capitalism is diffusing into China so this new value system guides a reworking of the body • What ethical and moral values prevent this bodily deformation from diffusing into the US? • What body-deforming practices do our values permit, and why?

  14. Does Western culture include deformation of the body?

  15. A body-deforming artifact found as early as 3000 BC (Crete) • Later used by aristocratic and aspiring American & European women • Popularized in 19th c. • Narrowed waist to 15 inches or less causing health problems • Shortness of breath • Fainting • Back problems • Inability to participate in strenuous activities (including work, but also play)

  16. Sociofacts linked to the use of the corset • Endured in modified form into the 1950s • Women of the upper classes “needed help” (out of seats, up stairs, etc.) • Families showed their class by preventing girls from engaging in strenuous activities like sports and manual labor • “Good” women were “delicate” and dependent • Girls from working-class families were not embodied in this way

  17. From an 1883 diary • While we were waiting for mother we witnessed [another teen] being most harshly laced by two other corseteriers, while she grasped an overhead bar they leveraged her laces almost brutally despite her painful groans... after brief pauses this process was repeated three times until her mother granted approval.. although her waist was wonderfully narrowed she clearly was in pain having to be assisted to a seat... http://corsethome.eu.org/diary2.html

  18. Yes, but we don’t deform the body to make it look thin any more!

  19. 63% of American girls in their teens have dieted Only 14% are happy with their body size and shape In other words, these are the body-deforming artifacts that match our sociofacts and mentifacts Is feminine “fragility” still a sign of social status, or is some other mentifact involved in today’s social pressure for women to be thin? Actually we do, but the technology is chemical rather than physical

  20. What other body-deforming artifacts in American culture can you identify?

  21. A “rite of passage”? • "Many kids will get them on when they're 10 or 11, and they'll be getting them off when they're starting to hit 13," Dr. Baarsvik said. "It's a real rite of passage. It kind of prepares them for the teen years." http://www.s-t.com/daily/10-99/10-12-99/c01he206.htm#cut

  22. What are the social benefits of a “perfect” smile?


  24. Types of Culture Regions • Formal Region • Area where one or more traits can be found (region where people employ leg-lengthening surgery) • Area where one or more traits are dominant (Anglophone region of North America) • Functional Region • Area tied together by a coordinating system (law, monetary system, roads, etc.) • Vernacular Region • Area that ordinary people (non-geographers) recognize as a region (e.g. New England)

  25. What level of occurrence constitutes “presence” of a trait in a particular formal culture region? • People in the region • engage in certain activities • all of them? most of them? some of them? • belong to a particular group • Is New Braunfels part of Texas’ Hispanic culture region? • possess certain artifacts • If we call this a region where people have access to state-of-the-art health care, are we leaving part of the population out?

  26. From the New Braunfels c.o.c. website …

  27. Culture complexes • a culture complex is a closely related set of culture traits • Some links are historical • Germanic language  Protestant religion • Romance language  Catholic religion • Some links are causal • urban culture  tolerance of lifestyle diversity

  28. Multiple traits define overlapping culture regions (formal)

  29. Edges of culture regions • exceptions to general pattern of culture complexes • transition zones • areas of conflict • areas of diffusion


  31. “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” • Victor Hugo, 'Histoire d'un crime,' 1852

  32. Cultural Diffusion Defined • An increase in the spatial extent of a particular culture trait or culture complex either through movement of people through space (migration) or through the adoption of a culture trait by other groups.

  33. PIZZA • What was required before frozen pizza could become popular in the US? • saturation of market with electrical refrigeration • dependence on the car for shopping trips • demand for fast food • women in the workforce • changing attitudes about gender roles • small families • etc.

  34. Map example: diffusion of religion

  35. Types of Diffusion

  36. Factors affecting diffusion • barriers to diffusion • different culture • different language • different religion • etc. • lack of necessary infrastructure • where are computers least likely to diffuse? • where are large grocery stores least likely to diffuse?

  37. Factors affecting diffusion • cultural receptivity to diffusion • Factors that cause diffusion to occur or accelerate diffusion • same culture • same language • same religion • etc. • necessary infrastructure • affluence • what else?

  38. Cultural Ecology • Human-environment relationships • To what extent does the environment affect culture? environment culture • To what extent does culture rework the environment? culture environment

  39. General Trend • Environmental determinism has been rejected • Current approaches are based on ecology and possibilism • Much greater focus on human impacts on the environment than on the environment’s culture-shaping force

  40. Antiquated language of Environmental Determinism mixed with Racism • “None of these tropical peoples … has a native civilisation, or is fitted to play any part in history, either as a conquering or as a thinking force, or in any way, save as producers by physical labour of material wealth. None is likely to develop towards any higher condition than that in which it now stands, save under the tutelage, and by adopting so much as it can of the culture, of the five or six European peoples which have practically appropriated the torrid zone, and are dividing its resources among them. Yet the vast numbers to which, under the conjoint stimuli of science and peace, these inferior black and yellow races may grow, coupled with the capacity some of them evince for assimilating the material side of European civilisation, may enable them to play a larger part in the future of the world than they have played in the past.” • James Bryce, British Ambassador to the US, 1892

  41. Cultural Ecology • Organism-environment relationship is reciprocal and mutually constitutive, that is, it is a two-way street. The same is true of human-environment relations. • Animals adapt to their environments over eons, genetically • People adapt through culture • Cultureis an adaptive strategy mainly (but not entirely) limited to humans, involvinglearned, cooperative behavior and major environmental modifications

  42. Possibilism • Scientific philosophy that the environment does not determine elements of culture, but it does set bounds on the possible or probable forms that culture will take • Natural environments offer opportunities and constraints from which culture groups must choose, based on their knowledge and internal power relations

  43. Cultural Landscape Studies start with what you see

  44. Case Study – Orrtana PA

  45. Houses • How old do they appear to be? • Are there particular styles from a certain period? • Do the styles change over time?

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