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The Concept of Culture. Deciphering the Mask of Culture. Making the strange familiar Eating dog? Marrying cousins? Giving away prized possessions? Finger mutilation? Brothers sharing a wife?. Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings. Gestures (Singapore). Are Gestures Universal?.

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The Concept of Culture

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deciphering the mask of culture
Deciphering the Mask of Culture
  • Making the strange familiar
    • Eating dog?
    • Marrying cousins?
    • Giving away prized


    • Finger mutilation?
    • Brothers sharing a wife?
are gestures universal
Are Gestures Universal?
  • A-OK (U.S.)
  • Money (Japan)
  • F___ (Spain)

Iran: -thumbs up sign is vulgar

-signal with palm down

Mexico: -show height with palm vertical

-do not beckon with fingers

Saudi Arabia:

-avoid showing the sole of your shoe

-it is disrespectful to cross your legs

Zimbabwe: -it is rude to maintain eye contact

  • Complements


  • Gift giving




cultural gestures beliefs symbols are not universal
Cultural Gestures, Beliefs & Symbols Are Not Universal
  • Cultural Use of Space
    • Contact & Non-contact cultures
    • Views from both sides of the cultural border
We Live in a Globally Interdependent WorldUnderstanding How to Interact With Diverse Peoples is Imperative – Anthropology:
  • Will make what seems strange, exotic, or alien familiar to you
  • We put our own values & beliefs on hold while we learn to understand other cultures without judging them
making the familiar strange
Making the Familiar Strange
  • We may seem strange or alien to others (EXAMPLES)
  • That forces us to take a critical look at our own culture
    • It leads us to reassess our own culture & values
test your cultural literacy
Test Your Cultural Literacy!
  • Supplemental reading – Who are the

N a c i r e m a ?

cracking the nacirema code
Cracking the Nacirema Code

Percent of students who correctly identified









why study anthropology
Why Study Anthropology?
  • “Insular Americans”
making the strange familiar
Making the Strange Familiar
  • Forces us to put our judgment on hold while we try to understand other cultures
  • It is our culture that leads us to create aliens
anthropology provides us with a kaleidoscopic vision of the world
Anthropology Provides Us With a Kaleidoscopic Vision of the World
  • This vision breaks down cultural barriers
  • But wait! Isn’t globalization creating a homogenous world culture?
    • McDonalds, Internet provide shared

experiences around the globe

  • Yet national, racial, & ethnic

differences & global

inequality promote a system

of global apartheid

The World Political Economy Makes Knowledge & Tolerationof Other People’s Values, Customs, & Beliefs Essential
  • Let’s look at some examples
    • (exam material)
  • “You’re for us, or you’re against us”

(Us vs. Them)

    • The world is more

divided today

    • How has this shaped

our ideas about Middle


iraq or al qaeda
Iraq, or Al-Qaeda ?
  • 55% Shiites
  • 18% Sunnis
  • 18% Kurds
  • To many, they are all evil
  • Vincent Chin
tribal warfare
Tribal Warfare
  • Displaced Persons Camps, Darfur, Sudan
the din black mesa http www docudharma com diary 9565
The Diné & Black Mesa
  • Relocation—largest since the Trail of Tears, that killed 1000s of Cherokees in the 1830s
immigration racist paranoia
Immigration & Racist Paranoia
  • Mexican immigrants –
    • From parasites to terrorists
    • Lou Dobbs: "illegal alien invasion"

“There's no question this type

of mass immigration would have

a calamitous effect on working

citizens and their families”

so what is anthropology
So, What Is Anthropology?
  • 5 Subdisciplines:
    • Cultural
      • Ethnography
      • Ethnology
  • Archaeology
  • Linguistics
  • Applied
3 key concepts
3 Key Concepts
  • Holism
  • Comparativism
  • Relativism: To regard alternative ways of life as valid & meaningful designs for living
  • The opinion that one’s own culture (values, beliefs, knowledge, behavior)

is superior

  • Does that mean we must accept values, beliefs, & behaviors that are different from our own?
  • Cultural Relativism
why anthropology
Why Anthropology?

Once you have studied

anthropology, you no longer look at

the world from a single point of view.

Having many lenses to view the world is liberating!

An anthropological perspective is not

just for anthropologists—it is a

perspective to live by!

definitions of culture
Definitions of Culture
  • There are over 160 different definitions of culture!
  • Anthropologists emphasize different aspects of culture:
    • Idealist – beliefs, values, conceptions (intangible)
    • Materialist – behavior, artifacts (observable)
    • Omnibus – more inclusive (both ideal & material)
      • Know these for the exam
do anthropologists agree on anything
Do Anthropologists Agree on Anything?
  • Culture is:
    • Adaptive – to both the physical & social environment
      • Culture is the primary means of human adaptation
      • All humans have the same capacity for culture; different cultures select different ways of adapting to their particular environments
culture is
Culture is …
  • Learned– through enculturation people internalize its values
    • Culture is transmitted generation to generation
  • Shared– Culture is a group phenomenon
  • Patterned – A system of interrelated parts; we can’t understand the whole by analyzing just one part
  • Arbitrary – Ideas are culturally defined
idealist materialist interpretations of culture
Idealist & Materialist Interpretations of Culture
  • Plato:


Ideas =


of human




Seeing is






idealism vs materialism
Idealism vs. Materialism
  • So who is right?
  • The attempt to explain complex phenomena in terms of simpler or single causes
  • Both idealists & materialists attempt to prove that they can explain cultural reality better than their opponents:
    • If human nature is idealist, human action is reduced to a by-product of ideas
    • If human nature is materialist, ideas are reduced to by-products of material forces
what does all this have to do with anthropology
What Does All This Have To Do With Anthropology ! ?
  • The major theoretical perspectives & debates in anthropology are based on idealist & materialist perspectives
  • Ex: Biological Determinism is a materialist argument that biology controls human behavior
    • Used in eugenics, raises issues of race & IQ
  • Ex: Culture determines behavior
    • Impressionistic, over-generalizes people in a culture
are there any alternatives
Are There Any Alternatives?
  • Holism – We are conditioned by both our biological heritage & our cultural understandings
    • The whole is more than the sum of its parts
  • – Material & ideational factors interact dialectically to produce something new
  • We interact with our physical (material) environment
    • We produce food, consume it, it transforms us
    • While we do so, we change the environment
  • What we plant & eat is determined by our cultural definitions of what is edible


because cows can

talk about not

having opposable


clifford geertz s idealist interpretation
Clifford Geertz’s Idealist Interpretation
  • Geertz: The Concept of Culture I Espouse is a Semiotic One…
marvin harris materialist interpretation
Marvin Harris’ Materialist Interpretation
  • Harris: The Culture Concept Comes Down to Behavior Patterns…