The Phenomena Of Culture

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The Phenomena Of Culture

CULTURE What is culture? Culture includes language, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, and works of art, rituals, and ceremonies, among other elements. The existence and use of culture depends upon ability possessed by humans alone. This ability has been called the capacity for rational thought. The term symboling has been proposed as a more suitable name for the mental ability of humans, consisting of assigning things and events certain meanings that cannot be grasped with the senses. Articulate speech is a good example. The meaning of the word dog is not inherent in the sounds themselves; it is assigned, to the sounds by human beings. Holy water, “biting one’s thumb” at someone, or fetishes are other examples. The classic definition of culture was provided by the 19th-century English anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor in the first paragraph of his Primitive Culture (1871): Culture . . . 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. In Anthropology (1881) Tylor made it clear that man alone possesses culture. This conception of culture served anthropologists for 50 years. With the increasing maturity of anthropological science, reflections upon the nature of their subject matter and concepts led to a multiplication and diversification of definitions of culture. In Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952), U.S. anthropologists A.L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn cited 164 definitions of culture, ranging from “learned behavior” to “ideas in the mind,” “a logical construct,” “a statistical fiction,” “a psychic defense mechanism,” and so on. The definition of culture that is preferred by Kroeber and Kluckhohn and also by many other anthropologists is that culture is an abstraction or, more specifically, “an abstraction from behavior.” These conceptions have defects or shortcomings. The existence of behavioral traditions–that is, patterns of behavior transmitted by social rather than by biologic hereditary means–has definitely been established for non-human animals. “Ideas in the mind” become significant in society only as expressed in language, acts, and objects. “A logical construct” or “a statistical fiction” is not specific enough to be useful. The conception of culture as an abstraction led, first, to a questioning of the reality of culture (inasmuch as abstractions were regarded as imperceptible) and, second, to a denial of its existence; thus, the subject matter of non-biological anthropology, “culture,” was defined out of existence, and without real, objective things and events in the external world there can be no science. Kroeber and Kluckhohn were led to their conclusion that culture is an abstraction by reasoning that if culture is behavior, it becomes the subject matter of psychology; therefore, they concluded that culture “is an abstraction from concrete behavior but is not itself behavior.” But what is an abstraction of a marriage ceremony or a pottery bowl, using Kroeber and Kluckhohn’s examples? A solution was provided by Leslie A. White in the essay “The Concept of Culture” (1959). The issue is not really whether culture is real or an abstraction, he reasoned; the issue is the context of the scientific interpretation. When things and events are considered in the context of their relation to the human organism, they constitute behavior; when they are considered not in terms of their relation to human, but in their relationship to one another, they become culture. The mother-in-law taboo is a complex of concepts, attitudes, and acts. When one considers them in their relationship to the human, they become behavior by definition. When one considers the mother-in-law taboo in its relationship to the place of residence of a newly married couple, the customary division of labor between the sexes, their respective roles in the society, and these in turn to the technology of society, the mother-in-law taboo becomes, again by definition, culture. When words are considered in their relationship to the human, as acts–they become behavior. But when they are considered in terms of their relationship to one another, grammar, syntax, and so forth, they become language, the subject matter not of psychology but of the science of linguistics. Culture, therefore, is the name given to a class of things and events dependent upon symboling (i.e., articulate speech) that are considered in a kind of extra-human context. Man alone due to ability possesses culture. The question of whether the difference between the mind of man and that of animals is one of kind or of degree has been debated for many years, and even today reputable scientists can be found on both sides of this issue. But no one who holds the view that the difference is one of degree has adduced any evidence to show that animals are capable of a kind of behavior that all human beings exhibit. This kind of behavior may be illustrated by the following examples: remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy, classifying one’s relatives and distinguishing one class from another (such as uncles from cousins), defining and prohibiting incest, and so on. There is no reason or evidence that leads one to believe that any animal other than man can have or be brought to any appreciation or comprehension whatever of such meanings and acts. Tylor argued long ago, a “mental gulf that divides the lowest savage from the highest ape” (Anthropology). A very large brain characterizes man, and it is reasonable to believe that the central nervous system, especially the forebrain, is the location of the ability to symbol. At some point in the evolution of primates a threshold was reached in some line, or lines, when the ability to symbol was realized and made explicit in overt behavior. There is no intermediate stage between symboling and non-symboling; an individual or a species is capable of symboling, or it is not. Through the aid of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller was enabled to escape her blindness and deafness and effect contact with the world of human meanings and values. The direction of biological evolution toward greater expansion and security of life can be seen from another point of view. The advance from instinctive behavior to learned and freely variable behavior, patterns of which may be acquired and transmitted from one individual and generation to another, and finally to a system of things and events, the essence of which is meanings that cannot be comprehended by the senses alone. This system is culture, and the species is the human. Culture is a man-made environment, brought into existence by the ability to symbol. Once established, culture has a life of its own, it is a continuum of things and events in a cause and effect relationship; it flows down through time from one generation to another. Since its inception, culture, with its language, beliefs, tools, codes, has had an existence external to each individual born into it. The function of this external, man-made environment is to make life secure and enduring for the society of human beings living within the cultural system. Culture may be seen as the most recent, the most highly developed means of promoting the security and continuity of life, in a series that began with the simple reflex. Society preceded culture. Man’s immediate pre-human ancestors had societies, but they did not have culture. Studies of monkeys and apes have enlarged scientific knowledge of their social life and the scientific conception of the earliest human societies. Data derived from paleontological sources and from studies of living, non-human primates are now abundant, and hypotheses derived from these are numerous and detailed. A summary of them may be made as follows: The growth of the primate brain was stimulated by life in the trees, specifically, by eye-hand co-ordinations involved in swinging from limb to limb and by manipulating food with the hands. Forced to the ground, as a consequence of deforestation or increase in body size and the assumption of erect posture were other significant steps in biological evolution and the emergence of culture. The Australopithecine’s of Africa, extinct manlike higher primates which reliable knowledge is considerable today, exemplify the stage of erect posture in primate evolution. Erect posture freed the arms and hands from their earlier function of locomotion and made possible an extensive and versatile use of tools. Again, the eye-hand-object co-ordinations involved in tool using stimulated the growth of the brain, especially the forebrain. It is not possible to determine on the basis of paleontological evidence the precise point at which the ability to symbol was realized, as expressed in overt behavior. It is believed by some that man’s pre-human ancestors used tools habitually and that habit became custom through the transmission of tool using from one generation to another long before articulate speech came into being. Some theorists hold, the customary use of tools became a powerful stimulus in the development of a brain that was capable of symboling or articulate speech. The introduction of symboling into primate social life was revolutionary. Everything was transformed, everything acquired new meaning; the symbol added a new dimension to primate existence. An ax was no longer merely a tool with which to chop; it could become a symbol of authority. Mating became marriage and all social relationships between parents and children and brothers and sisters became moral obligations, duties, rights, and privileges. The concept of culture embraces the culture of mankind as a whole. Analyzing “the complex whole” into component parts or categories facilitates an understanding of human culture. The culture trait is generally regarded as the unit of culture. A trait may be an object, a way of doing something, a belief, or an attitude. But, within the category of culture, each trait is related to other traits. A distinguishable and relatively self-contained cluster of traits is conventionally called a culture complex. The association of traits in a complex may be of a functional and mechanical nature, such as horse, saddle, bridle, quirt, and the like. The relationship between an actual culture and its habitat is always an intimate one, and one finds a more or less close correlation between kind of habitat and type of culture. This results in the concept of culture area. This conception goes back at least as far as the early 19th century, but it was first brought into prominence by the U.S. anthropologist Clark Wissler in The American Indian (1917) and Man and Culture (1923). He divided the Indian cultures into geographic cultural regions: the Caribou area of northern Canada; the Northwest coast, characterized by the use of salmon and cedar; the Great Plains, where tribes hunted bison with the horse; the Pueblo area of the Southwest; and so on. Others later distinguished culture areas in other continents. Appreciation of the relationship between culture and topographic area suggests the concept of culture type, such as hunting and gathering or a special way of hunting. For example, the use of the horse in bison hunting in the Plains or the method of hunting of sea mammals among the Eskimo; pastoral cultures centered upon sheep, cattle, reindeer, and so on; and horticulture and agriculture. Less common are trading cultures or specialized production of some object for trade, such as pottery, bronze axes, or salt. Configuration and pattern are concepts closely related to culture area and culture type. All of them have one thing in common; they view culture not in terms of its individual components, or traits, but as meaningful organizations of traits: areas, occupations, configurations (art, mathematics, physics), or patterns (in which psychological factors are the bases of organization). Clark Wissler’s “universal culture pattern” was recognition of the fact that all particular and actual cultures possess the same general categories: language, art, social organization, religion, and technology. A socio-cultural system presents itself under two aspects: structure and function. As culture evolves, socio-cultural systems become more differentiated structurally and more specialized functionally, proceeding from the simple to the complex. Systems on the lowest stage of development have only two significant kinds of parts: the local territorial group and the family. There is a corresponding minimum of specialization, limited, with but few exceptions, to division of function, or labor, along sex lines and to division between children and adults. The exceptions are headmen and shamans. The headman is a mechanism of social integration, direction, and control, expressing, however, the consensus of the band. The shaman, though a self-appointed priest or magician, is also an instrument of society; he may be regarded as the first specialist in the history of human society. All human societies are divided into classes and segments. Class is defined as one of an indefinite number of groupings, each of which differs in composition from the other or others, such as men and women; married, widowed, and divorced; children and adults. Segment is defined as one of an indefinite number of groupings, all of which are alike in structure and function: families, lineage’s, clans, and so on. On more advanced levels of development there are occupational classes, such as farmers, pastors, artisans, metalworkers, and scribes, and territorial segments, such as wards, barrios, counties, and states. Segmentation is a cultural process essential to the evolution of culture. It is a means of increasing the size of a society or a grouping within a socio-cultural system and therefore of increasing its power to make life secure, without suffering a corresponding loss of effectiveness through diminished solidarity. Segmentation is a means of maintaining solidarity at the same time that it enlarges the social grouping. A tribe could not increase in size beyond a certain point without resorting to segmentation: the formation of lineage’s, clans. The word clannish points to one of the functions of segments in general: the fostering of solidarity. Tribes become segments in confederacies; and above the tribal level, the evolution of civil society employs barrios, counties, and states in its process of segmentation. In present-day society, the army and the church offer illuminating examples of increased size and sustained solidarity proceeding hand in hand. Occupational groupings were virtually lacking in all cultural systems of aboriginal North America, for example. Guilds of metalworkers are found in some African tribes and specialists in canoe making and tattooing existed in Polynesia. But it is not until the transition from preliterate society, based upon ties of kinship, to civil society, based upon property relations and territorial distinctions, that division of labor along occupational lines becomes extensive. .............


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