1. Chapter 8: Studying Culture (MG)
Humans are not born with one particular lens or cultural perspective, but all humans have the
capacity for culture.
- Understanding culture allows appropriate behavior when interacting with others.
- Expectations of how people behave based on their sex are an essential part of culture.
All human groups have culture
- Sharing culture means people understand what goes on around them in approximately
the same way.
- Easy to read surroundings, like a text
- Ethnographers go and live among the people that they aim to learn about and slowly
over time, come to understand their world.
Ethnographic Research: Process of studying culture
Ethnography: Written or visual product of ethnographic research
Ethnographer: A cultural anthropologist who studies a group of people in the field-work
Ethnographers seek to understand the etic (cultural insider’s) view as well as the emic (outside
The Culture Concept
A basic way to define culture is as the shared understandings that shape thought and guide
- Members of a culture share a set of beliefs, customs, values, and knowledge
Clifford Geertz (1973)
- Emphasizes the idea that culture is a set of functions – not simply a list of attributes or
- Believes there are rules and instructions for behavior
What are the Parts of Culture?
Culture has three basic parts – What we think (cognition), What we do (behavior), and What
we have (Artifacts).
1. Values we learn from our parents and the symbols we understand in our environment
- Information and understandings that allow us to relate to other members of our culture. 2. Actions and interactions with others are behavioral.
- Shared culture guides behavior in ways that allow people to understand and act
appropriately with each other.
3. The material products of our society are artifacts (portable items) and features (non-
- Artifacts and features are also referred to as material culture: the things that people
make, alter, and use.
Four Characteristics of Culture
- Different from biological instincts or personality traits
- Personality traits arise in individuals due to their unique development or experience
- Differs from genetics or personality because it is learned, based on symbols, holistic and
- Humans learn their culture actively and acquire it passively from the people around
Symbols: Anything that stands for something else and carries meaning.
Genetically arbitrary – no connection between the symbol and idea
Culture is holistic or integrated
- Approach study of culture with the knowledge that all aspects of a society are linked
- If one aspect is altered, then the others will be affected as well
- Idea of culture involved more than just one individual, culture must be shared
- A personality feature that isn’t shared by others could be called a quirk or unique
- Culture allows people to understand each others’ words and actions
Culture as Community
Community: When people share a geographical space (live, work, and play together)
Group: Looser term, referring to people who share culture (members of group generally live in
the same area) Society: Somewhat interchangeably with the term group, to refer to a large number of people
with social connections
Human society is predicated on cultural values and expectations, not on biological imperative.
Identity Markers: Markers may include ethnicity, socio-economic class, religious beliefs, age,
gender, and interest. (subcultures)
- Made up of people connected by similarities
- Reflect ethnic heritage
- May denote common interests
Homogeneous: Group shares many identity markers
Heterogeneous: Groups that share few identity markers
Cultures can be large or small; they can be concentrated or diasporic (spread across the world)
- Not a fixed entity
- Culture isn’t static = it’s always changing
Members of a group share culture, the knowledge and understandings that make up that
culture must be passed on from member to member.
Enculturation: Transmitted from one generation to the next, from parents and other adults to
- Most contact with the infants and young children act as the primary transmitters of
- Combines all the formal teaching with the informal acquisition of culture that comes
with everyday life.
All humans, no matter where the live share 99% of the same DNA – there are no meaningful
divisions in their biology.
Europeans came to the America (The New World) to discover = not the only people with fully
developed social organization and community living.
- However, Europeans didn’t understand the Aboriginals language = considered them to
be primitive and savage.
Since the European goal was ultimately to conquer land and colonize people – argument
occurred in Spain to determine whether the Aboriginals could actually be considered human.
- If they were sub- human, they could be treated as animals would be.
- If human, it meant they had souls so they had to be baptized. After this happened = a trial occurred and the pope forbidden enslavement.
Carolus Linnaeus: Looking at his “varieties” of humans, its clear they were based on biased
observations and skewed positively toward Europeans.
- Laid the foundation for centuries and oppression of non – whites based on “God –
given” traits that were unalterable.
Eugenics: A pseudoscientific plan to “purify” the human race.
- Recently, it has led to forced abortion and sterilization, laws against marriage, and anti –
Ethnicity: Accurately expresses all the aspects of a person that used to be mistaken as race.
- Includes heritage, geography, and language
- Includes where a person’s family originates (heritage) with cultural features (such as
their staple foods)
Cultural Identity: Culture plays a part in ethnicity, it’s also possible to identify to identify parts
of our lives as culture, without being linked to a particular ethnicity.
- Culture identity includes: gender, level of education, and socio – economic status
- Also includes: subcultures one belongs to based on interests, such as membership in a
subculture of bloggers or triathletes.
A person’s subculture is marked by an understanding of the unspoken rules of behavior and
knowledge of the special languages spoken.
- Eventually, a member will learn to fluently “speak” the language of the subculture.
Ethnocentrism and Culture Relativism
It is normal to think that the way we do things is normal and the way others do things is not.
Ethnocentrism: The notion that our customs are normal while others’ customs are strange,
wrong, or even disgusting.
- Allows people to feel superior to others by denigrating differences in their behavior,
ideas, or values.
- It is naturally instilled in children at a young age.
- Members of a group are taught to love their