ANTH 2020 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1-2: Cultural Relativism, Ethnocentrism, Subculture
SchoolGeorgia State University
Course CodeANTH 2020
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What is “Culture”? - It can have 101 different definitions because it’s such an all-inclusive broad-based
term. That is because culture is “everything we learn and share within a particular group in an attempt to be
functional and fulfilled human beings”. It includes a group’s social behavior, political system, religion, arts, family
& kinship structure, ideas, values, and on and on, - everything that we humans socially construct and organize
ourselves around. It’s that unique set of learned patterns of thinking and behavior that humans acquire as members
of a group or society. It’s a body of learned rules and guidelines in order to function as a culture group or
society. It’s a unique design for living practiced by a particular group of people usually living in close proximity to
Culture is Integrated and Dynamic - It’s integrated in that all the parts or institutions of a culture or society
are working in concert with each other, attempting to support each other, and work for the function of the whole of
society (politics, education, economics, arts, sports, etc. - all having elements in common, or attempting to work
together). At its origin and base there is a “superstructure” to culture, its general worldview, perspectives, values
and priorities that drives the “social structure”, our social organization (prescribed patterns of behavior > what to say
and when to say it, and how to behave in certain social environments). Both of these are primarily focused on
satisfying our “infrastructure”; that is, meeting our most basic needs in society (food, shelter, procreation,
protection). The unique environment a people find themselves in has an influence on all 3 of these levels of culture,
and the culture in turn has an impact on the environment (technology, the natural landscape). Also, culture is
dynamic in the sense that it is ever-changing and developing, tweaking or even reinventing itself to adapt to
perceived needed change.
Ethnocentrism - judging other cultures by one’s own cultural standards; seeing one’s own culture as superior to
others (an attitude of cultural superiority).
Cultural Relativism - respecting the uniqueness of different cultures as valid ways of life; understanding and
appreciating other cultures or societies based on their own particular cultural evolution or history.
Society - a large diverse group of people, or a small homogeneous group of people, who have formally come
together and organized themselves under a set of common interests and values. Societies often more culturally
diverse than ethnic groups and certainly culture groups, and are planned out in the beginning, unlike the other two.
Ethnic Group - a group sharing a common cultural heritage and homeland, hanging on to important cultural
identifiers like Language, Religion, cultural History, and some remaining Customs and Traditions (ceremonies, art,
etc.). Ethnic groups are often “watered-down culture groups” diluted in their uniqueness by outside influence, of an
active or passive nature. Therefore, they may still share many things in common with surrounding groups.
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