Why Is the Concept of Culture Important?
How Do Anthropologists Define Culture?
Culture, History, and Human Agency
Why Do Cultural Differences Matter?
What Is Ethnocentrism?
Is It Possible to Avoid Ethnocentric
What Is Cultural Relativism?
How Can Cultural Relativity Improve
Our Understanding of Controversial Cultural Practices?
Gender, and Human Rights
Genital Cutting as a
Culture and Moral
Did Their Culture Make
Them Do It?
Does Culture Explain Everything?
Culture Change and
The Promise of the Anthropological
Anthropologists have argued that culture distinguishes the human condition from
the condition of other living species. Human culture is learned, shared,
patterned, adaptive, and symbolic. It did not emerge all at once, but evolved over
anthropologists have long thought holistically about human culture.
Anthropological holism argues that objects and environments interpenetrate and
even define each other. Thus, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Human beings and human societies are open systems that cannot be reduced to the
parts that make them up. The parts and the whole mutually define, or
codetermine, each other and coevolve. This book adopts a coevolutionary approach
to human nature, human society, and the human past. Human beings depend on
symbolic cultural understandings to help them resolve the ambiguities inherent
in everyday human experience.
believe that ethnocentrism can be countered by a commitment to cultural
relativism, an attempt to understand the cultural underpinnings of behavior. Cultural
relativism does not require us to abandon every value our society has taught us;
however, it does discourage the easy solution of refusing to consider
alternatives from the outset. Cultural relativism makes moral decisions more
difficult because it requires us to take many things into account before we
make up our minds.
- Human history
is an essential aspect of the human story. Culture is worked out over time and passed
on from one generation to the next. The cultural beliefs and practices we
inherit from the past or borrow from other people in the present make some
things easier for us and other things more difficult. At the same time, culture
provides resources human beings can make use of in the pursuit of their own
goals. Thus, the anthropological understanding of human life recognizes the
importance of human agency.
- Many anthropologists
have criticized use of the term cultures to refer to particular, learned ways of
life belonging to specific groups of human beings. Critics argue that this way
of talking about culture seems to endorse a kind of oppressive cultural
determinism. Supporters, however, argue that in some cases this version of the
culture concept can be used to defend vulnerable social groups against
exploitation and oppression by outsiders.