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What does it mean to be human? Culture 1. Is the concept of “human” a cultural category? 2. How much of what we are is due to our culture? 1. Is “human”

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Presentation on theme: "What does it mean to be human? Culture 1. Is the concept of “human” a cultural category? 2. How much of what we are is due to our culture? 1. Is “human”"— Presentation transcript:

1 What does it mean to be human? Culture 1. Is the concept of “human” a cultural category? 2. How much of what we are is due to our culture? 1. Is “human” a natural category, just out there in the world? 2. How much of what we are is due to our biology

2 To reason intelligibly about these questions, we’ll need to learn more about the “culture” concept -- and that’s the purpose of today’s class. 1. Is “human” a cultural category?

3 To reason intelligibly about these questions, we’ll need to learn more about the “culture” concept -- and that’s the purpose of today’s class. But an initial observation: the parallel here to the “brown eyes/blue eyes” problem.

4 To reason intelligibly about these questions, we’ll need to learn more about the “culture” concept -- and that’s the purpose of today’s class. But an initial observation: the parallel here to the “brown eyes/blue eyes” problem. - Is “human” something picked out by different peoples around the planet?

5 To reason intelligibly about these questions, we’ll need to learn more about the “culture” concept -- and that’s the purpose of today’s class. But an initial observation: the parallel here to the “brown eyes/blue eyes” problem. - Is “human” something picked out by different peoples around the planet? - How is the term actually used by people?

6 To reason intelligibly about these questions, we’ll need to learn more about the “culture” concept -- and that’s the purpose of today’s class. But an initial observation: the parallel here to the “brown eyes/blue eyes” problem. - Is “human” something picked out by different peoples around the planet? - How is the term actually used by people? These are questions we can study. In fact, anthropology insists that we study them.

7 Note: Many people have heard that various American Indian peoples have a auto-designation of the group that translates as “human being.” The Cheyenne Indians, for example, are said to call themselves the “human beings.” Since this course is about discernment in relation to real world phenomena, helping you to make judgments about what you see, hear, read, let’s look at one popular culture representation -- the move “Little Big Man” from 1970.

8 “The ‘Human Beings’ my son, they believe everything is alive, not only men and animals, but also water, earth, stone, and also the things from them like this hair…” “But the ‘Whitemen’, they believe everything is dead, stone, earth, animals and people, even their own people…. that is the difference.” 1970 American movie: “Little Big Man”

9 Geertz’s article uses one of the existing definitions, but challenged within feminist interpretations as encoding an implicit bias: man (man) n., pl. men (men). 1. An adult male human being. 2. A human being regardless of sex or age; a person. The concept of “man” = “human being”?

10 Used in the American Declaration of Independence -- 1776 A product of Enlightenment thinking and discourse. Questioned in the 19th century. - Did it include “women”? - Did it include non-property holders? - What about “slaves.” “… all men are created equal.”

11 2. What is culture and how much of what we are is due to our culture? General definition of culture = those ways of (1) behaving in the world (including speaking); (2) cognizing the world (including beliefs); and (3) valuing the world insofar as they are socially learned, socially transmitted.

12 Concept of “replication of culture” and of the “trait.” e 1 = element of culture; referred to in the older literature as a cultural "trait." Examples of traits: a song, a myth, a basket weaving style, a belief, a technique for hunting, a hair style, etc., etc. A way of speaking: Valley Girl talk. “Excellent” from “Wayne’s World.”

13 It was not easy for thinkers to tease apart the transmission of culture (as social learning) from biology (as genetic learning). We have the classical notion, going to back to Cicero, of "second nature". The medieval dictum was: consuetudo altera natura est, translated repeatedly into English as "habit (or custom) is second nature." Note that one question surrounding the taboo article is: how much of athletic performance is linked to training (second nature) versus genes (nature)? Second Nature

14 But the idea of custom was nevertheless conflated with nature in practice, precisely because (as mentioned in the first class) the pathways of culture and genes are often the same ones -- namely, family relationships. Partly for this reason that we'll be talking about marriage and descent later in the semester. What is the relationship of social parenthood to biological transmission? Conflation of nature and culture

15 The latter part of the 19 th century and the first half of the 20 th century saw an explosion of interest in the variability of habits and customs around the globe. Careful observation of local patterns, coupled with a growing awareness that people could acquire new habits by virtue of social interaction and learning (migration), led to the concept of culture. Explosion of interest in culture

16 The prior notion of culture, going back to the early 19 th nineteenth century, was of Culture with a capital "C." This is the idea of culture as cultivation. Only some ("cultured") people had it. Edward Burnett Tylor in 1871 referred to "Primitive Culture." Especially in the early twentieth century in Germany and in the U.S., the term "culture" came to be employed for socially transmitted habits among the various peoples around the globe. There was a proliferation of interest in culture, in this sense. “C”ulture ------------> “c”ulture

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31 How did researchers make sense of the diversity of customs? Prior to late nineteenth century, societies organized into unilinear evolution schemes (for example, the stages of band, tribe, chiefdom, state; or savagery, barbarism, civilization; or primitive communism, feudalism, capitalism, true communism). The idea was that every "people" had to pass through the same stages. Unilinear evolution

32 The idea of unilinear evolution preceded Darwin, and is distinct from the Darwinian evolution discussed by Prof. Mann. The latter is not unilinear, but tree- like and branching. The notion of unilinear evolution was associated with the conflation of genetically and culturally transmitted learning. Assumption that a "people" had to pass through the various stages. Was this an evolution in their biology or their culture? The distinction was not clearly made. Unilinear and non-unilinear evolution

33 The idea of cultural diffusion arises with the rejection of unilinear evolution in anthropology in the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. Diffusion involves invention of a cultural trait (for example, the plough or the wheel), and then its copying, through processes of replication, by neighboring people. Invention spreads in wave-like fashion. Hence, by plotting the occurrence of traits on a map, can figure out where the center of diffusion was. Diffusionism rejects unilinear evolution

34 Locus of invention Trait frequency diminishes with distance from the locus of invention Geographical diffusion of culture traits

35 As opposed to evolutionary stages, diffusionism introduced the idea of the culture area, a geographically defined region within which intensive sharing of cultural traits has occurred. Many traits clinal (as Dr. Mann described in the case of genetics), so that boundaries cannot always be readily distinguished. The culture area concept is a way of dividing up the globe into regions based on the diffusion of traits, but the boundaries are not sharp. Culture area concept

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40 Diffusionism assumed that invention of traits was extremely difficult and that replication was easy. In fact, culture tends to change as it is replicated, and it is extremely difficult to replicate traits with precision. Language (like culture generally) changes through a process of drift over time, as Dr. Liberman will tell us about subsequently. The notion linguistic drift first developed by the anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir. The notion of cultural drift develops shortly thereafter. Sapir's ideas prior to the development of the concept of genetic drift (by Sewall Wright) in biology. Culture and linguistic drift

41 As traits or elements are transmitted, they tend to be reshaped in conformity with other aspects of culture carried by people. Hence, the culture within a group tends to exhibit certain characteristic patterns or styles or structures. These observations gave rise to the notion of a culture as a structured whole, shared throughout a group of people. Culture, in this sense, is the property of a group. Cultures as internally structured

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43 “We are, in sum, incomplete or unfinished animals who complete or finish ourselves through culture..." (49); "Between what our body tells us and what we have to know in order to function, there is a vacuum we must fill ourselves, and we fill it with information (or misinformation) provided by our culture" (50); "Our ideas, our values, our acts, even our emotions, are, like our nervous system itself, cultural products — products manufactured, indeed, out of tendencies, capacities, and dispositions with which we were born..." (50). Clifford Geertz Is he right to downplay the concept of “human”?


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