Tylor's definition of “culture: that
complex whole which includes,
knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law,
custom, and any other capabilities
and habits acquired by man as a
member of society.”
 Enculturation is the process by
which a child learns his or her
Culture is Learned
Cultural learning is unique to humans.
 Cultural learning is the accumulation of
knowledge about experiences and
information not perceived directly by the
organism, but transmitted to it through
Symbols are signs that have no necessary or
natural connection with the things for which they
Geertz defines culture as ideas based on cultural
learning and symbols.
Culture is Learned
Culture is learned through both direct
instruction and through observation (both
conscious and unconscious).
 Anthropologists in the 19th century
argued for the “psychic unity of man.”
This doctrine acknowledges that individuals vary
in their emotional and intellectual tendencies and
 However, this doctrine asserted that all human
populations share the same capacity for culture.
Culture is Shared
Culture is located and transmitted in
 The social transmission of culture
tends to unify people by providing us
with a common experience.
 The commonalty of experience in
turn tends to generate a common
understanding of future events.
Culture is Symbolic
 The
human ability to use symbols is the basis of
culture (a symbol is something verbal or nonverbal
within a particular language or culture that comes to
stand for something else).
 While human symbol use is overwhelmingly linguistic,
a symbol is anything that is used to represent any
other thing, when the relationship between the two is
arbitrary (e.g. a flag).
 Other primates have demonstrated rudimentary ability
to use symbols, but only humans have elaborated
cultural abilities—to learn, to communicate, to store, to
process, and to use symbols.
Culture and Nature
Humans interact with cultural
constructions of nature, rather than
directly with nature itself.
 Culture converts natural urges and
acts into cultural customs.
Culture is All-Encompassing
The anthropological concept of
culture is a model that includes all
aspects of human group behavior.
 Everyone is cultured, not just
wealthy people with an elite
Culture is Integrated
A culture is a system: changes in one
aspect will likely generate changes in
other aspects.
 Core values are sets of ideas,
attitudes, and beliefs which are basic
in that they provide an organizational
logic for the rest of the culture.
People Use Culture Creatively
Humans have the ability to avoid,
manipulate, subvert, and change the
“rules” and patterns of their own cultures.
 “Ideal culture” refers to normative
descriptions of a culture given by its
 “Real culture” refers to “actual behavior
as observed by an anthropologist.”
 Culture is both public and individual
because individuals internalize the
meanings of public (cultural) messages.
Culture is Adaptive and
Culture is an adaptive strategy employed
by hominids.
 Because cultural behavior is motivated by
cultural factors, and not by environmental
constraints, cultural behavior can be
 Determining whether a cultural practice is
adaptive or maladaptive frequently
requires viewing the results of that
practice from several perspectives (from
the point of view of a different culture,
species, or time frame, for example).
Macro and Micro Culture
Macroculture - Culture that all humans share in a
general way - crosses local boundaries, may
exist among groups internationally (global
consumer culture that pervades upper-class
groups transnationally
Microculture - local culture - patterns of learned &
shared behavior and ideas in localized regions,
among particular groups - ethnic groups, racial
groups, genders, and age categories.
Levels of Culture
National culture refers to the experiences, beliefs,
learned behavior patterns, and values shared by
citizens of the same nation.
 International culture refers to cultural practices
which are common to an identifiable group
extending beyond the boundaries of one culture.
 Subcultures (microcultures) are identifiable
cultural patterns existing within a larger culture .
 Cultural practices and artifacts are transmitted
through diffusion.
Direct diffusion occurs when members of two or more
previously distinct cultures interact with each other.
 Indirect diffusion occurs when cultural artifacts or
practices are transmitted from one culture to another
through an intermediate third (or more) culture.
Levels of Culture
Levels of culture, with examples from sports and food.
Level of
Apple Pie
Big Joe Pork
Levels of Culture
This Roman
Catholic prayer
vigil in Seoul,
Korea helps to
illustrate the
international level
of culture.
Photo Credit: Kim Newton/Woodfin Camp &Assoc.
Ethnocentrism & Cultural
Ethnocentrism is the use of values, ideals,
and mores from one’s own culture to
judge the behavior of someone from
another culture.
Ethnocentrism is a cultural universal.
Ethnocentrism contributes to social solidarity.
Cultural Relativism asserts that cultural
values are arbitrary, and therefore the
values of one culture should not be used
as standards to evaluate the behavior of
persons from outside that culture.
Human Rights
The idea of universal, unalienable,
individual human rights challenges
cultural relativism by invoking a moral and
ethical code that is superior to any
country, culture, or religion.
 Cultural rights are vested in groups and
include a group’s ability to preserve its
cultural tradition.
 Cultural relativism does not preclude an
anthropologist from respecting
“international standards of justice and
Human Rights
This is an example
of the study of
ethnomedicine in
Papua New Guinea.
The notion of
Property Rights has
emerged to help
preserve each
societies cultural
base, which may
have commercial
Photo Credit: Ripoll/Association Kutubu/ Gamma Liaison
Culture: Universal and Particular
Cultural universals are features that
are found in every culture.
 Cultural generalities include features
that are common to several, but not
all human groups.
 Cultural particularities are features
that are unique to certain cultural
Cultural universals are those traits that
distinguish Homo sapiens from other
 Some biological universals include: a long
period of infant dependency, year-round
sexuality, and a complex brain that
enables us to use symbols, languages,
and tools.
 Some psychological universals include
the common ways in which humans think,
feel, and process information.
 Some social universals include: incest
taboos, life in groups, families (of some
kind), and food sharing.
Certain practices, beliefs, and the like may
be held commonly by more than one
culture, but not be universal; these are
called “generalities.”
 Diffusion and independent invention are
two main sources of cultural generalities.
 The nuclear family is a cultural generality
since it is present in most, but not all
Cultural practices that are unique to
any one culture are “cultural
 That these particulars may be of
fundamental importance to the
population is indicative of the need
to study the sources of cultural
Diffusion—defined as the spread of
culture traits through borrowing from one
culture to another—has been a source of
culture change throughout human history.
 Diffusion can be direct (between to
adjacent cultures) or indirect (across one
or more intervening cultures or through
some long distance medium).
 Diffusion can be forced (through warfare,
colonization, or some other kind of
domination) or unforced (e.g.,
intermarriage, trade, and the like).
Acculturation is the exchange of features
that results when groups come into
continuous, firsthand contact.
 Acculturation may occur in any or all
groups engaged in such contact.
 A pidgin is an example of acculturation,
because it is a language form that
develops by borrowing language elements
from two linguistically different
populations in order to facilitate
communication between the two.
Independent Invention
Independent invention is defined as the
creative innovation of new solutions to old
and new problems.
 Cultural generalities are partly explained
by the independent invention of similar
responses to similar cultural and
environmental circumstances.
 The independent invention of agriculture
in both the Middle East and Mexico is
cited as an example.
Convergent Cultural Evolution
Cultural convergence is the
development of similar traits,
institutions, and behavior patterns by
separate groups as a result of
adaptation to similar environments.
 Julian Steward pointed to instances
of cultural convergence to support
the hypothesis that cultural change
is governed by scientific laws.
 Globalization
encompasses a series of processes
that work to make modern nations and people
increasingly interlinked and mutually dependent.
 Economic and political forces take advantage of
modern systems of communication and
transportation to promote globalization.
 Globalization allows for the domination of local
peoples by larger economic and political systems
(these may be based regionally, nationally, and
 Recognizing the breadth and nature of changes
wrought through globalization carries the
concomitant need to recognize practices of
resistance, accommodation, and survival that
occur in response to same.
These men in a coffee
shop in Cairo, Egypt are
using a laptop computer
and smoking traditional
hookahs (pipes).
Photo Credit: Barry Iverson
Theoretical Debates
Biological Determinism vs. Cultural
• Interpretivism vs. Cultural Materialism
•Individual Agency vs. Structurism