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I. The Concept of CultureMilton Singer


II. Cultural RelativismDavid Bidney


III. CulturologyLeslie A. White


IV. Cultural AdaptationRobert L. Cameiro


V. Culture ChangeEvon Z. Vogt


The articles under this heading deal primarily with the nature and history of the concept of culture. The study of cultural and social anthropology is discussed under the headingAnthropology; the development of the concept of culture and its applications are reviewed inCulture and Personality; Diffusion; Ecology; Evolution; History, article onCulture History; Social structure. Culture patterns and configurations are described inIntegration, article onCultural integration, and in the biography ofBenedict. Other utilizations of the concept are reviewed inPolitical cultureandStratification, social, article onclass culture. The biographies ofBoas; Kroeber; Malinowski; andTylorshould also be consulted.


In his charter definition of the anthropological concept of “culture,” Tylor stated: “Culture or Civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” ([1871] 1958, vol. 1, p. 1). His definition does not distinguish social organization and social institutions from a general concept of culture.

This inclusive use of the term “culture” was continued by Boas, Malinowski, and other ethnologists. In other respects the later usage differs from Tylor’s in the new emphasis on the plurality of local cultures as functioning and organized wholes and in the loss of interest in the long-run evolution of discrete customs and institutions. With these many focuses, the three axioms of ninetenth-century anthropology—the psychic unity of mankind, the unity of human history, and the unity of culture— began to fade away. If such unities existed, it was thought, they would have to be laboriously pieced together from the comparative and intensive studies of many individual societies and cultures. Such universal principles could not be invoked as explanatory postulates.

This pluralistic and relativistic conception of culture, a product of the “Boas revolution” in anthropology, has characterized anthropological thought for almost fifty years, at least until the early 1950s, when a revival of interest in universalistic theories occurred. In its relativized form, anthropology did not, however, devote itself exclusively to the study of Tylorian culture. Under the leadership of Radcliffe-Brown social anthropology developed and was made the basis for a separation between social anthropology as the comparative study of “social structures” and ethnology and cultural anthropology, which study cultures comparatively or historically. This separation was probably first dramatized in a famous debate between W. H. R. Rivers, the teacher of Radcliffe-Brown, and A. L. Kroeber on the proper interpretation of L. H. Morgan’s distinction between classificatory and descriptive kinship systems. Out of this debate about the nature of kinship systems grew the two major rival anthropological theories of culture—the theory of “culture patterns,” best represented by Kroeber, and the theory of “social structure,” best represented by Radcliffe-Brown.

This rivalry is still very much alive, although some anthropologists have tried to moderate it with peacemaking formulas and with new, integrated theories. It has mobilized the major factions in modern anthropology and sociology, so that in Great Britain, Malinowski and his followers are regarded as students of culture and of cultural anthropology, while Radcliffe-Brown and his followers are regarded as students of social structure and of social anthropology. In the United States the contrast between culture and social structure has symbolized the institutional rivalry between anthropologists and sociologists. Not until 1958 did the dean of American anthropologists, A. L. Kroeber, and the dean of American sociologists, Talcott Parsons, agree to sign a nonaggression pact in which both culture and society are recognized (Kroeber & Parsons 1958).

British social anthropologists usually set themselves off from American anthropologists who have, with few exceptions, until recently emphasized studies of culture and cultural anthropology (Murdock 1949; Firth 1951). The national labels are out of place, since the “British” Radcliffe-Brown derives from the work of Morgan and the French sociological school, while the “American” cultural anthropologists derive from Tylor and, through Boas, the German diffusionists. Bronislaw Malinowski wrote the article on culture for the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences (1931), placing emphasis on culture as a functioning, active, efficient well-organized unity, which must be analyzed into component institutions in relation to one another, in relation to the needs of the human organism, and in relation to the environment, man-made as well as natural. This concept of culture became the “common sense” of an entire American generation of anthropologists in the 1930s and 1940s. Similarly, in the 1950s and 1960s, much of British social anthropology became the common sense of a younger generation of American anthropologists.

Behind this rivalry there are, of course, intellectual issues; however, in order to separate the genuine issues from the spurious, we cannot take at face value what the members of one school say about the views of another, nor can the chapter headings in an ethnographic monograph—religion and art, family and marriage—tell us whether the material is treated in a framework of culture patterns or of social structure. The decisive criterion is the general framework of theory which is used for the interpretation and explanation of a particular set of facts. There are two frameworks to discuss, that of “culture patterns” and that of “social structure.”

The pattern theory of culture

A significant text for pattern theory is the historical and critical review by A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn of several hundred definitions of culture and their heroic effort to arrive at a summary formulation which, they believed, would be acceptable to most social scientists:

Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action. (1952, p. 181)

This represents a condensation of much of what American anthropologists, at least in the 1940s and 1950s, would call culture. And it is certainly a richer and more adequate formulation than the well-known formula of the 1920s and 1930s, “culture is learned behavior,” which seemed so satisfying then. For as Kroeber and Kluckhohn observed, while the logical construct of culture is based on the study of behavior and behavioral products and makes behavior intelligible,

culture is not behavior nor the investigation of behavior in all its concrete completeness. Part of culture consists in norms for or standards of behavior. Still another part consists in ideologies justifying or rationalizing certain selected ways of behavior. Finally, every culture includes broad general principles of selectivity and ordering (”highest common factors”) in terms of which patterns of and for and about behavior in very varied areas of culture content are reducible to parsimonious generalization, (ibid., p. 189)

A. Irving Hallowell, himself one of the first anthropologists to apply learning theory to the study of culture, has come to a somewhat similar conclusion in a recent discussion of personality, culture, and society in behavioral evolution: “Cultural adaptation cannot be equated with learned and socially transmitted behavior, although it is one of the necessary conditions underlying it. Equally important in behavioral evolution is how much is learned and what is learned, relative to the psychological capacities and total life adjustments of the animal” (1963, p. 492). But even if we accept the Kroeber and Kluckhohn definition of the culture concept, as they themselves say: “But a concept, even an important one, does not constitute a theory… . In anthropology at present we have plenty of definitions but too little theory” (1952, p. 181).

There are, as they also point out, adumbrations of a general theory of culture in the works of Boas (1911), Sapir (1927), Benedict (1934), Linton (1936), Bateson (1936), Kluckhohn (1941), Kroeber ([1923] 1948, chapter 8; 1952; see also “Anthropological Horizons” 1962), White (1949), Opler (1945; 1946; 1959), and others. Essentially this general theory emphasizes the study of pattern, form, structure, and organization in culture rather than discrete culture traits and culture content. While influenced by biological analogies, the pattern theory is also closely affiliated with the nineteenth-century German school of cultural history and with gestalt psychology. Culture patterning is an “emergent” of human creativity transcending the limits of biology and the natural environment.

Different spheres of social life differ in susceptibility to patterning, and culture patterns differ in degrees of consciousness and complexity as well as in kind. The simplest patterns are the explicit and more or less objective patterns of behavior expressed in customs of dress, diet, work, and salutation, and in artifacts. Then there are the more complex patterns underlying social, political, and economic organization and the systems of religion, language, law, philosophy, science, and the arts. Among these Kroeber has distinguished those “basic” or “systemic” patterns in different fields of culture which have persisted (at least in their cultural descendants) for several thousand years as coherent organizations of traits with functional value (e.g., the alphabet, plow agriculture, monotheism), and the “secondary” patterns (of formal social organization, systems of thought, etc.), which are subject to greater variety and instability. Different again from all these kinds of culture patterns are those qualities of cultural organization which come to pervade all or most spheres of some cultures and give them a distinctive individual “slant.” Such are the implicit and unconscious configurations which Ruth Benedict described in her Patterns of Culture (1934). Kroeber saw these configurations as “patterns of patterns” in those cultures which have achieved stylistic integration. Acknowledging that they may have psychological correlates in personality traits, he preferred to analyze these total cultural patterns in cultural and historical terms.

The totality of human culture also contains an element of patterning that provides the general framework for individual cultures and represents a historical summation of those cultures which have segregated themselves out as crystallized historical configurations of culture. The “universal pattern” of human history, in either sense, is not yet known but can only be gradually discovered through comparative-historical studies of the systemic, secondary, and configurational patterns in all cultures, primitive and civilized (Kroeber & Kluckhohn 1952, p. 185; “Anthropological Horizons” 1962).

There are no absolute units or natural boundaries for cultural-historical studies. “The lines of demarcation of any cultural unit chosen for description and analysis are in large part a matter of level of abstraction and of convenience for the problem at hand. Occidental culture, Graeco-Roman culture, nineteenth-century European culture, German culture, Swabian culture, the peasant culture of the Black Forest in 1900—these are all equally legitimate abstractions if carefully defined” (Kroeber & Kluckhohn 1952, p. 185).

Culture patterns tend to persist as organized bodies of custom in spite of changes in items of culture content. Changes in individual items can be explained as selections and rejections consistent with the cultural patterns. But the patterns themselves are also subject to change. There is a cultural orthogenesis, in which “the direction of at least some culture change is more predetermined by earlier forms of the culture than caused by environmental press and individual variability” (ibid., p. 189). Sapir called this “cultural drift”: “Whenever the human mind has worked collectively and unconsciously, it has striven for and often attained unique form. The important point is that the evolution of form has a drift in one direction, that it seeks poise, and that it rests, relatively speaking, when it has found this poise” (quoted in ibid., p. 182).

The relevance of “cultural drift” to studies of cultural continuity and change is obvious. Eggan (1963) has recently applied it to an analysis of cultural changes in the Philippines, and Redfield and the present writer have suggested ways in which the role of cities in cultural change may be interpreted as the product of “orthogenetic” and “heterogenetic” processes (see the article by Red-field & Singer in Redfield 1962; also see Singer 1959).

Another important kind of pattern change has been analyzed by Kroeber in his Configurations of Culture Growth (1944). In this and in later discussions Kroeber showed that the rise and the decline of civilizations can be viewed as phases in the growth and realization of stylistic configurations. The clustering of the peak periods of cultural creativity in each civilization within limited time periods suggests the importance of critical periods of “ripeness” in the process of cultural growth and innovation (Kroeber 1957; 1963).

Pattern theory assumes that culture is created by individuals and groups and interacts with them as well as with the environment. However, these interactions of biology, psychology, and geography are the given conditions and starting points for cultural growth but not its determinants. Such a theory views the process of cultural growth as a historical process, as Boas emphasized, a “growing together” of elements of culture content from different sources, which have become associated in a historical configuration. The end result of this historical process, at any given time, is an associated set of patterns, a precipitate of the history of a particular group, of its past choices, conscious and unconscious. Culture is this precipitate “present in persons, shaping their perceptions of events, other persons, and the environing situation in ways not wholly determined by biology and environmental press. Culture is an intervening variable between human ’organism’ and ’environment’” (Kroeber & Kluckhohn 1952, p. 186). It is “an abstract description of trends toward uniformity in the words, acts, and artifacts of human groups” (ibid., p. 182).

Culture pattern theory has also been used in acculturation studies (Spicer 1962) and in studies which try to relate culture patterns to personality structure (reviewed in Singer 1961; and in Mead 1962) or to changes in environment and demography (Steward 1955).

Applications of pattern theory tend to avoid causal hypotheses, because culture is so intricate, multiple and cumulative that there seems no point in looking for specific external causes of specific cultural forms, either in deterministic laws or in cross-cultural statistical correlations. The primary research task of a pattern theorist is to delineate culture patterns and, beyond that, to compare and classify types of patterns as well as to distinguish the most fundamental and constant patterns from the secondary and variable ones.

Social structure as a theory of culture

The theory of social structure was first developed in an important series of papers by Radcliffe-Brown in the 1930s and 1940s and has since been considerably extended. “Social structure,” is defined by Radcliffe-Brown as a network or system of social relations including persistent social groups and differentiated social classes and social roles. In Radcliffe-Brown’s formulation the theory follows the organic analogy very closely; thus comparative social morphology is concerned with studying and classifying the different types of social structure and social physiology with studying how particular types of social structure function. It is assumed as a working hypothesis that each structural system is a functional unity in which all the component parts contribute in a harmonious way to its existence and continuity. To test this hypothesis all kinds of social phenomena—morals, law, etiquette, religion, government, economics, education, language—need to be studied “not in abstraction or isolation, but in their direct and indirect relations to social structure, i.e. with reference to the way in which they depend upon, or affect the social relations between persons and groups of persons” (Radcliffe-Brown 1952, p. 195).

The study of how particular types of social structure change into new structural types forms a third branch of the theory of social structure. This study requires assistance from history and archeology to trace the actual processes in the formation and transformation of particular structural types. Radcliffe-Brown suggested that the hypothesis of social evolution, which he accepted as plausible, should be defined “as the process by which wide-range systems of social structure have grown out of, or replaced, narrow range systems” (ibid., p. 204).

Radcliffe-Brown’s formulation of the theory of social structure is universal; it is intended to apply to societies of all kinds, at all places and times. In practice, Radcliffe-Brown and others at first restricted social anthropology to a comparative study of the social structure and social physiology of contemporary nonliterate and simple societies. Since primitive societies were assumed not to have histories or historical records, the study of structural change was also restricted to cases of contact with civilized societies. These limitations led to a definition of social anthropology as the intensive study of the structural systems of small, nonliterate communities, or “primitive isolates.”

Developments in social anthropology have since relaxed these restrictions, and studies of structural change in primitive and simple societies have undertaken to combine history and archeology with structural-functional analysis (as in the work of Eggan, Evans-Pritchard, and M. G. Smith) or to restudy the same society at different periods (as in the work of Redfield, Firth, and others); the study of structural conflicts in simple societies was undertaken and the assumption of stability was dropped (Leach, Gluckman, Fallers); and studies of the social structures of peasant and modern communities and of civilizations were begun (Red-field, Warner, Geertz, Firth, Schneider, M. Freedman, E. Wolf and others).

These developments have broadened social anthropology and have brought it closer to the original universal scope of the theory of social structure. The expansion of social anthropology to include macrostructural studies of peasant societies, modern communities, and civilizations has gone more smoothly in comparative social morphology than in social physiology. The reasons for this are obvious—it is relatively easier to trace networks of social relations, social classes, and social groups in a large-scale society than it is to demonstrate how such a macrostructural system constitutes a functioning, integrated unity. To demonstrate the existence of such a functional unity requires consideration of the results of different approaches, such as economics, political science, literary studies, and art history, each of which has made some specialized aspect or subsystem of the total society its peculiar subject matter. Structural changes, on the other hand, are easier to trace at this level because of the longer time perspectives and data provided by historical and archeological studies.

The boundaries and identity of the unit of study also became more problematic when social anthropology moved beyond the primitive isolate. Radcliffe-Brown was very much aware of this difficulty: “It is rarely that we find a community that is absolutely isolated, having no outside contact. At the present moment of history, the network of social relations spreads over the whole world, without any absolute solution of continuity anywhere” (ibid., p. 193).

If this is so, what then is a unit society, asks Radcliffe-Brown? “Is the British Empire a society or a collection of societies? Is a Chinese village a society, or is it merely a fragment of the Republic of China?” The answer is pragmatic: “If we take any convenient locality of a suitable size, we can study the structural system as it appears in and from that region, i.e. the network of relations connecting the inhabitants amongst themselves and with the people of other regions” (ibid.).

Thus, finding the suitable and convenient unit of society becomes a matter of the problem at hand and the resources one has available for dealing with it. In effect, then, there is no “natural” unit of society most suitable for structural analysis which can be defined at the beginning of fieldwork; natural units emerge in the form of structural types only as the results of intensive field studies, comparison, abstraction, classification, and generalization.

Radcliffe-Brown and other adherents of the theory of social structure tended to avoid using the term “culture” after the early 1930s. This avoidance is based on the claim that social anthropology studies social structure, not culture. This claim is misleading. In fact, the theory of social structure both explicitly and implicitly incorporates a concept of culture. Fortes, for example, writes that social structure and social organization are not just “an aspect of culture but the entire culture of a given people handled in a special frame of theory” (1953, p. 21). Fortes uses “culture” in almost precisely the same sense as Kroeber and Kluckhohn. In this frame “the facts of custom—the standardized ways of doing, knowing, thinking, and feeling —universally obligatory and valued in a given group of people at a given time” are then seen “as symbolizing or expressing social relations” (ibid.).

This special frame of theory is obviously Radcliffe-Brown’s social physiology. Without using the word “culture” Radcliffe-Brown acknowledges the concept when he defines a social system as “the total social structure of a society together with the totality of social usages in which that structure appears and on which it depends for its continued existence” (1952, p. 181). These social usages include morals, law, etiquette, religion, government, education, and every kind of social phenomenon which is a part of “the complex mechanism by which a social structure exists and persists” (ibid., p. 195). Social physiology, in other words, is a frame of theory which tries to relate all aspects of culture, in Tylor’s sense, to social structure as a network of social relations.

That a concept of culture is implicit in the theory of social structure is usually overlooked because of the notion that social anthropology deals with “actually existing social relations” and not with such abstractions as culture. Radcliffe-Brown, who occasionally writes in this vein (e.g., ibid., pp. 189–190), nevertheless makes it quite clear that while actually existing social relations may provide the raw data of observation, they are not the same thing as the social structure, which is derived from them by abstraction and generalization.

In the study of social structure the concrete reality with which we are concerned is the set of actually existing relations, at a given moment of time, which link together certain human beings. It is on this that we can make direct observations. But it is not this that we attempt to describe in its particularity… . What we need for scientific purposes is an account of the form of the structure. For example, if in an Australian tribe I observe in a number of instances the behaviour towards one another of persons who stand in the relation of mother’s brother and sister’s son, it is in order that I may be able to record as precisely as possible the general or normal form of this relationship, abstracted from the variations of particular instances, though taking account of these variations, (ibid., p. 192)

A social structure, then, is not something directly observed but an abstraction of structural forms from the actually existing relations, which are observable. These abstracted “structural forms” or “normal forms of social relations” cannot be described or understood without reference to culture: “Social relations are only observed, and can only be described, by reference to the reciprocal behaviour of the persons related. The form of a social structure has therefore to be described by the patterns of behaviour to which individuals and groups conform in their dealings with one another” (ibid., p. 198).

Such behavior patterns sound very much like Kluckhohn and Kroeber’s explicit and implicit patterns: “These patterns are partially formulated in rules which, in our own society, we distinguish as rules of etiquette, of morals and of law. Rules, of course, only exist in their recognition by the members of the society; either in their verbal recognition, when they are stated as rules, or in their observance in behaviour” (ibid.).

At the very heart of the theory of social structure we find the concept of culture as a set of rules, implicit or explicit, of standardized modes of behavior and thought. The concept of culture is also implicit in Radcliffe-Brown’s definition of “a social relation” as a mutual adjustment of interests between persons: “Whenever we say that a subject has a certain interest in an object we can state the same thing by saying that the object has a certain value for the subject. Interests and values are correlative terms, which refer to the two sides of an asymmetrical relation” (ibid., p. 199).

This conception of a value as any object of any interest, derived from the American philosopher R. B. Perry, is extended by Radcliffe-Brown to a definition of “a social value” as the object of a common interest. This leads Radcliffe-Brown to the position that values—and their correlative interests —are the determinants of social relations, and hence of social structure. The foundations of the theory of social structure are thus two intangibles —social values and psychological interests.

It is now clear why the theory of social structure can dispense with the word “culture”: it has incorporated the culture concept into the core of the theory, for the theory of social structure deals with social relations not simply as concrete actually existing objects of observations but as institutionalized and standardized modes of behavior and thought whose normal forms are socially recognized in the explicit or implicit rules to which the members of a given society tend to conform.

Culture patterns and social structure as parallel and as complementary

There is a striking formal parallelism between the theory of culture patterns and the theory of social structure. Both are holistic theories in the sense that they try to cover all aspects of society and culture—law, politics, economy, technology, kinship and social organization, art, literature, language, religion, philosophy, science, and so on. Fortes’ formulation applies to both theories: each provides a special frame of theory to handle the entire culture of a people. Or, to put it a little differently, each theory incorporates Tylor’s omnibus concept of culture in a different frame. Both theories are universalistic: they are intended to apply to all kinds of societies and cultures, and not to just one special kind. Each theory defines its basic concepts in such a way that it is possible to deal with different levels and hierarchies of pattern and structures, including the possibility of a single world-wide culture pattern and a world-wide network of social relations.

The early field studies of “primitive” and small-scale societies and cultures were in part associated with two kinds of theoretical interests: the lingering interest in the origins and evolutionary place of “contemporary primitives” and the belief that primitive societies and cultures are instances of simple, functionally integrated units. It was in the latter connection that both the theory of culture patterns and that of social structure came to be thought of as essentially theories of the primitive isolate. As both theories were extended to peasant villages and to modern urban communities, however, the primitive isolate gradually faded as a natural unit; thus liberated, both theories were applied to morphological, functional, and historical studies of both the culture patterns and the social organization of civilizations.

The parallels between the theory of culture patterns and the theory of social structure are numerous and striking. Both theories have explanatory aims, although each finds different factors to be primary.

The relation between basic and secondary patterns, on the one hand, and between the “substructure” of social relations and the “superstructure” of culture, on the other, is not necessarily causal, but it has explanatory value. This, therefore, is the parallelism between the two theories; the difference arises from the fact that the pattern theory does not specify which aspects of culture and society are most likely to form basic patterns—they may be matters of religion, technological invention, or ideas—while the structural theory assigns basic explanatory value to social relations. This difference, in relation to a particular individual society or culture, is not very great, because the structural theory considers an “explanation” achieved when it has shown how each part contributes functionally to the existence and continuity of a particular type of social structure, while the pattern theory’s desideratum for “explanation” is to show how each part fits into an over-all configuration or stylistic pattern of the culture.

The difference between the two concepts is not that one is an abstraction and the other a concrete, observable unit of behavior, for both are abstractions of regularities from observations of actual behavior, whether these regularities are implicit and unconscious or explicit and verbalized. That social structure, too, is an abstraction and not a directly observable, concrete reality was first effectively argued by Bateson (1936) and subsequently reaffirmed by Fortes (1949), Firth (1951), Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952), Nadel (1951), Eggan (1955), Redfield (1955; 1956), Lévi-Strauss (1953), Leach (1954), Schneider (1965), and others. Radcliffe-Brown himself in an earlier paper acknowledged this when he wrote:

In human society the social structure as a whole can only be observed in its functioning. Some of the features of social structure, such as the geographical distribution of individuals and groups can be directly observed, but most of the social relations which in their totality constitute the structure, such as relations of father and son, buyer and seller, ruler and subject, cannot be observed except in the social activities in which the relations are functioning. (1952, p. 181)

A particularly concise and lucid formulation of the issue has been made by Firth:

If … society is taken to be an organized set of individuals with a given way of life, culture is that way of life. If society is taken to be an aggregate of social relations, then culture is the content of those relations. Society emphasizes the human component, the aggregate of people and the relations between them. Culture emphasizes the component of accumulated resources, immaterial as well as material, which the people inherit, employ, transmute, add to, and transmit. (1951, p. 27)

Both Eggan (1955) and Redfield (1962) have systematically analyzed the differences and similarities between the complementary abstractions, culture and social structure. Eggan’s summary includes the essential points: social structures are more limited in variety of forms and more predictable in terms of change than culture patterns and may vary independently; social relations are more abstract and more difficult to grasp than are cultural forms and less likely to be borrowed; social integration and cultural integration are defined by different criteria and can vary independently of one another; cultural integration is perhaps the more essential for personality integration, although the integration of the individual into groups is also important; the data and forms of culture seem to be more amenable to historical study, and social structures more amenable to classification and comparison, although the method of controlled comparison can and should be applied both to social structure and to culture patterns in a given historical framework (Eggan [1955] 1962, pp. 490–501).

Eggan explains the major differences between British social anthropology and American ethnology in terms of the emphasis given to one or the other side of this complementarity:

The British social anthropologists tend to think of themselves as sociologists concerned primarily with the social structures and institutions of primitive societies, or they utilize social structure as a frame for the organization and interpretation of cultural phenomena; most American ethnologists consider culture as the major concept and point of departure and subordinate social structure to it, if they utilize this concept at all, preferring to operate with concepts of culture pattern and cultural form, (ibid., p. 490)

Yet Eggan, along with everyone else who has stressed the complementary nature of the concepts of social structure and culture, emphasizes that these

two aspects of social behavior—social structure and cultural pattern—cannot exist independently of one another in human society: society and culture are mutually dependent, and social relations are carried, or exemplified, only in cultural behavior. Social institutions partake of both aspects: they are composed of individuals organized through recurring social relationships into a social structure, with a set of attitudes, beliefs, and behavior patterns through which the structure is exemplified and the institutional ends achieved. (ibid., p. 492)

If the complementarity between social structure and culture pattern is so intimate and interdependent, how is it possible to construct a global theory of either concept by itself? Eggan suggests that the actual field studies by British social anthropologists and American ethnologists show fewer differences than their theoretical formulations would lead one to expect. This is probably true, but leaves the theoretical formulations in doubt. For if social structure and culture pattern are complementary abstractions, then it follows that a theory of social structure must also make a place for the concept of culture pattern and that a theory of culture patterns must make a place for the concept of social structure. Each is a comprehensive theory which includes both concepts, but not on a basis of equality. The pattern theory subordinates social structure to culture, and the structural theory reverses the subordination. Acceptance of the complementarity of the two concepts is consistent with both theories and does not, therefore, account for the difference between the structural and pattern theories of culture.

Cultural versus structural explanations of kinship systems

The best clue to the difference between the pattern theory and the structural theory is to be found in the Rivers-Kroeber-Radcliffe-Brown debate over Morgan’s distinction between “classificatory” and “descriptive” kinship systems. This debate is well known in the history of kinship studies and served to crystallize the difference between the concepts of a kinship system as a “cultural system” and as a “social system” and the difference between a pattern and a structural theory of culture. All the issues in this debate are by no means dead, so far as can be judged from the revival of Kroeber’s earlier position in the recent development of “componential analysis” of kinship by Goodenough and Lounsbury and, to some extent, in Lévi-Strauss’s “structuralism.” We shall deal briefly with the debate here only insofar as it stimulated both Kroeber and Radcliffe-Brown to sharpen the difference between structural and cultural explanations of kinship systems, and, a fortiori, of other systems as well.

Kroeber’s 1909 paper, “Classificatory Systems of Relationship,” in addition to criticizing Morgan’s conception of classificatory kinship systems, proposed to compare and classify all kinship terminologies in terms of a limited number of categories of relationship and the degree to which these categories are recognized and expressed in different terminological systems. Kroeber identified eight such categories: difference in generation, difference of age in generation, difference between lineal and collateral relatives, sex of relative, sex of speaker, sex of connecting relative, difference between relation by marriage and by blood, and condition of life of connecting relative. In the 1909 paper he used these categories to compare English kin terms and those of several North American Indian languages. His conclusion from this comparison was that while the English terms give expression to a smaller number of the categories, each set of terms forms a consistent and self-contained system. From the comparison he also drew a more general conclusion—that one cannot reconstruct specific social institutions and forms of marriage from specific systems of kinship terms, as was the common practice, because “terms of relationship reflect psychology not sociology,” and are “determined primarily by language and can be utilized for sociological inferences only with extreme caution” (p. 84).

Under the pressure of criticism from Rivers and later from Radcliffe-Brown, both of whom defended the “sociological” theory, Kroeber clarified what he meant by “psychological” and “linguistic” determination of systems of kinship terms. He meant, he explained later, that the systems were “clean-cut made-to-order patterns of culture, speech, and conceptualization” (1952, p. 174). Certainly, kinship terminologies are part of a language, and as such they are classifications, and classifications are based on categories. The categories are conceptual categories subject to the patterning of “unconscious logic.” The result is “a pattern of semantic classification for thinking and speaking of blood relationship.” Some of these patterns may possess “a surprising historical tenacity,” as Kroeber shows in the case of the Philippine kinship system. Such semantic patterns, or “logical schemes,” may also correspond to social institutions, as in the Philippine system, but the correspondence is between the total pattern of terminology and the total pattern of institutions, and reflects the underlying logical scheme rather than any exact detailed causality between kin terms and institutions. The correspondence of the terminology with the general level of culture— language and religion, for example—may be even looser. A kinship terminology, in Kroeber’s view, is primarily a semantic pattern, that is, a pattern of speech and thought, and only secondarily and in special cases is it correlated with a pattern of social institutions.

Kroeber was interested in linguistic and logical systems for their own sake and believed that culture was too intricate to be easily unraveled according to any formula of exact causal determinism. He saw kinship terminologies, like other aspects of culture, as historically developed and, to some extent, independent, stylistic patterns. Patterns of formal social structure, such as clans, moieties, totems, and unilateral groups, are also examples of such stylistic differentiation and secondary elaboration of the primary patterns of subsistence and residence. Kinship terminologies and formal social structures are kinds of culture patterns which, among primitive peoples, express the impulse toward cultural play, innovation, and unconscious experiment. The extent of their mutual correspondence is a matter of historical and functional adjustment and varies from culture to culture. “Kinship terminologies are pattern systems of semantic logic, highly variable in detail and historically derivable, but also classifiable” into “natural types” (ibid., p. 172). In this respect they are analogous to linguistic families and biological types.

Radcliffe-Brown was stimulated by the Rivers-Kroeber debate to develop a concept of kinship system which differed from both of these and which became the foundation of his structural theory. Radcliffe-Brown included in his concept several of the components suggested by Kroeber; he agreed with Kroeber that the terminology of kinship is an intrinsic part of the system and an important starting point for its study. He accepted the position that kin terms designate “categories of relation,” although Radcliffe-Brown did not restrict his analysis to Kroeber’s underlying eight categories. For Radcliffe-Brown, however, a set of kinship terms and associated categories did not constitute a kinship system as it did for Kroeber in the form of a relatively independent semantic system. Radcliffe-Brown agreed that terms and categories do reflect the way a people generally think and feel about kinship, but he believed that social institutions also reflect such general modes of thought and should also be included in the conception of a kinship system. On this point he sided with Rivers rather than with Kroeber: social practices, including forms of marriage, are regularly connected with kinship terminologies. Radcliffe-Brown’s distinctive contribution was the way in which he analyzed these connections. He did not accept Rivers’ causal analysis of the connections or their use for historical reconstruction; kin terms and social institutions are, for him, related, not as cause and effect, but as component and interdependent parts of a structural system. Within such a system the kin terms are used to establish and recognize particular categories of relatives, and the categories fix the actual social relations between the relatives who belong to these categories. The particular behavior manifested in the social relations between relatives is defined by legally formulated rights and duties or by socially approved usages. In this functionally interdependent system, there is no line or direction of causality running either from kinship terminology to standard kinship behavior or conversely. Both terminology and behavior are reflections of the underlying structural principle or principles by which the system is organized and characterized. These principles, such as that of sibling solidarity or solidarity of the patrilineal lineage, need to be discovered by intensive study and comparison of different kinship systems. Why some societies differ in the structural principles they have selected as the basis of their kinship systems and of their respective social structures can only be answered by historical study of how the systems developed in particular environments.

The difference between Kroeber’s and Radcliffe-Brown’s ideas of a kinship system is an illustration and source of the difference between the pattern theory of culture and the structural theory. A kinship system for Kroeber is one of several kinds of culture pattern—as a semantic system it is governed by an inner logic, is historically derived, and has some functional significance. Its relation to social institutions and 10 other aspects of culture is not causal and not entirely accidental but is rather the relation of one culture pattern to other culture patterns which have become historically associated with it and which have undergone some mutual adjustments. In this paradigm, social structure is subordinated to culture only in the sense that social institutions are also subject to the patterning of the experimental play impulse of human creativity.

The Radcliffe-Brown structural paradigm, on the other hand, obviously includes culture as a component of the system. Culture is subordinated to social structure only in the sense that both kin terms and the social usages defining socially approved behavior between relatives are brought together into a single system organized by structural principles. Although history is considered essential for understanding how a system came to be organized the way it is, the morphology and functioning of the system can be understood without reference to its history. If Kroeber’s pattern theory makes social institutions subject to patterning, Radcliffe-Brown’s structural theory makes culture a component of a structural system, that is, subject to “structuring.”

The social organization of culture

Both Kroeber and Radcliffe-Brown regarded kinship systems as natural systems. This was so for Kroeber if they could be shown to be systemic culture patterns and for Radcliffe-Brown if they could be shown to conform to a type of social structure. The natural systems, whether culture patterns or structural types, emerge in the course of field studies and comparative analysis; the boundaries of such systems are relative to the problem being studied.

Thus we may study the culture patterns or the social structures of villages, towns, cities, regions, nations, civilizations, as well as of occupations, social classes, castes, religious sects, or of any groups that may turn out to have them. The interrelation of patterns and structures in groups of different size and composition may also be traced, albeit with extensions and modifications of the methods of analysis that have been used to study the cultural patterns or social structures of relatively small, isolated, and homogeneous groups. How is this extension to be made?

In 1948 Kroeber wrote that “perhaps how it comes to be is really more distinctive of culture than what it is” (see [1923] 1948, p. 253). And in 1949 and 1952 Radcliffe-Brown talked of culture as “the process by which a person acquires, from contact with other persons or from such things as books or works of art, knowledge, skill, ideas, beliefs, tastes, sentiments” (1952, pp. 4–5). In a particular society one may discover processes of cultural tradition and “in complex modern societies there are a great number of separate cultural traditions. By one a person may learn to be a doctor or surgeon, by another he may learn to be an engineer or an architect” (ibid., p. 5).

”Culture” is thus reintroduced by Radcliffe-Brown as the process by which, in a given social group or social class, learned ways of thinking, feeling, and acting are transmitted from person to person and from one generation to the next. He does not, however, reinstate it as an independent concept but assimilates it to the social process.

Neither Radcliffe-Brown nor Kroeber developed his respective theory further to take into account those processes of interpersonal interaction by which, in a particular society, separate cultural traditions are formed, transmitted, and modified or those processes by which communication is established among separate local cultural traditions, one with another and with wider regional and national cultural traditions. It was Robert Red-field who suggested that these problems might be fruitfully studied through a study of the institutionalized social relations involved in the transmission of cultural traditions. He formulated his suggestion in the concept of “the social organization of tradition,” which he defined as “the way in which elements of action are put together in any particular case of transmission of tradition.” In analogy with Firth’s distinction between social organization and social structure (1951) and Radcliffe-Brown’s distinction between organization and structure (1952, p. 11), the social organization of a cultural tradition represents the expression in concrete, organized activities of “the social structure of tradition,” or, in Redfield’s words, “those persisting and important arrangements of roles and statuses appearing in such corporate groups as castes and sects, or in teachers, reciters, ritual leaders of one kind or another, that are concerned with the cultivation and inculcation of the great tradition” (1956, p. 101). Redfield also generalized these concepts of the social organization and structure of cultural traditions to a conception of a civilization as a structure of different levels and kinds of cultural traditions (”little” and “great”) in mutual contact and communication. Civilizations have both a “societal structure” and a “cultural structure” (Redfield 1962).

These conceptions have proved very fruitful for the study of civilizations, particularly in India which, indeed, has been the major empirical source and proving ground, and they are beginning to be applied to other civilizations. They have stimulated studies of how specific networks of social relations (marriage, trade, political administration, etc.) also serve as channels of cultural transmission; of “cultural performances” as the chief vehicles for discovering and expressing a sense of “cultural identity”; of the roles of different kinds of “cultural specialists” and “cultural policy makers” in forming and changing “cultural identities”; and of continuity and change in the cultural traditions of a historic civilization, and so on (see Singer 1964a, for a review of some of these studies). One reason why this approach is fruitful is that it bypasses the older antinomies—”How can one culture pattern produce another without the intervention of specific agencies?” or “How can ’social structures’ be causally correlated with ’culture patterns’?” By concentrating on the institutionalized social relations, media, and functionaries which transmit specific cultural traditions from person to person and from group to group, this approach is at once both structural and cultural.

This approach to the study of culture is sometimes criticized for being too humanistic, too subjective and evaluational in contrast to the alleged objective and value-free character of other approaches. This is an unjustified criticism. All definitions of culture have contained implicit positive evaluations of the elements of culture and have not been neutral and objective. To bring these implicit evaluations to the surface it is only necessary to conduct the experiment of turning the elements of any of the definitions into their opposites or to ask why, if culture is a neutral concept, one would not think of applying it to a group that lacked the elements of the definition—for example, language, art, knowledge, and skills. The implicit evaluation is that culture consists of positive achievements and desirable characteristics. Even in the context of evolutionary discussions, where one problem is to differentiate human culture from animal behavior, the ostensibly objective definition of culture as learned behavior in contrast to instinctive behavior has not proved very differentiating. And it will not be very useful until, as Hallowell and others have pointed out, we can specify what and how much has been learned and how the learning is transmitted and modified; in other words, until we can tell how learned is learned behavior.

George Stocking, Jr., is probably correct in linking the normative elements in Tylor’s definition of culture to nineteenth-century humanistic discussions such as are to be found in Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (Stocking 1963). But Stocking’s highly illuminating article tends to understate the differences between the Tylor conception and that of Arnold. For what was distinctive about Tylor’s conception of culture was not its nonnormative character—Stocking is quite right to challenge this myth—but the breadth of its application. Tylor and anthropologists after him have been able to find evidences of culture among the most primitive and lowly peoples, but many humanists are not yet prepared to accept this finding. In spite of his apparently ethnocentric preference for nineteenth-century English institutions, Tylor sought “to treat mankind as homogeneous in nature, though placed in different grades of civilization,” without regard to hereditary differences. From this broad perspective he could see “scarce a hand’s breadth difference between an English ploughman and a negro of Central Africa.”

Some humanists have come to accept the anthropologists’ broad use of the term “culture.” T. S. Eliot, for example, in his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture is very close to this anthropological usage when he writes that in his usage “it includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people,” among the British, for example, “Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar” ([1948] 1949, p. 30).

The problem then in studies of the social organization of cultural traditions and of the relations between the “little traditions” of the uneducated and the “great traditions” of the learned, is not to avoid the normative aspects of culture, an impossible task in any case, but to develop further the methods for observing and analyzing specific cultural traditions within a framework of a general theory of culture.

I have not referred to recent studies of the social organization of cultural traditions in order to introduce still a third general theory of culture to compete with the pattern and social structure theories. On the contrary, these studies illustrate one of the ways in which these two general theories can be extended, with a little modification, to the study of culture in composite societies and in complex historic civilizations.

Current developments—the new ethnography

In the 1930s and 1940s, Radcliffe-Brown’s analysis of kinship systems as social systems tended to prevail over Kroeber’s analysis of them as semantic patterns, even among American anthropologists who had accepted the pattern theory of culture in preference to a structural-functional theory. This situation was later reversed by a return to Kroeber’s semantic analysis of kinship systems. The revival of the semantic analysis of kinship is largely the result of new developments in linguistics and is in turn generating a new theory of culture to compete with structural-functional theory.

Componential analysis

In their papers on the componential analysis of kinship terms, both published in 1956, Goodenough and Lounsbury acknowledge Kroeber’s precedent. The more immediate sources of componential analysis, however, probably come from the methods of phonemic analysis. The analysis of kinship terminologies into their necessary and sufficient conceptual components resembles Kroeber’s earlier efforts to identify a minimal list of conceptual categories of relations and results in a similar conception of a kinship system as a semantic or cognitive system. Methods analogous to componential analysis have been applied to other kinds of folk terminologies—for plants, diseases, colors, directions—in order to determine the underlying semantic structures of the cognitive systems.

These extensions of componential analysis have been regarded as applications of a new method in ethnography and even as a new discipline, “ethnoscience.” Underlying these extensions and the programs of the “new ethnography” is a theory of culture, most explicitly formulated by Goodenough. According to his formulation, culture “is not a material phenomenon; it does not consist of things, people, behavior, or emotions. It is rather an organization of these things. It is the forms of things that people have in mind, their models for perceiving, relating, and otherwise interpreting them” (Goodenough [1957] 1964, p. 36).

The externals and observables—what people say and do, their social arrangements and events—are “products … of their culture as they apply it to the task of perceiving and dealing with their circumstances” (ibid.). Culture then consists of the “concepts” and “models” which people have in their minds for organizing and interpreting their experiences. Goodenough believes that “it is obviously impossible to describe a culture properly simply by describing behavior or social, economic, and ceremonial events and arrangements as observed material phenomena. What is required is to construct a theory of the conceptual models which they represent and of which they are artifacts” (ibid.).

Since the theory is to be empirical, Goodenough proposes as tests of its validity that it predict how informants will behave in response to what goes on in the community as well as in response to the ethnographer’s behavior. In operational practice, however, the concepts and models of a culture are learned “when we learn the system of meanings for which its linguistic forms stand. Much descriptive ethnography is inescapably an exercise in descriptive semantics” (ibid., p. 39). This is as true of every human being learning his own culture as it is of the ethnographer trying to learn another’s culture. Accordingly, “language is not only a part of culture” but “a major instrument for learning it” (ibid.).

This approach does not exclude the nonlinguistic aspects of culture, since “nonlinguistic forms have systematic relationships to each other in paradigms and combine in accordance with principles analogous to those of linguistic morphology and syntax” (ibid.). To one who knows the culture, the non-linguistic aspects “are also signs signifying the cultural forms or models of which they are the material representations” (ibid., p. 36).

Goodenough’s semantic and conceptual theory of culture bears a resemblance to Kroeber’s pattern theory. Kroeber’s semantic analysis, however, was explicitly applied only to the linguistic aspects of culture, to language, and to kinship terminologies. He did not explicitly extend this kind of analysis to other kinds of culture patterning, for example, to patterns of social structure. In Goodenough’s theory, and in the new ethnography, the semantic analysis is generalized to all aspects of culture. All patterns in a culture are conceptual patterns, and if some of the conceptual patterns are not directly expressed in the vocabulary of the language, their semantic structure can nevertheless be determined by analyzing the nonlinguistic forms as “artifacts” and “signs” of the conceptual patterns. All culture thus becomes cognitive and conceptual, and since, according to Goodenough, an individual can know only the concepts in his own mind, his “private culture” is more real than any “public culture.”

The new structuralism

The componential analysis of kinship terminologies treats social structure explicitly only insofar as it can be reduced to a semantic structure and only in terms of a corresponding “cognitive structure.” More direct attention is given to social structure in Lévi-Strauss’s structural anthropology. This theory combines features of both Kroeber and Radcliffe-Brown and adds some original elements of its own. As in the other cases, the analysis of kinship systems is paradigmatic of the general theory. Lévi-Strauss accepts Radcliffe-Brown’s views that there is a relation of interdependence between kinship terminologies and kinship behavior and attitudes and that the interdependence is not one of linear causality. In agreement with Kroeber, however, he does not believe that the relations of interdependence are point-for-point correspondences. Terminologies, on the one hand, and behavior and attitude, on the other, can be analyzed as separate systems and compared with one another as well as with other kinds of systems, such as those of social organization, religion, myth, ritual, and political ideology. These comparisons can be made within a single society or culture as well as between different societies and cultures. A single culture is “a fragment of humanity which, from the point of view of the research at hand and of the scale on which the latter is carried out, presents significant discontinuities in relation to the rest of humanity” (Lévi-Strauss [1953] 1963, p. 295).

So far this sounds very much like the pattern theory—a kinship terminology is one kind of culture pattern related by varying degrees of morphological and historical relations to other kinds of culture patterns. Lévi-Strauss introduces, however, a far more abstract and mathematical notion of system and structure than either Radcliffe-Brown or Kroeber. Lévi-Strauss makes explicit the distinction in Radcliffe-Brown’s analysis between networks of social relations as the raw materials of observation and social structure as an abstract model of these relations; he goes on to generalize the concept of structure to its mathematical and logical level, as the regular order of relations among elements of any kind. Distinguishing the relationship between kinship terminologies and kinship behavior is thus a problem of constructing structural models for systems of kinship terminologies and for systems of kinship behavior and then investigating whether the relations existing between the structures are homologous, contradictory, and so on. Lévi-Strauss believes that the relations between the structures of kin terms and behavior are dialectical and functional; while behavior and attitudes reflect the terminological classification somewhat, they are at the same time responsive to contradictions created by the terminological classification. Resolving these contradictions leads to terminological changes that call for new behavior patterns, and so on (ibid., pp. 310–311). He has made a similar analysis of the dialectical relations between the structures of myths and the structures of rituals and believes the analysis can be extended to other kinds of structures as well.

The existence of contradictions between different structures and the resolution of these contradictions through changes in the structures is not usually conscious to the participating members of a society. The structures and their relations exist at a deep unconscious level and reflect, in their particular modalities of space and time, universal mental processes. In some societies, however, there may be “home-made” conscious models of these structures, which need to be taken into account by the social anthropologist because they may be accurate and, in any case, form an important part of the data (see, e.g., Leach 1954).

Lévi-Strauss does not believe that all aspects of a culture and society are equally structured or that every culture has a single all-embracing structure. The degree and kind of structuring is a matter for anthropological investigation. He believes the following possess well-ordered structures—language, kinship, social organization, law, religion, myth, ritual, art, etiquette, cooking, and political ideology. Other domains are either not structured or at least their structures have not yet been discovered. The structures of specific domains are not microcosms of the whole society or culture but are “partial expressions of the total society.”

Although he uses a general mathematical–logical concept of structure, Lévi-Strauss has acknowledged the important influence of structural linguistics, especially as developed by Jakobson and Trubetzkoy, and game theory and cybernetics as developed by Von Neumann and Wiener. Both kinds of models are used in his structural analysis, not to establish the identity of language and culture or the identity of communication and society, but as formal analogies only, whose methodological fruitfulness depends on the existence of structural homologies among language, culture, and society. This is the sense, I suggest, in which the exchange of messages, the exchange of goods and services, and the exchange of women all represent, as Lévi-Strauss says, different levels of the communication process and the sense in which culture itself consists of ”rules stating how the ’games of communication’ should be played both on the natural and on the cultural levels” ([1953] 1963, p. 296).

Summary and conclusion

We can now summarize the major conclusions of the analysis in a series of brief propositions:

(1) Tylor’s omnibus conception of culture is still the basis of most modern anthropological theories of culture, although the conception has been refined and developed in several different directions.

(2) Two theories of culture which have dominated anthropological thinking from about 1900 to 1950 are the process-pattern theory derived from Boas and best represented by Kroeber and the structural-functional theory derived from Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown.

(3) While the process-pattern theory takes the concept of culture pattern as basic and the structural theory takes social structure as basic, both theories cover the full range of Tylor’s culture concept.

(4) Each theory is holistic and universal, each seeks to explain all aspects of culture within a single theoretical framework, and each intends to apply that framework to societies and cultures of any kind, from small primitive societies to complex civilizations.

(5) The difference between the two basic theories cannot be derived from the complementary character of the two basic concepts—culture pattern and social structure—since each theory accepts this complementarity but deals with it in a different way.

(6) The difference between the two theories is to be found in the different ways they connect culture and social structure within explanatory systems.

(7) The precise nature of these explanatory systems may be inferred from a paradigmatic model of the analysis of kinship systems. According to pattern analysis, a kinship system is a terminological system which expresses a system of classification and an underlying unconscious logic. The relation of a kinship system, so defined, to social institutions and other aspects of culture is the relation of one kind of culture pattern to others and varies with the history and mutual association of the patterns within particular places and times.

(8) In the structural analysis, a kinship system is a social system which includes a network of social relations, as expressed in customary modes of behavior, feeling, and thought, as well as a set of terms and categories of relations classified by the terms. The interrelation within the system is one of functional interdependence among the parts. The terms express and establish specific categories of relation and the categories fix and regulate specific modes of behavior and feeling in accordance with a limited number of structural principles around which the system is organized.

(9) These different analyses of kinship systems are both examples and models for cultural and structural analysis of all kinds and, hence, for two general theories of culture.

(10) Neither theory attempts to explain the nature of cultural or structural systems in terms of linear causality. Each regards such systems as outcomes of the multiple influences of biology, psychology, and the natural environment, as well as of historical processes and of the creative human responses to these “givens.”

These propositions suggest an underlying convergence of the pattern theory and the structural-functional theory of culture. Although the pattern theory has probably been influenced more by study of language, literature, and the arts and the structural-functional theory more by biological and organic analogies, the direction taken by both kinds of theory has been the same. In closing, it may be useful to characterize this trend as it represents the mainstream of culture theory since Malinowski’s 1931 article and also represents many recent theoretical developments.

Most characteristic is a shift away from a theory of discrete culture traits within a framework of universal cultural history or cultural evolution to a study of the functions, patterns, and structures of cultural forms within a plurality of organized contexts. There has been a corresponding shift from an interest in artifacts and other external manifestations of material culture to an almost overriding interest in social culture and in mental culture.

The definition of culture in terms of learned behavior (or standardized behavior) seemed at first to promise a unified theory of social and mental culture. But with the failure of behavioristic learning theories to account for the differentiated processes and kinds of learning involved in the acquisition of language, kinship systems, and other aspects of culture, this promise has not been fulfilled. Anthropologists, linguists, and psychologists interested in higher mental processes have begun to look to genetics, neurophysiology, maturation theory, ethology, and ego psychology for the mechanisms that enable organisms to acquire, transmit, and modify culture (see, e.g., Hallowell 1963; Chomsky 1959).

Recent definitions and analyses of culture have grown progressively more abstract, formal, and conceptualistic. Behavior, observed social relations, and material artifacts may provide the raw data for a construct of culture but are not themselves considered the constituents of culture. Rather, the patterns, norms, rules, and standards implicit in the behavior, social relations, and artifacts are considered as the constituents of culture. They are the systems of meanings, ideologies, conventionalized understandings, and cognitive and unconscious structures, which may be recognized in a given society with varying degrees of consciousness and explicit verbal formulation but which, in any case, are to be brought to conscious awareness and precise formulation by anthropological studies (see, e.g., the work of Goodenough).

Those social anthropologists who have been influenced by the theories of Durkheim, Weber, and Parsons are producing a fruitful synthesis of the pattern and structural theories of culture (see, e.g., the work of Fallers, Geertz, and Schneider).

The new ethnography, ethnolinguistics, and ethnoscience and Lévi-Strauss’s new structuralism, share this new emphasis on cultures as abstract structures. They differ only in the procedures they propose for discovering the unconscious structures —in the form of codes, models, rules of the game— which determine the underlying cognitive structures (see, e.g., Romney & D’Andrade 1964; Lévi-Strauss 1953).

Taken as a working hypothesis the cognitive conception of culture offers a promising program of research, the results of which should improve cross-cultural understanding. Taken as a definition of the nature of man or as a general theory of human culture, however, it seems just as narrow and one-sided as previous definitions and theories. That man is a rational animal was long ago enunciated by Aristotle. And it is perhaps timely that anthropology, after neglecting this aspect of man’s nature for over fifty years while it explored causal and structural models of culture, should now explore a logical model. This exploration will not forget, we hope, that there is more to human rationality than how different people classify kin, colors, plants, and diseases and that there is more to human culture than knowledge and the logic of classification. Even Tylor, whose theory of culture has so often been criticized for being too intellectualistic, left room in his omnibus concept, and in his writings, not only for science and language but also for all “the arts of life,” “the arts of pleasure,” religion, all forms of social organization, history, and mythology, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. It is going to take more than one kind of theoretical model to do justice to the variety, complexity, and richness of human culture.

Milton Singer


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Cultural relativism is to be understood as (1) a method in ethnology and social anthropology; (2) a theory of cultural determinism and a philosophy of cultural reality; (3) a guide to the evaluation of value systems, especially ethics, politics, and aesthetics; and (4) an attitude toward practical problems of sociocultural reform and change.

Relativism as a method

Cultural relativism may be described as the method whereby social and cultural phenomena are perceived and described in terms of scientific detachment or, ideally, from the perspective of participants in or adherents of a given culture. Further, cultural phenomena are evaluated in terms of their significance in a given cultural and social context. The methodology of cultural relativism rests on the assumption that the ethnologist is able to transcend, or to eliminate for the moment, his own cultural conditioning and values and to assume the subjective, ethnocentric attitudes and mentality of an adherent of or a participant in the culture. This requires a measure of imagination and empathy on the part of the observer so that he can see others as they see them-selves or as they wish to be seen. The anthropologist is required to report what actually happens and to attempt to interpret his data from the standpoint of his subjects. This may, and usually does, lead the observer to participate in the very institutions he is describing in order to get the “feel” and emotional concomitants of the behavior he observes. He must also collect ethnographic statements, narratives, typical utterances, and items of folklore, inasmuch as they reflect ideology. Thus, although he is objective in collecting his data and observations of cultural phenomena, the anthropologist also tries to identify with his subjects so as to perceive their mentality and their vision of society and the world about them.

The social anthropologist tries to evaluate the artifacts, socifacts, and mentifacts of a culture in relation to given institutions; he seeks to appreciate the “function” a given object or act performs in satisfying the needs of the society. When the anthropologist observes how a given artifact is used and for what purposes in a given context, he is able to provide a relative evaluation of the artifact through its function; he does not rely on the observation of the form alone. Similar detachment is required when he observes and reflects upon the long-range consequences of a ritual act. In evaluating the function of an institution from this impersonal, objective standpoint, the social anthropologist often introduces his own mental construct or hypothesis, which he tests against his observations. To the extent that social scientists tend to differ in their analyses of the function of a given institution—for example, “magic”—they introduce a new subjective and relativistic factor of their own.

All anthropologists are in agreement on the value of the method of cultural relativism and the relative objectivity required to report and interpret data from the perspective of the adherents of the culture. There is considerable disagreement in the use of the method of impersonal, objective, functional evaluation.

Relativism as a theory and philosophy

Cultural relativism is a controversial doctrine that was quite fashionable in the second quarter of the twentieth century but that has since lost much of its support. Melville Herskovits (1948), the most articulate contemporary exponent of a philosophy of cultural relativism, found support for his approach in the Neo-Kantian historical idealism of Ernst Cassirer. According to Cassirer’s “spiritual anthropology” (1944), man lives in a symbolic universe of his own creation. There is, for him, no reality other than the symbolic forms, and hence all reality is cultural or symbolic reality. The physical world is discerned through the screen of enculturation; perception of time, distance, weight, size, and other “realities” is mediated by the recognized conventions of any given group (Herskovits 1955, p. 35). All reality as known is cultural reality, and all human experience is culturally mediated. And if all human experience is structured by enculturation, it follows that all cultural judgments, perceptions, and evaluations are a function of, and are relative to, a given cultural system. Moral values are but one element in cultural experience, and moral relativism is only one aspect of a general theory of cultural relativism.

It should be noted, however, that the theory of cultural determinism originated with Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, both of whom postulated levels of natural phenomena, with social phenomena constituting the top level of phenomenal reality. In America A. L. Kroeber (1917) adopted Spencer’s term “the superorganic” and applied it to culture, which he at first identified with the level of social phenomena. Culture was regarded as an entity sui generis, subject to its own laws of evolutionary development. As such, it was viewed as a closed system in which all cultural phenomena were to be explained only through other cultural phenomena and not by “reduction” to a lower order of reality. After 1948 Kroeber virtually abandoned his old theory of the superorganic and came to think of culture as essentially an abstraction from human behavior. Leslie A. White, however, has continued to uphold the doctrine of the cultural superorganic under the banner of “culturology.”

The point to be marked here is that a theory of cultural relativism can be derived from, and is compatible with, a variety of philosophical approaches: First, as in the case of Herskovits, it may be explained by a theory of Neo-Kantian historical idealism. Cassirer’s own philosophy of symbolic forms was based on the essential postulate of human freedom and creativity. Although Herskovits has utilized Cassirer’s “spiritual anthropology,” it is not necessary to adopt Cassirer’s philosophy of cultural idealism in order to explain the facts of cultural conditioning. Second, as in the case of White, cultural relativism depends on a philosophy of historical materialism. Historical materialism is also a philosophy of cultural determinism whereby the economic core of a culture determines its ideational manifestations and values. Third, for Kroeber (as for Comte and Spencer) cultural relativism depends on a positivistic philosophy of science that postulates the autonomy of cultural phenomena. If human behavior is determined by culture, there is little scope for individual freedom and for creative innovation. All individuals participate in the culture of their society and their age; individual differences are insignificant when compared with the over-all pattern or configuration of a given culture.

Modern ethnology has made us aware of the role played by social institutions in culturally conditioning the personality and experience of the individual. As a result of cultural conditioning, there is some degree of cultural relativism that differentiates the participants in diverse cultures. The philosophical problem is to explain systematically how this diversity of cultural conditioning is to be understood. It is not necessary to subscribe to historic idealism, historic materialism, or evolutionary positivism in order to account for the facts of cultural relativism. All that is really necessary is to recognize that culture is one essential condition of human experience and that all experience is to some extent culturally mediated. It is equally important to recognize other dimensions of reality, those of nature, both human and cosmic, that provide human experience with a common frame of reference within which to test its cultural constructs. In the last analysis, culture is not the measure of all things, but nature is, and there are more things in nature than are ever grasped through our human, cultural symbols. Culture is but our human means of adjusting to nature and utilizing its powers in the service of mankind. This postulate of a metacultural reality renders scientific progress possible and saves us from the culture-centric predicament of historic idealism, historic materialism, and evolutionary positivism. Cultural relativism is a fact of human experience as conditioned by culture. However, a scientific methodology that includes the comparative study of di-verse cultures enables men to transcend some ethocentric limitations and to live in a common world of reality.

Validation and evaluation of values

The principle of cultural relativism affirms that all values are a function or product of their culture and reflect the interests of their society and culture. The fundamental assumption of both sociological determinism and relativism is that society is a newly emergent self-explanatory reality through which all the values of cultural life are to be explained historically. All cultural values are thought to be functions of social organization and to vary with the modes and interests of society. The work of the sociologists Émile Durkheim and William Graham Sumner is devoted to the demonstration of this thesis.

Moral or ethical relativism is one element in a general theory of cultural relativism. It is possible, however, to maintain a theory of moral relativism without subscribing to total cultural relativism. For example, Friedrich Nietzsche in his Genealogy of Morals transvaluated traditional moral values by indicating how they served the respective interests of masters and slaves. Similarly, the contemporary communist ideology rests on the relativity of cultural values to the class interests of capitalists and proletarians.

Furthermore, one may adhere to a theory of moral relativism on psychological and epistemological grounds rather than on those of social and cultural relativism. For example, Edward Westermarck (1932) maintains that moral evaluations are expressions of individual emotions and have no objective basis in fact. His argument, like that of the philosopher David Hume and some modern logical positivists, rests on the assumption of the subjective origin of value judgments, which renders all value judgments relative to the emotional preferences of the individual.

Insofar as moral relativism is considered to be a function of society and culture, it may be said to rest on two distinct postulates or assumptions. First, all value judgments are culturally conditioned or determined, and this limits their validity to the social and cultural context in which they originate. Second, it is impossible to establish any universally acceptable criterion for measuring and comparing values. Hence, all value systems are to be regarded as having equal validity.

This practical assumption of the equality of disparate value systems leads to the prescription of tolerance as a prime virtue. Reverence for cultural values, rather than reverence for life, becomes the absolute virtue advocated by the cultural relativist. Intolerance is said to be a product of an ethnocentric, uncritical prejudice in favor of the absolute validity of one’s own cultural values.

It should be noted, especially, that the cultural and moral relativist does not advocate moral skepticism and nihilism. Those, he would say, are philosophical diseases to which he is not subject. Morality is a cultural universal and is essential for the corporate existence of any society. The members of any given society are obligated to conform to the rules and norms of their society on the practical, utilitarian ground that without such obedience social life would be impossible. Pragmatically, the individual must conform to the rules of his society, and each society must tolerate the codes of other societies in the interest of mutual survival. Obedience and conformity are cultural imperatives once a code of behavior is accepted.

The cultural and moral relativist differentiates between moral universals and moral absolutes. Morality as a whole is a cultural universal in the sense that all cultures have some system of morality. Within all systems of morality there is a limited number of universal values, such as a standard of what constitutes a “good” man, a standard of truth, and some appreciation of beauty. However, the criteria for evaluating and delimiting the content of these values are culturally defined. The cultural relativist would argue that there are no absolute, universal norms that are valid for all cultures. The only possible exception would be the prohibition of incest.

Against this universal formalism of the moral relativist it may be argued that some of the actual values reflected in cultural systems are much the same everywhere and that differences arise over the relative importance of particular values and the extent of their application. In all cultures the perpetuation of the society takes precedence over the life of the individual, and hence no society tolerates treason, murder, rape, and incest. All societies recognize mutual rights and duties in marriage and condemn acts that threaten family solidarity. Similarly, all societies give recognition to some personal property and provide some techniques for the distribution of economic surplus to the needy. The fact of common cultural values provides a basis for mutual understanding between adherents of diverse cultures.

The point at issue is whether, following the cultural relativist, we recognize only empty, formal, universal categories of value with unlimited diversity of content or whether a comparative study of cultures reveals some common content in universal values. As Malinowski, Linton, Kluckhohn, and Redfield have advocated, there is an actual common core of cultural values in all societies, which derives from the universal functions certain acts fulfill in satisfying human needs and aspirations. There are concrete cultural, universal values because there are universal needs, biological, derived, and integrative, common to all societies. These cultural universals are not merely abstract categories but actual regulative modes of conduct and norms of conduct common to all cultures. Such transcultural values may be called absolutes as well as universals. Cultural relativists tend to stress cultural differences but neglect the uniformities and common elements based on the imperatives of a universal human nature.

The cultural relativist is very much concerned lest we commit the fallacy of ethnocentrism, which consists in the attitude that “one’s way of life is to be preferred to all others.” Hence, he prefers not to judge others at all.

Here again it is necessary to distinguish between the fact of ethnocentrism and its value. If by ethnocentrism is meant judgments based on irrational preferences incapable of rational validation, then it is a fact that some degree of ethnocentrism is to be found in all societies and cultures. Modern theories of racism and extreme nationalism are vicious forms of ethnocentrism. Uncritical preference for one’s own culture and its mores and prejudice against alien cultures, the notion that one’s own ethnic society has a true appreciation of spiritual values of civilization whereas other groups and states are debased by materialistic values—these are expressions of ethnocentrism. It is not, however, the mere fact of preference for one’s own cultural values that constitutes ethnocentrism but, rather, the uncritical prejudice in favor of one’s own culture and the distorted, biased criticism of alien cultures. The only antidote to ethnocentric prejudice is comparative knowledge of one’s own and other cultures. This implies that it is possible to transcend the limits of cultural conditioning by empirical observation of cultural behavior.

The cultural relativist, like the skeptic, maintains that cultural determinism leads to ethnocentrism in value judgments but, strangely enough, need not lead to ethnocentrism in judgments of fact. The anthropologist, by profession, is not subject to ethnocentrism so long as he reports the actual facts of behavior and belief of his subjects; he becomes ethnocentric only when he indulges in value judgments and comparative evaluations of values. If it is admitted, however, that cultural relativism does not preclude objective judgments of fact with transcultural, universal validity, why should it preclude judgments of value that have similar objectivity and validity? Only the prejudice induced by a positivistic philosophy of science, which divides the world of phenomena into facts and values, prevents recognition of the factual objectivity of values.

The advocates of cultural relativism counsel us to suspend comparative judgment and to grant, in principle, the equality or equivalent value of all value systems. This assumed ability to doubt and suspend judgment presupposes, as Descartes recognized long ago, an inherent freedom of judgment that liberates the mind from its own prejudices and past cultural conditioning. Hence, the exercise of freedom of judgment and rational analysis in accord with empirical data is as much a fact of human behavior as is cultural determinism. Were it not for man’s innate ability freely to evaluate and verify the truth of his ideas by subjecting them to empirical and critical tests, it would be impossible to overcome ethnocentric prejudices in any way whatsoever. Man would be the prisoner and victim of his own cultural conditioning, and a science of anthropology would, in effect, be impossible. The cultural relativist, in the interests of a science of culture, stresses cultural determinism but completely overlooks the primary, ineluctable fact that freedom of judgment and cultural creativity are absolutely essential for an understanding of the very existence of cultural phenomena.

Pragmatic attitude and cultural ideal

It is necessary to distinguish between the universal fact of cultural relativism and the ideal value of cultural relativism advocated by the liberal ethnologist. The fact of cultural relativism coexists, and is historically compatible, with the very ethnocentrism the ethnologist deplores. As a result of cultural conditioning, especially if it is of a puritanic, dogmatic nature, a people may come to regard their own values as absolute and to disparage those of other societies as inferior to theirs. In an “enlightened” society, however, people will be conscious of the facts of cultural relativism and believe that there is no criterion for making comparative value judgments. Such enlightened people will readily infer that they should treat all other cultural values as equal and equivalent to their own. Cultural relativism may thus be viewed as an ideal postulate of liberal culture which is tolerant of all other cultures. It is assumed implicitly that there is a kind of preestablished harmony of cultures that makes it possible for all to coexist in a pluralistic cultural world. It has taken the shock of World War ii, with its brutalities, to awaken this romantic cultural optimism of our modern Candides to the reality of cultural crises and the actual conflict of cultures.

Thus, the ideal of cultural relativism is to be contrasted with the real, ethnocentric cultural relativism of history. As an idealist, the culturologist may ask other liberals to transcend and shed their ethnocentric prejudices, and especially their predilections for absolute values. He infers from the facts of cultural relativism the ideals of cultural reverence and tolerance. In Kantian terms, he might describe a new cultural imperative: so act as to treat all cultures as ends and never as means. We are not informed, however, how this leap from the ethnocentric real to the ideal of relative objectivity is to be made. It is equally logical, as many a philosopher has seen, to reach the conclusion of nihilism and to treat all cultural values as equally worthless.

Cultural relativism involves tolerance based on skepticism of universal, objective standards of value as well as of the idea of progress. The comparative study of cultures has made us conscious of the dangers of uncritical ethnocentrism, but it has also provided us with the materials and the incentive to transcend the limitations of both cultural relativism and ethnocentrism through the pursuit of scientific truths concerning facts and values.

David Bidney

[Directly related are the entriesCulture, article onCulturology; Evolution, article oncultural evolution; Observation; Values, article onvalue systems.]


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Bidney, David 1953a The Concept of Value in Modern Anthropology. Pages 682–699 in International Symposium on Anthropology, New York, 1952, Anthropology Today: An Encyclopedic Inventory. Edited by A. L. Kroeber. Univ. of Chicago Press.

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Cassirer, Ernst (1944) 1956 An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

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Kroeber, A. L. (1901–1951) 1952 The Nature of Culture. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Kroeber, A. L. (1917) 1952 The Superorganic. Pages 22–51 in A. L. Kroeber, The Nature of Culture. Univ. of Chicago Press. → First published in the American Anthropologist.

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Culturology is the branch of anthropology that treats culture (institutions, technologies, ideologies) as a distinct order of phenomena, organized upon principles of its own and behaving in terms of its own laws. The culture process is regarded as self-contained and self-determined. Variations in culture are explained in cultural terms, rather than biological or psychological terms. The science of culture had, of course, to wait upon the development of a scientifically adequate concept of culture. Preliterate peoples have been aware of differences of custom, speech, and belief among themselves. But even so sophisticated a people as the Greeks of Aristotle’s day had no word equivalent to our term culture. The term was borrowed by E. B. Tylor, the great pioneer in English anthropology, from German culture historians. Tylor denned culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Tylor 1871, vol. 1, p. 1). He made it clear that culture was the exclusive possession of the human species.

The symbolic process. Numerous and varied definitions of culture have been formulated since Tylor’s day, but his is substantially the one that prevails today. Culture is the name of those behavioral traits that distinguish man from other species: articulate speech; institutions; codes of ethics and etiquette; ideologies; a continuous, cumulative, and progressive tool process; etc. Man is unique in that he alone possesses the ability to symbol, i.e., to bestow, freely and arbitrarily, meaning upon things and events, objects and acts. Articulate speech is the most characteristic and important form of symboling. All culture was produced and has been perpetuated by symboling in general and by articulate speech in particular.

But things and events that are dependent upon symboling (called symbolates) may be, and commonly are, considered in two different contexts. In a somatic context, their significance lies in their relationship to the human organism, and as such constitute behavior. In the extrasomatic context, symbolates are significant, not in terms of their relationship to the human organism that produces them, but in relationship to other symbolates. In this context they are culture. Thus, mother-in-law avoidance is to be regarded as behavior when viewed in terms of the concepts, acts, and attitudes of human organisms; it is culture when considered in its relationship to other customs, such as forms of marriage, place of residence of the newly married couple, roles of the sexes in subsistence, offense and defense, etc. Culture, therefore, is a class of things and events dependent upon symboling, considered in an extrasomatic context.

Prior to the emergence of culturology in the expansion of the scope of science (White 1949), naturalistic (i.e., nonmythological, nontheological) explanations of the behavior of peoples were bio-logical, psychological, or sociological. Accordingly, peoples behaved as they did because of their physical type; or because of the way their minds worked; or as a consequence of certain processes of social interaction. In all these explanations, man, individually and collectively, was the independent variable; his customs, institutions, beliefs, etc., the dependent variable. Man was the cause; culture, the result.

The culturological explanation. The culture-logical revolution reversed this kind of interpretation. Culturology asserts that peoples behave as they do because they have been born and reared in particular cultural traditions. The behavior of a people is determined, not by its physical type or genetic constitution, nor by its ideas and desires and hopes and fears, nor by processes of social interaction, but by external, extrasomatic cultural tradition. Peoples born into a Tibetan linguistic tradition will speak Tibetan, not English. A people practices monogamy, polygyny or polyandry, or loathes milk, avoids mothers-in-law, or uses the multiplication table, because they are obliged to react to these cultural traditions. The behavior of a people is a function of its culture.

If the behavior of a people is determined by its culture, what determines the culture? The answer is that it determines itself. Culture may be regarded as a process sui generis. It is a process in which culture traits interact with one another, forming new permutations, combinations and syntheses. One trait, or combination of traits, is the result of antecedent and concomitant traits and the cause of subsequent traits and trait combinations. One form of language, writing, social organization, technology, or of culture as a whole, grows out of a previous stage or emerges from an anterior condition.

Every sociocultural system is of course affected by its terrestrial and celestial environment. Climate, topography, flora, fauna, and mineral resources may or do exert influences upon cultural systems. But environments merely permit or prohibit the existence of certain elements or features of culture; they do not determine them. The influence of environmental factors finds expression only in and through cultural means; consequently, they may be dealt with culturologically. Certain elements present in the environment, such as iron or petroleum, do not enter the culture process except at certain stages of development. Finally, in dealing with cultures in general, or with culture as a whole, the factor of environment may be considered a constant and therefore disregarded in explanation of the culture process.

Although culturology treats the culture process without regard to the biological and psychological processes of human beings, the culturologist recognizes the intimate and necessary relationship between culture in general and man in general. Generically, culture is what it is because man is the kind of animal that he is. If man, the animal, were different, his culture would be different. If man did not have spectroscopic, chromatic vision, his culture would be different. If he could subsist only upon meat or cereals, his culture would be different. If he had a rutting season, or reproduced with litters rather than individuals, his culture would be different. Culture was brought into being by the human species, and it functions to serve the needs of this species. Thus, when one considers the question of the origin and functions of culture one must take biological man into consideration. But once culture has come into being, its subsequent variations—its changes, its growth, its additions and subtractions—are to be explained without reference to the animal man, either individually or collectively. We do not need to invoke man when we consider such questions as the evolution of mathematics or currency, sociocultural processes of integration and disintegration, the relationship between social systems and technological systems, the diffusion and distribution of the keystone arch, etc. To be sure, these cultural processes could not take place without people. But it is their culture, not their innate natures, that causes them to behave as they do. Man is necessary to the existence and functioning of the culture process, but he is not necessary to an explanation of its variations.

An atom cannot be understood merely by a consideration of its components; an atom is a system that must be understood in terms of itself. The properties of sugar cannot be discovered in its component atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen; the molecule functions as a molecular system. A living cell cannot be understood in terms of its component molecules; a biological organism cannot be understood in terms of its cells. Individual organisms do not reveal the properties of societies. Every kind of system exists in terms of its own structure and functions, in terms of its own principles and laws. In the human species, societies are cultural; i.e., sociocultural systems. Like other kinds of systems, they must be understood in their own terms.

Linguistic systems are comprehended in terms of lexicon, grammar, syntax, phonetics, and so on. Languages can, of course, have no existence without human beings. But linguistic science proceeds as if mankind did not exist. So it is with culture as a whole. The evolution of culture can be worked out as a cause-and-effect sequence of cultural events. The influence of technologies upon social systems, the interrelationships among technologies, social systems, and ideologies can be ascertained and measured without reference to the human carriers of these systems. Such problems as the evolution of mathematics or of tribal confederacies, processes of integration and disintegration of social systems, or the mechanisms of the regulation and control thereof can be attacked and solved without regard to human organisms as such. We could not have symphonic music, trial by jury, or the Decalogue were it not for respiration and metabolism, but a consideration of these physiological processes does not in the least help us to understand these cultural phenomena.

The phenomena of culture, like biological and physical phenomena, are to be treated scientifically from four standpoints. Our point of view may be temporal or nontemporal, generalizing or particularizing. If we combine these two dichotomies, we get a fourfold classification of scientific interpretation, or treatment of cultural or any other kind of natural phenomena, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1
PARTICULARIZING Historical Descriptive ethnography
GENERALIZING Evolutionist Functional—Structural

Consideration of cultural things and events from a temporal-particularizing point of view results in culture history. The temporal-generalizing approach yields evolutionist interpretations. The nontemporal—generalizing interpretation deals with the structures and functions of sociocultural systems. And the non temporal—particularizing treatment is descriptive ethnography. Thus, all the schools of ethnological theory are embraced by this classification of kinds of interpretation: mere ethnographic description; the historical schools of Graebner, Elliot Smith, Boas; the evolutionist schools of Tylor, Morgan et al.; the functionalist schools of Mali-nowski and Radcliffe-Brown, and their successors, the structuralists of modern British social anthropology. Culturology employs, therefore, these four ways of treating cultural phenomena.

The culturological point of view has encountered considerable opposition from various quarters. Many scholars have insisted that it is people, not cultures, that meet and interact. The culturologist is accused of “reifying” culture into a mystic entity that exists apart from society.

To consider culture—languages, institutions, ideologies, and technological systems—as distinct orders of phenomena, explainable in terms of them-selves, is not to reify them. They are real, observable things and events in the external world, just as atoms, cells, and stars are.

The origin and development of culture traits, such as jury trials, firearms, constitutional government, the theory of relativity, etc., cannot be ac-counted for psychologically; they can be explained only in terms of a developmental culture process. Again, people are necessary for the existence of cultural events, but they are not necessary to an explanation of their origins or variations.

The psychosocial explanation. Emile Durkheim contrasted psychological and culturological interpretations of human behavior and institutions. When “one sees in the organization of the family the logically necessary expression of human sentiments inherent in every mind, the true order of facts is reversed. On the contrary, it is the social organization of the relationships of kinship which has determined the respective sentiments of parents and children” (Durkheim [1893] 1960, p. 340). “Every time that a social phenomenon is directly explained by a psychological phenomenon, we may be sure that the explanation is false” (Durkheim [1895] 1958, p. 104). We may properly substitute “cultural phenomenon” for social phenomenon in the preceding quotation. Race prejudice, war, capitalism, etc. are not to be explained as “the logically necessary expression of concepts and sentiments inherent in the human mind.” On the contrary, it is the structure and behavior of the extrasomatic culture process that establishes racial, marital, and capitalistic ideas and sentiments in the minds of individuals.

The sociologist tends to regard culture as the product of social interaction. One kind of social interaction produces polygyny, another kind, polyandry; one kind produces capitalism, another, communism. But if social interaction alone could produce culture, we would find it among baboons. The institutions of polygyny and polyandry cannot be explained as consequences of the interaction of individuals. But the interaction of one man (husband) and more than one woman (wives), or one woman (wife) and more than one man (husbands) can be explained as a consequence of the influence of external, extrasomatic cultural structures upon them. And these institutions must be explained— in their origins and variations—in terms of other cultural elements, such as the requirements of the sex division of labor, customs of residence, occupational hazards and death rates of the sexes, wealth and prestige, etc.

There is, and can be, no justifiable conflict between the science of psychology and the science of culturology; these sciences complement, rather than conflict with, each other. Both are essential to a complete comprehension of anything that man does as a human being. Just as the origins of institutions must be explained culturologically, the experiences that people undergo within these institutions is the concern of psychology. What are the conceptions and attitudes held by the individuals most directly involved in the mother-in-law taboo, namely, a man, his wife, and his wife’s mother? Are they imbued with supernaturalism, or are they naturalistic in character? Are they attitudes of respect, fear, or contempt? What is it like to be a wife in a polygynous household? Or a husband in a polyandrous one? These are questions for the psychologist rather than the culturologist.

The anthropocentric viewpoint. The opposition to culturology arises principally from the age-old and deeply entrenched philosophy of anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism. Man has been conceived as a prime mover, as a first cause, and is often endowed with free will. This is expressed by Sapir: “It is always the individual that really thinks and acts and dreams and revolts.” There have also been others who insist that culture originates in the creative acts of individuals, or that only the individual is real.

This anthropocentric conception receives support from the fact that the behavior of all nonhuman species is a function of their respective biological constitutions. The biological principle applies to ducks, sharks, sunflowers, and all other nonhuman species. But it does not apply to human beings, who live in a symbolic environment and respond to different kinds of extrasomatic traditions. The institutions of man are to be explained in terms of culture.

The anthropocentric point of view receives support also from the fact that, as a biological organism, man is a dynamic system. He reacts positively to his terrestrial habitat and to his enveloping culture. But with regard to the latter, he can respond only within the limits set by his culture. Although physically and biologically a thermodynamic system, man is, and remains, a puppet of his culture.

Leslie A. White


The first explicit, self-conscious formulation of a scientific study of culture as a distinct order of phenomena was made by Tylor 1871. As early as 1909, the German chemist and philosopher Wilhelm Ostwald coined the term “culturology,” which he defined as the science of cultural, i.e., specifically human activities. Leslie A. White gathered many of his earlier articles and lectures in a single volume, The Science of Culture 1949. The essays in this collection expound the scope, principles, and objectives of culturology. They include “The Symbol: The Origin and Basis of Human Behavior,” “The Expansion of the Scope of Science,” “Culturological vs. Psychological Interpretations of Human Behavior,” “Energy and the Evolution of Culture,” and a sketch on “The Science of Culture.”

Dole, Gertrude E.; and Carneiro, Robert L. (editors) 1960 Essays in the Science of Culture: In Honor of Leslie A. White, in Celebration of His Sixtieth Birthday and His Thirtieth Year of Teaching at the University of Michigan. New York: Crowell.

Durkheim, Émile (1893) 1960 The Division of Labor in Society. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published in French as De la division du travail social: Étude sur I’organisation des sociétés supérieures. The extract in the text was translated by L. A. White.

Durkheim, Émile (1895)1958 The Rules of Sociological Method. 8th ed. Translated by Sarah A. Solovay and John H. Mueller and edited by George E. G. Catlin. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published as Les règies de la méthode sociologique.

Kroeber, A. L. (1917) 1952 The Superorganic. Pages 22–51 in A. L. Kroeber, The Nature of Culture. Univ. of Chicago Press. → First published in the American Anthropologist.

Lowie, Robert H. 1917 Culture and Ethnology. New York: Boni & Liveright.

Lowie, Robert H. (1936)1960 Cultural Anthropology: A Science. Pages 391–410 in Robert H. Lowie, Selected Papers in Anthropology. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press. → First published in Volume 42 of the American Journal of Sociology.

Murdock, George P. 1932 The Science of Culture. American Anthropologist New Series 34:200–215.

Ostwald, Wilhelm 1909 Energetische Grundlagen der Kulturwissenschaft. Philosophisch–soziologische Bücherei, Vol. 16. Leipzig: Klinkhardt.

Sapir, Edward (1910–1944)1949 Selected Writings in Language, Culture, and Personality. Edited by David G. Mandelbaum. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Sapir, Edward 1917 Do We Need a Superorganic? American Anthropologist New Series 19:441–447.

Tylor, Edward B. (1871) 1958 Primitive Culture: Re-searches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom. 2 vols. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith. → Volume 1: Origins of Culture. Volume 2: Religion in Primitive Culture.

White, Leslie A. 1949 The Science of Culture: A Study of Man and Civilization. New York: Farrar, Straus. White, Leslie A. 1959a The Concept of Culture. American Anthropologist New Series 61:227–251.

White, Leslie A. 1959b The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome. New York: McGraw-Hill.

White, Leslie A. 1962 Symboling: A Kind of Behavior. Journal of Psychology 53:311–317.

White, Leslie A. 1963 The Culturological Revolution. Colorado Quarterly 11:367–382.


Culture, a uniquely human attribute, is something which man interposes between himself and his environment in order to ensure his security and survival. As such, culture is adaptive.

This way of looking at culture, uncommon a few decades ago, has within recent years won increasing support among anthropologists. Leslie A. White (1949, p. 360), for example, speaks of culture as “a specific and concrete mechanism employed by a particular animal organism in adjusting to its environment,” and Ralph Piddington ([1950] 1952, p. 219) holds that “culture is essentially an adaptive mechanism, making possible the satisfaction of human needs, both biological and social.”

As this attitude has gained currency, cultures have ceased to be treated as unique constellations of traits, each the fortuitous product of history. A culture is now more frequently thought of as the resultant of a parallelogram of forces—forces whose identity can be ascertained and whose effects can be weighed.

Within culture as a whole, anthropologists have generally recognized the adaptive function of technology. As Robert Lowie succinctly expressed it, the purpose of an ax is to fell trees. Some anthropologists, however, have seemed unsure of the function of social organization. Lowie ([1920] 1947, p. 439) said it had “unknown ends,” and A. L. Kroeber ([1923] 1948, p. 307) found many of its manifestations “strange, unpredictable, … [and] unreasonable.” To Kroeber (1938, p. 308), “the phenomena of formal social organization … rep-resent a field of experimentation or play on the part of cultures … .”

That social life is not something mysterious or capricious, but that like technology it is adaptive, has long been appreciated by biologists. The ecologist Angus Woodbury (1954, p. 412) recognized that social life is an adaptation for efficient use of time and space upon the earth. The existence of a social life, he thought, was forced upon members of a group by their need to cooperate in order to succeed in the struggle for existence. The zoologist William Etkin (1954, p. 134) wrote of the essential role played by social behavior in an animal’s adaptation to its environment and stated that various forms of group behavior were as necessary to survival as any of an animal’s physiological or structural characteristics. In their joint work, Life: Outlines of General Biology, J. Arthur Thomson and Patrick Geddes (1931, vol. 1, pp. 120–126) listed seven advantages of social life, and in Natural Communities, Lee R. Dice (1952, pp. 285, 287) enumerated nine such advantages.

Social organization, generally, is the way in which the individuals of a group within an animal species coordinate their behavior in adapting to the exigencies of life. Human social organization is simply the way in which human beings, through cultural means, do the same thing. As White has observed: “Human beings have to be related to each other in an effective manner- in order to carry on the business of life successfully. Social, political, ethical, artistic, ecclesiastical, and educational systems operate to accomplish this purpose. They are means of coordinating, integrating, regulating, and directing human endeavor toward the goal of all life.- a secure and agreeable existence” (1947, p. 183).

But granting that social organization is adaptive, can the same be said, for example, of rituals and ceremonies? Some anthropologists have held them to lie outside the realm of the rational and the functional, and therefore to be nonadaptive. Yet it is possible to examine rituals and ceremonies in the context of a broader theory of adaptation, and the results of such analyses have been to throw new light on them.

The celebrated potlatch of the Northwest Coast Indians provides an example of this. It has always been regarded by anthropologists not only as non-adaptive but also as ostentatiously wasteful. Suttles (1960, p. 304), however, writing of the potlatch among the Coast Salish, concludes that “the drive to attain high status is clearly not the explanation of the potlatch. Nor is the production of surplus. Nor the cooperation achieved by the potlatching community. The potlatch is a part of a larger socio-economic system that enables the whole social net-work, consisting of a number of communities, to maintain a high level of food production and to equalize its food consumption both within and among communities. The system is thus adaptive in an environment characterized by the features indicated before—spatial and temporal variation and fluctuation in the availability of resources.”

Another example may be cited. After taking a second look at the practice of scapulimancy among the Montagnais-Naskapi, who used this form of divination in selecting hunting routes, 0. K. Moore (1957, p. 73) suggested that “it is in essence a very crude way of randomizing human behavior under conditions where avoiding fixed patterns of activity may be an advantage.” In other words, by leading them to hunt randomly over their territory, and thus preventing the overhunting of any one area, the practice of divination may well contribute to the preservation of game animals and thus ultimately to improved chances for the survival of the Montagnais—Naskapi themselves.

Acknowledging, then, that all aspects of culture may contribute to the ecological adjustment of a society, let us examine the process of cultural adaptation more closely. Basically, societies adapt to their environment by three means: technological, organizational, and ideational.

Technology, which may be taken to include tools, machines, utensils, and weapons, along with the techniques associated with their use, is the most directly adaptive facet of culture. Man’s occupancy of every corner of the earth could not have come about without the implements necessary to cope with the peculiar problems posed by each habitat. This is especially well illustrated by harsh environments. To survive in their Arctic habitat the Eskimo must rely on such sophisticated and specialized traits as the igloo, the kayak, the seal-oil lamp, the dog sled, the harpoon with bladder float, and snow goggles.

Other cultures in other environments furnish us with additional examples of highly specialized and effective technical adaptations. The boomerang of the Australian aborigines, the bolas of the Patagonian guanaco hunters, the snowshoe of the sub-Arctic, the blowgun of Malaysia and South America, pemmican among the Plains Indians, the outrigger canoe of Polynesia, the manioc squeezer of Amazonia, and the agricultural terraces of the Incas are only a few of the illustrations that could be cited.

In addition to implements of subsistence, technology includes weapons of war. Hostile relations often prevail among neighboring societies, and military technology may at times be as important as subsistence technology.

In bronze age China, the invention and use of the ch’i, a combination of the halberd and the spear, is credited with helping the state of Ch’in to defeat its rivals and to unify China for the first time (Li 1957, p. 58).

Stirrups, an Asiatic invention which reached Europe in the eighth century, had a profound effect on warfare during the Middle Ages. “The use of stirrups enabled an armored horseman, carrying a lance at rest under his right arm, to brace himself in the saddle so firmly that the shock of his attack could combine the momentum of horse and rider. This feature made the mounted knight the most powerful instrument of medieval warfare, rendering obsolete the older Roman and Germanic military tactics of fighting on foot in close order” (Homans 1962, p. 396).

The second major aspect of culture is the organizational. While it is logically distinguishable from the technological aspect, in actuality it is closely related to it. Indeed, White maintains that “social systems are social means of operating technological systems” (1947, pp. 182–183). It is certainly true that cooperation in human societies, especially simpler ones, exists principally for the purpose of pro-curing food, providing shelter, and meeting the demands of offense and defense. Accordingly, all forms of social organization involved in achieving these ends must be regarded as adaptive. Going beyond this, however, it can be argued that forms of organization developed to deal with an increased population are also adaptive, since they contribute to a society’s integration and, therefore, to its survival.

Plains Indian cultures afford a striking example of how seasonal aggregations of population connected with subsistence can lead to an elaboration of social organization. During most of the year, bands of a typical Plains tribe were dispersed over a wide area, subsisting separately from other bands and acting independently of them. The band chief had little authority, and the socioceremonial life of the band was simple. For the summer buffalo hunt, however, the bands came together and assumed a form of tribal organization that was distinctly more complex. Band chiefs, previously without superiors, now formed themselves into a council from which a paramount tribal chief was selected. The tribal chief wielded considerably greater authority than he had as band chief; it was now his responsibility to coordinate and direct the activities of the tribe as a whole.

Men’s associations, inactive during most of the year, re-formed when the bands came together and carried out activities that took place only when the entire tribe was assembled. One of these men’s societies was designated by the tribal chief to serve as a police force charged with punishing violations of the strict rules that prevailed during the buffalo hunt, as well as with preserving order during the march and on the occasion of the sun dance.

That the emergence of these structural features was an adaptation to the problems created by a supraband aggregation is demonstrated by the fact that all the features—the council, the tribal chief, the men’s societies, the police force, the sun dance organization—lapsed when the tribe broke up into its constituent units in the autumn.

The adaptiveness of a society’s internal organization, tested repeatedly by the food quest, may be tried even more severely by warfare. Survival is the ultimate measure of fitness, and however well adapted a society may be in other respects, if it is unable to stand up to its enemies, it must be found wanting in its over-all adaptation. Superiority in military technology may be the decisive factor in armed conflict, but where the weapons of war are alike on both sides, success may well go to the society better organized to wage war.

Continual and successful involvement in war tends to leave its stamp on all segments of a society, sometimes to a remarkable degree. The ancient Spartans afford a classic example of this. Everything in the life of a Spartan was subordinated to his military obligations. The institutions of war were paramount, and other institutions were adjusted accordingly. Among preliterate peoples, the Zulu and Masai of Africa and the Northern Cayapo of South America provide examples of the same phenomenon.

The ideational aspect of culture also serves to adapt a society to the prevailing conditions of existence. For example, it has been noted of nomadic peoples like the Eskimo, Tehuelche, and Lengua that even when the food supply is unusually plentiful, after a band has spent more than a few days or weeks in one spot, everyone becomes restless and anxious to be on the move. Ecological necessity has developed in them a psychology of nomadism. By being mentally adapted to normal ecological conditions, the individuals in a culture are always ready, and even eager, to make what is ordinarily the most appropriate response. The matter may be put this way: a sociocultural system works best when it makes people want to do what they have to do.

A question that remains to be answered is how cultural adaptation is related to cultural evolution. The two are not synonymous: adaptation is the adjustment of a society to its external and internal conditions of existence, while evolution is change by which a society grows larger, more heterogeneous, and more coherent. While adaptive changes are usually evolutionary, they are not necessarily or always so. Adaptation may sometimes involve simplification, as when deteriorating environmental conditions force a society to split into smaller groups, move its settlements more often, and give up some of its ceremonies. Here, although the chances of survival under worsened conditions have increased, complexity has decreased, so that while the changes are adaptive, they are not evolutionary. Nevertheless, most adaptive changes undergone by a society do tend to render it more complex and better integrated—in a word, more evolved.

An evolutionary advance characteristically begins with an adaptive solution to an ecological problem and is followed by a series of readjustments whereby cultural elements successively further removed from the source of the change are affected by the change and accommodate themselves to it. Wittfogel (1957) has suggested that the need to establish or extend irrigation systems in certain heavily populated and and parts of the world brought about basic changes in the economic and political institutions of several of the early civilizations and that these basic changes eventu-ally ramified throughout their entire social systems.

During the course of these kinds of readjustments within a culture, new traits appear which are alternative to, and therefore competitive with, existing ones. In this competition traits are subjected to the cultural equivalent of natural selection : the better adapted traits survive and expand, and the less fit decline and disappear.

Competition, selection, and displacement among traits can readily be illustrated from contemporary American culture. We see them exemplified by the diesel engine replacing the steam locomotive and by the corporation replacing other forms of large-scale business enterprise. The operation of this process was recognized and expressed years ago by E. B. Tylor when he wrote: “the institutions which can best hold their own in the world gradu-ally supersede the less fit ones, and … this incessant conflict determines the general resultant course of culture” ([1871] 1958, vol. 1, p. 62).

Robert L. Carneiro

[Directly related are the entriesEcology; Evolution, articles oncultural evolutionandsocial evolution; Technology.]


Dice, Lee R. 1952 Natural Communities. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

Etkin, William 1954 Social Behavior and the Evolution of Man’s Mental Faculties. American Naturalist 88:129–142.

Homans, George C. 1962 [Review of] Medieval Technology and Social Change, by Lynn White, Jr. American Journal of Sociology 68:396–397.

Kroeber, Alfred L. (1923) 1948 Anthropology: Race, Language, Culture, Psychology, Prehistory. New rev. ed. New York: Harcourt. → First published as Anthropology.

Kroeber, Alfred L. 1938 Basic and Secondary Patterns of Social Structure. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 68: 299–309.

Li, Chi 1957 The Beginnings of Chinese Civilization: Three Lectures Illustrated With Finds at Anyang. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.

Lowie, Robert H. (1920) 1947 Primitive Society. New York: Liveright. → A paperback edition was published in 1961 by Harper.

Lowie, Robert H. (1934)1952 An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Rev. ed. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.

Moore, Omar K. 1957 Divination: A New Perspective. American Anthropologist New Series 59:69–74.

Piddington, Ralph (1950) 1952 An Introduction to Social Anthropology. 2d ed. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.

Suttles, Wayne 1960 Affinal Ties, Subsistence, and Prestige Among the Coast Salish. American Anthropologist New Series 62:296–305.

Thomson, J. Arthur; and Geddes, Patrick 1931 Life: Outlines of General Biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Nor gate.

Tylor, Edward B. (1871) 1958 Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom. 2 vols. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith. → Volume 1: Origins of Culture. Volume 2: Religion in Primitive Culture.

White, Leslie A. 1947 Evolutionary Stages, Progress, and the Evaluation of Cultures. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 3:165–192.

White, Leslie A. 1949 Ethnological Theory. Pages 357–384 in Roy W. Sellars et al. (editors), Philosophy for the Future: The Quest of Modern Materialism. New York: Macmillan.

Wittfogel, Karl A. 1957 Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1963.

Woodbury, Angus M. 1954 Principles of General Ecology. New York: Blakiston.


Culture change is the conceptual formulation that refers to the many ways in which societies change their patterns of culture: Internal factors such as new inventions may lead to an increased food supply and population growth, or external factors such as conquest by another society may bring about culture change. We know from the records of prehistory and history that the patterns of culture of every human society are constantly changing. The rate and type of change may be slow and gradual, as it was during the Paleolithic, or fast and drastic, as it has been in contemporary societies. The basic problem is a question of how and why there are shifts in rate and type of change, rather than a question of static versus changing cultures.

Our knowledge about culture change may be summarized in four basic questions: (1) What are the internal or external factors that generate shifts in rates and types of culture change? (2) What are the processes by which culture change takes place? (3) What models and methods are now available for the study of culture change? (4) How is the concept of culture change related to the closely associated phenomena of diffusion, innovation, evolution, acculturation, and nativism?

Factors influencing culture change. The data on change do not yet permit any easy generalizations concerning the relative primacy of various factors that may generate significant shifts in rates and types of culture change. Some anthropologists favor a basically Marxist, or Neo-Marxist, interpretation and give primacy in their theories to such factors as “the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year” (White 1949). Some, such as Steward (1955), place emphasis upon ecology and stress the “adaptation of a culture to its environment” as the primary factor. Other scholars emphasize the importance of “religious ideology” (Weber 1922), cultural “themes” (Opler 1945), and “cultural focus” (Herskovits 1955) or, like Geertz (1957), point to inherent incongruities and tensions in social and cultural systems that generate constant pressure for change. Still others have developed more specialized theories, such as Murdock (1949, p. 199), who concludes that “… social organization is a semi-independent system comparable in many respects to language, and similarly characterized by an internal dynamics of its own,” or Hallowell (1955) and Wallace (1961), who stress the psychological aspects of culture change.

Whatever special emphasis may characterize a theory, it is useful to isolate three general factors that can influence change in a given culture:

(1) Any change in the ecological niche occupied by a society influences culture change. Such a change may occur as a result of either (a) natural environmental changes, e.g., the gradual desiccation of the great basin of Utah and Nevada following the retreat of the last glaciation; or (b) the migration of a society from one ecological niche to another, e.g., the movement of southern Athabascans from the subarctic territory of interior Canada and Alaska to the and southwestern United States. New cultural adaptations are always required for survival in the case of such shifts in ecological niche.

(2) Any contact between two societies with different cultural patterns influences change in both societies. The diffusion, or borrowing, of cultural elements that occurs has made these exchanges important in culture change throughout history. More profound and sustained cultural contact, usu-ally called “acculturation,” generates even more significant shifts in the rates and types of change in the two cultures.

(3) Any evolutionary change occurring within a society is obviously a factor of critical importance. Following Murdock (1949, p. 184), “evolution” is used here simply to designate “processes of orderly adaptive change.” For example, when a society with a food-gathering economy has domesticated its plants and animals and has thereby in-creased its food surplus potential, the requirements of the new food-producing technology and the ensuing population growth pose critical problems. The need for division and specialization of labor, social control, and distribution of the surplus leads to adaptive changes in the cultural patterns. Or if a society (for whatever reasons) shifts from matrilocal to patrilocal residence, then again there are adaptive changes in a whole range of cultural patterns, as Murdock (1949) has demonstrated.

Processes of culture change. The study of the processes of culture change refers to the actual social mechanisms by which the change takes place. Some scholars take the position that the basis of all culture change is located in changes in the attitudes and behavior of individual members of a society. This point of view is found in Barnett (1953), who focuses upon the individual innovator in a society and analyzes the cultural conditions that stimulate him to innovate, the incentives that motivate him, and the mental processes he experiences in innovation. In this study Barnett also treats the basic innovative processes in terms of recombinations, identifications, substitutions, etc., in mental configurations. He finds those who accept innovations are likely to be individuals who are “dissident,” “disaffected,” or “resentful.”

Other scholars take the point of view that although individuals are the carriers of a culture, there are processes of change in social and cultural systems which have dynamic properties of their own that can be isolated and studied. Thus, we can study the mechanisms of “cultural evolution” (White 1949; Sahlins & Service 1960), the “configurations of culture growth” (Kroeber 1944) over long time spans, or the “evolution of social organization” (Murdock 1949) over at least several generations.

Systematic theories interrelating processual phenomena observed in changes in both individual behavior and social and cultural systems are currently one of the outstanding problems for future research and analysis. Firth (1951, p. 40) differentiates between “social structure,” which he views as providing the principle of continuity in society, and “social organization,” in which lies the principle of variation or change “… by allowing evaluation of situations and entry of individual choice.” Herskovits (1955, pp. 497–514) emphasizes “individual variation,” which is found even in the most isolated and primitive societies, and the importance of this variation in the mechanisms of culture change. Wallace (1961, pp. 143–152) attempts to combine individual personality and cognition with changes in cultural systems in his study of “revitalization” processes, in which he has described “… a common process structure which can be conceptualized as a pattern of temporally overlapping, but functionally distinct, stages.”

Other recent contributions to the conceptual mapping of processes of culture change include Herskovits’ formulation (1955, p. 492) of “reinterpretation” as the process by which old meanings are ascribed to new elements or by which new values change the cultural significance of old forms; Firth’s description (1951, p. 86) of the process of “social convection,” by which individuals not directly involved in a change in the first instance tend to modify their behavior to adjust to the change, and the process of “social conduction,” by which an innovation brings unforeseen results that must be adapted to; and Vogt’s distinction (1960, pp. 21–22) between “recurrent processes,” found in micro time-scales, which characterize the daily, seasonal, annual, and generational life of a society, and “directional processes,” found in macro time-scales, which involve nonrepetitive, cumulative shifts in the structures of social and cultural systems.

Models for the study of culture change

Culture change can be studied as it occurs over long time spans (e.g., the analysis of cultural evolution in human societies from the Lower Paleolithic to the twentieth century) and in the microscopic sense, as it occurs in short periods of time (e.g., the, analysis of how individual American Indians altered their behavior patterns during one generation of education in Indian Service schools). The more specific methods for the study of culture change always require a comparative framework of some type. Sequences of change in individual behavior, in social structure, or in stages of cultural development are compared in order to yield systematic statements reaching beyond the concrete case.

Stable equilibrium versus constant change. From the writings of earlier social theorists such as Durkheim and Radcliffe-Brown, students of culture inherited a conceptual image of human society based upon an organismic analogy that emphasized the ways in which a custom, institution, or social activity preserved or maintained the social order. This conceptual image has led us to assume that social and cultural systems tend to maintain equilibrium unless they come into contact with some force from the outside, or develop some inner strain that disturbs the equilibrium. The problem then is to discover how the equilibrium is restored.

From the writings of other theorists, notably Max Weber (1922), students of change inherited a more dynamic image of society. The adequacy of the stable equilibrium model as a conceptual framework for the analysis of culture change has been questioned by such writers as Firth (1951), Leach (1954), Herskovits (1955), and Vogt (1960), who all maintain that the basic tendencies in social and cultural systems are toward change, rather than toward states of equilibrium. Furthermore, it can now be demonstrated from our accumulated archeological and historical data that a culture is never static, but rather that one of its most fundamental properties is change.

The problem for students of culture change has therefore become one of describing, conceptualizing, and explaining a set of ongoing processes of change that occur at varying rates, move in varying directions, and that are triggered and maintained by complex interactions of ecological, technological, social, cultural, and psychological variables.

Macroscopic models. The most inclusive models, with respect to both cultural coverage and time span, are those utilized by White (1949) and Childe (1951) for the study of cultural evolution. Both deal with trends and stages in the culture of mankind as a whole. White’s most significant proposition is that technological development expressed in terms of man’s control over energy underlies social changes and cultural achievements (1949, pp. 363–396). Childe is especially noted for his formulation of the important shift from food-gathering to food-producing societies in early human history. These models, dealing with what Steward (1955) has called “universal evolution,” advance propositions about world culture as a whole but cannot explain particular features of particular cultures. An attempt to solve this conceptual and methodological difficulty has more recently been proposed by Sahlins and Service (1960), who differentiate between “general” and “specific” cultural evolution. They write:

General cultural evolution … is passage from less to greater energy transformation, lower to higher levels of integration, and less to greater all-around adapt-ability. Specific evolution is the phylogenetic, ramifying, historic passage of culture along its many lines, the adaptive modification of particular cultures. (P. 38)

In his model, Steward proposes a different methodological solution described as “multilinear evolution,” in which “regularities in culture change” are studied by comparing sequences of change in a series of particular cultures. His classic paper (1955, pp. 178–209) utilizing this model is his comparison of the development of “irrigation civilizations” in five and or semiarid areas of the world: Peru, Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. Although more recent empirical evidence has not supported his generalizations concerning irrigation works as the crucial factor in all these areas, the comparative framework he proposes is a fruitful one that can be utilized on other ranges of culture change data.

Another model that involves social and cultural changes over relatively long time spans is that of Redfield, whose classic study (1941) of the shift from “folk” to “urban” society has stimulated many further studies of culture change, including the present interest in the emergence of and changes in “peasant society.” Drawing upon the earlier ideas of Durkheim, Maine, Morgan, and Tonnies, Redfield designed a field study that compared four communities in Yucatan: a tribal village, a peasant village, a town, and a city. Using degree of isolation and degree of homogeneity in culture patterns as the independent variables, he shows how three types of culture change accompany lessening isolation and homogeneity: disorganization of the culture, secularization, and individualization.

Redfield’s model generates a number of interesting propositions. Perhaps the major methodo-logical difficulty in his Yucatan study was that two quite different types of phenomena were inextricably intertwined. Although his cases certainly range from “folk” to “urban” types of society, they are also cases that have involved a massive confrontation between the Mayan Indian and the Spanish cultural traditions. It is difficult to distinguish between changes that have derived from a shift in type of society from folk to urban and changes that have derived from the contact between Mayan Indians and Spaniards.

A more recent model dealing with sweeping changes in societies over long time spans is that of Rostow (1960), whose formulation of the stages of socioeconomic growth ranging from “a traditional society” to a stage of “durable consumers’ goods and services” is currently influencing anthropological thought about the processes of culture change in the modern nations of the world. Other aspects of this long-range process of growth and development (at least in our own Western society) are treated in such studies as Riesman’s characterization (1950) of the sequence of “tradition-directed” to “inner-directed” to “other-directed” systems.

Microscopic models. Among the many models that are less extensive in scope, but still focused upon changing social and cultural systems, are those of Murdock (1949) and Leach (1954). Murdock (1949, pp. 201–221) is mainly concerned with changes in social organization, and he singles out the “rule of residence” as the aspect of social structure that acts as a filter, capable of responding to a variety of quite diverse external stimuli but in only a limited number of ways. He proposes that change in a social system regularly begins with a modification of the rule of residence, and other changes in kinship structure and terminology follow in predictable order. Leach, on the other hand, utilizes what might be called an “oscillation model” in his description of Kachin society, where there is a regular oscillation between two polar types of political value systems to which the people can appeal and still be considered members of the society.

On a still more modest scale of comparative analysis, there are models for the study of changes in individual and group behavior within one culture. An example of such a model is that of Spindler and Goldschmidt (1952), who present an experimental design for the study of sociological and psychological variables in the changes that are occurring in individual and group behavior among the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin.

Finally, mention should be made of the “genetic model” proposed by Romney (1957), which provides for the analysis of culture change a comparative framework that offers the possibility of controlling geographical and historical factors to the maximum extent and of utilizing the full range of linguistic, archeological, and ethnographic data as these become available. The model, building upon earlier suggestions by Sapir (1916) and Eggan (1954), assumes that genetically related tribes, as determined by related languages, common physical type, and shared systemic patterns, form a “genetic unit” that derived from a small protogroup with a protoculture at some time in the past. The term “genetic” implies nothing beyond a concern with origins and mode of development of a unit of culture history. It is not assumed that all the people in the genetic unit necessarily descend from the ancestral group in a strict biological sense; biological mixture is expected wherever people of the genetic unit are in contact with other groups. What is required is a distinguishable physical type that converges, rather than diverges, as one goes back in time.

The model resembles that of the zoologist who views a certain species of animal as evolving and making an adaptive adjustment to a given ecological niche and then radiating from this point as the population expands into neighboring ecological niches. As the population moves into different ecological settings, further adaptive variations occur in the species. But these variations are traceable to the ancestral animal, or, in other words, back to the prototype. In applying the model to human populations, we may assume that a small protogroup succeeds in adapting itself efficiently to a certain ecological niche and in developing certain basic systemic patterns, which constitute the basic aspects of the protoculture. Once the adaptation proves to be efficient, the population expands, and the group begins to radiate from this point of dispersal. As members split off from the protocommunity, move into neighboring ecological niches, and come into contact with alien cultures, they make appropriate adaptations to these new situations and begin to differentiate—that is, there are adaptive variations from the prototype as the members of the genetic unit spread from the dispersal area. The use of this model not only makes possible the controlled comparative study of pre-historic and historic sequences of culture change in a geographically and historically meaningful unit but also sets the stage for more precise structural-functional comparisons of the various branches of the genetic unit as these continue to undergo change in the contemporary world. An example of a recent application of the model may be found in Vogt (1964).

EvonZ. Vogt


Barnett, Homer G. 1953 Innovation: The Basis of Cultural Change. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Childe, V. Gordon 1951 Social Evolution. New York: Schumann.

Eggan, Fred 1954 Social Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Comparison. American Anthropologist New Series 56:743–763.

Firth, Raymond W. 1951 Elements of Social Organization. London: Watts. → A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Beacon.

Geertz, Clifford 1957 Ritual and Social Change: A Javanese Example. American Anthropologist New Series 59:32–54.

Hallowell, A. Irving 1955 Culture and Experience. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

Herskovits, Melville J. 1955 Cultural Anthropology. New York: Knopf. → An abridged revision of Man and His Works, 1948.

Keesing, Felix M. 1953 Culture Change: An Analysis and Bibliography of Anthropological Sources to 1952. Stanford Anthropological Series, No. 1. Stanford Univ. Press.

Kroeber, Alfred L. 1944 Configurations of Culture Growth. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Leach, Edmund R. 1954 Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure. A publication of the London School of Economics and Political Science. London School of Economics and Political Science; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Murdock, George P. 1949 Social Structure. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1965 by the Free Press.

Opler, Morris E. 1945 Themes as Dynamic Forces in Culture. American Journal of Sociology 51:198–206.

Redfield, Robert 1941 The Folk Culture of Yucatan. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Riesman, David 1950 The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → An abridged paperback edition was published in 1960.

Romney, A. Kimball 1957 The Genetic Model and Uto-Aztecan Time Perspective. Davidson Journal of Anthropology 3, no. 2:35–41.

Rostow, Walt W. (1960) 1963 The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Sahlins, Marshall D.; and Service, Elman R. (editors) 1960 Evolution and Culture. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

Sapir, Edward (1916) 1949 Time Perspective in Aboriginal American Culture: A Study in Method. Pages 389–462 in Edward Sapir, Selected Writings in Language, Culture and Personality. Edited by D. Mandelbaum. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Spindler, George; and Goldschmidt, Walter 1952 Experimental Design in the Study of Culture Change. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 8:68–83.

Steward, Julian H. 1955 Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

Vogt, Evon Z. 1960 On the Concept of Structure and Process in Cultural Anthropology. American Anthropologist New Series 62:18–33.

Vogt, Evon Z. 1964 The Genetic Model and Maya Cultural Development. Pages 9–48 in Conference on the Cultural Development of the Maya, Burg Wartenstein, Austria, 1962, Desarrollo cultural de los Mayas. Edited by Evon Z. Vogt and A. Ruz Lhuillier. University City: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Wallace, Anthony F. C. 1961 Culture and Personality. New York: Random House.

Weber, Max (1922) 1963 The Sociology of Religion. Boston: Beacon. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1964.

White, Leslie 1949 The Science of Culture: A Study of Man and Civilization. New York: Farrar, Straus. → A paperback edition was published in 1958 by Grove.

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The term culture has become central and of primary importance to the social sciences; it is difficult, however, to encompass in a single definition all the meanings attached to it. After surveying and analyzing more than 160 definitions, A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn have summarized the basic ideas as follows: "Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action" (Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions 357).


In Latin and in languages that have borrowed from Latin, the term culture implies cultivation, or becoming cultured, and is used to refer to individuals rather than to groups. This meaning has been retained in both popular and literary English, especially within the humanistic tradition. Similarly, the German word Kultur is equated with the idea of "higher" values and the enlightenment of society. Matthew Arnold elaborated this meaning, proposing that culture is, or ought to be the "study of perfection," consisting in "an inward condition of the mind and spirit, not in an outward set of circumstances" [Culture and Anarchy, ed. J. D. Wilson (Cambridge, England 1960) 48].

Introduction in the Social Sciences. The concept as used in the social sciences was introduced into English by E. B. Tylor [Primitive Culture (London 1871)] but did not become established as a key concept in English anthropology until its use by Sir James Frazer in 1885. Even then the older term custom continued to be preferred. British social anthropologists, principally concerned with social structure, were reluctant to use the newer term widely. Recent writers have reintroduced it in order to describe the part of a people's behavior that cannot be subsumed under social structure, since "no account of social relationships can be complete unless it includes reference to what it means to the people who have it for human beings have cultures, systems of beliefs and values" [J. Beattie, Other Cultures (New York 1964) 13]. Nevertheless the term custom is frequently used in place of culture. There is an awareness that culture is more inclusive, whereas custom refers to "habits" and usages, usually of a nontechnical sort, learned by the individual and shared by a group.

Culture has sometimes been used as a substitute for or in opposition to civilization. In England and France, the term civilization was used in preference to culture in regard to complex societies, ancient and modern. Civilization implied a "high" culture characterized by writing and a highly developed political organization, i.e., a state administered from cities and exercising dominance over others. As in America, culture and civilization were also used interchangeably by European writers.

The culture concept has had a longer history in Germany. Kroeber and Kluckhohn have traced it back to the end of the 18th century. At first the idea as it appeared in general histories had an almost modern ring. Culture implied progress in cultivation toward enlightenment, but there was already an interest in comparing cultures. During a second phase of development, from Kant to Hegel, the emphasis shifted more to the idea of spirit (Geist ) and its ennoblement. Kultur was opposed to crude nature. In a third phase, beginning with the ethnographer Gustav Friedrich Klemm [Allgemeine Culturgeschichte der Menschheit, 10 v. (Leipzig 184352)], the more modern and technical meaning came into use. Klemm suggested a definition that in its enumerative aspects (i.e., the study of customs, arts, skills, domestic and public life in peace and war, religion, science, and art) foreshadowed the now classic definition by Tylor. Indeed, Tylor was influenced by Klemm and decided to use the term culture instead of his earlier term civilization because it was more inclusive and descriptive. Thus, among social scientists culture began to denote the characteristic modes of human existence.

Principal Emphases. The precise meaning that is given to the concept in modern social science tends to vary according to the interests and purposes of anthropologists and sociologists, both of whom use the term most frequently, and of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other social scientists and humanistic scholars. Kroeber and Kluckhohn have identified six major emphases.

First, one view emphasizes the comprehensive totality of culture and the enumeration of aspects of cultural content. Customs characterizing group behavior and habits characterizing individual behavior, as well as the products of both, comprise the content of culture. Culture is based on the life of a group or a society and is learned. The learning of culture is implied or explicitly stated by most authors. The role of symbolism, especially in language, is stressed as an aspect of culture, as is the idea that culture has historical depth.

Second, other conceptions tend to emphasize history, or the idea of a social heritage or a tradition. Ralph Linton notes that "as a general term, culture means the total social heredity of mankind, while as a specific term, a culture means a particular strain of social heredity" [The Study of Man (New York 1936) 78].

Third, still others emphasize a distinctive way of life; or normative ideas and their consequences; or culture as a "design for living" or as "that whole 'way of life' which is determined by the social environment" [O. Klineberg, Race Differences (New York 1935) 255]. Some, such as the sociologist P. A. Sorokin, emphasize values and ideals: "The cultural aspect of the superorganic universe consists of meanings, values, norms, their action and relationships, their integrated and unintegrated groups as they are objectified through overt actions and other vehicles in the empirical and sociocultural universe" [Society, Culture and Personality (New York 1947) 313].

Fourth, emphasis may be placed on the psychological aspects of culture insofar as they point to such processes as adjustment, learning, and habit formation. Culture becomes a means for solving problems, for satisfying needs, and for adjusting to the environment as well as to other men. This view is somewhat widely held by followers of Bronislaw Malinowski.

Fifth, the structural and hence also the systematic nature of culture may be stressed. This implies that the elements of culture are related and linked. Culture becomes abstract, a conceptual model of behavior, but not behavior itself. Parts of culture are functionally interrelated. Terms such as cultural system, cultural configuration, and cultural organization become key terms in this approach.

Finally, culture may be conceived as a product of human action. This results from attempts to answer the question of how culture comes to exist. Culture is seen on the one hand as the result of the interaction of individuals and their environment; on the other, as "the summation of all the ideas for standardized types of behavior"(C. Kluckhohn and W. H. Kelly, "The Concept of Culture" in Linton, ed., The Science of Man 97), and as dependent on the use of systems of symbols by man.

Component Elements

Most social scientists note that although each culture is unique, all cultures can be analyzed from the point of view of (1) abstract qualities, categorized according to standard anthropological concepts; (2) the substantive aspects, or content, of culture, which can be variously classified; and (3) the organization of this content into systems and subsystems that are to some extent integrated.

Analysis of Abstract Qualities. Basic to any consideration is the behavioral reference of culture. Behavior ultimately provides the basic data from which culture is abstracted. Not all behavior provides such data, however; it must be repetitive and show some degree of structuring, which implies standardization. In short, behavioral units form patterns. Wherever behavioral elements form a pattern, the emphasis is on the relationships between the elements, rather than on content. Kroeber distinguishes three kinds of patterns: the universal, manifest in speech, art, knowledge, religion, etc.; the systematic, the wholeculture pattern that reveals the coherence of an entire cultural system; and the style, a characteristic mode of doing or expressing things (Anthropology 31143). Since behavior is more or less continuous, forming a behavioral stream, patterns may be recognized and distinguished from one another through the identification of discontinuities that produce sets of behaviors. Not all patterns are evenly distributed in a society. In Linton's terms, when they are common to all members of a society, they are universal, in contrast to specialties, which are restricted to selected individuals (such as doctors, lawyers, scientists), and to alternatives, which suggest that there are several equally legitimate ways of thinking, doing, knowing (The Study of Man 27274).

Social scientists frequently begin their work through observation of human aggregates; the behavioral patterns they describe constitute the overt culture. This includes socially standardized motor activities readily understood by the members of the subject people, e.g., houses, books, canoes, speech forms, clothing, and appropriate postures for particular situations. But no description would be complete without covert culture. It is not directly observable because sentiments, beliefs, values, and fears may only be inferred from what people say about their own subjective states. It may be necessary to use psychological depth techniques to obtain data on this dimension of culture.

There is a closely related distinction between explicit and implicit cultural patterns. Explicit patterns are readily verbalized by members of a group. This implies that the pattern is recognized and defined by the people being studied. The reference is to the cognitive "map" by which people orient their behavior more or less rationally. Most Americans can readily describe at least part of a school system, the manner of staffing it, the norms controlling it, and how they have to behave in relation to it. Implicit cultural patterns, in contrast, are forms of behavior about which no coherent account can be given, even though they have the same compelling force. In the U.S., social relationships between friends or between husband and wife are in large measure controlled by implicit canons of appropriateness, rather than by explicit norms; one "knows" how to behave. Most users of any language speak grammatically although they may not know the rules of the grammar. Implicit culture may also refer to assumptions, postulates, and themes never made explicit.

When people in a society give expression to the appropriate mode of behaving, that is, make statements about the way they should behave, the way they would like to behave, or the way they believe they behave, they are describing the ideal culture. The term refers to the perceptual, cognitive, and evaluative behavior of a people. Cultural ideals do not imply desirability. For example, if a member of a community asserts that delinquency is getting out of hand and if this sentiment is shared by a large proportion of the community, the members are making "ideal" statements that may have no basis in fact. Only careful social studies of the actual behavior of juveniles can reveal the real culture (sometimes called manifest culture). Empirical evidence alone can establish the difference or concordance between ideal and real patterns. If the discrepancy between the ideal and the real is appreciated in a society, this may provide the occasion for the introduction of change.

Cultural patterns and their arrangements may be said to be facilitating insofar as they extend man's control over his environment and society. Machines that allow man to harness and convert energy and social arrangements and organizations with the associated values, norms, beliefs, and knowledge allow man to increase and extend his activities. On the other hand, every culture includes rules and limitations on man's behavior; there are patterned ways of restraining man. Every culture has not only systems of prescription but also systems of proscription manifest in rules against aggression, the control of the sexual impulse illustrated in the universal prohibition of incest, etc. The specific and concrete content and structure of these patterns varies considerably from culture to culture.

Man's culture, ideas, beliefs, norms, and the products of his activities tend to outlive particular individuals and generations. Culture is the nongenetic social heritage (Linton) that is not entirely based on a particular human organism; individuals are born into a culture, and often the culture outlives them. In this sense, culture becomes superorganic (Kroeber). All the same, without the biological organism in which thinking, feeling, and acting take place, culture would cease to exist. Culture is man-made; it is also dependent on man's normal constitution. Much, if not all, cultural activity centers on biological needs. For this reason, there is an organic base for culture.

Analysis of Content. The culture trait or element refers to an identifiable unit of a culture. How small or how large a trait is is determined by the purpose of the analysis. Pattern and trait are sometimes used interchangeably; however, methodologically, this is not altogether accurate, because a pattern is a more abstract derivation of observed behavior that is regular and recurring, whereas a trait relates more directly to observed behavior, a cultural artifact, or other feature. Thus, fishing, hunting, or agriculture may be considered cultural traits when they have diagnostic value for establishing relationships between cultures. For an archeologist, the tempering of clay used for pottery or the technique used for making a pot (e.g., using a wheel, or coiling the clay and molding it with an anvil paddle) may be diagnostic traits that differentiate and relate culture.

Combinations of traits that are organized or related to one another so that they form an organic unity are called culture complexes. The traits persist in certain fixed relationships. Thus if any one trait considered vital for the complex is removed, the complex has become another thing. The plow complex, for instance, is comprised of a draft animal, a harness, a plow, and a male operator. After making its first appearance in Mesopotamia more than 5,500 years ago, it reached nearly every part of the world. Archeologists and at least one cultural anthropologist have also used the term assemblage, "a cluster or associated body of ideas, symbols, artifacts and behavior called into play by a culturally significant event." The various parts of an assemblage are components. Assemblages, unlike complexes, are clusters of traits that appear only in certain situations, such as initiation rites [M. E. Opler, "Component, Assemblage, and Theme in Cultural Integration and Differentiation," American Anthropologist 61 (1959) 95564].

Interest in the geographic distribution of cultural traits and complexes, that is, the spatial classification of cultures, gave rise to the concept of the culture area. It was suggested by museum presentations of ethnological specimens (traits of material culture) according to geographical areas (rather than some evolutionary or other taxonomic scheme). Clark Wissler recalled, "We saw that the natives of the New World could be grouped according to single culture traits, giving us food areas, textile areas, ceramic areas, etc. If, however, we take all the traits into simultaneous consideration and shift our view to the social, or tribal units, we are able to form fairly definite groups. This will give us culture areas, or classification of culture groups according to their culture traits" [The American Indian (2d ed. New York 1922) 21718].

Kroeber not only expanded this new research and drew some new boundaries for the more than 15 culture areas in the New World, but was interested also in the degree to which there was concordance between them and natural areas. In some instances, as in California, the northwest coast, and the plains, there was considerable concordance; elsewhere there was little or none, suggesting the interdependence of culture and environment, but no direct causal relationship. There is no agreement on criteria for classifying culture areas, and authors tend to draw boundaries differently. An attempt to classify ethnic units as cult units met considerable criticism, partially because it did not resolve the problem of the relatively impressionistic way in which traits, complexes, etc., are selected for classification [R. Narroll et al., "On Ethnic Unit Classification," Current Anthropology 5 (1964) 283312].

Although cultural content is presented variously according to problems under consideration and methodology, it is generally agreed that all cultures share some broad, descriptive qualities. Detailed catalogues of cultural elements have been designed for field workers and analysts, e.g., British Association for Advancement of Science, Notes and Queries on Anthropology (6th ed. London 1951), and Human Relations Area Files, Outline of Cultural Materials (New Haven, Connecticut 1961). These descriptive outlines attempt to group cultural findings under headings that are general enough to be labeled cultural universals since they apply to all cultures of mankind, viz: (1) Technology, the utilization of natural resources to secure food and manufacture tools, weapons, clothing, shelters, containers, and other artifacts necessary to life. (2) Economic organization, comprising the patterns of behavior and the resultant organization of society relative to production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. (3) Social organization, comprising the social institutions that determine the positions of men and women in a society and thus channel their personal relationships into two major classes, those that derive from kinship and those that derive from the more or less free association of individuals. (4) Political organization, frequently included under social organization but more recently the focus of special attention as pertaining to social relationships involving leadership and its administrative apparatus, recognized legal machinery, police, armies, and the form and control of social conflict on local and national levels. (5) Education, viewed broadly as comprising all the ways through which the individual learns the appropriate ways of behaving in his cultural milieu, including not only the conscious transmission of culture to the individual, but also the ways in which the culture subtly molds the individual to become an acceptable member of his group or the other groups he joins during his life cycle. (6) Religion, that behavior relative to man's relations to unknown forces and the concomitant systems of belief and ritual associated with such forces. see religion (in primitive culture). (7) Symbolic culture, encompassing "systems of symbols and the techniques of using them relative to the acquisition, ordering, transferring of knowledge," especially through language, which becomes an intricate part of culture if not the most important part of the system of symbols, and also through the arts, folklore, drama, and music [R. R. Beals and H. Hoijer, An Introduction to Anthropology (2d ed. New York 1965) 28788].

Integration of Culture. It is a widely accepted assumption in the social sciences that cultures differ not only in content but also in the integration or organization of their components. In this view cultures form systems with limits that are more or less open.

Uniqueness. The idea that a culture is more than the sum of its parts is expressed in a variety of ways. Ruth Benedict was a pioneer in illustrating integration in terms of a unified plan, a Leitmotiv, or configuration. She wrote that "a culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action. Within each culture there comes into being characteristic purposes not necessarily shared by other types of society. In obedience to these purposes, each people further and further consolidates its experience, and in proportion to the urgency of these drives, the heterogeneous items of behavior take more and more congruous shape" [Patterns of Culture (New York 1934) 42]. Not all cultures succeed equally well in integrating these heterogeneous items. Benedict isolated and described two major motifs, the Apollonian among the Pueblo peoples and the Dionysian among the Plains peoples: "The desire of the Dionysian, in personal experience or in ritual, is to press through it toward a certain psychological state, to achieve access. He values the illuminations of frenzy. The Apolloniandistrusts all this and has often little idea of the nature of such experiences. He keeps the middle of the road, stays within the known map, does not meddle with disruptive psychological states" (72).

A psychological emphasis is also reflected in the concept of ethos, a general term designating the affective character of a culture. For some, however, it is less inclusive and differentiates between the major values, implicit premises, acquired drives, etc., that underlie behavior. J. Honigmann describes the ethos of the Kaska of British Columbia in terms of ego-centricity, utilitarianism, deference, flexibility, dependence, and emotional isolation; these emotional qualities "explain" their behavior in different situations [Culture and Ethos of Kaska Society (New Haven 1949)]. As Kroeber remarks, the concept of ethos emphasizes cultural goals and purposes and refers "not so much to the specific ethics or moral code of the culture as to its total quality, to what would constitute disposition or character in an individual; to the system of ideals and values that dominate the culture and so tend to control the type of behavior of its members" (Anthropology 294).

Continuity. Emphasizing the historical continuity of cultures, and viewing a culture as a historically derived system, Kroeber has sought cultural climaxes in the major culture areas of the world, on the assumption that the accumulation of cultural traits "seems to have corresponded essentially with a period of successful organization of culture contentorganization in part into a conscious system of ideas but especially into an integrated nexus of styles, standards and values" ["Cultural Intensity and Climax" in The Nature of Culture (Chicago 1952) 340]. In recognition of the diachronic integration of culture, Robert Redfield has referred to the relation of historical events to one another and to the central purposes of the small community. Large complex societies (e.g., civilizations) are composed of cities and villages, urbanites and peasants that form societies within societies (part-societies) and have corresponding great and little traditions. The great tradition cultivated in schools or temples is the tradition of the philosopher, theologian, and literary man that is handed down from generation to generation. "The little tradition works itself out and keeps itself going in the lives of the unlettered" in the small community and among the great majority of little people. But "the two traditions are interdependent. Great and little traditions have long affected each other and continue to do so" through the interchange of personnel. The priests in the village, for instance, as carriers of the great tradition, have to modify their approach to villagers, and the urbanite is dependent upon the services and products of the peasant (Peasant Society and Culture 7071). Characteristic of Redfield's approach is his use of tradition as an over-arching principle that integrates apparent opposites that are themselves historically derived.

Functional Integration. Another approach to the problem of cultural integration derives from the recognition that elements in culture may be functionally related to one another or to a cultural whole. Functional integration in the past has stressed pattern maintenance and need satisfaction. The functional interpretations of Malinowski and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown were both concerned with whole cultural systems, but with important differences. According to Malinowski, functional integration is achieved when cultural traits, complexes, and institutions serve individual needs in a society. To the extent that cultural elements promote adaptation to the social and natural environment, to that extent the culture is more, rather than less, integrated. Radcliffe-Brown was concerned with how the relation of sociocultural arrangements to one another helps to maintain the system rather than the individual. The family, for example, in addition to its obvious reproductive function, contributes to the continuity of the society through all its associated behavior patterns, be they economic, religious, legal, or political. Such functional integration presumably contributes to social cohesion, social stability, and group solidarity.

Themes. Linton also stressed the interrelationships of parts in the concept of cultural interest: "Every culture has several interests which are of primary importance and which together constitute an integrated system. To select even two or three of these as the focal points for the whole culture configuration probably involves a distortion of the actual condition, but such distortion is requisite to any comprehensible descriptive account" (The Study of Man 443). So too, when members of a society show much concern about a particular cultural feature, such as success in American culture, this can be called a cultural focus (Herskovits) since apparently unrelated behavioral elements come to a focus at this point and integrate or relate diverse patterns of behavior. Recognizing the contradictions as well as the relationships in culture, Opler has suggested that culture patterns may be integrated around several themes, since most cultures appear not to have as total an integration as Benedict's work suggests. A theme is "a postulate or position, declared or implied, and usually controlling behavior or stimulating activity, which is tacitly approved or openly promoted in a society" ["Some Recently Developed Concepts Relating to Culture," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 4 (1948) 120]. Analysis recognizes the interplay of themes and dynamic qualities. Similarly the notion of postulates of culture (Hoebel) calls attention to the logical integration in all societies. Sorokin speaks of the logico-meaningful integration that "has its own common denominator of all relevant phenomena: it is the identity (or similarity) of central meaning, idea, or mental bias that permeates all logically related fragments" [Social and Cultural Dynamics 4 v. (New York 193741) 1.24]. Thus, the apparent irrationality of exotic peoples can be explained away if the observer is able to isolate basic assumptions of their cultures. Contradictions can be understood either in terms of compartmentalizationwhere the people under study do not perceive any connection between two sets of behavioror of an underlying assumption about life in general that explains the relationships between apparently divergent phenomena.

Values. In an attempt to bring sociological, psychological, and philosophical ideas pertaining to the ideational realm of culture into a more general frame of reference, the Harvard department of social relations has investigated problems of cultural values. Clyde Kluckhohn has defined a value as a conceptualization "explicit, or implicit, distinctive of an individual or characteristic of a group, of the desirable which influences the selection from available modes, means, and ends of action," and value orientations as "complex, but definitely patterned (rank ordered) principles, resulting from the transactional interplay of three analytically distinguishable elements of the evaluative processthe cognitive, the affective, and the directive elements-which give order and direction to the ever-flowing stream of human acts and thoughts as these relate to the solution of common human problems" ["Values and Value Orientations in the Theory of Action" in T. Parsons et al., Toward a General Theory of Action (Cambridge, Massachusetts 1951) 395, 411]. An important contribution of this effort is the stress on the valuation process and the attempt to move beyond the static description of structural integration of culture. This approach tries not only to emphasize the rational (logical) and purely subjective (affective) modes through which individuals in a culture orient themselves, but recognizes also that"there would be no ordered, no systematic, value system without a directive tendency which both aids in the selection among possible value systems and also serves to give continuity to the total system" [F. R. Kluckhohn and F. L. Strodtbeck, Variations in Value Orientations (Evanston, Illinois 1961) 8].

Culture, Society, and Individual

As Kroeber and Kluckhohn have explained, "culture is produced and changed, concretely, by individuals each distinctive life-way is also the product of a group. Yet culture is not necessarily tied throughout time to a particular society. Islamic culture, as we know it today, cuts across communities, societies, and nations. Roman society ceased to exist as such more than a millennium ago, but Roman culture was a vital force throughout the Middle Ages and, in certain aspects, is still alive today" (op. cit. 367). For analytical purposes at least, concrete behavior and its products may be conceptualized in social, cultural, and psychological dimensions. These dimensions are not empirically but analytically distinct. There is, however, no unified theory of human behavior, and what is social or cultural or psychological is not always agreed upon.

Culture and Personality. The individual is born into a human group (usually the social subsystem called the family) composed of culturally defined social roles that assure the helpless infant's reaching maturity. Unlike other animals, the human child depends for a long time on other members of his society to satisfy and meet his many needs in the maturation process. This dependency varies in length of time, however; in American society, for example, as compared with many others, it is extended considerably beyond puberty. At first the needs of the infant are met within the basic or extended family, but the modes in which they are met vary in accordance with customary ways of raising babies (i.e., with cultural systems). By the time the individual reaches maturity (also variable according to cultural prescriptions, but usually defined as the time when he can provide for his own needs), he has well established habits. This is not to say that the habits may not be changed, that new ones cannot be learned or some old ones be displaced. The processes of socialization (learning the appropriate social responses) and enculturation (learning the appropriate cultural responses in terms of symbols, etc.) are neverending. This human capability also makes possible cultural change.

The individual learns his social and cultural system and those of others (if he travels or is forced to live in another system) both through formal and informal means. These include schools or their equivalents in nonliterate societies (e.g., initiation rites) and habituation; that is, cultural and social behaviors are learned without being explicitly taughtthey are "just picked up"and in this there is little conscious learning but rather unconscious imitation. Nevertheless, even in relatively small communities, no person ever acquires the whole inventory of all behavioral responses appropriate to his culture. In part this is related to the various ways in which people organize themselves to educate their children. The system of social interaction may bring individuals in close association in schools, with grandparents, with organized groups of older children who teach younger ones (as in agegraded societies), or with the community as a whole. Learning occurs when appropriate behavior is rewarded or approval is withheld. Even when the socializing and enculturating processes fail, and when the individual may be said to be socially or mentally ill, rebellion is manifested in terms of his own culture and society.

The individual acquires his culture within the everexpanding network of social relationships. Culture may be thought of as the medium in which the personality develops. Thus the techniques and ideas that individuals learn have a lasting effect on the adult person; yet these cultural behaviors differ between groups, communities, and societies. It is possible to say that different norms and social institutions produce different personality structures; and if they are widely shared in a population, the result is referred to as basic personality, i.e., "a structure of articulated personality characteristics and processes attributable, non-statistically, to almost all members of some culturally bounded population" (A. F. C. Wallace, Culture and Personality 106). The statistical distribution of personality traits determined by certain psychological tests (Thematic Apperception or Rorschach tests, for instance) discloses modal personality. The significance of personality variation lies in the fact that different societies and cultures may emphasize or reward some types more than others. Consequences for the direction of culture change may result through suppression of those who do not have the requisite personality traits or of those whose personalities are not malleable enough to change.

Culture and Social Relations. Social relationships as elements of the social system are greatly influenced by culture. In the process of maturation the individual learns cultural obligations, first from interacting with his mother, later with other members of his family, and eventually with individuals outside the family. Each person met affects the individual in some way, but the relationships are reciprocal; that is, all individuals involved in interaction have certain expectations of each other. To the extent that an individual learns to meet these expectations, others in his interactive network of social relationships will reward him according to the standards set by the culture. Although the expectations of two or more interacting individuals must in some degree be complementary, they need not be identical and indeed rarely are. It is the regularity of expectations that allows social life, for it ensures a necessary minimum of predictability among individuals. Learning a culture may be said to involve meeting expectations and holding them in the mind and using the appropriate ones in the appropriate situations.

The social system can be conceived in terms of reciprocal social relationships and mutually adjusted expectations and their controlling norms; this pattern is called a system of social roles (analogous to but not identical with theatrical roles). Social roles are performed by actorsthe term calls attention to the interchangeability of individuals in the role. Not everyone performs a role according to culturally standardized expectations; nevertheless role performance is socially controlled and involves positive and negative sanctions in conformity with cultural norms. An individual who does not meet the standards or who violates the norms associated with the role must relinquish the role. For example, a man who does not meet the socially and culturally defined role expectations of the father may lose this role by having his children placed in foster homes. Legal sanctions are brought against him. It is useful, however, to distinguish between the individual personality, sometimes referred to by the individual as the "real me," and the social personality, which reflects the capacity and the quality of the individual in performing his role, the "social me." Although one affects the other, it is the individual style with which roles are performed that gives considerable variation in role performance. The latitude allowed in role performance is, however, a matter determined largely by the cultural norms.

It is easy to reduce personality to cultural and social explanations or to equate personality traits with cultural traits (cf. Benedict). In regard to homogeneous cultures, there appears to be much concordance between culture and personality. But the "fit" is not precise in complex heterogeneous cultures, and consequently the ideas of modal personality extended to national character have been challenged. There is currently no satisfactory theory to account for the recognized empirical interrelationships between culture, society, and the individual.

Theories of Culture Growth

Man in nearly all cultures has been concerned about his origins, development, and differences and has proposed many different explanations in myth, fantasy, and theory. By the beginning of the 19th century there was a strong tendency to formulate evolutionary theories. A hundred years later there was a decided reaction against such sweeping explanations and a new interest in detailed, historically descriptive studies. More recently, evolutionary schemes have again become important in social science. It is convenient to discuss these theories under three headings: (1) evolutionary approaches, old and new, (2) historical explanations, and (3) diffusionism. Recent views of cultural change are presented in a final section.

Evolutionary Theories. Underlying most ideas of cultural growth is the observation that for mankind as a whole culture has expanded in time and space. The everincreasing finds of archeology and human paleontology have suggested that man's culture began simply and increased in content and complexity through the ages. Levels of cultural growth are recognized: the life of the earliest men was concerned principally with food gathering and was followed by the slow acquisition of additional knowledge and techniques leading to food production prior to the development of urban centers and the rise of states. Evidence for these levels or stages has been accumulated from the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas.

The early accumulation of evidence from history and prehistory led to increased speculation on the origin and growth of "high" cultures. Klemm tried to show in his early work how mankind had passed through successive stages of savagery, tameness, and freedom. August comte, sometimes referred to as the father of sociology, had man advancing from the theological to the metaphysical to the positive, or scientific, stage. Herbert spencer, although less optimistic about the advances of mankind, nevertheless had man pass through fixed stages dictated by "natural law." By 1860, which marks a turning point in thinking about man's development, explanations of cultural growth were given a distinct evolutionary turn by the influence of Charles darwin's Origin of Species (1859).

Analogies with Biological Evolution. The presumed analogy between biological evolution and cultural evolution stimulated much research, leading investigators into a number of blind alleys yet increasing the yield of data through field investigations. Evolutionary theories assumed that elements of culture appearing among the simplest contemporary societies were "survivals" from the past and that the evolutionary process moved from simplicity in the direction of increasing complexity and heterogeneity. Thus, the customs of man could be arranged in a series, or in stages, generally divided into savagery, barbarism, and civilization. The comprehensive approaches of the British anthropologist Tylor and the American Lewis Henry Morgan ordered the numerous ethnographic data on "a rough scale of civilization [representing] a transition from the savage state to our own" (Tylor, Primitive Culture, 1.24). Morgan divided the stages of mankind into smaller subdivisions, noting the appearance of diagnostic cultural traits to mark the "necessary sequences of progress" (Ancient Society, New York 1877).

Unilinear evolutionary thought of the 19th century proposed theories of progress rather than empirical formulations of what actually happened. It was based on faulty evidence, did not take into account regional variations, and underplayed the effects of cultural borrowing. Differences in the various conditions of mankind were explained in terms of climate, soil, race, and other factors; yet the mainspring for this progress was attributed to a never-defined psychic unity characteristic of all mankind. Major limitations of 19th-century evolutionary explanations may be traced to uncritical comparisons of cultural traits without recognition of the importance of their functional integration and the contexts in which they appeared.

Neoevolutionary Theories. Current theories of cultural growth are considerably more sophisticated, largely because better and more extensive archeological and ethnographic data have become available. Even modern sociology has reintroduced the problem of social evolution. The major difference between the older approaches and the more recent ones is the development of criteria for the assessment of evolutionary change. Leslie A. White has had considerable influence on contemporary thought by suggesting as an objective measure of progress the increasingly efficient use of human effort through technological control. This index is based on the assumption that "cultures are dynamic systems; they require energy for their activation. The history of civilization is the story of the control over forces of nature by cultural means"(362). In his view, the cultural system is "a series of three horizontal strata: the technological layer on the bottom, the philosophical on the top, the sociological stratum in between," but "the technological system is basic and primary" (366). As technology changes, especially through its ability to convert energy ever more efficiently, so also culture as a whole is transformed. The social and philosophical strata are admitted to have a conditioning but not a determining influence upon technology. White's cultural determinism has been criticized by a number of contemporary anthropologists, especially by those who give primary or at least equal weight to the important influence of ideas, values, and social relationships.

Concern for the causes underlying the development and evolution of culture has led J. H. Steward to look at the relationship of technology and environment as a problem of adjustment. Varying adjustment patterns give rise to different successive "levels of sociocultural integration" (4363). Changes occurring in any part of the sociocultural system may become basic adjustments. The ecological adjustments made in simple hunting and gathering cultures constitute a cultural core around which family, religion, and other cultural activities are integrated to form cultural types. But through any shift in the relationships of cultural patterns (resulting from either innovation or cultural contact) the core may take on a new structure; and as population and other factors also change, a new level of sociocultural integration is achieved. Steward made a tentative test of this hypothesis by comparing the development of five early cultures culminating in civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, North China, northern Peru, and Meso-America. All developed from a hunting and gathering base in a semiarid environment and followed similar sequences through incipient agriculture, a formative stage, regional florescence, an initial empire, dark ages, to cyclical conquests.

Although Steward's formulations lack precision, they have nevertheless given rise to new interpretations, especially by Robert J. Braidwood and G. R. Willey. These theories of multilinear evolutionism are cognizant of the complexity of the problems of diverse sequences of cultural development in different parts of the world. Thus Steward and other neoevolutionists, in proceeding carefully, have begun to establish sequences of development that are not as all-encompassing as those of the universal evolutionists, but account more adequately for processes in cultural development.

Change and the Moral Order. Although not in the stream of cultural evolutionism, Redfield was also concerned with long-term change. Much of his early work was devoted to the integration of the folk society in contrast to the urban society. The folk society is a characteristically small, isolated, close-knit, homogeneous entity. Its social relationships are principally patterned around kinship; its members have a supernaturalistic world view; and its values are more implicit than explicit. Civilization, in contrast, consists not only of things added to societysuch as cities, writing, public works, the state, the marketbut also of increased heterogeneity, increased division of labor, partial displacement of personal ties by impersonal ones, replacement of family connections by political affiliation and contract, and increased reflective and systematic thought. Redfield was mainly concerned about the role of the moral order in transforming the folk society and the role of the individual in changing this moral order. Going back to the preurbanized folk society and tracing changing ethical judgments through to the present, he found that even the earliest evidence suggested that moral behavior was strongly sanctioned and that at no time did man in his history behave selfishly without restraint. Historically speaking, the major transformations of the primitive world have involved an increase and widening of humane standards. But from the start, the nexus for holding human groups together, no matter how primitive or civilized, was the moral order and the ideas on which it is based. Redfield's views provide a balance to the materialistic interpretation of culture and history by White, V. G. Childe, and others. According to Redfield, "it is not enough to say that the technical order is destroyer of the moral order, it is not enough to identify civilization with development in the technical order alone. It is also to be recognized that the effects of the technical order include the creation of new moral orders. Through civilization also people are stimulated to moral creativeness. Civilization is also ideas in history. It is new vision, fresh and bold insights, perceptions and teachings of religious and ethical truth which could not have come about had there not been the expansion of the technical order" [The Primitive World and its Transformation (New York 1953) 77].

This implies that standards of evaluation can be applied to different societies, and in this Redfield agreed with Kroeber, who suggested some indices to measure progress, viz, the decline of magic and superstition; the "decline of infantile obsession with the outstanding physiological events in human life"; and finally technology, mechanics, and science, which show most clearly the cumulative effect in culture. But Redfield pointed out that, even in evaluating the development of mankind, judgments among social scientists have changed as well. The relativism that was characteristic of much of the social science of the first half of the 20th century, in which all cultures were considered to be equally valid, has given way to a critical reappraisal of the development of mankind as a whole. Although the canons of social science involve nonjudgmental statements, contemporary evaluations of societies lay special stress on the degree to which these societies achieve their own goals and aspirations.

Historical Explanations. Historical explanations of the growth of culture may be said to have been particularistic because they avoided broad generalizations and emphasized description and the uniqueness of cultural systems and events in any historical period. Many of the cultural studies of the early 20th century were reactions to the unilinear explanations that were criticized as impressionistic and premature.

American Historical School. The German-born anthropologist Franz Boas reacted strongly against the evolutionary trend in theory, and his opinions influenced social science for at least a generation. In his attack on the comparative method (identified with evolutionism), he pointed out that similarities between cultural traits did not necessarily prove historical connections and common origins. Instead he called for a detailed study of customs in particular cultures in relation to the natural environment and the neighboring cultural and social groups. Through minute studies of this sort the historical causes of the formation of individual customs or whole cultures could be ascertained. Such detailed studies would also illumine the psychological processes contributing to the development of culture. In this view the growth of culture results from the creative abilities of the members of a society and from borrowing from neighboring cultures. This so-called American historical school thus proceeded pragmatically and showed the fallacy of other broad generalizations, especially those of the racial, geographic, and economic determinists.

Boas and his students made important contributions to the study of cultural processes and encouraged many field studies of Native Americans. But they also initiated a trend toward reification of cultural traits; that is, traits were taken out of their context and handled statistically. Culture then became an object sui generis that frequently was unrelated to the individuals who manifested it. The active element was culture; the individual was passive. In this extreme form, cultural determinism was, however, somewhat limited. The approach nevertheless imposed critical rules for historical reconstruction; isolated principles of order, especially those pertaining to time and space distributions and to the recognition of cultural patterning; traced concrete events of diffusion and invention when possible; and presented the broad unity of the biocultural potential of all mankind.

Many anthropologists used the framework of the culture area. In the absence of written histories they borrowed the age-area hypotheses from the biologists when they needed a device for introducing a time dimension into their distributional studies. The implication of the hypothesis is that the traits most widely distributed in an area also have the greatest antiquity. But such traits and complexes as Buddhism, though widely distributed in Asia, do not represent the oldest religious forms. Although this hypothesis has proved valuable in areas where cultures have been diffused at a slow pace and by word of mouth, it is not valid in other culture areas.

Cyclical Theories. Among culture historians another trend is in evidence. Impressed by the rise and decline of specific civilizations, they have developed analogies with the human life cycle. Unlike the evolutionists, who postulated the inevitability of progress and perfection, these theorists postulated the inevitability of the cycle. Oswald spengler's Der Untergang des Abenlandes (2 v. Munich 191922) was perhaps the most influential of works of its kind, although in modified form others less pessimistic also dwelt on the apparent cyclical nature of historical events. Spengler maintained that the West, which had created industrial society, was losing to the awakening Orient, a view that received some support from events after World War I. The difficulty with this and other cyclical interpretations of history is the tendency to focus principally on political and military domination as criteria of ascendancy. Historians such as A. J. Toynbee [A Study of History, 12 v. (London 194861)], although considerably more moderate, hold to the idea that cultures rise and grow in response to a challenge. The manner in which Toynbee has selected his data to support his thesis has brought doubt upon his formulations. Furthermore, it is not clear that he has unambiguously identified and connected challenges with responses, a task of doubtful validity in any case. For the investigator who is dependent on documentary evidence, incomplete as it is, this becomes an extremely difficult undertaking.

Diffusionism. Although the American approach was concerned with diffusion, it was limited in scope. Studies of actual diffusion were confined to local and regional reconstructions, the interrelations of tribal and cultural areas, and the distribution of cultural elements over larger or smaller segments of the world. The focal interest was in relationships among cultures in the New World and the development of New World cultures in relative isolation from those of the Old World.

Extreme diffusionism had its sources in England and on the Continent. In England, E. G. Smith, for example, held that all cultures were ultimately traceable to one center, the valley of the Nile, and that after a technological spurt with concomitant cultural development, the culture had spread to the Mediterranean and hence to the rest of the world [The Migrants of Early Culture (Manchester 1915)]. The basic assumption underlying this approach is man's basic uninventiveness. Trade and other forms of travel and communication are considered to be the only means by which culture can develop and spread. This was supposed to have taken place all across Asia and even to Middle America via the Pacific Ocean. This approach discounted the formidable obstacles of oceans and land and magnified superficial similarities of form to the exclusion of function and meaning (e.g., in comparing Mayan and Egyptian pyramids). Furthermore, there is no evidence in intervening areas of any movement of either people or cultural traits from the postulated Egyptian center. The theory was not accepted in England, on the Continent, or in America.

A more scholarly and scientific approach to the spread of culture took the form of the German-Austrian Kulturkreis Theory that emanated from the Vienna school of Wilhelm schmidt, SVD. In spite of the tremendous scholarly effort of the followers of this approach, it was eventually considered inadequate, at least as a unified theoretical approach, even by its former proponents.

Culture Change

Older views in the study of culture change tended to focus on cultural elements themselves. The emphasis has shifted to the study of the changing relationships between elements; change between groups of individuals, sharing a common or different culture; change between segments of a society; and adjustments of individual personalities to their changing culture (see Wolf, 5386, for a partial review of changes in anthropological thinking after World War II).

Culture change is viewed in terms of the modification of the cultural system and subsystems, not merely as the addition, loss, or modification of cultural elements. Processes of culture change are only now being classified and involve such ideas as integration, adaptation, and isolationall operating on social, cultural, and psychological levels. There is currently no unified theory of culture change, but many hypotheses and propositions have been put forward to explain the large body of empirical observations.

Bibliography: d. bidney, Theoretical Anthropology (New York 1953). f. boas, The Mind of Primitive Man (New York 1938); Race, Language and Culture (New York 1940). r. j. braidwood and g. r. willey, eds., Courses toward Urban Life (Chicago 1962). t. g. harding et al., Evolution and Culture, ed. m. d. sahlins and e. r. service (Ann Arbor, Michigan 1960). m. j. herskovits, Man and His Works: the Science of Cultural Anthropology (New York 1949). j. j. honigmann, Culture and Personality (New York 1954). a. l. kroeber, Anthropology (new ed. New York 1948); Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America (Berkeley 1954); ed., Anthropology Today (Chicago 1953). a. l. kroeber and c. kluckhohn, Culture: a Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (Cambridge, Massachusetts 1952; repr. pa. New York 1963). r. linton, The Study of Man (New York 1936); ed., The Science of Man in the World Crisis (New York 1945). b. malinowski, A Scientific Theory of Culture, and Other Essays (Chapel Hill, North Carolina 1944). w. e. moore, Social Change (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1963). a. r. radcliffe-brown, A Natural Science of Society (New York 1957). r. redfield, The Little Community: Viewpoints for the Study of a Human Whole (Chicago 1955); Peasant Society and Culture: An Anthropological Approach to Civilization (Chicago 1956). n.j. and w. t. smelser, Personality and Social Systems (New York 1963). j. h. steward, Theory of Cultural Change (Urbana, Illinois 1955). a. f. c. wallace, Culture and Personality (pa. New York 1961). l. a. white, The Science of Culture (New York 1949). e. r. wolf, Anthropology (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1964).

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To produce a definition of culture, one can examine the concept in the abstract, that is, explore the concept theoretically from a variety of standpoints and then justify the definition that emerges through deductive logic. Or one can explore how the concept is used in practice, that is, describe how sociologists, both individually and collectively, define culture in the research process and analyze how they inductively construct a shared definition. This essay takes the latter collective-inductive approach to defining culture. Such an approach is inherently sociological and does not presume to produce an independent definition for the field, rather it seeks to document how successful participants in the field have been in producing a shared definition for themselves. To produce such a "working" definition of culture, one starts by examining the social science roots that have helped determine the current status of the sociology of culture.

The focus on culture in sociology has flourished over the past twenty years, as evidenced by the fact that the Culture Section in the American Sociological Association has become one of the largest and is still one of the fastest-growing sections in the discipline. The growth of interest in culture is also nicely documented by the number of survey review articles and books written during this period (e.g., Denzin 1996; Crane 1994, 1992; Hall and Neitz 1993; Munch and Smelser 1992; Peterson 1990, 1989, 1979; Alexander and Seidman 1990; Wuthnow and Witten 1988; Blau 1988; Mukerji and Schudson 1986). As is clear from the reviews, interest in cultural analysis has grown significantly. The focus on culture in all spheres of research has increased tremendously; and culture is now readily accepted as a level of explanation in its own right. Even in traditionally materialistoriented research arenas, such as stratification and Marxist studies, cultural activities and interests are not treated as subordinate to economic explanations in current research (e.g., Halle 1994; Nelson and Grossberg 1988; Bourdieu 1984; Williams 1981, 1977). Cultural studies and analysis have become one of the most fertile areas in sociology.

The rapid growth in the focus on culture and cultural explanation has produced some definitional boundary problems. The term culture has been used in contemporary sociological research to describe everything from elite artistic activities (Becker 1982) to the values, styles, and ideology of day-today conduct (Swidler 1986). Along with art and everyday conduct, included among the "mixed bag" of research that takes place under the auspices of the sociology of culture is work in science (Latour 1987; Star 1989), religion (Neitz 1987), law (Katz 1988), media (Schudson 1978; Gitlin 1985; Tuchman 1978), popular culture (Peterson 1997; Weinstein 1991; Chambers 1986), and work organization (Fine 1996; Lincoln and Kalleberg 1990).

With such an extensive variety in the empirical focus of research in culture, the question for many participants in the field is how to translate this eclecticism into a coherent research field. This goal has not yet been reached, but while a coherent concept of culture is still evolving and the boundaries of the current field of sociology of culture are still fluid and expanding, it is possible to explore how different types of researchers in the social sciences, both currently and historically, have approached the concept of culture. In this inventory process, a better understanding of the concept of culture will emerge, that is, what different researchers believe the concept of culture includes, what the concept excludes, and how the distinction between categories has been made. This essay will provide a historical overview of the two major debates on the appropriate focus and limitations of the definition of culture, and then turn to the contemporary social context in an effort to clarify the issues underlying the current concept of culture.


From the turn of the century until the 1950s, the definition of culture was embroiled in a dialogue that sought to distinguish the concepts of culture and social structure. This distinction was a major bone of contention among social scientists, most noticeably among anthropologists divided between the cultural and social traditions of anthropology. Researchers in the cultural or ethnological tradition, such as Franz Boas (1896/1940), Bronislaw Malinowski (1927, 1931), Margaret Mead (1928, 1935), Alfred Kroeber (1923/1948, 1952), and Ruth Benedict (1934) believed culture was the central concept in social science. "Culturalists" maintained that culture is primary in guiding all patterns of behavior, including who interacts with whom, and should therefore be given priority in theories about the organization of society. This position was countered by researchers in the structural tradition, such as A.R. Radcliffe-Brown ([1952] 1961) and E. E. Evans-Pritchard (1937, 1940) from the British school of social anthropology, and Claude Levi-Strauss ([1953] 1963) in French structuralism. "Structuralists" contended that social structure was the primary focus of social science and should be given priority in theories about society because social structure (e.g., kinship) determines patterns of social interaction and thought. Both schools had influential and large numbers of adherents.

The culturalists took a holistic approach to the concept of culture. Stemming from Edward Tylor's classic definition, culture was ". . . that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" ([1871] 1924, p.1). This definition leaves little out, but the orientation of the late nineteenth century intended the concept of culture to be as inclusive as possible. Culture is what distinguishes man as a species from other species. Therefore culture consists of all that is produced by human collectivities, that is, all of social life. The focus here stems from the "nature" vs. "nurture" disputes common during this period. Anything that differentiates man's accomplishments from biological and evolutionary origins was relevant to the concept of culture. That includes religion as well as kinship structures, language as well as nation-states.

Following Boas, the study of culture was used to examine different types of society. All societies have cultures, and variations in cultural patterns helped further the argument that culture, not nature, played the most significant role in governing human behavior. In addition, the cultural variances observed in different societies helped break down the nineteenth-century anthropological notion of "the psychic unity of mankind, the unity of human history, and the unity of culture" (Singer 1968, p. 527). The pluralistic and relativistic approaches to culture that followed emphasized a more limited, localized conception. Culture was what produced a distinctive identity for a society, socializing members for greater internal homogeneity and identifying outsiders. Culture is thus treated as differentiating concept, providing recognition factors for internal cohesion and external discrimination.

Although this tradition of ethnographic research on culture tended to be internal and localized, what is termed an "emic" approach in cognitive anthropology (Goodenough 1956), by the 1940s there emerged a strong desire among many anthropologists to develop a comparative "etic" approach to culture, that is, construct a generalized theory of cultural patterns. In the comparison of hundreds of ethnographies written in this period, A.L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn sought to build such a general definition of culture. They wrote,

Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action ([1952] 1963, p. 181).

Milton Singer (1968) characterized this "pattern theory" definition as a condensation of what most American anthropologists in the 1940s and 1950s called culture. It includes behavior, cultural objects, and cognitive predispositions as part of the concept, thus emphasizing that culture is both a product of social action and a process that guides future action. The pattern theory stated simply that behavior follows a relatively stable routine, from the simplest levels of custom in dress and diet to more complex levels of organization in political, economic, and religious life. The persistence of specific patterns is variable in different arenas and different societies, but larger configurations tend to be more stable, changing incrementally unless redirected by external forces. In addition, the theory emphasized that the culture from any given society can be formally described, that is, it can be placed in formal categories representing different spheres of social life to facilitate comparison between societies. As such, universal patterns of culture can be constructed.

In comparison, anthropological structuralists in this period conceive of culture less comprehensively. The structuralists' concept of culture is made distinct through emphasis on a new concept of social structure. Largely through the efforts of Radcliffe-Brown, a theory emerged that argues social structure is more appropriately represented by a network or system of social relations than a set of norms. The structuralist argument is intended to clarify how actors in a society actively produce and are socially produced by their cultural context. By distinguishing the actors and interaction in a social system from the behavioral norms, structuralists seek to establish a referent for social structure that is analytically independent of the culture and artifacts produced in that system. The production of culture is thus grounded clearly in an international framework. Norms of interaction are also produced by interacting participants, but the question of causal primacy between culture and social structure can be considered separately. The initial effort here is simply not to reify the origins of culture.

The exact relationship of culture and social structure, however, becomes the central issue of the structuralist/culturalist debate. For example, how to identify the boundaries of a society one is researching is problematic when the society is not an isolate. Structuralists tend to give social relations, that is, the extent of a network, priority in identifying boundaries, while culturalists focus on the extent of particular types of cultural knowledge or practices. Since both elements are obviously operating interdependently, the efforts to disentangle these concepts make little headway. The arguments to establish causal priority for one concept vis-à-vis the other settle into a fairly predictable exchange. Structuralists base their priority claims on the fact that the interaction of actors in a society is empirically preliminary to the development and application of cultural elements. Culturalists respond that interaction itself is at least partially cultural phenomenon, and that in most complex societies cultural patterns have been well established prior to ongoing social relationships.

By the late 1950s, the concept of culture was becoming increasingly important to sociologists. To help resolve the now tired debate over cultural and structural foci and precedence, A.L. Kroeber and Talcott Parsons published a report in the American Sociological Review titled "The Concepts of Culture and Social System" (1958), which seeks to establish some ground rules for differentiating the two concepts. At least for sociologists, many of whom identify explicitly with the structural-functional theories of the anthropological structuralists, acknowledgement of a separate social system component that delimits the scope of culture is not difficult. More difficult is ascertaining where the appropriate limits for the concept of culture lie within this domain. Kroeber and Parsons suggest restricting the usage of culture to, "transmitted and created content and patterns of values, ideas, and other symbolic-meaningful systems as factors in the shaping of human behavior and the artifacts produced behavior" (1958, p. 583). This definition emphasized the predispositional aspect of a cultural referent, limiting the scope of culture to a cognitive perspective, and concentrates on a carefully worded description of "symbolic-meaningful systems" as the appropriate referent for culture. While no longer the omnibus conception of a traditional, Tylor-derived approach, this type of cultural analysis is still potentially applicable to any realm of social activity.


In the 1950s and early 1960s, the concept of culture became enmeshed in a new debate that like the previously documented dialogue has both influential and significant numbers of participants on each side of the dispute. Sociologists, however, are more central to the discussion, pitting those who support a broadly conceived, anthropological interpretation of culture that places both commonplace and elite activities in the same category, against a humanities oriented conception of culture that equates the identification of cultural activity with a value statement. This debate attempts to do two things: to classify different types of cultural activity, and to distinguish a purely descriptive approach to the concept of culture from an axiological approach that defines culture through an evaluative process.

That an axiological approach to culture can be considered legitimate by a "scientific" enterprise is perhaps surprising to contemporary sociologists entrenched in the positivistic interpretation of science, yet a central issue for many sociologists in this period was how and whether to approach questions of moral values. For example, the critical theorist Leo Lowenthal (1950) characterized this period of social science as "applied ascetism" and stated that the moral or aesthetic evaluation of cultural products and activities is not only sociologically possible, but also should be a useful tool in the sociological analysis of cultural differentiation.

These evaluative questions certainly play a part in the analysis of "mass culture," a term that the critic Dwight McDonald explains is used to identify articles of culture that are produced for mass consumption, "like chewing gum" (McDonald 1953, p. 59). A number of commentators, including both sociologists and humanists, observe the growth of mass culture production in the post-World War II United Stated with a mixture of distaste and alarm. The concern of McDonald and critics like him is the decline of intrinsic value in cultural artifacts, a decline in quality that stems from, or is at least attributed to, a combination of economic and social factors associated with the growth of capitalism. For example, mass culture critics argue that the unchecked growth of capitalism in the production and distribution phases of culture industries leads to a "massification" of consumption patterns. Formerly localized, highly differentiated, and competitive markets become dominated by a single corporate actor who merges different sectors of the consumer landscape and monopolizes production resources and distribution outlets. Within these giant culture industry organizations the demand for greater efficiency and the vertical integration of production lead to a bureaucratically focused standardization of output. Both processes function to stamp out cultural differences and create greater homogeneity in moral and aesthetic values, all at the lowest common denominator.

Regardless of the causes of the mass culture phenomena, the critics of mass culture believe it to be a potentially revolutionary force that will transform the values of society. One critic states that "mass culture is a dynamic, revolutionary force, breaking down the old barriers of class, tradition, taste, and dissolving all cultural distinctions. It mixes and scrambles everything together, producing what might be called homogenized culture. . . It thus destroys all values, since value judgements imply discrimination" (McDonald 1953, p. 62).

In launching this attack, mass culture opponents see themselves as the saviors of a "true" or "high" culture (e.g., McDonald, Greenberg, Berelson, and Howe; see Rosenberg and White 1957). They argue that the consumption of mass culture undermines the very existence of legitimate high culture, that is, the elite arts and folk cultures. Without the ability to differentiate between increasingly blurred lines of cultural production, the average consumer turns toward mass culture due to its immediate accessibility. Further, simply through its creation, mass culture devalues elite art and folk cultures by borrowing the themes and devices of different cultural traditions and converting them into mechanical, formulaic systems (Greenberg 1946). Thus critics of mass culture argue that it is critical for the health of society to discriminate between types of culture.

Defenders of mass culture, or at least those who feel the attack on mass culture is too extreme, respond that mass culture critics seek to limit the production and appreciation of culture to an elitist minority. They contend that the elitist criticism of culture is ethnocentric and that not only is mass, popular, or public culture more diverse than given credit for (e.g., Lang 1957; Kracuer 1949), but also the benefits of mass cultural participation far outweigh the limitations of a mass media distribution system (White 1956; Seldes 1957). Post-World War II America experienced an economic boom that sent its citizens searching for a variety of new cultural outlets. The increase in cultural participation certainly included what some critics might call "vulgar" activities, but it also included a tremendous increase in audiences for the arts across the board. Essentially mass culture defenders assert that the argument over the legitimacy of mass culture comes down to a matter of ideology, one that positions the elitist minority against the growing democratization of culture.

To extricate themselves from this axiological conundrum, many sociologists of culture retreated from a morally evaluative stance to a normative one. As presented by Gertrude Jaeger and Philip Selznick (1964), the normative sociological approach to culture, while still evaluative, seeks to combine anthropological and humanist conceptions of culture through a diagnostic analysis of cultural experience. The emphasis here is on elaborating the nature of "symbolically meaningful" experience, the same focus for culture that Kroeber and Parsons (1958) take in their differentiation of culture and social system. To do this, Jager and Selznick adopt a pragmatist perspective (Dewey 1958) that accords symbolic status to cultural objects or events through a social signification process. Interacting individuals create symbols through the communication of meaningful experience, using both denotative and connotative processes. By creating symbols, interacting individuals create culture. Thus the definition of culture becomes: "Culture consists of everything that is produced by, and is capable of sustaining, shared symbolic experience" (Jaeger and Selznick 1964, p. 663). In establishing this sociological definition of culture emphasizing the shared symbolic experience, Jaeger and Selznick also seek to maintain a humanistoriented capability to distinguish between high and mass culture without marginalizing the focus on high culture. Following Dewey, they argue that the experience of art takes place on a continuum of cultural experience that differs in intensity from ordinary symbolic activities, but has essentially the same basis for the appreciation of meaning. Art or high culture is simply a more "effective" symbol, combining "economy of statement with richness of expression" (Jaeger and Selznick 1964, p. 664). As such, art, like all culture, is identified through the normative evaluation of experience.

In sum, the high culture-mass culture debate shifted the focus on the concept of culture from a question of appropriate scope to a question of appropriate values. From a functionalist point of view, the health of a society's culture is not simply an issue of what type of values are advocated, but of how culture serves a moral and integrative function. Yet the mass culture critique was often unable to distinguish the cultural values of elite intellectuals from the effect of these values on society. To escape from this ethnocentric quagmire, contemporary sociologists have generally turned away from an evaluative position toward culture.


As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the contemporary approach to culture is quite eclectic. Despite the elaborate historical lineage of the concept, there is no current, widely accepted, composite resolution for the definition of culture. Instead, culture is still currently defined through an extensive variety of perspectives, sanctioning a broad, historically validated range of options. While the omnibus definition from the cultural anthropology tradition has been generally relegated to introductory texts, and the elitist attack on mass culture has been largely replaced by an antiethnocentric, relativist position open to a wide spectrum of symbolic arenas and perspectives, many of the elements of these old debates still appear in new cultural analyses.

For example, as categorized by Richard Peterson introducing a review of new studies in cultural analysis at the beginning of the 1990s, culture tends to be used two ways in sociological research; as a "code of conduct embedded in or constitutive of social life," and as symbolic products of group activity" (Peterson 1990, p. 498). The first perspective is clearly indebted to the traditional cultural anthropology approach and indeed is used to analyze and characterize social units ranging from whole societies (e.g., Cerulo 1995; Bellah et al. 1985) to specific subcultures (e.g., Hebdige 1990, 1979; Willis 1977). Empirical applications using this perspective are also made to geographically dispersed social worlds that organize collective activities (e.g., Lofland 1993 on the peace movement; Fine 1987 on Little League baseball; Latour and Woolgar 1979 on scientific research in biology; Traweek 1988 on scientific research in physics). The second perspective takes the more concrete course of treating culture as specific socially constructed symbols and emphasizes the production and meaning of these specific forms of cultural expression. Most examples of this latter form of cultural research are conducted in substantive arenas collectively known as the "production of culture" (Peterson 1979; Crane 1992), however, the range of empirical focus for this perspective is considerable and includes research in such areas as the moral discourse on the abortion issue (Luker 1984), the politics and aesthetics of artistic evaluation and reception (DeNora 1995; Lang and Lang 1990; Griswold 1986), and the motivational and ideological context of organizational, professional, and work cultures (e.g., Fine 1996; Martin 1992; Katz 1999; Fantasia 1988; Harper 1987; Burawoy 1979).

From the array of activities mentioned above, it is clear that the contemporary concept of culture in sociology does not exclude any particular empirical forms of activity, except perhaps through an emphasis on shared or collective practices, thus discounting purely individual foci. Since all collective social practices are potentially symbolic and therefore culturally expressive, any collective activity can be reasonably studied under the rubric of the sociology of culture. This "open borders" philosophy has at times made it difficult for participants in the sociology of culture to establish any kind of nomothetic perspective for cultural theory. The vast differentiation and sheer complexity of the expression of culture in various forms of social life resists ready categorization. Instead, participants in the sociology of culture have usually opted for the preliminary step of surveying and mapping the terrain of research in the sociology of culture with the goal of helping to define emerging theoretical perspectives in the field. Two particularly informative efforts are the contributions of John Hall and Mary Jo Neitz (1993) and Diana Crane (1992, 1994).

In Culture: Sociological Perspectives (1993), Hall and Neitz provide an excellent overview of the substantive and theoretical directions in which research in the sociology of culture has proliferated. They identify five "analytic frames" (p. 17) through which researchers can focus on particular aspects of culture and that emphasize associated processes of inquiry. The first frame is a focus on "institutional structures": that is, research on culture specifically linked with social institutions and such issues as the construction of social and personal identity and conventional or moral conduct (e.g., Bellah et al. 1985; Gilligan 1982; Warner 1988). In the second analytic frame, Hall and Neitz describe "cultural history" and the influence of past cultural practices on the present. Research in this area includes a focus on the significance of rituals (e.g., Douglas 1973; Goffman 1968, 1971; Neitz 1987), the effects of rationalization on social processes and cultural consumption (e.g., Foucault 1965; Mukerji 1983; Born 1995), and the creation of mass culture (e.g., Ewen 1976; Schudson 1984). In the third analytic frame, Hall and Neitz focus on "the production and distribution of culture" with a special emphasis on stratification and power issues. Research in this area includes work on the socioeconomic differentiation of cultural strata (e.g., Gans 1974; Bourdieu 1984; Lamont 1992), gender and ethnic cultural differentiation and their effect on inequality (e.g., Radway 1984; Lamont and Fournier 1992), and the production of culture (e.g., Becker 1982; Gilmore 1987; Hirsch 1972; Coser, Kadushin, and Powell 1982; Faulkner 1983; Crane 1987). The fourth analytic frame, "audience effects," looks at how cultural objects affect the people who consume them and the precise patterns of shared meaning and interpretive ideology that provide a compatible environment for the popular and critical success of particular cultural forms (e.g., Wuthnow 1987; Baxandall 1985; Long 1985). Finally the fifth analytic frame, "meaning and social action," refers to how actors in varied mainstream and subcultural settings use culture to guide behavior and establish social identity. In a range of ethnic, political, and ideological contexts, participants use visible expressive symbols and styles to assert cultural difference and communicate the social and personal significance of cultural objects (e.g., Rushing 1988; Ginsberg 1990; Schwartz 1991; Fine 1987).

These frames serve different purposes. For the nonsociologist or for sociologists from outside the field of culture, they provide a guide to current cultural research and a reasonably accurate descriptive picture of research segmentation within the field. For the sociologist of culture, however, these frames represent not only a "division of labor in sociohistorical inquiry, in the sense that any particular frame seems to generate boundaries. . . "(within in the field), as Hall and Neitz claim (1993, p. 19), but a strategy to bring analytic coherence to a field that has experienced remarkable growth and empirical diffusion over a relatively short period. As such, in the future these frames may emerge through collective activity as problem areas within the field of culture that will guide empirical and methodological tendencies within particular research communities and influence theoretical interaction, that is, co-citation among researchers. The precise impact in the field, however, still remains to be seen.

A somewhat different mapping, primarily in terms of theoretical emphasis, is offered by Diana Crane in her book The Production of Culture (1992) and through her efforts as editor of The Sociology of Culture: Emerging Theoretical Perspectives (1994). Like Hall and Neitz, Crane seeks to help codify research segmentation in the field of culture, but she does not try to accomplish this daunting task simply by producing a comprehensive survey of current research in the field. Instead, she attempts to give the reader a guide to theoretical issues in the sociology of culture, particularly the place of the concept of culture in the discipline of sociology as a whole, and how the centrality of culture as a variable in mainstream sociological models will determine the significance of future research in the field.

To start, Crane argues that culture has traditionally been regarded as "peripheral" to mainstream concerns in American sociology because of its relationship to classical theory (i.e., Marx, Weber, Durkheim). In comparison to the emphasis by these theorists on social structure, organization, and market forces, cultural elements have been consistently treated as secondary in their impact on peoples' behavior and attitudes, particularly surrounding significant life issues (e.g., economic considerations). One reason for this secondary status may be the difficulty classical and mainstream theorists have in conceptualizing and documenting everyday cultural practices. Crane states, "To American and some British structuralists, culture as a concept lacks a suitably rigorous definition" (Crane 1994, p. 2). And from Archer (1988, p. 1), "the notion of culture remains inordinately vague. . . In every way, 'culture' is the poor relation of 'structure."' Thus culture, approached as the values, norms, beliefs, and attitudes of a population or subgroup, is treated as "an implicit feature of social life. . ." (Wuthnow and Witten 1988, p. 50–51), difficult to put one's finger on, and therefore difficult to document through specific empirical referents.

But Crane argues that culture in contemporary society is much more than implicit features. She states, "Culture today is expressed and negotiated almost entirely through culture as explicit social constructions or products, in other words, through recorded culture, culture that is recorded either in print, film, artifacts or, most recently, electronic media" (Crane 1994, p. 2). Further, contemporary sociologists of culture have tended to focus on this "recorded culture" as the principal empirical referent through which various types of contemporary culture are expressed and thus can easily be explored. Not surprisingly then, the primary direction through which the new sociology of culture has proliferated is in areas like art, science, popular culture, religion, media, technology, and other social worlds where recorded forms of culture are readily accessible. These culture subfields have become the central substantive foci through which the field as a whole has undertaken to build theoretical coherence.

At the same time outside the boundaries of the field of culture per se, it is also clear from recent research in the 1990s that the concept of culture has gained significant relevance in many mainstream areas of the discipline that have traditionally been dominated by macrostructuralist approaches. For example, in both Ewa Morawska and Willfried Spohn's (1994), and Mabel Berezin's (1994) contributions to Crane's The Sociology of Culture: Emerging Theoretical Perspectives, the impact of cultural forces are discussed in a variety of macroinstitutional contexts. Morawska and Spohn's focus on examples from the historical perspective includes research on the effect of ideology in the macrostructural analysis of revolution and social change (e.g., Sewell 1985; Skocpol 1985; Goldstone 1991), issues of working-class consciousness and capitalist development (e.g., Aminzade 1981; Calhoun 1982), and the articulation of new forms of religious and ideological doctrines in a social-institutional context (e.g., Wuthnow 1989; Zaret 1985). Berezin's chapter examines the relationship of culture and politics in macromodels of political development and state formation (e.g., Greenfeld 1992; Mitchell 1991). Additional examples in organizational or economic contexts (e.g., Dobbin 1994; Granovetter 1985) only further emphasize the point, that the expanding application of cultural analysis to mainstream models means that for many sociologists, culture is more an explanatory perspective than a substantive area of study. As such, future limitations on the explanatory potential of cultural analysis in sociology will likely be conceptual, not empirical, and the above research suggests a broadly fertile spectrum of empirical possibilities.

Finally, a significant elaboration of the explanatory potential of cultural analysis has taken place in a field organized largely outside the discipline of sociology. "Cultural studies," identifying a loosely connected, interdisciplinary network of scholars from a wide spectrum of perspectives, including the humanities, the social sciences, the arts, and various status-specific programs (e.g., ethnic studies, feminist studies, gay and lesbian studies), has produced a tremendous number of new kinds of cultural analyses that have implications for the sociology of culture. The approach to cultural analysis, however, is often radically different, both empirically and theoretically, than that conventionally used by sociologists. Cultural studies approaches range from a cultural text-based analysis that interprets meaning and sources of social influence directly from cultural objects (e.g., Hooks 1994; Giroux 1992; see Fiske 1994), to complex interpretative decodings of narratives around issues such as identity politics (e.g., Trinh 1989; Hall 1992) and postcolonial repression and resistance (e.g., Appadurai 1990; Grossberg et al.1992). As a consequence, the history and emerging relationship of cultural studies to sociology is rather piecemeal. Indeed, Norman Denzin (1996) characterizes the potential association to be one of "colonization"; that is, "the attempt to locate and place cultural studies on the boundaries and margins of academic, cultural sociology" (Denzin 1996, p. XV). Others see the possibility of more reciprocal exchange with the possibility of a "revitalization" for sociological cultural perspectives (Seidman 1996). Whichever way the relationship develops, it is clear that efforts to rethink the concept of culture, the impact of cultural values, and approaches to cultural analysis that take place outside of sociology and even outside of academia will have an invigorating effect on the sociological conceptualization of culture. These battles (i.e., "culture wars") already have had important consequences for policy and resource allocation in education (e.g., Nolan 1996; Hunter 1991). There is no reason to think that sociology will or should be immune to these external influences.

In sum, there is a new appreciation of the salience of culture as an explanatory perspective in contemporary sociological research. Whether it involves the convention-setting influence of art worlds, the moral authority of organizational cultures, or the facilitation of class privileges through habitus, the concept of culture is used to explain behavior and social structure from a distinct and powerful perspective. The future elaboration of this perspective in sociology looks very promising.


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Culture is notoriously one of the most difficult terms to define. The cultural historian Raymond Williams (19211988) notes that the difficulty in defining the word is located on its intricate historical development in European languages and on the fact that despite its long history the term is relatively new in the English language (Williams 1983, p. 87). The word derives from the Latin cultura, which in turn comes from the Latin verb colere, which had a wide range of meanings that corresponded to different domains in life: agricultural (to cultivate), domestic (to inhabit), religious (to honor a deity through worship), social (to protect). Williams pointed to the eventual divergences of these original meanings, such as the derivation of the term colony, from the meaning of cultura to inhabit, or cult, from the meaning to honor through worship. The primary meaning of cultivation, in cultura, has nevertheless been retained within the integrity of the word. Hence culture and cultura still echo the original main meaning of cultivation. The poet and critic T. S. Eliot (18851965), in his 1949 book Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, observed that the term cultivation applies as much to the work of the bacteriologist or the agri culturalist as to the improvement of the human mind and spirit, (p. 19) although he concludes that the primary location of culture is religion.

By the mid-eighteenth century the term appears in both French and English in its proto-modern form, and in German it appears as a borrowing from the French first as Cultur (in the eighteenth century) and then as Kultur (in the nineteenth century) as almost synonymous with civilization. The German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder (17441803) observed that the slippery nature of the two terms denoted the slippery understanding of culture and civilization and the frequent conflation of the two. Herder separated the notion of civilization from the notion of culture and developed the theory of cultures in the plural, refuting the universalist theories of a unified development of humanity. The anthropological development of the theory of culture rests precisely on this notion of culture-in-the-plural, the acknowledgment that specific cultures existed in different times and places, and that even within specific nations there existed a number of different cultures (Herder [1784] 1968).

The English anthropologist Edward Tylor (18321917) in 1871 proposed a definition of culture that conflated culture with civilization and informed early anthropological definitions of the term: Culture, or civilization is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society (Tylor 1871, p. 1). Franz Boas (18581942), one of the key figures in modern anthropology, especially in the history of U.S. anthropology, comes from the intellectual tradition begun by Herder and furthered by Tylor; Boas developed a theory of culture from which he derived a theory of racism. He noted that cultures cannot be judged according to an a priori value system. Rather, each culture has its own integrity, and all cultures are equal to each other and ought to be gauged according to their own system of values. This relativist approach to culture underlined Herders original idea that one ought not be thinking about a culture to which all the rest would be held accountable but about cultures as they appear in different formulations and places over time. Boas wrote: Culture may be defined as the totality of mental and physical reactions and activities that characterize the behavior of the individuals composing a social group (Boas 1938, p. 159)a definition strangely constricted from the one he had produced only eight years earlier: [C]ulture embraces all the manifestations of social habits of a community, the reactions of the individual as affected by the habits of the group in which he lives, and the products of human activities as determined by these habits (Boas 1930, p. 79). Leslie White expanded the definition of culture provided by Boas by including in its definition not only the traits that characterize it but also the traits that do not characterize it including, thus, within the definition of culture as comprising the characteristic traits of a group those traits which could be considered as marginal, resistant, or, even, abjected (White and Dillingham 1973, p. 32).

The anthropological definitions of culture were in part a reaction to the exclusionary definitions put forth in 1869, two years before Tylors, by the British poet and critic Matthew Arnold (18221888). Against the Herderian opening of culture and civilization to all human societies, Arnold erected the discourse of a priori perfection: I have been trying to show that Culture is, ought to be, the study and pursuit of perfection, Arnold wrote, and that of perfection as pursued by culture, beauty and intelligence, or, in other words, sweetness and light, are the main characters (Arnold 1869, p. 11). Arnold thus articulated the difference between what is called high culture (sublime, light, sweet, beautiful) and low culture (what later came to be called popular culture).

In a critique of this sublimity of culture as presented by Arnold, the literary theorist Edward Said (19352003) argued that high culture was complicit with the project of imperialism. In his 1979 book Orientalism, Said showed the ways in which the constructed distinctions made between the Orient and Occident as fabricated geographical ideas were mainly located in the internalization of the idea of high culture as intrinsic to Europe set against cultures that needed to be translated into the European intellectual idiom.

The Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer (18751973) and Theodor Adorno (19031969), in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, apply a rigorous critique to popular culture (especially what they call the culture industry of Hollywood and jazz music). They argue that popular culture destroys the careful distinctions between the object of high culture (the elevation of the individual as an autonomous subject) and that of popular culture (the degradation of the subject into the position of the nonthinking object). Popular culture as a means of production of a compliant body politic is at the core of the theory of hegemony as developed by the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci (18911937). In a gentle critique of Marxs theory of revolution, Gramsci explains that the reason why the industrial workers of the large capitalist countries did not become a revolutionary force was that capitalism makes enough minor cultural concessions to them (primarily minor commodities) to assure their acquiescence. For Gramsci, keeping the cultural programs of the Italian Fascist state in mind, the process of producing a compliant body politic, what he calls hegemony, is mapped onto the process of participation in popular culture. In a tone more celebratory of popular culture, the German critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin (18921940) notes how the availability of mechanical reproduction of art problematized the notions (in his view outdated) of genius and creativity. Benjamin proposed that proletarian art might thus be able to participate in the production of a form of culture that would neutralize the distinction between high and low.

The French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard (19292007) in Symbolic Exchange and Death attempts to provide a radically different theory of culture. He first presents his theory of the simulacrum as the delineation of the relationship between reality and its artistic reproduction. For example, Disneyland is the result of simulation of the reality of southern California in the 1930s and 1940s as it had been represented in the comic cartoons of Mickey Mouse, which, in its turn, has been simulated as its actualization in the United States of the 1950s. In this sense the comic cartoons simulated southern Californian realities in the 1930s and 1940s, which southern California simulated in the 1950s and then Disneyland represented in the 1960s. Baudrillard then substitutes the notion of symbolic exchange for the classic Marxist notion of exchange value, claiming that symbolic exchange (e.g., the living providing prayers for the salvation of the dead in exchange for the intercession of the dead with God on behalf of the living) dislocates utility from the center of the exchange system and replaces it with a cultural value that rests on a symbolic rather than a monetary value system.

SEE ALSO Anthropology; Anthropology, British; Anthropology, U.S.; Boas, Franz; Civilization; Cultural Capital; Cultural Relativism; Culture of Poverty; Culture, Low and High; Determinism, Cultural; Disney, Walt; Frankfurt School; Gramsci, Antonio; Hegemony; Marx, Karl; Said, Edward; Symbols


Arnold, Matthew. 1869. Culture and Anarchy. An Essay in Political and Social Criticism. London: Smith, Eler and Co.

Baudrillard, Jean. [1976] 1993. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Trans. Iain Hamilton Grant. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Benjamin, Walter. 1969. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Boas, Franz. 1930. Anthropology. In The Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan.

Boas, Franz. 1938. The Mind of Primitive Man. Rev ed. New York: Macmillan.

Eliot, T. S. 1949. Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Herder, Johann Gottfried. [1784] 1968. Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. Abridged and intro. Frank E. Manual. Trans. T. O. Churchill, 1800. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. 1972. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Trans. John Cumming. New York: Seabury Press.

Kroeber, A. L., and Clyde Kluckhohn. 1953. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. New York: Vintage.

Said, Edward. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

Tylor, Edward B. 1871. Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom, Vol. 1. London: J. Murray.

White, Leslie A., and Beth Dillingham. 1973. The Concept of Culture. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing.

Williams, Raymond. 1983. Keywords. Rev. ed. London: Fontana.

Neni Panourgiá

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CULTURE . In its most basic sense, culture is that portion or aspect of thought and behavior that is learned and capable of being taught to others. Culture includes customs and worldviews that provide a mental model of reality and a guide for appropriate and moral action. Languages are cultural in that they are learned symbolic information sets and are one of the most important means of encoding ideas and knowledge for memory and communication. All religions are cultural and all forms of spirituality exist within broader traditions or cultures.

Culture becomes widely communicated and shared in social groups, and it serves as a foundation for general agreement and common acceptance of certain principles and perceptions as valid, normal, and natural. In this way, the influences on culture are often masked and it is not automatically apparent that one's own views and beliefs are not simply accurate apprehensions of reality, but are, in fact, artificial and, to a degree, arbitrary. Because of this characteristic, culture can be difficult to study, either in oneself or in others. Habitual use makes the cultural lenses that one continually wears disappear from awareness, so that what is seen falsely seems to be objective truth.

In observing foreign peoples and ways of life through one's own cultural lenses, people tend to automatically judge othersinsofar as their ways are different from one's ownas erroneous and inferior. At the same time, adherents to other traditions or cultures tend to look upon their customs and beliefs using their own cultural assumptions, and they can misinterpret and judge both thought and action according to foreign standards. This natural human tendency is known as ethnocentrism, which is a major barrier to understanding other ways of life and value systems. Ethnocentrism is overcome through cultural relativism, an approach in which judgment is withheld in a measured fashion in an attempt to understand another people's way of life according to their own perspectives. Once an empathetic understanding is reached, one can begin to compare cultures more accurately according to some external scientific or humanistic standard, in order to discern patterns or make generalizations.

Culture is normally contrasted with instinctual modes of thought and behavior that are not learned, but rather are genetically inherited. While the distinction between biological and cultural inputs is heuristically useful and, indeed, necessary for an understanding of human emotion, cognition, motor behavior, social interaction, and institutions, culture does not exist independently of biologically inherited characteristics, including instinctual drives and behaviors. While some behaviors appear to be almost entirely instinctual (such as an infant's innate ability to suck) as a rule, both biology and culture are implicated in most mental and motor behavior. This can be seen, for example, in food preferences. The biological need for nourishment is culturally elaborated in the great variation in which particular foods are preferred, such that any two peoples may find each other's delicacies unpalatable. These differences, while partly attributable to genetic and constitutional factors, are largely explicable only in terms of cultural difference.

Culture could also be contrasted with individual learning that is incapable of being communicated to others, or with idiosyncratic ideas and preferences not widely shared by the social group. Culture is often used in this sense in the social sciences and humanities. When scholars stress a populational rather than an individual perspective, culture typically implies a shared perspective ostensibly held by an entire population, such as a religious group or an ethic group, referred to as a culture. However, this usage can mask the fact that learned information is not always shared.

While many animal species include learning and even social transmission of knowledge in their behavioral repertoires, humankind differs from other species primarily in our much greater neurological capacity for culture and the degree to which humans rely on socially learned information as a basis for both individual and group life. Human reliance on culture allows people to adapt to a great variety of environments and psychological stresses, to respond to innumerable challenges, and to transmit to others the lessons learned through experience. One consequence of this ability to both purposely and unconsciously transmit information is that ideas originating in one person's experience can become widely shared among members of social groups. Once cultural ideas are widely shared, they appear to acquire an added aura of truthfulness, supported by apparent mutual confirmation and elaboration. A second consequence of cultural transmissibility is that individuals' ideas can survive, albeit in somewhat altered form, beyond their lifetimes. The capacity for and reliance on culture thus allows traditions to come into existence by providing a means for their codification and transmission.

Particularly in anthropology, where the concept was refined, but also in the other social sciences and humanities, culture is central because of its pervasive relevance to everything that human beings think, feel, and do. Much is captured by the term culture, and the phenomena scholars seek to describe, interpret, and explain under its rubric are among the most complex in nature. Therefore, the term has meant different things to different scholars, and it has undergone repeated critiques, abandonments, and redefinitions. Nevertheless, it has proven an extremely useful term with which to discuss and model the great variety of ways of thinking and living that different groups and societies around the world display. This is nowhere more clear than in the study of religion, which has revealed both great diversity and remarkable similarities in the many religious traditions of the world. Contemporary social scientists would agree that differences between religions are differences of culture, though some would use different terms. For this reason, the study of culture must be central to understanding religion as a human phenomenon.

History of the Concept

In its earliest known English usages, culture refers to the cultivation of food plants. Philip Smith (2001, p. 1) writes that by the sixteenth century this meaning was metaphorically applied to people to signify proper education and human achievement. In this sense, the term culture in English carries a positive bias and refers only to those parts of learned ideals and behaviors that the observer considers good, proper, and refined, as when one speaks of a person being highly cultured, or of culture in the sense of fine arts. In other words, culture was originally meant to refer to one's own culture, carried to its most benevolent and ideal state of development.

Edward Burnett Tylor (18321917), the world's first professor of anthropology, was the most influential in adapting and changing this English term for the social sciences, humanities, and popular usage. Alfred L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn (1952/1963, p. 14) verified that Tylor derived these new meanings from the German term Kultur as used in the mid-nineteenth-century writings of Gustav E. Klemm. Tylor's definition, first proposed in the 1870s and still widely quoted, broadened the term by removing its ethnocentric bias and narrow reference to artistic achievement to include all socially learned knowledge and the behaviors, institutions, and artifacts that are produced as a result of that knowledge. For Tylor, "Culture , taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" (1877 [1871], p. 3).

Tylor's definition accomplished four things. First, with this usage, culture could be extended to people whose ideals and practices the scholar personally disapproves of or considers inferior, so that all peoples could be recognized as having culture. This element became central to the development of cultural relativism. Second, one could speak of multiple independent cultural traditions that develop in isolation from one another. This allowed scholars to speak of societies sharing ideas and beliefs as cultures. Third, the definition allowed one to treat all socially learned knowledge as part of a single, great body of wisdom produced by humankind as a whole. This allowed scholars to see all peoples as participating in a common project of advancing knowledge. Fourth, one could speak of culture writ large as something that develops and evolves at a level beyond that of the individuals who bear culture. This allowed scholars to analyze those learnable institutions, including religions, that do not reside in full in any individual's mind, but rather are distributed among people and artifacts and seem to transcend the individual.

From around the time that Tylor's new definition of culture was introduced, anthropologists began increasingly to believe that racial and biological explanations could not account for the differences between customs and religions throughout the world. Adopted babies grew up learning the language, religion, and skills of the people among whom they were raised, rather than inheriting those of their biological ancestors. In light of these observations, they made culture the central concept of their disciplinebecause through it one could explain differences in beliefs and morals in terms of learning, not innate characteristics. Fortuitously, this explanation carried with it the implication that all peoples have an equal potential to learn and develop.

Kroeber and Kluckhohn's detailed history of the term culture shows that Tylor's definition remained unelaborated for decades, following which a flurry of new definitions were offered (1952/1963, pp. 291292). They cite 164 of these offered by 1950. Scholars developed new definitions of culture as a way of emphasizing certain elements of what was coming to be seen as an excessively broad concept, including such elements as ideas; learned behavior; symbols; problem-solving devices; normative rules or values; and patterns, systems, and organizations that are abstracted from observed behaviors. Kroeber and Kluckhohn correctly anticipated future revisions of these formulations in terms of "the interrelations of cultural forms[,] variability and the individual," and observed that some British and American anthropologists had avoided the concept altogether because of its vagueness (1952/1963, p. 357). These critiques were harbingers of developments in the second half of the twentieth century, in which the culture concept was further contested, particularly in relation to the problems of the locus, variability, and dynamics of culture.

Current Use and Contestation in the Social Sciences and Humanities

Because of all its ambiguities and its uneven acceptance, the culture concept has come to be regarded with some suspicion, but nevertheless remains firmly fixed in scholarship. From the 1970s to the 1990s, scholars released a flurry of critiques of the concept. To summarize from Robert Brightman's 1995 review of this literature, several areas of semantic difficulty have been identified. Since the term can be used as a reified abstraction, or to refer to ideas and meanings, culture can deflect attention from actual, observable human behavior and interaction. Culture is often used to refer to a legalistic guide for behavior, which downplays the importance of individual agency or volitional choice, strategy, and improvisation. In the same vein, culture can imply that objective, grammatical systems of behavior control individuals like automatons. Culture is also often regarded as a holistic, homogeneous, coherent, functionally integrated pattern, when in fact there is a great deal of internal variation, fragmentation, disorder, contradiction, and contestation. The term cultures implies discrete, localized groupings, when in fact people and ideas often overlap and are not strictly bounded. Speaking of cultures can imply that these are ahistorical grouping systems, when in reality they are always changing. Culture can be used to mean a primordial, authentic, native way of life when in fact there is constant borrowing and mixing of ideas and practices. This usage can also falsely imply that cultures are discrete objects. Finally, viewing human variation as cultural difference can encourage scholars to exaggerate the differences between peoples, and to imply that these differences must be seen in hierarchical relationship with one another.

Brightman's citation of earlier literature makes it clear that, while many of these critiques have been presented as new, scholars have in fact wrestled with all of these complexities of the culture concept throughout the twentieth century. What is perhaps different in some of the newer critiques is that alternative terms have been suggested, either to replace or to supplement culture and to shift attention to processes considered more useful for the study of humanity. For example, Pierre Bourdieu uses habitus rather than culture to emphasize the disposition and practice of individuals as the proper locus of human social life (1977, pp. 7295). Lila Abu-Lughod (1991) takes this a step further, suggesting that culture be abandoned altogether in favor of Bourdieu's practice and Michel Foucault's discourse, both of which emphasize the agency of individuals and observable behavior and speech rather than the supposedly timeless control of an abstract culture. Brightman (1995, p. 518) observes that another alternative term, Antonio Gramsci's hegemony, has come into common use among those who wish to emphasize the greater influence on ideals and behaviors exerted by people possessing disproportionate power in a society, while counterhegemony refers to areas of resistance within these spheres of domination.

Other threads of thinking on the culture concept can be seen in cognitive anthropology. Scholars like Claudia Strauss and Naomi Quinn (1998) have addressed the critique that culture is an abstract, timeless, and agentless concept by locating it in human perception, cognition, and shared experience. In this view, culture operates in the mind as generic images of reality, or schemas, that direct perception and alter in response to experiences, allowing culture to be relatively stable, but also capable of change.

Some scholars focus on cultural transmission and reception as a way to remove static or abstract implications from the culture concept. Some use analogies of genetic transmission and evolution, while others, like Dan Sperber (1996, p. 82), explain cultural processes, including the spread of religious beliefs, by using the metaphor of epidemiology. For certain thinkers, such metaphors imply that culture exists in units, sometimes called memes after Richard Dawkins's coinage, variously conceived of as songs, stories, or religious beliefs. Such theorized units of culture are controversial, however, and not widely accepted by scholars, who see them as arbitrary, unbounded, and changeable (see Aunger, 2001).

The interdependencies and relationships between the cultural and genetic information that contributes to each individual's capabilities and makeup, together with human agency as a force in its own right, are also pressing concerns for some scholars of culture, as Lee Cronk (1999) discusses. Despite the various critiques, culture continues to be a useful term in the social sciences and humanities, not only in spite of, but also because of, its multiple meanings and ambiguity.

The Relationship between Culture and Religion

Virtually all of the questions that scholars in the humanities and social sciences seek to answer involve cultural factors, and questions about religion are no exception. There are certainly biological components to religious behavior, including cognitive tendencies to anthropomorphize, or perceive humanlike attributes in nonhuman phenomena, which Stewart Guthrie (1993) sees as the source of religion. Cognitive constraints limit what kinds of perception and beliefs are conceivable, and, as Pascal Boyer (1994) argues, the combination of ideas that are memorably bizarre or "unnatural" with those that are believably ordinary or "natural" appears to be a characteristic of all religious beliefs. However, no religious belief or behavior can be understood by reference to biological factors alone, for culture overlays, stylizes, elaborates, and embellishes these foundations with meanings that are both deeply motivating and arbitrary. The capacity for religious thought and experience has its foundation in our biological makeup, but it can only come to full expression with cultural inputs and processes. Thus, cognitive constraints interact with culture to produce the range of specific supernatural beings and forces that are characteristic of the world's religions.

No specific religious system can be understood without recourse to culture, for particular religions are forms of culture and exist within broader cultures. Regardless of whether one takes a theological or an agnostic perspective on a particular religion, one must recognize that the stuff of religions is culturalit is socially learned and widely shared, and it is made up of mental and public representations of reality that guide behavior and are changed by experience. Successful religions can be seen as more widely appealing than others, and therefore more likely to be culturally learned. The fact that religions operate within broader cultural contexts is profoundly relevant to the study of religion because the "same" religious ideas change when they are transmitted from one culture to anotheras shown, for example, in Kenelm Burridge's 1960 study of how beliefs of European missionaries were interpreted very differently by their Melanesian recipients, creating a "cargo cult." Syncretism, or the mixing of elements from different religious in situations of culture contact, are an important area of cross-cultural religious studiesas explored, for example, in Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw's (1994) volume on this phenomenon. In other cases, religions appear to be transmitted wholesale across cultural boundaries, as exemplified in Joel Robbins's (2004) account of a Papua New Guinea people's adoption of Baptist Christianity and concepts of sin, modernity, and globalization.

To study religionswhether one's own or others'with cultural sophistication necessitates awareness of multiple points of view. Awareness of the cultural perspective of both scholars of religion and the people they describe is vital to assessing any study of religion. Missiologists begin with a cultural assumption of the primacy of a particular religious tradition in relation to other religious cultures that they consider erroneous and in need of change. Some social scientists work from materialist assumptions that deny the existence of supernatural beings and forces for lack of evidence, while others either embrace the existence of spirits or consider such questions unanswerable. Theories about religion, like religions themselves, are cultural.

Implications of the Comparative Study of Cultures for the Study of Religion

Cross-cultural research indicates that religious thinking and behavior is found among all peoples and in all cultures. The basis of this commonality is sometimes attributed to a panhuman tendency to supernaturalism, which is elaborated differently from one culture to the next. However, others argue that the concept of supernaturalism is itself too culturally biased to describe all religions. Scholars engaging this debate have not reached consensus (see Lohmann, 2003). The degree to which culture determines human religiosity itself remains contested. However, there is no doubt that the particular beings, forces, and morals that people sense or believe in are culturally learned, since they differ from one religion to the next. Variation in specific religious ideas shows the degree of cultural malleability that humans possess with regard to religion. Perhaps the most important implication of the comparative study of cultures for the study of religion is that all religions appear to be true from the perspective of the cultural systems in which they are found; however, the arbitrariness and variability of cultures indicates that no religion is a flawless representation of absolute truth.

See Also



Abu-Lughod, Lila. "Writing against Culture." In Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, edited by Richard Fox, pp. 137162. Santa Fe, N.Mex., 1991. An influential essay arguing that the term culture should be replaced with practice and discourse.

Aunger, Robert, ed. Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science. Oxford, 2001. A volume in which a variety of scholars debate the utility of memes as models of culture's units and their implications for cultural transmission and evolution.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, U.K., 1977. Broadly influential in social science, this book avoids the culture concept but describes cultural phenomena, emphasizing individual dispositions and decision-based behavior.

Boyer, Pascal. The Naturalness of Religious Ideas: A Cognitive Theory of Religion. Berkeley, Calif., 1994. This book cross-culturally explores common themes in all religious ideas, arguing that these point to constraints in human cognition.

Brightman, Robert. "Forget Culture: Replacement, Transcendence, Relexification." Cultural Anthropology 10, no. 4 (1995): 509546. Usefully summarizes critiques of the term culture, its changing meanings, and its replacement with new terms.

Burridge, Kenelm. Mambu: A Melanesian Millennium. London, 1960; reprint, Princeton, N.J., 1995. A classic and readable account of a cargo cultan example of how Christian beliefs altered when they entered a new cultural context.

Cronk, Lee. That Complex Whole: Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior. Boulder, Colo., 1999. A book describing approaches to cultural transmission and change drawing on biological evolutionary theory, sociobiology, and memetics.

Guthrie, Stewart Elliott. Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion. Oxford, 1993. A book exploring the causes and prevalence of anthropomorphism, arguing that religion derives from this tendency to misperceive.

Kroeber, A. L., and Clyde Kluckhohn. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Cambridge, Mass., 1952; reprint, New York, 1963. A detailed tracing of the culture idea in the social sciences and humanities, including numerous quoted definitions.

Lohmann, Roger Ivar, ed. "Perspectives on the Category 'Supernatural.'" Special issue, Anthropological Forum 13, no. 2 (2003). A collection of essays debating the value of supernaturalism as a culture-neutral concept for describing religions cross-culturally.

Robbins, Joel. Becoming Sinners: Christianity and Moral Torment in a Papua New Guinea Society. Berkeley, Calif., 2004. An ethnographic description of the cultural changes brought about by the rapid adoption of Christianity by a remote people.

Smith, Philip. Cultural Theory: An Introduction. Malden, Mass., 2001. An excellent and readable overview of cultural theory, wide-ranging but emphasizing sociology.

Sperber, Dan. Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach. Oxford, 1996. A lucid book that defines culture as mental and public representations of reality, arguing that to explain culture, one must show why certain ideas, including religious beliefs, become more common than others.

Stewart, Charles, and Rosalind Shaw, eds. Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis. London, 1994. A collection of essays on cross-cultural religious mixing, known as syncretismat times a controversial term insofar as it is used to imply that mixed religions are less authentic than others.

Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn. A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning. Cambridge, U.K., 1998. A sophisticated treatment of culture that responds to critics of the concept by drawing on cognitive theory to remove culture' s abstraction.

Tylor, Edward B. Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art, and Custom. 2d ed. 2 vols. New York, 1877. The Victorian source of the extremely influential first anthropological definition of culture, this book proposes a now dated evolutionary model of cultural and religious advancement, but nevertheless contains much of lasting value.

Roger Ivar Lohmann (2005)

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culture, in anthropology, the integrated system of socially acquired values, beliefs, and rules of conduct which delimit the range of accepted behaviors in any given society. Cultural differences distinguish societies from one another. Archaeology, a branch of the broader field of anthropology, studies material culture, the remains of extinct human cultures (e.g., pottery, weaponry) in order to decipher something of the way people lived. Such analysis is particularly useful where no written records exist. One of the first anthropological definitions of the term was given by Sir Edward Burnett Tylor in the late 19th cent. By 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn had cataloged over 100 different definitions of the word.

The Nature of Culture

Culture is based on the uniquely human capacity to classify experiences, encode such classifications symbolically, and teach such abstractions to others. It is usually acquired through enculturation, the process through which an older generation induces and compels a younger generation to reproduce the established lifestyle; consequently, culture is embedded in a person's way of life. Culture is difficult to quantify, because it frequently exists at an unconscious level, or at least tends to be so pervasive that it escapes everyday thought. This is one reason that anthropologists tend to be skeptical of theorists who attempt to study their own culture. Anthropologists employ fieldwork and comparative, or cross-cultural, methods to study various cultures. Ethnographies may be produced from intensive study of another culture, usually involving protracted periods of living among a group. Ethnographic fieldwork generally involves the investigator assuming the role of participant-observer: gathering data by conversing and interacting with people in a natural manner and by observing people's behavior unobstrusively. Ethnologies use specialized monographs in order to draw comparisons among various cultures.

Theories of Culture

Investigations have arisen from belief in many different theories of culture and have often given voice to new theoretical bases for approaching the elusive term. Many early anthropologists conceived of culture as a collection of traits and studied the diffusion, or spread, of these traits from one society to another. Critics of diffusionism, however, pointed out that the theory failed to explain why certain traits spread and others do not. Cultural evolution theory holds that traits have a certain meaning in the context of evolutionary stages, and they look for relationships between material culture and social institutions and beliefs. These theorists classify cultures according to their relative degree of social complexity and employ several economic distinctions (foraging, hunting, farming, and industrial societies) or political distinctions (autonomous villages, chiefdoms, and states). Critics of this theory argue that the use of evolution as an explanatory metaphor is flawed, because it tends to assume a certain direction of development, with an implicit apex at modern, industrial society. Ecological approaches explain the different ways that people live around the world not in terms of their degree of evolution but rather as distinct adaptations to the variety of environments in which they live. They also demonstrate how ecological factors may lead to cultural change, such as the development of technological means to harness the environment. Structural-functionalists posit society as an integration of institutions (such as family and government), defining culture as a system of normative beliefs that reinforces social institutions. Some criticize this view, which suggests that societies are naturally stable (see functionalism). Historical-particularists look upon each culture as a unique result of its own historical processes. Symbolic anthropology looks at how people's mental constructs guide their lives. Structuralists analyze the relationships among cultural constructs of different societies, deriving universal mental patterns and processes from the abstract models of these relationships. They theorize that such patterns exist independent of, and often at odds with, practical behavior. Many theories of culture have been criticized for assuming, intentionally or otherwise, that all people in any one society experience their culture in the same way. Today, many anthropologists view social order as a fragile accomplishment that various members of a society work at explaining, enforcing, exploiting, or resisting. They have turned away from the notion of elusive "laws" of culture that often characterizes cross-cultural analyses to the study of the concrete historical, political, and economic forces that structure the relations among cultures. Important theorists on culture have included Franz Boas, Emile Durkheim, Ruth Benedict, and Clifford Geertz.


See studies by G. W. Stocking, Jr. (1968), R. Wagner (1981), M. S. Archer (1988), A. Hallowell (1988), and R. Rosaldo (1989).

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culture When social scientists use the term culture they tend to be talking about a less restrictive concept than that implied in everyday speech. In social science, culture is all that in human society which is socially rather than biologically transmitted, whereas the commonsense usage tends to point only to the arts. Culture is thus a general term for the symbolic and learned aspects of human society, although some animal behaviourists now assert that certain primates have at least the capacity for culture.

Social anthropological ideas of culture are based to a great extent on the definition given by Edward Tylor in 1871, in which he referred to a learned complex of knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, and custom. This definition implies that culture and civilization are one and the same. But this equation, although possible in English and French usage, runs counter to the German distinction between Kultur and Zivilisation, the former referring to symbols and values, while the latter deals with the organization of society. Archaeological usage, though acknowledging the wholeness of human societies, makes a distinction between material culture (or artefacts) and practices and beliefs, the non-material or adaptive culture (see CULTURE, ADAPTIVE AND MATERIAL) transmitted by teaching and tradition. Only material culture is accessible to archaeology, whereas adaptive culture is the subject of history, sociology, and anthropology.

For nineteenth-century anthropologists, such as Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan, culture was a conscious creation of human rationality. Civilization and culture, in this conception, showed a progressive tendency towards what were regarded as higher moral values, and this enabled the Victorian mind to construct a hierarchy of cultures or civilizations which provided a rationale for colonial activities by apparently higher-order Western civilizations.

Modern ideas of culture arose through the work of field anthropologists such as Franz Boas, around the turn of the century, and tend towards relativism. The intention is to describe, compare, and contrast cultures, rather than ranking them, although Boas and some later North American anthropologists have also been interested in the processes by which cultural traits may be borrowed or otherwise transmitted between societies. This has led to the development of the idea of culture areas, and a comparative ethnography of North America, both of which are largely absent in British social anthropology. For the latter, culture is generally taken to mean a collection of ideas and symbols that is generally distinguished in the discipline from social structure, and this distinction is also central to European and North American sociological usages of the term.

In America, it is sometimes argued that the concept of culture can provide ways of explaining and understanding human behaviour, belief systems, values, and ideologies, as well as particular culturally specific personality types. One exponent of the latter theory was Ruth Benedict (see, for example, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1944

In cultural anthropology, analysis of culture may proceed at three levels: learned patterns of behaviour; aspects of culture that act below conscious levels (such as the deep level of grammar and syntax in language, of which a native language speaker is seldom aware); and patterns of thought and perception, which are also culturally determined. See also CONSUMPTION, SOCIOLOGY OF; CULTURE AND PERSONALITY SCHOOL; CULTURAL RELATIVISM; CULTURAL STUDIES; CULTURAL THEORY; EVOLUTIONARY UNIVERSALS; PARSONS, TALCOTT; POPULAR CULTURE.

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cul·ture / ˈkəlchər/ • n. 1. the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. ∎  a refined understanding or appreciation of this: men of culture. ∎  the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group: people from many different cultures. ∎  the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group: the drug culture. 2. Biol. the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients: the cells proliferate readily in culture. ∎  a preparation of cells obtained in such a way: the bacterium was isolated in two blood cultures. ∎  the cultivation of plants. • v. [tr.] Biol. maintain (tissue cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth. ORIGIN: Middle English (denoting a cultivated piece of land): the noun from French culture or directly from Latin cultura ‘growing, cultivation’; the verb from obsolete French culturer or medieval Latin culturare, both based on Latin colere ‘tend, cultivate’ (see cultivate). In late Middle English the sense was ‘cultivation of the soil’ and from this (early 16th cent.) arose ‘cultivation (of the mind, faculties, or manners)’; sense 1 dates from the early 19th cent.

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A culture is a single species of microorganism that is isolated and grown under controlled conditions. The German bacteriologist Robert Koch first developed culturing techniques in the late 1870s. Following Koch's initial discovery, medical scientists quickly sought to identify other pathogens. Today bacteria cultures are used as basic tools in microbiology and medicine.

The ability to separate bacteria is important because microorganisms exist as mixed populations. In order to study individual species, it is necessary to first isolate them. This isolation can be accomplished by introducing individual bacterial cells onto a culture medium containing the necessary elements microbial growth. The medium also provides conditions favorable for growth of the desired species. These conditions may involve pH , osmotic pressure, atmospheric oxygen, and moisture content. Culture media may be liquids (known broths) or solids. Before the culture can be grown, the media must be sterilized to prevent growth of unwanted species. This sterilization process is typically done through exposure to high temperatures. Some tools like the metal loop used to introduce bacteria to the media, may be sterilized by exposure to a flame. The media itself may be sterilized by treatment with steam-generated heat through a process known as autoclaving.

To grow the culture, a number of the cells of the microorganism must be introduced to the sterilized media. This process is known as inoculation and is typically done by exposing an inoculating loop to the desired strain and then placing the loop in contact with the sterilized surface. A few of the cells will be transferred to the growth media and under the proper conditions, that species will begin to grow and form a pure colony . Cells in the colony can reproduce as often as every 20 minutes and under the ideal conditions, this rate of cell division could result in the production of 500,000 new cells after six hours. Such rapid growth rates help to explain the rapid development of disease, food spoilage, decay, and the speed at which certain chemical processes used in industry take place. Once the culture has been grown, a variety of observation methods can be used to record the strain's characteristics and chart its growth.

See also Agar and agarose; Agar diffusion; American type culture collection; Antibiotic resistance, tests for; Bacterial growth and division; Bacterial kingdoms; Epidemiology, tracking diseases with technology; Laboratory techniques in microbiology

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One aspect of the forensic examination of samples or of a crime or accident scene can involve determining whether or not a particular microorganism is present. Disease-causing (pathogenic) micro-organisms including bacteria and viruses are capable of causing illness and death, or may have contaminated a food or water source.

Modern techniques exist that rely on the detection of the genetic material of the microorganism and do not require the growth of the organism. Indeed, the organism can be dead and still remain detectable. However, the more traditional growth-dependent identification techniques are reliable, inexpensive, and are still widely used.

Bacteria require a food source to grow. Depending on the type of bacteria, the liquid or solid food source (growth medium) can be very general or highly specific, requiring the presence of certain types of amino acids, carbon sources, and other compounds. As well, some bacteria require the presence of oxygen (aerobic bacteria), while others require the complete absence of oxygen (anaerobic bacteria).

When the bacteria-containing sample is added to the medium in the step called inoculation, living bacteria will begin to assimilate the nutrients and use them to repair damaged components and construct new components. As a result, the bacteria will begin to grow and divide to produce two progeny bacteria.

Over the course of hours, the cycle of growth and division is repeated thousands of times. With each round of division, cell numbers double (i.e., growth is exponential). This rate of growth quickly leads to huge numbers of bacteria in the liquid medium or on the solid medium. This causes the liquid to become cloudy. On the surface, the countless growth and division cycles lead to the formation of a visible mound of bacteria that is known as a colony.

Bacteria can be cultured in different types of media and the various resulting biochemical reactions can be used to identify the type of organism that is present. Differing appearance of the colonies on the solid medium or the production of various compounds in the presence of specific nutrients can all be clues to the identity of the microoganism. Depending on the type of bacterium, culture-based identification can take from several days to weeks.

Viruses can also be cultured and identified (typically by their shape). However, since viruses cannot grow independently, they require the presence of a host cell. For example, poliovirus is cultured using cells found in eggs. Some viruses known as bacteriophages require a bacterial host.

see also Bacterial biology; Bacteria, growth and reproduction; Biosensor technologies; Pathogens.