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Definitions of culture:

Culture has been defined as a skill; "a luxury; an elite's prestige commodity; a simple aesthetic appreciation; (or) solely a folkloric epiphenomenon."
The definition of culture I use in Geography 330 includes "every aspect of life: know-how, technical knowledge, customs of food and dress, religion, mentality, values, language, symbols, socio-political and economic behavior, indigenous methods of taking decisions and exercising power, methods of production and economic relations, and so on." (Verhelst, T 1990 No Life Without Roots London: Zed Books p.17)

Culture permeates and influences every aspect of life, but it is not static however, rather it is a process in a constant state of flux and adaptation to new contexts, demands, and needs. Culture is not a deterministic force but rather a subtle and often subliminal pattern of thinking which describes the "organization of values, norms, and symbols which guide the choices made by actors and which limit the types of interaction which may occur between individuals" (-Parsons, Talcott & Shils, Edward 1990 "Values and social systems" ed. Alexander, Jeffrey & Seidman, Steven Culture and Society, Contemporary Debates Cambridge Univ Press, New York pp.39-40).

According to Spradley and McCurdy (1987) culture is "learned, and shared. In addition, culture is adaptive. Human beings cope with their natural and social environment by means of their traditional knowledge" (p.4). In other words, as something inherited, 'traditional' cultural knowledge developed within a particular spatial and temporal 'context' or 'environment'. But as a dynamic process culture continues to change as people cope with new challenges and adapt to changing conditions.

Underlying values and expectations are arbitrary conceptions "of what is desirable in human experience, . . . (and) these concepts of what is desirable combine cognitive and affective meanings . . . they provide security and contribute to a sense of personal and social identity. For this reason, individuals in every society cling tenaciously to the values they have acquired and feel threatened when confronted with others who live according to different conceptions of what is desirable" Thus culture is like a "security blanket" which "has great meaning to its owner"
(Spradley, P. & David W. McCurdy 1987 Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology Boston: Little Brown and Company pp.5-6).

"Culture is at once socially constituted (it is a product of present and past activity) and socially constitutive (it is part of the meaningful context in which activity takes place)" (Roseberry, W. 1989 Anthropologies and Histories Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick p.42).


Can culture be mapped? At what scale is it most accurate?

Religion: belief system and a set of practices that recognize the existence of a power higher than humans.

You can map the spread of religious ideas through the populations of a region, and map out the movement of religious pilgrims.


What problems of scale appear in these maps of religion?

Cultural region: the areas within which a particular cultural system prevails.

Culture system: a collection of interacting elements that taken together shape a group's collective identity.

The anthropologist Leslie White (1900-1975) suggested that for analytical purposes, a culture could be viewed as a three-part structure composed of subsystems that he termed ideological, technological, and sociological. In a similar classification, the biologist Julian Huxley (18871975) identified three components of culture: mentifacts, artifacts, and sociofacts. Together, according to these interpretations, the subsystems-identified by their separate components-comprise the system of culture as a whole. But they are integrated; each reacts on the others and is affected by them in turn.

Mentifacts: The ideological subsystem consists of ideas, beliefs, and knowledge of a culture and of the ways in which these things are expressed in speech or other forms of communication. Mythologies and theologies, legend, literature, philosophy, and folk wisdom make up this category. Passed on from generation to generation, these abstract belief systems, or mentifacts, tell us what we ought to believe, what we should value, and how we ought to act. Beliefs form the basis of the socialization process . Often we know-or think we know-what the beliefs of a group are from their oral or written statements. Sometimes, however, we must depend on the actions or objectives of a group to tell us what its true ideas and values are. "Actions speak louder than words" and "Do as I say not as I do" are commonplace recognitions of the fact that actions, values, and words do not always coincide. . .

Artifacts: The technological subsystem is composed of the material objects, together with the techniques of their use, by means of which people are able to live. Such objects are the tools and other instruments that enable us to feed, clothe, house, defend, transport, and amuse ourselves. We must have food, we must be protected from the elements, and we must be able to defend ourselves. Huxley termed the material objects we use to fill these basic needs artifacts. . .

Sociofacts: The sociological subsystem of a culture is the sum of the expected and accepted patterns of interpersonal relations that find their outlet in economic, political, military, religious, kinship: and other associations. These sociofacts define the social organization of a culture. They regulate how the individual functions relative to the group, whether it be family, church, or state. There are no "givens" as far as the patterns of interaction in any of these associations are concerned, except that most cultures possess a variety of formal and informal ways of structuring behavior. Differing patterns of behavior are learned and transmitted from one generation to the next.

From Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities New York: William C. Brown Publishers 1990


Class discussion: we broke into three groups based on where we grew up and discussed our culture system as it relates to the geography.