Concept of Culture

Topics: Anthropology, Culture, Sociology Pages: 6 (1810 words) Published: June 7, 2013
“Nowadays the concept of culture in anthropology and sociology is regarded as a fundamental element in the humanities.” (Chase, 1948: 59; cited in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2007: The culture concept in anthropology)

Today culture is one of the most discussed concepts all around the world. It has a crucial role in human relations. Its understanding is the kernel of the new multiculturalism policy of different countries around the globe. And in this understanding the social sciences has a very crucial and important role. Anthropology is the most noted among them. But how did the conceptualization of ‘culture’ enter in the humanities? And especially how did it became a part of anthropology? Has it always been present or there is a point in history that it emerged at the core of social science?

The purpose of this short essay is to show shortly how did the culture concept make its journey through science during the late twentieth century. I will try to do that in a diachronically-descriptive method, showing what were the roots of the concept, how did it enter anthropology, and made its way through it. I will refer principally to anthropology because it is maybe the social science that mostly studied man and its habitat in many dimensions. And is also the social science that studied the culture concept thoroughly.

The first steps were made in the ancient world. The first to raise issues about this concept were Hippocrates, Homers, Plato and Boethius (Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1952: 13). But it was with Descartes that the culture concept began its real way through the academic world. Descartes shows at his “Meditations” his view about the tradition, customs, norms and values, of the people he encountered during his expeditions. In a certain way he did what Franz Boas would do after centuries with the Native Americans in Canada. Or, as Descartes himself states, that “during my journeys I understood that those who had different attitudes and conducts from us, not for this reason were barbarians or savage people but at least as reasonable as us, if not more… understanding how much different would a person raised among the Francs or Germans would e if raised between the Chinese or cannibals… I am understanding how difficult it is for myself to see the world from their point of view.” (Descartes, 46).

In the anthropological sense it was Tylor in 1871 that used first the term ‘culture’. In fact he was talking about civilization and was borrowing a term from the German tradition to describe it. Tylor used this term to describe the consequences that civilization left on individuals. According to him ‘culture’ was the reflection of civilization seen within the individual person. He didn’t realize that he was dealing with a brand new concept. But even though the term ‘culture’ was first used in Europe it did not make it through the ‘evolutionist barriers’ of the French and English traditional schools. Partly because of the good relationship between evolutionary anthropology and colonialist politics (Said, 1978: 32), and partly because everything German was not well accepted from the French and British.

“What do we understand by ‘culture’? the term originates from the German language. Till now it is well accepted and used in Spain, Italy and U.S.A. along with the Slavic and Scandinavian languages. Only among the French and British it is encountering resistance…” (Jan Huizinga, 1936: 39-40; cited in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2007: The culture concept in anthropology)

Till that time the different schools of anthropology around the world had their main concern the evolution of the different societies and races of the world. This gave raise to the scientific supported theories and programs for colonization and centralized-imperialistic policy of many European powers (Said, 1978: 12). The main idea was that societies had come a long way throughout centuries from barbarism to civilization....
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