The Complexity of Culture in Persons

  • Claudia Strauss
Part of the Culture, Mind, and Society book series (CMAS)


Public culture both creates and depends upon encultured minds. Nonetheless, culture in persons is not simply a mirror of public culture. In this chapter, Strauss draws upon research with Americans from diverse socioeconomic and racial groups to argue that culture in persons is complex. There are six reasons for this complexity: (1) People may internalize conflicting schemas; (2) differing schemas create divergent interpretations of shared experiences; (3) actors’ views are shaped by their self-image, emotion triggers, and motivations; (4) meanings are not the same as schemas; (5) beliefs are internalized in different ways (explicit or implicit, evoking conscious assent or creating an automatic, out-of-awareness association); and (6) beliefs vary in their meta-recognition as being cultural. Thus, cultural models (Holland and Quinn in Cultural Models in Language and Thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 3–40,1987) and “the native’s point of view” (Geertz in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. Basic Books, New York, 1983; Malinowski in Argonauts of the Western Pacific. E.P. Dutton, New York, 1961) take different forms. Anthropologists should not be reluctant to acknowledge that culture is both inside and outside persons (cf. Handler in Am. Anthropol. 106: 488–494, 2004) if they recognize these complexities.



I am grateful for comments from Richard Handler, Naomi Quinn, and an anonymous reviewer for Palgrave. The research on unemployment reported here was funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1230534 and by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The North Carolina research was funded by a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.


  1. Adams, Susan. 2011. America’s Worst Cities for Finding a Job. Forbes, November 23, 2011.
  2. Agha, Asif. 2003. The Social Life of Cultural Value. Language & Communication 23 (3/4): 231–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agha, Asif. 2005. Voice, Footing, Enregisterment. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15 (1): 38–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Billig, Michael. 1995. Banal Nationalism. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Bohner, Gerd, and Nina Dickel. 2011. Attitudes and Attitude Change. Annual Review of Psychology 62: 391–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bruner, Jerome. 1973. Beyond the Information Given: Studies in the Psychology of Knowing. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  10. Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Eckert, Penelope. 2008. Variation and the Indexical Field. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12 (4): 453–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz, 3–30. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  13. Geertz, Clifford. 1983. “From the Native’s Point of View”: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding. In Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, 55–70. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  14. Gendler, Tamar Szabó. 2008. Alief and Belief. Journal of Philosophy 105 (10): 634–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Goddard, Cliff, and Anna Wierzbicka. 2007. Semantic Primes and Cultural Scripts in Language Learning and Intercultural Communication. In Applied Cultural Linguistics: Implications from Second Language Learning and Intercultural Communication, ed. G. Palmer and F. Sharifian, 105–124. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Handler, Richard. 2004. Afterword: Mysteries of Culture. American Anthropologist 106 (3): 488–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hannerz, Ulf. 1992. Cultural Complexity: Studies in the Social Organization of Meaning. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Inquiry into the Conditions of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  19. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2016. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  20. Jameson, Frederic. 1984. Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. New Left Review I/146 (July/August): 53–92.Google Scholar
  21. Kohut, Heinz. 1971. The Analysis of the Self: A Systemic Approach to the Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  22. Koriat, Asher, Morris Goldsmith, and Ainat Pansky. 2000. Toward a Psychology of Memory Accuracy. Annual Review of Psychology 51 (1): 481–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Labov, William. 1971. The Study of Language in Its Social Context. In Advances in the Sociology of Language, vol. 1, ed. Joshua A. Fishman, 152–216. The Hague, The Netherlands: Mouton.Google Scholar
  24. Lave, Jean. 1988. Cognition in Practice: Mind, Mathematics and Culture in Everyday Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1961. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: E.P. Dutton (Originally Published 1922).Google Scholar
  26. Mukhopadhyay, Carol. 2004. A Feminist Cognitive Anthropology: The Case of Women and Mathematics. Ethos 32 (4): 458–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Neumark, David, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button. 2015. “Is It Harder for Older Workers to Find Jobs? New and Improved Evidence from a Field Experiment.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 21669.Google Scholar
  28. Nisperos, Neil, and Ryan Hagen. 2013. Census: Inland Empire Has Nation’s Highest Poverty Rate. The Sun, September 19, 2013. Accessed August 13, 2015.
  29. Nosek, Brian A., Frederick L. Smyth, N. Sriram, Nicole M. Lindner, Thierry Devos, Alfonso Ayala, Yoav Bar-Anan, Robin Bergh, Huajian Cai, Karen Gonsalkorale, Selin Kesebir, Norbert Maliszewski, Félix Neto, Eero Olli, Jaihyun Park, Konrad Schnabel, Kimihiro Shiomura, Bogdan Tudor Tulbure, Reinout W. Wiers, Mónika Somogyi, Nazar Akrami, Bo Ekehammar, Michelangelo Vianello, Mahzarin R. Banaji, and Anthony G. Greenwald. 2009. National Differences in Gender–Science Stereotypes Predict National Sex Differences in Science and Math Achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (26): 10593–10597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Quinn, Naomi. 2005. Universals of Child Rearing. Anthropological Theory 5 (4): 477–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Quinn, Naomi, and Dorothy Holland. 1987. Culture and Cognition. In Cultural Models in Language and Thought, ed. D. Holland and N. Quinn, 3–40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sapir, Edward. 1949. Cultural Anthropology and Psychiatry. In Selected Writings of Edward Sapir in Language, Culture and Personality, ed. D. Mandelbaum, 509–521. Berkeley: University of California Press (Originally Published 1932).Google Scholar
  33. Schwitzgebel, Eric. 2015. Belief. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed January 10, 2017.
  34. Sennett, Richard. 1998. The Corrosion of Character. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  35. Shweder, Richard A., and Edmund J. Bourne. 1984. Does the Concept of the Person Vary Cross-Culturally? In Culture Theory: Essays on Mind, Self, and Emotion, ed. R.A. Shweder and R.A. LeVine, 158–199. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Silverstein, Michael. 2003. Indexical Order and the Dialectics of Sociolinguistic Life. Language & Communication 23 (3): 193–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sökefeld, Martin. 2007. Comments on C. Strauss, “Blaming for Columbine: Conceptions of Agency in the Contemporary United States.” Current Anthropology 48 (6): 826.Google Scholar
  38. Spiro, Melford E. 1993. Is the Western Conception of the Self ‘Peculiar’ Within the Context of the World Cultures? Ethos 21 (2): 107–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Steele, Claude, and Joshua Aronson. 1995. Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69 (5): 797–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Strauss, Claudia. 2004. Cultural Standing in Expression of Opinion. Language in Society 33 (2): 161–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Strauss, Claudia. 2005. Analyzing Discourse for Cultural Complexity. In Finding Culture in Talk: A Collection of Methods, ed. N. Quinn, 203–242. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Strauss, Claudia. 2007. Blaming for Columbine: Conceptions of Agency in the Contemporary United States. Current Anthropology 48 (6): 807–822.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Strauss, Claudia. 2012. Making Sense of Public Opinion: American Discourses About Immigration and Social Programs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Strauss, Claudia. 2018a. ‘It Feels so Alien’ or the Same Old S—: Attachment to Divergent Cultural Models in Insecure Times. Special Issue, Cultural and Economic Adversity: Contemporary Psychological Engagements, ed. E. Lowe and C. Strauss.  Ethos 46 (3).Google Scholar
  45. Strauss, Claudia. 2018b. The Meanings of Social Movements for Bystanders: The Case of Occupy Wall Street. In Political Sentiments and Social Movements: The Person in Politics and Culture, ed. C. Strauss and J. Friedman, 33–60. New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Strauss, Claudia, and Naomi Quinn. 1997. A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. U.S. Census Bureau. 2000. The Hispanic Population: Census 2000 Brief. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce.
  48. Wierzbicka, Anna. 1993. A Conceptual Basis for Cultural Psychology. Ethos 21 (2): 205–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claudia Strauss
    • 1
  1. 1.Pitzer CollegeClaremontUSA

Personalised recommendations