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Culture: The Use and Abuse of an Anthropological Concept

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Abstract

The concept of culture, as developed within the discipline of anthropology, has had a significant influence on Western understandings of humanity. The concept percolated widely into the discourse of the Western world as an alternative to explaining human differences as a result of racial or biological factors. A philosophical concept of culture in the West can be traced back to Roman times and the Enlightenment period. The anthropological concept of culture was developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the anthropological concept of culture has gone through considerable changes over the last century. This chapter will discuss how the concept was used and abused by practitioners and academics in many disciplines. The concept was loosely employed by many as an autonomous variable and determinant of individual, ethnic, national, and sometimes civilizational group behavior. This usage resulted in the separation between the disciplines of anthropology and psychology. More recently, a more nuanced understanding of this anthropological concept of culture has been the consequence of groundbreaking research within the cognitive approaches in anthropology and psychology. This refined understanding of culture can provide a foundation for improvement in dealing with the practical issues in counseling, social work, and other related applied psychology fields.

Keywords

  • Culture
  • Symbolic anthropology
  • Cognitive revolution
  • Structuralism
  • Language acquisition device
  • Prototypes
  • Schemas
  • Emotions
  • Essentialism

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The view of culture expressed by Arnold became widely incorporated into common parlance that “culture” was associated with elite ideals of classical literature, art, aesthetics, music, elegant fashion, or haute cuisine. This is not the view of culture that became prevalent in anthropology.

  2. 2.

    Although Herder emphasizes the particularity of cultures in the plural, his break with the Enlightenment ideals were not consistent. In some of his writings, Herder espoused views that confirmed that progress did take place within specific cultures as a result of historical interconnections among societies. However, Herder maintained that cultural differences were overlooked by most Enlightenment thinkers (Denby, 2005; Zammito, 2002).

  3. 3.

    In Herder’s discussion he used the term Gestalt (shape or form) to refer to perceptions that people had based on their particular language and cultural environment. It assumed that the human mind perceived the empirical world as configurations or wholes, rather than as independent parts. Of course, the concept of Gestalt led to a movement in German psychology and therapeutic circles in the late nineteenth century. Herder’s conceptions of plural cultures had a deep influence on the origins of psychology in Germany. He influenced Wilhelm M. Wundt who published his Völkerpsychologie in 1900 and was the father of experimental psychology.

  4. 4.

    Although Boas was influenced by the Herderian tradition, he did not assume that cultures were bounded and isolated from one another and indicated that culture changes derived from the interconnections among different societies (Bashkow, 2004; Denby, 2005; Lewis, 1999, 2001).

  5. 5.

    Benedict had read the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who used the terms Dionysian and Apollonian to describe different cultural ethos and styles of living in the world.

  6. 6.

    Benedict’s portrayals of culture as integrated coherent configurations that produced specific personality types were influenced by her readings of Gestalt psychology.

  7. 7.

    Margaret Mead’s ideas became very influential in US society as she wrote monthly columns for Redbook magazine and was a regular guest on talk shows such as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. She also became well-known through the pediatrician Benjamin Spock who drew on her research on enculturation in his many editions of Baby and Child Care first published in 1946. Spock’s book became the prominent guide book for many parents in American society for years. Mead’s publications included over 1400 titles, including book reviews, articles in scientific journals, newspapers, popular magazines, as well as her ethnographies. After Margaret Mead’s death, New Zealand anthropologist Derek Freeman published two controversial books, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth (1983) and The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research (1998), critiquing Mead’s research in Samoa. Freeman argued that Mead had been duped and lied to by the Samoan girls that she interviewed and was wrong in many details about Samoan culture. Because of the immense popularity and reputation of Mead, the publication of these books created an international media event with headlines in major newspapers and magazines throughout the world. In 2009, Paul Shankman, an ethnographer who did ethnographic research in Samoa, assessed the Mead-Freeman controversy in his book The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy. He asserted that differences in both Mead’s and Freeman’s personal histories resulted in misinterpretations and exaggerations about Samoan culture and society. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mead, posthumously. Mead’s daughter, well-known anthropologist Catherine Bateson, received the award, presented by Civil Rights leader and politician Andrew Young, on behalf of her mother.

  8. 8.

    Another student of Boas, Edward Sapir, focused on the relationship between language and culture. Sapir was a prodigious fieldworker who studied and described many Native American languages and provided the basis for the comparative method in anthropological linguistics (1929). Like Benedict and Mead, Sapir thought that culture itself could be analogous to a personality and could be understood as systems much like grammatical and sounds (phonetics) of language. One of his students Benjamin Whorf, an insurance inspector by profession and a linguist and anthropologist by calling, conducted comparative research on a wide variety of languages. The research of Sapir and Whorf led their students to formulate a well-known hypothesis that was based on Herder and Humboldt’s conceptions of language and culture (Whorf, 1956). It became known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which maintains that there is an intimate relationship between the properties or characteristics of a specific language and its associated culture and that these features of specific languages define experiences for the individual. It appears that Boas differed in his understanding of language from Whorf that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis implied. He argued that thought determines language, rather than language vice-versa. For example, Boas believed that even if some primitive languages did not have sufficiently abstract concepts, all humans are able to carry on abstract philosophical conversations. He argued that both primitive and modern humans have similar cognitive capacities (Boas, 1911).

  9. 9.

    At about the same time, as the Boasian paradigm of culture and society developed, varieties of “functionalism” were emerging in British anthropology. Bronislaw Malinowski (1944) and Arthur Radcliffe-Brown (1952) initiated their own versions of functionalism. Functionalist perspectives also produced portraits of societies as integrated organic coherent systems with interdependent social institutions based on values, kinship, and an awareness of common cultural identity. Malinowski was at one time a student of Wilhelm M. Wundt, the founder of German experimental psychology who was also deeply influenced by Herder.

  10. 10.

    As Herder had introduced his concepts of culture and language in Germany, he was instrumental in the development of a hermeneutic-interpretive method for use in critical Biblical studies. This hermeneutic method involved imagining what the original intentions of the authors who were writing the particular Biblical texts. Max Weber had been influenced by some of the developments within this hermeneutic tradition of scholarship. He proposed that social scientists rely upon verstehen (sympathetic imagination) in helping to comprehend human behavior (1949).

  11. 11.

    The Geertzian conception of culture was influenced by Parsons and Weber and the approach was also consistent with the behaviorist psychologists led by J.B. Watson and B.F. Skinner who disdained any attempts to study the inner workings of the human mind. Geertz had been influenced by the philosopher Gilbert Ryle who argued that psychologists and social scientists should not be interested in understanding internal cognitive or perceptual mechanisms within the mind. Like the behaviorist psychologists, Ryle maintained that the most one could do is to understand what the circumstances are when individuals report something about their internal experience (1949).

  12. 12.

    Geertz expressed skepticism about any claims regarding human nature or human universals. Like Margaret Mead or Ruth Benedict, he was constantly in search of ethnographic studies that demonstrated that particular societies were so culturally different in order to undermine any notion of human universals or aspects of a human nature. In his defense of cultural relativism, Geertz made the claim that anthropologists are the “merchants of astonishment” as they describe the exotic ways in which cultures differ (1984). For example, Geertz wrote a praiseworthy review of Chinese anthropologist Cai Hua’s ethnographic study of the Na (Mosuo) of Southern China that suggested that they were matrilineal, matriarchal, and had no fathers or husbands (2001; Cai Hua, 2002). Cai Hua’s book has been thoroughly criticized by both Chinese and Western anthropologists as a distortion of Na society. The Na are patrilineal, patriarchal, and they have fathers, marriages, and families (Harrell, 2002).

  13. 13.

    One anthropologist influenced by the Geertzian perspective, Richard Shweder, developed a field known as “cultural psychology,” which resonated with some psychological anthropologists. The cultural psychologists emphasize a Geertzian conception of culture in their exploration of psychological factors such as cognition, perception, emotions, morality, and behavior. See Shweder (1984) for how Geertzian concepts of culture represented a “romantic” rebellion against the Enlightenment and scientific views of human nature and human universals.

  14. 14.

    During World War II Ruth Benedict was hired by the Department of Defense to study the characteristics of Japanese culture which resulted in her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946). Other social scientists, such as the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, a close colleague of both Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, wrote about Germany’s culture during the Nazi period. Erikson also penned a book Childhood and Society (1963) that contained a discussion of the Yurok Indians of the Klamath River in northern California where he drew on Mead’s discussions of child-rearing and culture.

  15. 15.

    In reaction to the widespread diffusion of the anthropological concept of culture in the United States, the anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn wrote a book describing the various definitions of culture used within anthropology and related fields (1952). Kluckhohn spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University but had studied at the University of Vienna where he was exposed to psychoanalytic theory. Kroeber had been a student of Boas at Columbia University and completed the first PhD degree in anthropology in the United States in 1901. In their 1952 book, they found 171 definitions of culture sorted into 13 different categories. They confirmed that there had been an easy assimilation of a loosely defined vague anthropological concept of culture in general use among psychologists, psychiatrists, economists, lawyers, and others to refer to “our culture” or “their culture” in a mechanical fashion (Fox & King, 2002; Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1952). Though they appreciated the fact that the anthropological concept of culture had diffused widely into American usage, they expressed concern that this usage was too imprecise for explaining human behavior (1952, p. 5). The goal of their book was to promote a more systematic anthropological concept of culture that would emphasize the separation of genetic or biological inheritance from the social environment and demonstrate the integration and patterning of cultural values. Later, in 1958, Kroeber published a piece with sociologist Talcott Parsons entitled “The concept of culture and of social system” that defined culture as an autonomous variable consisting of patterned values and ideas. Talcott Parsons was the preeminent director of the Department of Social Relations at Harvard that trained Clifford Geertz and many other anthropologists that fostered this approach to culture in the 1970s.

  16. 16.

    One psychological anthropologist, Anthony Wallace, differed from the mainstream culture and personality theorists. In his book Culture and Personality (1960), Wallace differentiated the “culture” of individuals versus the “culture” of whole societies.

  17. 17.

    Boas was more cautious than some of his students regarding the relationship between culture and the individual. He was critical of the approach of Kroeber et al. who considered culture as a “superorganic” force or mystic entity that exists outside of the individual determining their behavior (Boas, 1928, pp. 245–46; Lewis, 2001, p. 386).

  18. 18.

    Influenced by these semiotic and symbolic approaches, some mainstream political scientists and international relations specialists began to view “culture” as the major factor influencing the international arena. Two major books emphasizing the role of culture in international relations were published in 1996 by political scientists Benjamin Barber and Samuel Huntington. Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy (1996) argued that globalization represented by the spread of McWorld (McDonald’s, Macintosh computers, and Mickey Mouse) through many societies has resulted in jihad the Arabic term for “Holy War” and defense of the Islamic faith by those who resist these global trends and, therefore, react in antagonistic ways, including supporting terrorism of the sort that led to 9/11.

    Samuel Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996), which continues to resonate with many people in the West and other regions of the world. In this influential book Huntington argued that a unitary “Western civilization and culture” is at odds with “Islamic,” “Hindu,” and “Confucian civilizations and cultures.” Huntington argued that these Islamic and Asian cultures do not have the institutions for developing civil democratic societies, individualism, free markets, secularism, or other elements that will enable them to coexist peacefully with Western societies. He envisioned these cultural and regional blocs along fault lines that fragmented the world order resulting in more conflict and instability throughout the world. Huntington’s perspective has perpetuated a view that has been widely accepted within both the West and the Islamic world, especially after the tragedy of 9/11/2001 and the aftermath of the United States-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These views of Barber and Huntington have been criticized thoroughly by anthropologists who have debunked these crude and reified uses of the “culture” concept as applied to whole very complex “civilizations.”

  19. 19.

    During the 1950s a movement led by American anthropologist Leslie White known as “culturology,” the study of culture, was emphasized in his book The Science of Culture: A Study of Man and Civilization (1949). White argued that culture was a superorganic phenomenon and was not reducible to psychology. Culture consisted of systems of technology, social systems, and ideologies that White discussed later in The Concept of Cultural Systems: A Key to Understanding Tribes and Nations (1975).

  20. 20.

    There were some anthropologists during this period that remained interested in psychological explanations. Some of them such as Cora Du Bois, Abram Kardiner, and Melford Spiro were drawing on Freudian traditions (Boyer & Grolnick, 1990; Du Bois, 1960; Kardiner, 1939). Other psychologically oriented anthropologists were conducting experiments in their field studies. A number of anthropologists began ethnographic projects that have focused on mental disorders that are unique to specific cultural settings. These culture-bound syndromes include latah and amok. Latah was described as a mental disorder in areas of Southeast and East Asia. In Southeast Asia, latah appears as a type of hysteria or fear reaction that afflicts women. They become easily startled and compulsively imitate behaviors or shout repetitive phrases that they have heard (echolalia). Sometimes, this disorder is triggered when the woman hears the word snake or is tickled (Kenny, 1978). Amok is a culture-specific disorder that is described in Malaysia, Indonesia, and parts of the Philippines. It is a disorder of middle-aged males that follows a period of withdrawal marked by brooding over a perceived insult. During this period, in which the individual loses contact with reality, he may suffer from stress and sleep deprivation and consume large quantities of alcohol. Then, a wild outburst marked by rage occurs, with the individual attempting a violent series of murderous attacks. These aggressive, homicidal attacks will be followed by prolonged exhaustion and amnesia (Bourguignon, 1979). (The Malay term amok has entered the English language, referring to wild, aggressive behavior, as in someone running amok.) For an excellent overview of these culture-bound syndromes and psychological anthropology, see Charles Lindholm’s Culture and Identity: The History, Theory, and Practice of Psychological Anthropology (2007).

  21. 21.

    Famously Franz Boas died in the arms of Lévi-Strauss while they were eating lunch together in New York City in 1942.

  22. 22.

    Predictably, Geertz wrote a critical piece about Lévi-Strauss’ contributions aligning anthropology with psychology entitled The Cerebral Savage: On the Work of Claude Lévi-Strauss (1973). Lévi-Strauss died at the age of 100. For an obituary that delineated his definitive influence on the cognitive revolution and anthropology, see Bloch (2009).

  23. 23.

    One source of evidence for Chomsky’s model of innate universal grammar is research on specific types of languages known as creole and pidgin languages. Linguist Derek Bickerton has compared these two types of languages from different areas of the world. Pidgin and creole languages develop from cross-cultural contact between speakers of mutually unintelligible languages. A pidgin form of communication emerges when people of different languages develop and use a simple grammatical structure and words to communicate with one another. For example, in the New Guinea highlands, where many different languages were spoken, a pidgin language developed between the indigenous peoples and the Westerners. In some cases, the children of the pidgin speakers begin to speak a creole language. The vocabulary of the creole language is similar to that of the pidgin, but the grammar is much more complex. There are more than a hundred known creole languages. Among them are the creole languages developed between African slaves and Europeans, leading to languages such as Haitian and Jamaican Creole. Hawaiian Creole emerged after contact between English-speaking Westerners and native Hawaiians. What is remarkable is that all these creole languages share similar grammatical patterns, despite the lack of contact among these diverse peoples. Bickerton suggests that the development of creole languages may parallel the evolution of early human languages. Because of an innate universal grammatical component of the human mind, languages emerged in uniform ways. Bickerton’s thesis suggests that humans do have some sort of universal linguistic acquisition device, as hypothesized by Chomsky (Bickerton, 1985, 1999, 2008).

    An interesting study of deaf children in Nicaragua conducted by linguistic anthropologist Ann Senghas and her colleagues also supports the view that language has some innate characteristics, as Chomsky has indicated. This study demonstrates how language can develop from a gesture system to a full-fledged language with grammar, symbols, and meanings (Senghas, Kita, & Özyürek, 2004). Nicaragua’s deaf schools were established in 1977 and had many deaf children who interacted with one another. These children came from various backgrounds and regions of the country and had developed different means of communication with their parents. The school that was established focused on teaching the children to read lips and speak in Spanish. Senghas and her colleagues studied three generations of deaf schoolchildren in Managua, Nicaragua, and found that they were actually constructing linguistic rules from various gestures that they were using with one another over the years. These gestures were different from any other communicative gestures found in other sign languages. This linguistic study provides more confirmation of Chomsky’s views on language acquisition. The study of deaf Nicaraguan children indicates that there is a biologically based language acquisition device that enables young children to learn and create extremely complex fundamental grammatical and linguistic systems with symbolic meanings understood by all of them.

  24. 24.

    For criticism of Chomsky’s perspective on language, see Geoffrey Sampson Educating Eve: The “Language Instinct” Debate, London and New York: Cassell, 1997. Another critic of Chomsky’s approach to language is Michael Tomasello who has developed his own model of language learning. Tomasello is a comparative psychologist who studies chimpanzee and humans and is the co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. His model of language learning suggests that children acquire their language through usage and experience by reading the intentions of speakers in their social environment as to the meaning of words and phrases. Tomasello’s book Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2005, is critical of Chomsky’s innate model of language acquisition. Sampson and Tomasello’s empiricist approach to language learning has not attracted the attention of most linguists or psychologists.

  25. 25.

    Many evolutionary psychologists hold that some of the evolved predispositions that are inherited may not be as adaptive today as they were during the time of the Paleolithic. For example, humans during that period had to worry more about avoiding the danger of wild animals and other groups and about getting enough salt and sugar to eat for survival, but such evolved predispositions may not help, and even hinder, human adaptations to modern society.

  26. 26.

    Evolutionary psychologists further contend that the mind is modular, in that it uses numerous innate rules (“algorithms”) to process different types of information. In the social realm, for example, they suggest there are mental modules that help the individual interpret and predict other people’s behavior by detecting and understanding basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, jealousy, and love. These specialized modules thus influence male-female relationships, mate choice, and cooperation or competition among individuals and very much more. However, evolutionary psychologists emphasize that these specialized modules are not inflexible adaptations to the past. In addition to their outputs being modified by the novel inputs of the present and more recent past, their outputs gain flexibility through the interaction of one module with others and by some modules having been specifically designed to produce variable outputs (Barrett, 2015).

  27. 27.

    Cognitive psychologist Eleanor Rosch participated in Berlin and Kay’s project by doing research on color categorization and classification among the Dani tribal people of Papua New Guinea. She found that though the Dani had only two color terms for “light” and “dark,” they still perceived and categorized objects by colors that were the same for all humans.

  28. 28.

    Cognitive psychologist Eleanor Rosch did much of the basic pioneering research on the universality of prototypes (Rosch, 1975; Rosch & Rosch, 1978).

  29. 29.

    Aside from prototypes, both cognitive anthropologists and cognitive psychologists emphasize schemas, or cultural models that influence cognition, decision-making, and behavior. The concept of schema was introduced into mainstream psychology by Jean Piaget who conducted pioneering research on cognitive development of children at different ages (1970). Culture is acquired by and modeled as schema within individual minds, which can motivate, shape, and transform these symbols and meanings (Bloch, 2012; Quinn & Holland, 1987).

  30. 30.

    Another research area that suggests that the human brain does have innate modules or specific domains is the study of patients that have had damage in localized regions of the brain (Pinker, 2002). Science writer Carol Kaesuk Yoon summarizes many cases of people who are not able to classify animals, plants, or inanimate objects because of brain damage in specific areas in her book Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and science, New York and London, W.W. Norton and Company, 2009.

  31. 31.

    In an influential book entitled Human Universals (1991), anthropologist Donald E. Brown suggests that in their quest to describe cultural diversity, many anthropologists have overlooked basic similarities in human behavior and culture. This has led to stereotypes and distortions about people in other societies, who are viewed as “exotic,” “inscrutable,” and “alien.” Brown describes many human universals. In one imaginative chapter, Brown creates a group of people he refers to as the “universal people,” who have all the traits of any people in any society throughout the world. The universal people have language with a complex grammar to communicate and think abstractly; kinship terms and categories to distinguish relatives and age groupings; gender terms for male and female; facial expressions to show basic emotions; a concept of the self as subject and object; tools, shelter, and fire; patterns for childbirth and training; families and political groupings; conflict; etiquette; morality, religious beliefs, and worldviews; and dance, music, art, and other aesthetic standards. Brown’s depiction of the universal people clearly suggests that these and many other aspects of human behavior result from certain problems that threaten the physical and social survival of all societies. For a society to survive, it must have mechanisms to care for children, adapt to the physical environment, produce and distribute goods and services, maintain order, and provide explanations of the natural and social environment. In addition, many universal behaviors result from fundamental biological characteristics common to all people. Steven Pinker cites Brown’s research on universals in his books The Language Instinct (1994) and The Blank Slate (2002) as evidence to support a species-wide human nature.

  32. 32.

    In the epidemiological approach to culture, Sperber discusses two different kinds of representations—public representations, which are embodied in texts, talk, monuments, and other material phenomena, and private or mental representations. These representations may be widely shared within a population, or they may be idiosyncratic. Likewise, Pascal Boyer indicates that because of innate constraints of the human mind, certain representations are more likely than others to become acquired and transmitted to become stable sets of representations that anthropologists view as “culture” (1994, p. 391).

  33. 33.

    The model of culture promoted by Parsons, his students, and Geertz suggested that children were passively absorbing and internalizing the beliefs, norms, and values through the process of enculturation. The question of individual agency is undermined in this approach to enculturation or socialization.

  34. 34.

    The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins introduced the concept of “meme,” which he argued was the cultural equivalent of the biological gene that replicate into successive generations (1976). Dawkins suggested that memes were cultural units of ideas, behaviors, or styles that were transmitted to individuals and become the basis of cultural evolution. This term “meme” led to the development of memetics as a field of study (Blackmore, 1999). In a volume edited by Robert Aunger Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science (2000), a number of biologists, anthropologists, and other scholars analyzed the concept of the meme. Most of the anthropologists who wrote chapters in the volume such as Adam Kuper, Peter Richerson, Robert Boyd, Dan Sperber, and Maurice Bloch were critical of the concept of the meme as a cultural unit equivalent to the gene. Most agreed that since there are no definite criteria for memes as cultural units in the mind or elsewhere, it is difficult to develop a valid science of memetics for understanding psychological processes, cultural evolution, or cultural transmission.

  35. 35.

    A number of other anthropologists in the 1980s studied emotions as socially or culturally constructed as Lutz did. Michelle Rosaldo did ethnographic research with her husband among the Ilongots of the Philippines. In her monograph Knowledge and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self and Social Life (1980) she describes how emotions are especially important when connected with the practice of headhunting rituals. Rosaldo describes how the emotions of the Ilongot are not comparable to Western concepts of emotion. Another anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod did research among Bedouins in Egypt and discusses how their emotions are expressed in poetry but are not comparable to Western emotions (1986). Lutz and Abu-Lughod edited a book Language and the Politics of Emotion published by Cambridge University Press in 1990 that expresses how the language and culture deeply influences emotions.

  36. 36.

    Karl Heider’s studies of emotions in Indonesia followed the work of cognitive psychologist Paul Ekman. Ekman is best known for his theory of the basic emotions that people of all cultures are said to have and which they are able to recognize in others. The basic emotions he describes are happiness, anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and surprise. Unlike the social constructionist view of emotions as in Lutz, Ekman argues that the expression of emotion is not something that occurs in language but is instead physical to be read in the face. According to Ekman, for every basic emotion there is a corresponding unmistakable facial expression which no one is capable of concealing. In his article, An Argument for Basic Emotions (1992), Ekman states that basic human emotions are present in other primates, they have a distinctive physiology, they are distinctive universals, and they have a quick onset, a brief duration, and an automatic appraisal.

  37. 37.

    Anthropologist Richard Shweder emphasizes that ethnographic research on emotions has demonstrated the existence of both universals and culturally specific aspects of emotional functioning among people in different societies. He uses a piano keyboard as an analogy to discuss emotional development in children. Children have something like a universal emotional keyboard, with each key being a separate emotion: disgust, interest, distress, anger, fear, contempt, shame, shyness, guilt, and so forth. A key is struck whenever a situation such as loss, frustration, or novelty develops. All children recognize and can discriminate among basic emotions by a young age. However, as adults, the tunes that are played on the keyboard vary with experience. Some keys are not struck at all, whereas others are played frequently. Shweder concludes, “It is ludicrous to imagine that the emotional functioning of people in different cultures is basically the same. It is just as ludicrous to imagine that each culture’s emotional life is unique” (1991, p. 252). In another original research project on emotions, cognitive anthropologist Scott Atran has teamed with neuroscientist Gregory C. Berns to employ functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore a number of issues related to religion and violence (Berns & Atran, 2012). With the use of fMRI this research team has been investigating brain activation and how sacred values trigger emotional responses consistent with sentiments that coincide with absolute morality and outrage (Berns & Atran, 2012; Berns & Atran, 2012). Specifically, when individuals are confronted with statements that are contrary to their sacred values, the amygdala, the region of the brain associated with physiological arousal, produces heightened affective emotional responses resulting in experiences of moral outrage and potential violence (Berns & Atran, 2012). Although this project in neuroanthropology is in its infancy, with future improvements in fMRI technology and more refined techniques, it may be possible to explore precise linkages between neurology, culture, emotions, and human behavior.

  38. 38.

    In The Essential Child: Origins of Essentialism in Everyday Thought, cognitive psychologist Susan Gelman offers a wide variety of data based on extensive psychological experimentation that explain why such essentialist thinking is so pervasive in a child’s understanding of the natural and social world (2003). In an extensive psychological study of both French and US children, cognitive anthropologist Lawrence Hirschfeld demonstrated how children easily essentialize different “races” of people (1996). Both Gelman and Hirschfeld hypothesize that there may be a specific domain or module in the human brain that predisposes individuals to essentialize race and ethnicity (1994).

  39. 39.

    One early model of ethnicity promoted in the 1960s is known as the “primordialist” model developed by Clifford Geertz (1963). Geertz suggested that ethnic attachments based on assumed ancestry, kinship, and other social ties and religious traditions are deeply rooted within the individual through the enculturation process. He maintains that ethnic affiliation persists because it is fundamental to a person’s identity. In this view, as people are enculturated into a particular ethnic group, they form deep subjective “feelings of belonging” to a particular ethnic group. One of the criticisms of this primordialist approach is that like culture, ethnicity can be changed and transformed. For example, many European immigrants who came to the United States in the early twentieth century assimilated and learned the English language and became “white Americans.” Thus, ethnicity is more fluid and to some extent people can choose their own ethnic identity (Barth, 1969).

  40. 40.

    The non-profit Foundation for Psychocultural Research at UCLA is also devoted to the merger of psychology, neuroscience, and culture. It is sponsored by a number of cross-cultural psychologists and anthropologists who do research on universal mental illnesses and treatments in different cultural environments.

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Scupin, R. (2018). Culture: The Use and Abuse of an Anthropological Concept. In: Frisby, C., O'Donohue, W. (eds) Cultural Competence in Applied Psychology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-78997-2_11

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