2 Three main points of debate have carried on to recur in the way anthropologists discuss the idea of culture. The first point has to do with the degree to which a culture should be considered as an integrated whole; the second point has to do with the degree to which culture can be seen as an autonomous, superorganic item; and the third point has to do with how human beings can go about drawing borders around cultures in the best manner. “Culture lends significance to human experience by selecting from and organizing it.
It refers broadly to the forms throughout which people make sense of their lives, it does not inhabit a set-aside domain, as does politics or economics. From the pirouettes of classical ballet to the most brute of the brute facts, all human conduct is culturally mediated. Culture encompasses the everyday and the esoteric, the mundane and the elevated, the ridiculous and the sublime. Neither high nor low, culture is all-pervasive” (Renato Rosaldo, 1989). 3 Literally, almost every anthropologist has a different definition for ‘culture’.
For Karl Marx it was the mode of production; for i?? mile Durkheim it was society; and for Sigmund Freud it was the unconscious. There have been moral, philosophical, and political consequences of the rise of culture. One of these consequences is the development of a doctrine of cultural relativism. The primary products of culture are our beliefs, morals, and behaviors. Culture broadly and deeply rules our worldview and therefore stands to reason that we can have no objective basis for affirming that one such worldview is superior to another.
Culture can only be judged relative to one another, and the denotation of a given belief or behavior must first and foremost be conceived relative to its own cultural context. This is the foundation of cultural relativism. “The relativist slogan, that people of different cultures live in different worlds, would be nonsense if understood as literally referring to physical worlds” (Dan Sperber). 4 The meaning of cognitive relativism is that the orientations provided in a language have consequences for a range of beliefs, institutions, and behaviors, something we should expect if cultures are even imperfectly integrated wholes.
In addition, one should entertain the moral dimensions of cultural relativism. If every individual thinks of the world as a product of one’s culture, then so are the values, beliefs, and social norms that run one’s behavior. In some cultures certain types of behavior would be considered illegal, immoral, and absurd, whereas those same types of behavior could be considered perfectly rational and socially acceptable in another culture.
“Culture is learned, adaptable, symbolic behavior, based on a full-fledged language, associated with technical inventiveness, a complex of skills that in turn depends on a capacity to organize exchange relationships between communities” (Adam Kupler, 1994). 5 A reasonable solution is to cease any kind of judgment towards another society. However, doing hat isn’t as simple or as easy as it sounds due to the fact that we directly re-encounter the issue of deciding where cultural boundaries should be drawn.
In conclusion, it could potentially be said that, whatever its difficulties, the anthropological notion of culture has been our willpower’s most important contribution to modern thought.
1 Social and Cultural Anthropology, A Very Short Introduction, page 39. 2 Social and Cultural Anthropology, A Very Short Introduction, page 41. 3 Social and Cultural Anthropology, A Very Short Introduction, page 42. 4 Social and Cultural Anthropology, A Very Short Introduction, page 50. 5 Social and Cultural Anthropology, A Very Short Introduction, page 51.