Theory of symbols L. White. - Social anthropology

Theory of symbols by L. White.

Any classification in the system of socio-anthropological concepts has a relative character. This also applies to the theory of L. White. From the perspective of the concept of development, his theory can be characterized as neo-evolutionism. But we are interested in the specific character of the use of the theory of symbols in anthropology. From this point of view, White's theory can be represented in a series of concepts of symbolic anthropology.

Curriculum Vitae

Leslie Alvin White (1900-1975) studied philosophy, sociology, political science, cultural anthropology at the universities of Louisiana and Chicago, at Columbia University. During the training, he conducted field research on the culture of Pueblo Indians in the Southwest of the USA. Since 1930 - a teacher at the University of Michigan, in which he worked for 40 years. In 1964 he was elected president of the American Anthropological Association.

It is believed that the first used the term culturology German chemist W. Ostwald, but it is thanks to the University course "Culturology", read by L. White. this term entered the science. The general concept of studying culture is laid out in three fundamental works: "The Science of Culture" (1949), "Evolution of Culture" (1959), "The concept of cultural systems: the key to understanding tribes and nations" (1975).

Culture in its theory appears as an extrasomatic tradition (from Latin extra - outside and Greek soma - body, ie, out-of-body), the leading role in which play the symbols'. The whole culture (civilization) is dependent on the symbol. It is the use of the ability to symbolize and led to the emergence of a culture, and it is the use of symbols that leads to the fact that culture can continue. Without a symbol, there would be no culture, and man would be just an animal, not a human being. " . For a person "the key to this world and the means of complicity in it is a symbol" .

According to L. White, the roots of culture consist in a person's ability to arbitrarily attach things to a symbolic meaning that is not inherent in them, taken by themselves. Among the symbols are, for example, a word, a religious ritual, a ritual, all sorts of fetishes, etc. In each symbol, two sides are inextricably linked: the physical form and meaning. In turn, the meaning is determined by the cultural tradition. As an illustration, L. White cited an example with holy water , which in composition does not differ from the usual: "the finest senses can not grasp the value of holy water. & lt; ... & gt; But this was done by non-touching means & lt; ... & gt; only because of the ability for which we have no better name than the "symbol" .

L. White introduced the concept of symbolic behavior: "Symbolic behavior is the behavior of man as a human being. It was the symbol that transformed man from a mere animal into a human animal. " . It is as a result of this behavior that the values ​​of the symbols are created and perceived. These values ​​are subject only to rational comprehension, the very rational (reasonable, logical) comprehension is realized, first of all, with the help of language.

But the opinion of L. White, the impermanence of the world of symbols to sensory perception characterizes the rational, intellectual nature of cultural phenomena in comparison with the phenomena of the animal world. Among such phenomena - cultural codes, customs, concepts. According to L. White, "culture is such an organization of phenomena - acts (models of behavior), objects (tools and things made with tools) of ideas (ideas, knowledge) and feelings (positions," values ​​"), which depends on using the .

The basic thesis of the approach proposed by White: people behave this way, and not otherwise, because they were raised in certain cultural traditions. L. White believed that culture "self determines itself." Culture has its own life, is governed by its own principles and laws: "It's not us" that controls our culture, but our culture controls us. A our culture develops and changes according to its own laws . L. White associates culture with the flow of progressively developing interacting elements.

Human behavior with this understanding acts as a reaction of the human body to this flow of culture. In fact, he dismissed the "man-creator of history" a third-rate role in the functioning of the dynamic flow of culture, and regarded man as an essential factor of evolution only in the process of the emergence of culture. He believed that people are necessary for the existence of cultural phenomena, but they are not necessary in explaining the evolution and variations of these phenomena: in the system "man-culture" the event determinant is more a cultural than an organic factor .

As the initial element of culture, L. White has the ability of people to symbolism. In turn, this ability can be considered as the determining sign of humanity.

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