Understanding culture in socio-cultural anthropology. - Social anthropology

Understanding culture in sociocultural anthropology.

The considered philosophical approaches have become a methodological basis for understanding culture in socio-cultural anthropology. The diversity of approaches to understanding culture can be reduced to two main areas. The first direction is connected with the research of A. Kroeber's cultures, the second direction - with the methodological position of L. White.

The first direction relies on that classic overview of approaches to the concept of "culture", which belongs to A. Kroeber and C. Clackhon. Over half a century ago they summarized over 150 cultural definitions, grouping them into six main types. "Culture: A Critical Overview of Concepts and Definitions" on the basis of the conducted studies they give a general definition: "the culture consists of internally contained and externally manifested norms that determine behavior that is assimilated and mediated by symbols: it arises from the activities of people, including its embodiment in [material] means. The core of culture is made up of traditional (historically developed) ideas, primarily those to which special value is attributed. Cultural systems can be viewed, on the one hand, as the results of people's activities, and on the other - as its regulators .

A. Kroeber in a joint article with T. Parsons proposes to limit the specific meaning of the concept "culture" "transmitted and created contents and types of values, ideas and other symbolically meaningful systems, as factors shaping human behavior, and artifacts manifesting (produced) in behavior" .

Thus, in their interpretation, culture is directly related to people's activities , acting both as a condition of such activity, and its result. This approach to culture can be designated as activity. Within the framework of this approach, a person acts as an active subject of culture.

The second direction is based on the point of view advocated by L. White, who sought to exclude human behavior from the definition of the concept "culture", and reduce the essence of the culture itself to the material aspects. From his point of view, "man has an uninterrupted, multiplied and material culture" . In this case, "the whole culture (civilization) is dependent on the symbol. It is the use of the ability to symbolize and led to the emergence of culture, and it is the use of symbols that leads to the fact that culture can continue itself " .

But White's view, cultural phenomena can be explained only by treating them as if they lived their own life, completely isolated from the glands, nerves, muscles, etc. human organisms . In another work he states: "Culture is a continuum of interacting elements (features), and this process of interaction has its own laws. And if so, then to include the human body in the consideration of cultural variations will not only be inappropriate, but also erroneous " .

Thus, if Kröber and Clackhon have a human being as a subject of culture, then at White he acts as a passive object of cultural development. Man, in fact, is the product of the impact of a self-sufficient "flow of culture": "rather, it's precisely the cultures that those people , that are born in them" .


Obviously, the difference in these approaches is of great methodological importance for sociocultural anthropology research: if White's approach is oriented in the study of cultures to the study of material artifacts, Kroeber's approach focuses the researcher's attention on the analysis of human behavior, on the motivational sphere of human activity, on research way of life (such a study, of course, can not ignore the artifacts of culture).

It should be noted that White's position found few supporters. Such a position was sharply criticized by F. Boas, arguing that culture should not be viewed "as a mystical being that exists outside the society of its individual carriers and which is set in motion by its own forces" .

In the cultural anthropology of the United States, it was the activity approach that dominated, with which several other cultural concepts are closely related.

To. Wissler defines culture as a "way of life": "The way of life that a community or tribe follows is considered a culture. & lt; ... & gt; Tribal culture is a collection of standardized beliefs and practices. " .

J. Honigman believed that the culture as some integrity is made up of two classes of phenomena: 1) socially standardized behavior (actions, thoughts, feelings) of any stable group;

2) "material products or activities of this group" . Sharing the theoretical positions of Kroeber, J. Honigman emphasizes that "culture can not order people to do something. These people are endowed with specific expectations that lead to something else people .

M. Herskovits defined culture as "the sum of thinking and behavior forming a given society"; . He argued that "the ultimate reality of culture is a psychological reality" .

Close to the activity approach is the psychological definition of culture in the works of J. Devereaux: "Culture can be defined both as the content of the experience and as a way of experiencing. Culture is a way of understanding both individual components and the overall configuration of the world of man and his living space .

P. Benedict believes that culture is "acquired behavior, which every generation must reconsider" .

An important feature of the cited definitions is an indication of the interaction of spiritual components of culture: ideas, beliefs, beliefs - and people's practical activity in some organizational integrity.

Yu. M. Reznik identifies four research vectors of knowledge of culture:

1) "Reflection" as a direct display by the subject of the world of culture through observation through visual and other means: "Anthropology," KM Clakhon emphasizes, "holds a large mirror in front of the person and gives an opportunity to look at yourself in all its boundless variety ;

2) anthropological reductionism as a series of versions or attempts by researchers to reduce the diversity of culture to the root causes (biological or historical forms), needs and universals; it is considered, in particular, that each cultural phenomenon has its biological analogue, and in the process of evolution, a person passes consistently all stages of cultural development - from primitive to modern; therefore, in order to know the culture of this community, it is necessary first to study its primitive forms;

3) symbolism as an expression of otherness of culture in sign and symbolic form; the otherness of culture can be represented, in the opinion of the proponents of this trend in anthropology, in a system of symbolic means that need decoding and subsequent interpretation;

4) as the ability of the subject of research to display on the scoreboard knowledge of the conscious or unconscious states of the carriers of a particular culture; to explore culture means to penetrate the inner world of the observed, to grasp not only the state of their consciousness, but also the psychological origins of their symbolic or verbal behavior.

In sociocultural anthropology with the notion of "culture" turns out to be closely related to the concept of "personality". Personality in most areas of this science is regarded as an individual who has undergone the process of inculturation, , i.e. entry into the culture, and perceived the characteristics of a particular culture. Aphoristically this position was expressed by J. Honigman: "Personality is a culture reflected in behavior"; .

Let's note one more feature of understanding of culture. It essentially depends on the subject area of ​​the research, on the methods used by the researchers. This trend is reflected in Table. 3.1, compiled by Yu. M. Reznik on the basis of the research of A. Krober, K. Clackhon and AK Kafanyi.

Table 3.1

Comparative characteristics of cultural definitions (according to Yu. M. Reznik)

Culture Definition Group

Specificity (essential feature) of culture

Core Components


What is assimilated (and appropriated) by a person as a member of society

Knowledge and other representations of people


A set of activity methods

Patterns and beliefs inherited from inheritance


Standardized behavior & quot ;, collective lifestyle (standardized practices)

Behavioral standards, regulators (norms, beliefs, ideals and values) and activity products


Socially inherited behavior or learned form of behavior

Behavioral reactions, habits


A special class of extrasomatic (symbolic) phenomena; system of values ​​

Subjects and phenomena that depend on the ability to symbolize ( symbols)

Let's summarize the main characteristics of culture.

1. Culture is a specifically human quality that is absent in other living beings.

2. Culture is a product of people's joint activities. People can act both with material-natural formations, and with ideal entities (signs, ideas, values, ideal images, types).

3. The results of such interactions: products of material culture (artifacts), ideal-value culture (representation of the ideal personality type, societies, myths, tales, religious beliefs); normative and regulative aspect of human behavior (behavior stereotypes, etiquette, specific for each type of culture).

4. Culture is a social phenomenon, generated by society and expressing its qualitative characteristic, the process of man's creative activity, aimed at understanding the world around him and the person himself in this world.

5. Culture includes the totality of material and spiritual values ​​achieved in the process of mastering the world, on the basis of which it is called upon to determine the place of man in the world, his ideological attitudes and values, and to regulate the social relations of people. Therefore, such subsystems of culture as material culture and spiritual culture can be singled out.

6. Culture is a powerful factor in the formation of human essential forces, the formation of man in man, the transformation of his natural drives, needs, emotions into truly human. This is its humanistic meaning and human function.

7. In real personality behavior, ideal-value, normative-regulative and subject-matter aspects of culture are manifested in close unity and interaction.

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