Re: Intra-Cultural Variability

Sun, 30 Apr 1995 12:46:00 PDT

Wilk comments:

""Culture" is a very blunt instrument for talking about variation."

I quite agree. It seems to me that without first (a) delineating what is
meant by "culture" and "culture variation" and (b) determining if the
reference is to variation within some group of persons (such as US citizens)
or at the level of culture, itself, the question of whether there is more
intra- or inter- variation in culture is not very meaningful.

The question sounds like a spin-off of observations made in biological
anthroppology about whether there is greater inter- or intra- group variation
in physical traits. At least for that question the boundaries within which
the question is being framed can be spelled out (e.g., is there more genetic
variation across genomes within a group such as purported race A, or more
genetic variation between purported races A, B, and C?). But even there one
sometimes ended up with a confusion between measuring overall genetic
variability across the whole genome, versus considering variation in allele
frequencies responsible for a few morphological traits, and between using
variation as the critical measure versus difference in means. (For example,
if we consider skin coloration, clearly the mean skin coloration of
Mongoloids is different that the mean skin coloration of Negroids is
different than the mean skin coloration of Caucasoids. Nonetheless, it is
possible that within variation--which measures variation around the mean
within a group--be greater than between variation--which measures variation
between means.)

To put it another way: We have a kinship terminology and there are variants
in individual usage (within variation). Our terminology is not the same as
the terminology of some other culture (between variation). How do we compare
these kinds of variation so as to say that one kind of variation is "bigger"
than the other kind of variation?

D. Read