Re: Definitions of culture

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Wed, 7 Aug 1996 00:20:21 -0400

that "culture" is unique to humans, but I think there are continuities
with our pongid cousins, at least the chimpanzee. I tried to define
"culture" once back in 1969 in the CA article, "Culture": A Human Domain".
I don't have the article with me, but as I recall I said something like
"... and that complex whole ..blah blah per Tylor, AND IN WHICH ARBITRARY
FORM IS IMPOSED ON THE ENVIRONMENT." After all of the hundred or so
definitions published by Redfield(?) and Kroeber, and the sophisticated
treatment by Mundinger et al back in the '70's, I still prefer a
definition which tries to capture both the sense of arbitrary symbol
systems (qua systems) and the sense of IMPOSITION which I regard as even
more important, because it connotes a certain arrogance of this human
animal in imposing its will against the resistance structured in the
environment. Chimps may be forced into it by experiemnters, but they don't
do it on their own. The stimulus for these aspects of a definition were
the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, one of the more recent and vivid
lessons as to how the human species could arbitrarily create whole
environments for people defined through arbitrary symbolic
constructs, i.e., the Holocaust. I still believe there is something
totally horrific about this species which deserves recognition, and which
comes out of our major adaptation, cultural behavior. Chimps may murder,
but they don't engage in least not yet.
Ralph Holloway