Re: the mind of culture: tops-down or bottoms-up?

Len Piotrowski (
Thu, 11 Jul 1996 18:47:01 GMT

In article <> writes:

>[snip - Leslie White's functional-adaptive-materialistic model for culture]

>This is a prime example of the monistic approach to determinism which is
>common to many modern quantitative models.

Leslie White's "model" is, in my analysis, neither quantitative nor monistic.
Mind explaining this conclusion?

>Prior to modern computer
>technologies, complex approaches to modeling were nearly impossible.

There are plenty of complex models prior to "modern computer
technologies." What's the point?

>Attempts were made to define change in terms of a single cause or
>independent variable (in this case technology).

I think that's a vulgar view of White's model. The implication, literally at
the root of White's pyramid model, is, in my opinion, a systems integration. I
believe that is what the functional-adaptive-materialistic model intends.

>The result is a linear
>model (the €billiard ball model€, where each part of the model effects
>each other part in a linear manner).

Hardly what the functional materialists and functional ecologists have

>Also, note that this approach
>requires that interpretation proceed from the part to the whole (ie
>causes must be separated from effects, something which is difficult to
>do in social sciences).

I believe, in contrast, that the idea behind Leslie White's model
is evolutionary, meaning selectionist rather than cause and effect.

>Thus, determinism has not been very successful
>in social sciences.

That's a broad statement that is better considered in historical context
within particular schools of thought. It implies something about "social
sciences" (namely "determinism") which isn't universal, even if we can agree
upon a definition.

>With the advent of modern computer technologies, it has become possible
>to develop non-linear models.

I don't think so.

>A chaotic model would increase the
>explanatory and predictive value of deterministic models, while
>eliminating the need to isolate cause from effect.

Not necessarily. Might just "increase" the noise level.

>(Chaos utilizes a
>holistic interpretation which proceeds from the whole).

_Culture_ utilizes a holistic interpretation which proceeds from the whole!

>Although, chaos
>directly opposes the concept of long term predictions, a chaotic model
>of culture would allow us to create accurate simulations for short-term

I would heartily disagree, unless of course you think human social-psychology
is more-or-less the equivalent of your billiard balls, molecules, or other
physical entities.

>Although my own approach would differ significantly from White, her
>concepts of layers could easily be modified to that of dimensions.
>Eliminate the concept of a single independent variable and presto, we
>have the beginnings of a non-linear model.

How does multiple variables make it any more "non-linear?" Besides, I
believe White's view of culture isn't dependent upon one dimension. An
important distinction has to be made here in terms of culture and culture
change. White's model related aspects of culture thought to be functionally
and systematically integrated with the environment. That particular system of
integration functionally influenced other aspects of culture. However, those
sub-systems most intimately involved with the material aspects of life were
the ones most influenced in their character by that involvement. Other aspects
of culture were freer to vary and change without those constraints.

>Of course, in analyzing this
>model, we would have to establish a whole new set of variables. (Most of
>White€s writings focus on qualifying her divisions between causes and
>effects. Thus, there is little else here which would be useful in a
>chaotic model).

What variables are you referring to?

>BTW€In researching White, I encountered the name of Julian Steward,
>which then led me to the field of cultural ecology. I honestly thought
>that I was alone in desiring to pursue this line of thought. Can anybody
>recommend a good textbook on cultural ecology, and especially one which
>might cover concepts of human behavioral ecology?

I would recommend reading something by Julian Steward to get a feel for what
White actually intended with this model, especially the evolutionary
implications for human culture, civilization, and technology.