Re: Pluck and Culture Change

Thomas Brunton (brunton@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Thu, 25 Apr 1996 12:29:09 -0400

In reply to Bob Graber, (and to help me think about things for my
qualifying exam)

Proving that there is a thingie called 'free will' is about the same as
proving there is a thingie called 'culture' or 'society'. Take a picture
of culture and show it to me.

What we have are individual people who do stuff, sometimes bunches of
them do things together or do similar things. I think they have ideas in
their heads which inform what they do within the limitations of the
environment and including some biological influences. (If you don't eat,
you die.)

'Agency' doesn't necessarily mean 'free will'. What appears to be free
will could be the result of small environmental or genetic changes, i.e.
siblings who have very similar environment and genotype but have very
different 'personalities'. But these actors make choices, behave
differently, interact
with other people differently, raise their children differently, i.e.
reproduce the 'structure' or 'culture' differently.

I have trouble imagining how cultures could change, except in very
predictable ways in response to changes in the environment (which they
don't), without taking into account 'agency' or individuals.

(The preceding, besides being the product of a white middle class
American upbringing, is based largely on my reading of Sherry Ortner's _High
Religion_ 1989, and W.W. Taylor's _A Study of Archaeology_ 1948.
That's the last book I read, besides archaeology he discusses the nature
of culture and anthropology.)

Tom Brunton
SUNY at Buffalo