Book Review - Reindeer Moon, The Animal Wife (fiction)

Hartmut Krech (kr538@ALF.ZFN.UNI-BREMEN.DE)
Sun, 11 Aug 1996 12:40:55 +0200

Anita Cohen-Williams wrote:

> I think that Krober's definition is still the best, "shared learned
> behavior".

To which Dwight Read answered:

> The problem I see with Kroeber's statement is that it tries to define
> something by its observable consequences and implications, rather than
> identifying what lies behind those observable consequences and implications.
I don't think that this is a problem, having grown up in a social climate
where irrational meanings were attached to the concept of culture. I feel
it is quite an improvement to be able to say and to demonstrate what
culture is at the least and what it could be in a positive fulfilment of
its inherent tendencies. Also I believe that the first requirement for
any definition is to be consistent with the majority or the general field
of its preceding definitions. Otherwise we could speak just about anything,
calling it whatever we choose. I don't think that a definition has to
"identify what lies behind observable implications." The conditions of
the occurrence of the object of any definition are different from the
definition itself, unless it is an operational definition.

> Also, while it may be a necessary consition that culture is "shared,
> learned" but it does not follow automatically that this is also a sufficient > condition. For example, I demonstrate elsewhere that kinship terminologies
> are an abstract construct whose structure as a system of symbols is a
> consequence of its logic, hence (I would argue) an example par excellent of
> "culture". At this level we are neither talking about behavior nor learning > (though learning and behavior arise from the construct).

For an element to be part of a particular culture it is sufficient that
it is (the product or expression of) behavior that is shared and learned.
As with kinship terminology and the belonging to cultures it does not
follow that a certain element has to be shared by all, although by definition
it can be.- Having thoroughly studied a number of life histories of Native
American men and women, I have come to wonder if there are different
cultures for men and women (although not for old and young people). I find
nothing ridiculous in the alleged definition of culture by Mead that it
is the "study of men, embracing women." It is still a problem that
challenges our idea of culture, to say the least.

> Sorry. Definitions are not tested. We can challenge their utility. If we
> all agree that culture is "shared,learned behavior" then we agree on the
> utility of the definition. If we do not all agree with the definition (and
> I do not), it is because some of us have our own "intuitive" sense of what
> constitutes culture and that definition does not match our "intuition."

Sorry. Here you follow the "method of intuition or authority". By contrast,
a scientific definition must be demonstrable. Also you should remember that
anthropological theory is itself part of a certain cultural tradition that
requires a consistent use of its concepts as long as it wants to communicate
shared, learned behavior.

Postscript: In my original posting I inadvertently omitted the last name of
Anita Cohen-Williams. I wish to apologize to her.

Dr. Hartmut Krech
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