What's it all about? Overlapping Culture

Thu, 3 Feb 1994 09:54:00 PST

McCreery writes:

"...If cultures didn't
overlap there would be no communication between them...."

"The isolated, monadic culture is at best a bubble
in the stream of history."

I think that different levels are being confounded here. Communication is a
property of enties that contain the ability to take in inputs and to send out
outputs. Culture (regardless of the various definitions that have been
offered) do not communnicate. Similarly, the identification culture=society,
which is the idea behind the second sentence quoted above, made the
assumption that each person had access to, and participated in , exactly one
and the same culture. But to show that that assumption is false refers to
the level of the embodiment of culture in individuals, not to properties of
cultures per se. A "culture" could very well be a more-or-less bounded
"thing", yet individuals may be "multi-cultural" in their actions and

McCreery also refers to "the model provided by Peter Berger and
Thomas Luckmann. They use the language of dialectics, arguing
that "social" facts develop in a three-stage process:
Externalization, Objectivication, Internalization" which he paraphrases as:
(1) An individual
comes up with something new... (2) When at least one other person
picks it up, it ceases to be the individual's own thing.... (3)
When it spreads throughout a group, it tends to become taken
for granted. From the point of view of new members who enter
the group, it will then come to seem an intrinsic part of who
"we" (the group's members) are. At that point we can talk
about it as part of the group's "culture,"...."

This raises a very interesting point: Something becomes part of culture not
merely by virtue of attributes we associated with it (e.g., it is
information, it is learned,...) but by a transfroming process which changes
its status from individually possesed to group possessed. That raises
questions such as: when and why do some things never undergo this
transformation process and why do other things undergo this transformation
process? ARe there constraints on what are likely candidates for this
process--which goes back to Leach's argument (if memory serves me correctly)
about whether culture is a thing of shreds and patches or whether culture is
in some sense a structured, organized body of "knowledge", "information" .
McCreery's comments highlight the fact that rough-and-ready definitions of
culture are just that and do not cast very much light on just what is the
nature of this "thing" called culture. THat is, the various attribute
definitions of culture do not encompass this notion of something undergoing
a (conceptual) transformation for it to become part of culture.

D. Read
which may or may not
be very different from that of other groups.

To end on a less ponderous note: Does anyone but me remember
the bit in David Schneider's _American Kinship_ where he
talks about going around to different ethnic groups in Chicago
and asking them what was special about their families. The
Poles said, "The Polish mother..." The Italians said, "The Italian
mother...," the Jews said, "The Jewish mother...." You get the

Over to you, John McCreery