Nature of Culture

Costopoulos Andre (costopoa@ERE.UMONTREAL.CA)
Thu, 27 Jan 1994 20:48:55 -0500

Dear listers,

Rather than thinking of Cultures or A Culture, I have found it
useful to think of culutre (with no article in front). I try to
see it as a matrix in which we interact, create meaning, rules for
behaviour, and in which we (as groups of interacting individuals)
attempt to find ways of getting around problems; culture as a medium
rather than units with boundaries.

I think I gravitate toward that idea because I work with
the homeless in an urban center. That makes me realize to what
extent cultural homogeneity is a myth. To most of your (American)
standards, Montreal is a medium sized city, and still the diversity
to be found here is staggering. In the case of the homeless, even
basic survival strategy is different from that of the others. Yet
they are integrated. The same goes for adolescent squatters.

Much of the trouble with the concept of culture stems from the
perception that culture needs boundaries, and that those boundaries
are not to be found in the field. This can be clearly seen in
Evans-Pritchard, Fortes, Radcliff-Brown and many others. Their
first chapter is invariably given over to the definition of a
bounded unit. They are trying to convince us that group x does
indeed exist, and that group y is not to be confused with it.

Boundaries are too much trouble. I prefer to look at
"networks of differential interaction" (wow! one for my thesis!).

Andre Costopoulos