Re: Culture

Rafael Candido Alvarado (rca2t@FARADAY.CLAS.VIRGINIA.EDU)
Sat, 29 Jan 1994 14:04:46 -0500

Lt Commander Data has written:
>I put forth my definition in order to simplify the idea of what it is
>that we, as anthropologists, are attempting to study. It is somewhat
>tautological to say that culture generates learned bahavior (ie: learned
>behavior generates learned behavior). I prefer, when positing a
>definition, to avoid using that word which I am defining, in the

Although I see your point, there is nothing tautological about using the
word culture to refer to the modus operandi of learned behavior, rather
than the opus operatum. The issue concerns the level of description at
which one wants to work. In retrospect, I take your original point,
however; as a definition of something to be described and then explained
(or understood), learned behavior is fine. The problem of levels of
description arises when we try to explain. This is where we (the
anthropological community) disagree. Folks like Graber want to explain
without having to consider discourse, relying just on what can be counted.
Others, like Read, posit the existence of unobservable entities. We
souldnn't let these disagreements be mistaken for a lack of a clear
understanding about that which we want to explain. And to the extent that
we have different questions, then we should suspend use of the word
"culture" if it obscures, by lack of a definite referent, these differences.

We should all take a tip from Wittgenstein and recognize that the word
"culture," like "good" and "truth," have acquired, through years of usage,
a number of meanings that cannot be subsumed under a single concept.
Although in poetic discourse it may be fun and useful to play with this
fact of language, in scientific discourse we should specify what we are
talking about to the extent that we can. And it is possible to do
so--which is not to say that the two kinds of discourse have nothing to do
with each other.

R.C. Alvarado rca2t@Virginia.EDU
Department of Anthropology rca2t@Virginia.BITNET
University of Virginia uunet!virginia!rca2t