Material culture differences within societies

Wed, 23 Mar 1994 17:08:42 -0500

I am currently working on an M.A. studying the distribution and context
of several prehistoric (Archaic Period) ground-stone artifact types in
northeastern North America. I'm using an approach that attempts to
reduce the "interpretive straightjacket" effect that can result from
uncritically using predefined cultural constructs. Part of this
includes thinking about the slippery question (as this group well knows)
of what constitutes a culture, especially the relationship between
"real" societies and the material products defined as cultures by

Don Ihde(*) has brought some theoretical perspectives to this problem,
and Pierre Lemmonier's 1986 article(**) has discussed the complexity of
this relationship with regards to the Anga of New Guinea, wherein groups
with closely related language and social organization have disparate
technical systems, seemingly on the basis of internal social factors
presented as conscious or unconscious choice.
(*) (1990) Technology and the Lifeword: From Garden to Eden. Indiana
University Press.
(**) "The Study of Material Culture Today: Toward an Anthropology of
Technical Systems" Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 5:147-186.

I find this challenge of (material) cultural homogeneity interesting for
its potential applicabilty to present archaeological models, but haven't
been able to track down much in the way of other ethnographic research
that could support it. If anyone knows of examples of other "cultures"
that exhibit similar disparity in their technological systems, I'd
appreciate a quick reply when they have the time.


Rob Lackowicz Dept. of Anthropology
Internet: Trent University, Ontario, Canada