Re: Pluck and Culture Change

John Pastore (venture@CANCUN.RCE.COM.MX)
Wed, 1 May 1996 02:23:34 +0000

On 1 May 96 at 10:40, Matthew Hill wrote:

> On Fri, 26 Apr 1996, Thomas Brunton wrote:
> > In reply to John Pastore:
> >
> > Those thingies (plume in hat, kow-towing etc.) are expressions of
> > culture, according to my current working definition of culture.
> > Culture is a mental phenomena that can be shared or individual.
> > Behavior is an expression of culture and artifacts can be looked
> > at as an objectification of culture. (Following Walter Taylor
> > again. He also contends that neither ethnographers nor
> > archaeologists can get directly at culture, because it is inside
> > peoples heads. Archaeologists just have maybe another level of
> > inference to make. We are not inferior!)
> >
> > Tom Brunton
> > SUNY at Buffalo
> >
> I tried for several years when I was his student to make Taylor
> realize that if culture was something inside peoples heads, it was
> only studiable by some sort of introspective psychology. Culture
> is a mental phenomenon is an explanation of culture, maybe a good
> one though I am not totally convinced. It is a pretty poor
> definition of the field of study of any anthropologist I know.
> Taylor never saw the light.
> Matthew Hill (

It seems Tom needs to consider just what a "working definition" of
"expression" is. Of course "culture", and "behavior" are expressing
themselves from "inside peoples heads" (from where else would they
be expressing themselves?), and Tom's subsequent thinking (if so)
that culture is a "mental phenomenon only studiable by some sort of
introspective psychology" would be equally blind to the "light".
Tom's rationale seems to be that such abstractive realities as
culture can be reduced to a definable mental condition or a "picture"
of a particular chemical set within a particular region of the brain
is dysfunctional. It is like seeking "truth" as a material thing
--something you can put into a breadbox.

Having answered Tom's "show me a picture of culture" with such as
"the plume sticking out of an Italian policeman's head", I could have
went on with more examples to include a stroll through NYC's Museum
of Natural History where there's lots of culture and where it is most
self-evident that culture can be studied, and has been, as

Magaret Mead did so in New Guinea, but the terminology embraced
then, and since, by anthropology in its comparative volcabularies
will make such overly general comparisons as "primivitive societies"
as opposed to "civilized societies", instead of simply noting that
some people kiss with their noses and some with their lips.

The notion that cultures attain so-called civilization by
progressing, or evolving, from nomadic food gathering societies, to
organized hunting societies, to, finally, settled agrarian
societies, which, supposedly, has the surplus time to develop
civilization, persists so much so in anthropology that the very
volcabulary of anthropology is still based on this single continuum,
and thus limited to it, rather than, say, 'Alternative Styles for
Civilization' where vocabulized traits common to any society can be
made comparative for cultures which either do or do not progress
along their distinct and different roads.

Well, how I got from supposedly x-raying culture somewhere in peoples
heads to such comparative culture, I'm not sure. There is lots of
material here to explore though, including: have a nice day.

Ka Xiik Keech Ya Utzil,

John Pastore
Writer/Guide in 'El Mayab'
("The Mayan Homeland")