Re: Pluck and Culture Change

Thomas Brunton (brunton@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Thu, 2 May 1996 10:20:12 -0400

On Wed, 1 May 1996, Matthew Hill wrote:

> On Fri, 26 Apr 1996, Thomas Brunton wrote:
> > 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 (

How do psychologists study what is inside someones head? Through
behavior. How does cultural behavior come into being? It doesn't
magically materialize. Someone gets an idea, for whatever reason, and
acts on it or teaches it, for whatever reason, and other people, for
whatever reason, copy her. (The reasons are important but not, maybe, for
this discussion.)

Walter Taylor's example is that in 1868 a man
named Big Horse was the only Kiowa who used peyote, but by 1886 the
peyote 'cult' was 'embraced' by the Kiowa. So by most definitions of
culture, peyote was not a part of Kiowa culture in 1868 but was in 1886.
You can find lots of examples where one person does something and nobody
copies, but any cultural behavior has to start somewhere.
Anthropologists can discuss its function in one slice of time, but that
isn't necessarily its function during its inception and it doesn't
explain how cultures change, which I think is important, because they
change all the time.

A single person who leaves home and moves to an area where people exhibit
different cultural behavior, will not instantly be able to perfectly
emulate them. Where is her culture, if not inside her head?

Tom Brunton
SUNY at Buffalo
Who believes it is the job of graduate students to argue with their elders.
(Though lots of PhD's are younger than me :) ...)