Re[3]: Definition of Culture

Juan C. Garelli (Garelli@ATTACH.EDU.AR)
Fri, 6 Oct 1995 08:35:46 +0000

Bob Graber wrote:

> G. Laden asks what it is about human culture that makes it different
> from primate behavior more generally. Many of us would answer
> "Nothing," provided only that the behavior is patterned, and appears to
> be acquired socially rather than biologically. When a patterned
> behavior varies between the societies within a species, as does, e.g.,
> Japanese macaque feeding behavior or chimp tool-using behavior, we
> appear to have full-fledged culture, not just "protoculture." The only
> way around this conclusion, I think, is the rear-guard action of
> defining culture as necessarily dependent on symbolizing. This is
> important for those who for some reason wish to maintain the impression
> of a qualitative gulf separating humans from the rest of nature.

Moreover, culture is by no means restricted to humans. Human culture
is the highest form of animal tradition but, aside from its
involvement with language, which is truly unique, differs from animal
tradition only in degree.

Dialects in animal communication, for instance, represent a form of
tradition, and when learning is involved, a form of culture.
Dialect formation based at least in part on learning between
generations is widespread among species of song-birds (Krebs &
Kacelnik, 1989).

Geographic variation in vocalizations has been reported in several
kinds of mammals. Le Boeuf and Peterson (1981) have suggested that
the differences in vocalizations between island populations of
elephant seals along the California coast are based at least partly
on learning.
Geographic variation in the waggle dance of the honey bee Apis
mellifera is extensive, and has been referred to as dialect formation
by Knowlton (1980) and others.

Much more on the relation between social species and enculturation
can be found in Trivers' Social Evolution.

---Juan Carlos Garelli

J.C. Garelli, M.D., Ph.D.
Department of Early Development
University of Buenos Aires
Juncal 1966, 1116 BA, Argentina
Tel: 54-1 812 5521
Fax: 54-1 812 5432
To be a good composer, you must have the spirit of a gypsy
and the discipline of a soldier. - Ludwig van Beethoven