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Lecture 2 Nature versus culture. The Nature versus Culture distinction is one of the most visible oppositions in Western culture. For the most part, culture

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Lecture 2 Nature versus culture Slide 2 The Nature versus Culture distinction is one of the most visible oppositions in Western culture. For the most part, culture is considered superior to nature. A modern consensus of cultural relativism has made the old conception of "Nature" with a capital anachronism. Slide 3 WHAT IS THE GREAT DEBATE? in social science it is about what shapes us both as individuals and as members of society. Inherited genetic predisposition ("nature") or what we learn as we grow up ("nurture") that predominantly shapes us and our differences as individuals? Similarly, anthropologists ask how much of our behavior as a group is pre-determined by geography, culture, or history. Studies increasingly indicate what most of us know from common sense: these differences between us as individuals and those between groups of people can be explained by no single factor alone, but by the complex interaction between them. Slide 4 The dichotomy between nature and culture can be partially explained by: - Darwins theory of evolution - colonial legacy of anthropology where non-western societies served as a contrast to complex and modern society of the West. - but also by the ways of differentiation: Slide 5 race, genetics their environment religion, economy, technology development The ways we tell differences between peoples: race and genetics NATURE or biology religion, economy, technology CULTURE But two categories can overlap, since there has been an underlying assumption that those with the most advance culture are also better naturally, that is, they have the best natural endowment (genes, intelligence, strength). Slide 6 Whose judges about advanced vs primitive? Whose scale was being used as the standard? Advanced in what sense? kinship - Australian aborigines kinship system is the most complex, as well as religious concepts. technology of locomotion - some of the Western nations meditative practices - Hindus or Zen Buddhists most sophisticated. 19th century social theorists ranked peoples on an evolutionary, progressive, unilinear, and universe scale of cultures (with themselves at the top). Unilinear path of civilization. Only one scale and one orientation up and West. But questions arise: Slide 7 It was assumed that homo sapiens developed to the modern form (two legged stance, opposable thumb, large brain) and then invented culture. Now it is generally accepted not just that homo sapiens developed from their ape-ical ancestors to their modern form but also, more importantly, that culture was part of that development. Clifford Geertz informs us that the greater part of human cortical expansion has followed, not proceeded, the beginning of culture. ASSUMPTION 1: Slide 8 Human nature is constant and that the differences are only superficial. Implication: e.g. a Shakespeare play, for example, could be understood by all people because people everywhere would have the same concepts, emotions, and motivations. A writers/artists genius is supposed to rest on his ability to appeal to universal emotions and circumstances. But: may be a peoples emotions and responses are instead conditioned by the particularities of the culture they live in? ASSUMPTION 2 Slide 9 Cultural is always something other than nature, culture always implies a transformation and denial of natural. Concepts of nature in Anthropology: external nature, the ecosystem, inner nature, or human nature. CULTURE Slide 10 Binary oppositions: Levi-Strausss axiom: human societies distinguish between culture and nature. Claude Levi-Strauss b.Nov.28, 1908 Our non-humanised surroundings may sometime appear as a major threat to human projects: they may threaten to destroy our crops, kill our livestock and so on. Every cultural project seems to imply a transformation of both external and human nature. Through cooking - the transformation of the raw into cooked- that the passage from nature to culture is symbolised We know its raw only because we know what cooked is. Dualism. Interrelation between the two concepts. Slide 11 Stereotypical oppositions based on division between nature and culture MenWomen Ritual, political Biological, childbirth MindBody SocialDomestic CulturalNatural Slide 12 nature stronger and more permanent in character than cultural products, cultural products - fragile, vulnerable and temporary. nature as threatening and difficult to control, yet provider of raw materials for cultural products. BUT Nature - raw materials culture is based on strong relationship of mutual interdependence between the two. Ambiguous: nature simultaneously a source of a legitimation and an opponent. Marilyn Strathern After Nature (1992): exceptional system of kinship and descent. Replacing natural reproduction with (cultural) technologically controlled reproduction (test tubes, insemination, surrogate mothers). Changes our in conceptions of cultural and natural. Slide 13 - how nature and the nature-culture relationship is conceptualised in different societies; - how nature (the environment or inborn characteristics of human) affects society and culture. Two approaches to the nature-culture relationship: Nature thus exists both as representation of something outside culture and society, yet influencing the ways in which humans live. As biological species, we take part in ecosystems and modify them; as cultural beings, we develop concepts about our environment and place ourselves outside it. Slide 14 Orthodox view: a suite of capacities universal to the species. Some of them: language, bipedal locomotion, ability to make/use tools, self-consciousness, and the capacity to represent the world symbolically through art, design and ritual. It is said these capacities evolved gradually from ancient times. Human nature fixed in perpetuity, common to all of us, and underwriting everything we do. Human nature Slide 15 Walking and talking. We all do it. YET: people walk in very different ways, depending on factors (surface or terrain, footwear, as well as age, gender or status). E.g.: shuffling gait vs upright posture. Carrying devices (rucksacks to suitcases) are designed accordingly. Great differences, as well as startling similarities, can be seen when comparing world cultures. People around the globe are similar in their essential humanity: we communicate with each other, we sustain ourselves with food, and when we sleep we often dream. Yet we speak different languages, eat different foods, and dream different dreams. These are what we call cultural differences. What causes them is not always obvious to the ordinary person. If human beings differ from one another, whether at the level of the individual or the population, this is not because of variations in their nature, but because of the particular circumstances they encounter in their lifetimes, including both the cultural tradition and the physical environment in which they were brought up. Slide 16 Example: Talking We all do it. Conclusion: it is human nature to speak. Language, like bipedal locomotion, is supposed to have evolved. But: people talk in variety of different ways, different languages of the world. So somehow we have to distinguish language as a capacity universal to the species, as a part of human nature, from the capacity to speak this language rather than which belongs to culture. Why searching for human nature? Slide 17 But scientists insist on a universal architecture underwriting the human body and mind. Thus a universal capacity for bipedal locomotion, as distinct from the variety of ways in which people actually walk, and a universal capacity for language, as distinct from the ways people actually talk. In both cases whether it is the way you walk or talk cultural particulars are said to be added on in the lifetime of the individual, through the effects of experience, to a basic constitution that is already in place from the start. Slide 18 No absolute attribute of humanity. Statement: Human being is born of human parents. Human nature: to walk on two feet - how about handicapped people? to communicate by means of language how about deaf and dumb? abilities to socialise based on a mutual awareness of self and other how about autistic people? Slide 19 The appeal to universal human nature in the name of evolutionary biology is fraught with contradictions. While insisting on the continuity of the evolutionary process, it also reinstates the twin distinctions between biology and culture, and between evolution and history, setting an upper limit to the world of nature that humans alone appear to have breached. More than that, it asserts that human nature is fixed and universal while attributing its evolution to a theory of variation under natural selection that only works because the individuals of a species are endlessly variable. That is why evolutionists find themselves in the curious position of having to admit that whereas in the non-human world, biology is the source of all variability and difference, in the human world it is what makes all the same. Slide 20 For it is indeed the case that while affirming human unity under the rubric of a single sub-species, we do so in terms that celebrate the historical triumph of Western civilisation. Our idea of what is universal to humans is shot through with moral undertones. It is not hard to recognise, in the suite of capacities with which all humans are said to be innately endowed, the central values and aspirations of our own society, and of our own time: uprightness, intelligence, technological superiority, and so on. Thus we inclined to project an idealised image of our present selves onto our prehistoric forebears, crediting them with the capacities to do everything we can do and have done in the past, such that the whole of history appears as a naturally preordained ascent towards the pinnacle of modernity. The bias is all too apparent in comparisons between ourselves and people of o

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