1. Two views of culture
We begin by considering the nature of culture, for which we can identify two common viewpoints.
Culture is "learned collective human behavior, as opposed to instinctive, or inborn, behavior" (T. G. Jordan-Bychkov & M. Domosh, The Human Mosaic). However, it may be difficult to distinguish between learning (as proper) a particular behavior and adopting (as fashionable) a particular behavior, especially when these are done unconsciously. The important distinction is whether or not we consider competing choices in the process. Under One View, the question is: do we learn it or not? are we conditioned or not? Under Another View, the question becomes: of two or more comparable options, which do we adopt?
Assignment 1a: Describe a behavior which you have consciously acquired. Did you learn to do it without considering any alternatives? or did you choose to do it from among competing options? Describe a behavior which you or someone else unconsciously acquired. Was it unconsciously learned? or was it unconsciously adopted from available options? Explain your answer.
Assignment 1b: Read the article at "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture".
The two views of culture are responsible for two different ways of conceptualizing cultural signs. When we, either consciously or unconsciously, adopt One View, we conceptualize cultural norms. Culture acts as a groove which keeps our behavior on the track of normalcy. Deviation from the cultural pattern is considered abnormal. There is one proper way to do something.
We tend not to notice the norms of our own culture, and it is common to adopt them unconsciously in the process of growing up. Of course, we may at times become conscious of some of them. Children, for example, often question the rigid nature of behavioral norms:
Children soon grow out of this developmental stage, and they become adept at unquestioningly following the behavioral patterns set by the people around them. (People who continue to question the norms of their own culture throughout their adult lives should probably consider careers as anthropologists.)
Cultural norms do not seem to be unique to humans. In 1952, Imanishi suggested that Japanese macaques may develop population specific differences as a result of social (rather than genetic) variation. Claims for culture have since been made for a wide range of species. For example, reports of wild chimpanzees have documented over thirty cultural behaviors that have no apparent ecological or genetic explanation. Such behaviors involve courtship, grooming, and the use of tools. Most recently, researchers at Emory University demonstrated that chimpanzees can have strong cultural preferences in their choice of food-getting behavior.
Assignment 2a: Describe three different cultural (e.g., Japanese) norms. Are people of the culture (e.g., Japanese people) generally aware or unaware of these norms? How is each norm learned? What are the consequences of violating these norms?
Assignment 2b: Read more at "http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_1.htm" and "http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_2.htm".
When we experience a foreign culture, we easily recognize many of the foreign cultural norms which differ from our own. Foreign people do so many things in an odd way that, at times, we may be overwhelmed by feelings of confusion or helplessness. We cannot help but wonder: why do they do it that way? On the other hand, as we begin to compare the different customs of foreign cultures, we may begin to think that some foreign habits are better than our own.
Thus, whereas One View leads naturally to an emphasis on cultural norms, Another View leads to an emphasis on emblem identification and valuation. Occasionally, especially when a cultural option is associated with an esteemed social group, such an option may be considered "absolutely good". Alternatively, when a social group is despised, their associated behavior may be disparaged. A cultural norm is "just the way it is", so it is difficult under One View to question the utility, efficacy, or general goodness of cultural norms; whereas, by juxtaposing options, Another View invites comparisons and evaluations of these options.
Assignment 3: Describe three cultural signs which are associated with a particular social group (e.g., high school students in Himeji, Chinese in Kobe, retired men, airline stewardesses, Okinawan people). Have the members of the group adopted these signs consciously or unconsciously? Are these signs good? bad? What value would there be in adopting any of these cultural signs?
A cultural taboo is an action which is proscribed by that culture. It is a kind of negative norm: something which people do not normally do. Under One View, it is a "bad" action, and it should not be done. (Under Another View, a taboo is merely a kind of characteristic negative norm.)
Because taboo actions are usually not done, we do not learn about them in the same way that we learn about other cultural norms. Children are often punished when they do something which is taboo, so they learn to avoid such taboo behavior. Alternatively, they may be told what is taboo so that they can avoid doing it.
People are often aware of their cultural taboos (while they are typically not aware of other negative norms), which is why we can talk about taboos and punish a person who does something taboo.
"Taboos can include dietary restrictions (halal and kosher diets, religious vegetarianism, and the prohibition of cannibalism), restrictions on sexual activities and relationships (miscegenation, homosexuality, incest, zoophilia, pedophilia, necrophilia), restrictions of bodily functions (flatulence), restrictions on the use of psychoactive drugs, restrictions on presence of genitalia (circumcision, sex reassignment), exposure of body parts (ankles in the Victorian British Empire, women's faces in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, nudity in the US), and restrictions on the use of offensive language." (J. Grohol, Psych Central)
Common daily activities, such as using the hand to point or to eat or to wash, can involve taboos. For example, in Ghana, there is a common taboo against pointing with the left hand. Bodily contact, even if accidental, can be taboo. In Thailand, it is taboo for a woman to touch a monk or his clothing. In parts of India, it is taboo to touch a person with one's shoe.
Assignment 4a: Have you ever been punished for doing something which was taboo? Describe some Japanese taboos. When and how did you learn about these taboos?
Assignment 4b: Have you ever noticed someone (a Japanese? a foreigner?) who was doing something which is taboo? How did you feel? Did you confront that person?
Human movement can sometimes be culturally meaningful. People do not all move in the same ways; moveover, the variation in human movement patterns is not randomly idiosyncratic. The differences in the way people move often correlate with their membership in social groups. Ray Birdwhistle, a pioneering researcher of the cultural determinants of bodily movement, popularized the term "kinesics" for his structural theory of human posture, movement, and facial expression.
Examples of kinesic actions include one's gait, one's posture when eating and drinking, the tilt of one's head and neck when standing, one's manner of smoking a cigarette, one's manner of holding a sandwich, hair-combing and nose-blowing techniques, one's manner of holding a baby, one's manner of petting a dog, conversational gestures, hand signals, meaningful winks and nods, and deaf sign language.
Among the many things which Birdwhistle described was the "white man walk" which he observed in an Amerindian community. White men and Kutenai indians walking in the distance could often be distinguished by the way they walked. Birdwhistle also noticed correlations between walking style and language: bilingual men changed their way of walking depending on whether or not they were speaking Kutenai or English. Building on this initial insight, Birdwhistle's kinesics successfully used the techniques of linguistic analysis to identify meaningful components of body language in general.
Emily Kirby describes his pioneering use of audiovideo recordings: "Birdwhistell analyzed the way people interacted through watching films. He found people seemed to transmit information through speaking, their eye movements, their facial expressions, and their chest. These forms of nonverbal communication were being used without people even realizing it. This was most fascinating to Birdwhistell. Dr. Birdwhistell along with Jacques van Valck were responsible for making the film known as TRD 009 which is an eighty minute 16 mm black and white sound film of an English pub scene in a middle class London hotel. Throughout this film they observed behavior of listeners in relationship to speakers."
Mark Knapp places kinesics within a broad taxonomy of nonverbal communication, consisting of seven areas: (1) kinesics, (2) physical characteristics, (3) touching behavior, (4) paralanguage, (5) proxemics, (6) artifacts, (7) environment. Knapp emphasizes that nonverbal behavior is partly taught, partly imitative, and partly instinctive. He agrees with Ekman and Friesen that the sources of nonverbal behaviors are (1) inherited neurological programs, (2) experiences common to all humans, and (3) experience which varies with culture, class, family, and idiosyncracy.
Assignment 5a: Think about your ability to identify different kinds of Japanese people. Without hearing a Japanese person speak, and without any hints from that person's dress or hairdo, are you able to guess certain facts about that person's dialect? job? hometown? Can you distinguish "returnees" and "inaka" Japanese from the way they stand? from the way they move?
Assignment 5b: Think about your own movements when you speak. Do you have the same posture and gestural behavior when you speak standard Japanese, especially polite and respectful Japanese, Kansai dialect, and English?
Assignment 5c: Regarding the "universality of facial gestures", such as a smile, compare the classic views expressed in:
R. Birdwhistell, Kinesics in Context (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970).
M. Knapp, Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction (New York: Reinhart and Winston, 1972).
What newer research bears on the questions addressed by these scholars?
Are you left-handed or right-handed? Are you sure? How do you know which hand is dominant? Examples to consider: writing, baseball throwing, baseball catching, table tennis bat hand, golf swing, baseball bat swing, bowling hand, jar opening, book holding, page turning, telephone dialing, calculator button pushing, putting on one's shoes, tying one's shoes.
Not all cultures give a person the freedom to choose which hand to use. In some cultures, strict taboos forbid the use of one hand or the other when performing certain tasks. In many parts of India, for example, the right hand is the eating hand, and the left hand is the washing hand. Perhaps one of the strongest cross-cultural norms is, in those cultures where it is practiced, the shaking of right hands. Military salutes are similarly right-handed.
Like other traits, handedness in humans may be determined by both genetic and cultural factors. Genetically, it seems to be a manifestation of general lateralized behavior, and perhaps even general bilateral structural asymmetry, which is observed in other mammals and lower vertebrates. Surgeons, for example, are keenly aware that not everyone has his or her heart on the left side of the chest. On the other hand, there does not seem to be a close correlation between such structural asymmetry and handedness, which means that our handedness is, at least partly, determined by cultural factors.
The cultural basis of handedness can be most easily noticed by considering the various ways we use our hands in asymmetric ways. The manner in which we learned to do those things, as well as our awareness of how we do those things, can all show the cultural nature of our choices of hand. Both one-handed and two-handed actions should be considered.
The norms of handedness affect us in a variety of ways. In Japan, for example, baseball batting cages which are open to the public do not have "lefthanded" hitters' boxes for the slower pitch machines which young baseball players use. The faster pitch machines, intended for better players, have both lefthanded and righthanded boxes, presumably to accommodate the switch hitters. Also indicating a clear bias of handedness, sales points of golf clubs in Japan almost never have "lefthanded" clubs; nor do most driving ranges. That these baseball and golf phenomena are cultural is clear from the fact that similar sports facilities in the U.S. have a much better accommodation of the lefthanded swings.
Automobile sales and rentals are two areas where the ergonomic research of handedness in design is only beginning. Although there have been studies of the lefthanded versus righthanded placement of the steering wheel within a car, there has been little attention given to the left-right arrangement of other parts, such as the gear shifter, the accelerator, the turn signal, and other handles and control knobs. Traveling salesmen often complain about the lack of a standard "cockpit design" for cars. As manufacturers have increasingly fought in a global market for their share of sales, the discrepancies among local automobile cultures have become more and more striking, and we may see more attention to "universal design" in the future.
Assignment 6a: Consider the various onehanded tasks you do. Do you always use the same hand? For example, do you always hold chopsticks in your right hand when eating? Do you use your right hand to throw a baseball? to unzip your jacket? to drink from a glass? to turn the pages of a book? to turn a key in a door's lock?
Assignment 6b: Place a can of coffee on a table; use a can with a twist-off lid, and make sure that the lid is fully closed. Ask various people to open the can. With which hand do they grasp the lid? Is there a perfect correlation between that hand and the hand which they use to write? Observe various people doing other asymmetric two-handed activities, such as washing a plate with a sponge, sweeping dirt into a dustbin, taking a CD out of its case, grating daikon, stapling two papers together, tying shoelaces, blowdrying hair, aiming a rifle, hitting a baseball, swinging a golf club, using a public telephone, eating an icecream cone while driving, holding an umbrella while bicycling. Do they always use the same hand orientation (e.g., sponge in the right hand and plate in the left hand) for a particular task? Do they all use their dominant hand in the same way?
Assignment 6c: Think about the proper way to use these terms: "handedness", "chirality", "lateralized behavior", "lateral asymmetry" (e.g., situs viscerum solitus, versus situs viscerum inversus). How much of our handedness is innate, and how much is learned?
Humans have a penchant for creating systems of meaning. Some of these systems, such as calendars and mean clock time, are important in regulating our daily life. Other systems, such as the naming of Toyota car models, may have only curiousity value. Some of these systems, such as the framework of modern empirical science, is nearly universal in its scope. Other systems may be used by only a few cultures, or perhaps only by one culture. These systems of meaning are artifacts of human creativity, and they have meaning for the people who create and use them. We may call them "systemic artifacts".
Perhaps the most studied systemic artifacts have been the kinship systems of various cultures. The kind of people who comprise one's kin are not the same in all cultures; nor are the kin term (e.g., "sister, uncle") systems the same in all cultures; nor are the associated privileges and obligations between kin folk the same in all cultures. When we survey the world's cultures, we find different rules which govern who can marry, who inherits a dead person's property, who must take care of children and disabled people. Of course, we can find many similarities too.
Marriage is one of the most important relationships which the kin systems of various cultures regulate. There seems everywhere to be a taboo against marrying a close relative, although the degree of closeness varies. In English, we sometimes say "kissing cousins" to refer to cousins who are distant enough to marry each other. In many parts of the U.S., for example, it is illegal for "first cousins" or "first cousins once removed" to marry each other, but it is legal for "second cousins" or "first cousins twice removed" to marry.
Assignment 7a: Think about the Japanese translations of English kin terms, e.g., "mother", "father", "sister", "brother", "aunt", "uncle", "daughter", "son", "niece", "nephew", "grandmother", "grand-daughter". Why are some of these words easier to translate than others? What about "mother-in-law", "sister-in-law", "stepmother", "stepsister", "godmother", "half sister"? Is there anything particular about Japanese marriage or adoption customs which is relevant to translation. Also, why is it sometimes easier to translate English kin terms into "spoken" Japanese than into "written" Japanese.
Assignment 7b: Are there any laws or taboos which specify who cannot marry in Japan? Are the laws based on the biological relationship of people, or are they based on the system of family registration (戸籍法)? Are there any potential conflicts? For example, what would happen in the case of biological siblings who have different family registration certificates (戸籍謄本)? what about members of the same family registry (戸籍簿) who are not genetically related?
A kin term system can often show how a culture organizes its people socially, especially as regards marriage, filial duties, and property inheritance. Other systemic artifacts help to organize other aspects of life. For example, the world's cultures offer various solutions to the everyday problems of counting and measuring. The world's basic counting systems have been based on the human fingers (and toes): base 5, base 10, base 12, base 20. Systems of weights, liquid measure, dry measure, linear measure, and areal measure show more cultural diversity: ken, foot, meter; tsubo, tan, acre, manzana, hectare. Systems of accurate time measurement, being more recently developed, are relatively few: the 3600-second hour, the 12- and 24 hours clocks, the ISO calendar (Universal Time), a few famous lunar calendars (e.g., Hegira, Chinese).
During the past century, the metric system of weights and measures has spread throughout the world, and much of the metric system has been accepted as an international standard of measurement. Nevertheless, all over the world, many local units of measurement continue to be used because of their importance in local culture. Moreover, it is not uncommon for different things to be measured using different systems of measurement, as in Japan, where houses are measure in "tsubo", but flooring tile is measured in square meters.
Even a simple measurement can vary across cultures. Consider "a day", which is the basic unit of time in all cultures. What is a day? How long is a day? When does a day begin (end)? Consider various times of the day. What is noon? What is midnight? What is "a.m."? "p.m."? Why is "12 p.m." a nonsense phrase? What is local time? What is mean time? What is standard mean time? What is "daylight savings time"?
Not only do different people calculate the time of day differently, but different cultures throughout history have organized the days into different calendars, and some of those different calendars are used even now. What is the Gregorian Calendar? For which important cultures are other calendars important? The "epoch" of a calendar is its beginning day or reference day. When is the epoch of the Gregorian Calendar? What is a millennium? When does the third millennium of the Gregorian Calendar begin? When does the 21st century of the Gregorian Calendar begin?
Assignment 8a: When was 1 January of the Gregorian Calendar officially adopted as Japan's First Day of the New Year? In earlier times, how was "o-shogatsu" determined?
Assignment 8b: When did Japanese people begin to use a seven-day week? Have Japanese people always divided the solar year into twelve more-or-less equal months?
Assignment 8c: What are some of the basic Japanese units for measuring weight, length, area, and volume? How are these units used today? Is there any regional variation?
The elements of our material culture, especially when decoratively elaborated, often comprise systemic artifacts. Clothing, for example, is often the material basis for highly elaborate systems of cultural meaning. Moreover, a manner of dress can exemplify traditional proper comportment just as well as it can exemplify current fashion or idiosyncratic taste. For example, most men in Japan, although they might consider various Armani business suits for their wardrobes, would never for even a moment consider donning a Chanel suit. Selecting a pinstripe over a herring bone pattern is a matter of taste, style, and seasonal fashion; however, the choice between men's and women's clothing is not open for contemplation, because men should wear men's clothes. In addition to reinforcing sex differenciation, clothing choices can indicate ethnic identity, age, socio-economic status, education, employment, sexual orientation, marital status, religious affiliation, and other facts about oneself.
In Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Mexico, traditional textiles, and the clothing made from them, are very important in Maya cultural life, especially in the lives of Maya women. Women weave cotton cloth on a "backstrap loom" (whereas men weave on a European-style broadloom). The colorful Maya designs feature traditional motifs: birds, mountains, fruits. Weaving knowledge, transmitted from mother to daughter, is a cultural legacy almost as meaningful as a Mayan mother tongue.
A Maya woman's dress consists of two primary articles of clothing: a "corte" (a traditional kind of skirt) a "huipile" (a traditional kind of shirt) Every Maya group has a distinctive woman's dress, and these different dresses correspond with the different Mayan languages. (Some Maya groups also have a distinctive dress for men, but other Maya groups have only a distinctive dress for women.) The dress of a Maya woman is an important emblem of her linguistic and local subcultural affiliation.
Guatemala has tried to provide free primary and secondary education for all of its Maya citizens. Most schools, especially secondary schools, have strict dress codes which require the students to wear school uniforms. These uniforms have been based on Western European fashions. In former times, this clashed with Maya tradition, and many girls stayed away from school. Now, most schools permit women to wear the "corte" as an alternative school uniform.
Assignment 9a: Think about the policy of having a school uniform in a country with mixed cultural traditions. What issues arise in the discussion of school uniforms in Japan? Are these issues the same ones raised in Guatemala? How are the issues different? Why are they different?
Assignment 9b: Beyond school uniforms, dress is important for identifying our social place and for expressing our social identity or aspirations. What sorts of Japanese dress have important social meanings?
Cultures have different norms regarding personal grooming. Most cultures have norms regarding how (or even whether) we style our hair, fashion our nails, or decorate our skin. Sometimes there are strong taboos against (i.e., "opting in" is taboo) or requirements for (i.e., "opting out" is taboo) certain manners, while other times there may be only unconscious norms guiding the choices made by individuals. Even when conscious choices are permitted adults, such choices may be taboo for infants (e.g., a spike hair perm, tattooed lips, breast implants).
Required practices can affect men as well as women, and the world's cultures provide numerous examples. Maya women refrain from cutting (except for a once yearly trim) their long hair; and a woman who cuts her hair short is thereby less of a Maya woman. A good Sikh man must let his hair and beard grow long and natural. Many girls of the Amazon must be tattooed as part of the rituals which mark their pubescence. A newborn Jewish boy must have the prepuce of his penis removed.
Even practices which are commonly viewed as personal preferences may be unconsciously influenced by cultural norms. Women's hair fashion in Japan, body piercing in Europe, and cosmetic surgery in California (e.g., nose jobs, breast implants, face lifts) follow socially stratified fashion trends. Technology has also influenced trends, such as cosmetic dentistry in Latin America.
In a multicultural society, divergent grooming practices can create social tension. Emblems such as tattoos may be banned in conflict areas. Even worse, in today's era of transnational activism, certain cultural practices have been villified as "barbaric", especially when they are not common practices in Europe and North America.
Consider the following three practices: (1) female ear piercing in Shibuya; (2) the tattooing of women's lips among the Ainu of former times; (3) female circumcision in Africa. Ear piercing is a fashion decision for many of today's young Japanese women, though this was not true for older generations. Unlike a fashion, Ainu tattooing was an ethnic mark of womanhood which all Ainu women were obliged to accept. Japan banned these lip tattoos as part of its general program of eradicating Ainu emblems. Similarly, some Africans have claimed that female circumcision is an important emblem of ethnic identity. Nevertheless, many outsiders say that this practice is barbaric "genital mutilation", and an anticircumcision campaign supported by UN agencies, by Uganda and other African nations, by various NGOs, and by a growing number of families and communities is now discouraging this practice.
The naturalness or barbarity of various grooming practices often depend on one's cultural values. Moreover, even within one culture, the values of people can change over time. There are grandparents who consider ear piercing to be a barbaric act, and yet some of their own grandchildren have pierced the ears of themselves and their babies. On the other hand, although today's Ainu are reclaiming their linguistic and artistic heritage, no Ainu is urging that today's girls be tattooed. Perhaps most ironic is the fact that European activism is partly responsible for the decline of female circumcision as a cultural practice in Africa, even though female genital piercing is a rising fashion trend in Europe. Indeed, both our fashion trends and our cultural values change, sometimes without obvious reason.
Assignment 10a: Does your mother's mother have pierced ears? If so, did her mother also have pierced ears? If not, does your mother have pierced ears? Is piercing a taboo in Japan? Has there been a generational change of attitudes in Japan toward ear piercing and other skin piercing?
Assignment 10b: Think about the first time you saw a person with a tattoo. What did you think about it? Did you wonder about the technology of tattoo-making? Did you wonder about whether getting a tattoo is a painful experience? Did you make a value judgement about whether a tattooed person is good or bad?
, New York: W. H. Freeman, 8th ed., 1999 John Grohol, Psych Central "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture" "http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_1.htm" and "http://anthro.palomar.edu/culture/culture_2.htm".