Introduction to Anthropology

Introduction to Anthropology

Introduction to Anthropology

1. Introduction

The word "culture" has many different meanings.  For some it refers to an appreciation of good literature, music, art, and food.  For a biologist, it is likely to be a colony of bacteria or other microorganisms growing in a nutrient medium in a laboratory Petri dish.  However, for anthropologists and other behavioral scientists, culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns.  The term was first used in this way by the pioneer English Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor in his book, Primitive Culture, published in 1871.  Tylor said that culture is "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."  Of course, it is not limited to men.  Women possess and create it as well.  Since Tylor's time, the concept of culture has become the central focus of anthropology.

Culture is a powerful human tool for survival, but it is a fragile phenomenon.  It is constantly changing and easily lost because it exists only in our minds.  Our written languages, governments, buildings, and other man-made things are merely the products of culture.  They are not culture in themselves.  For this reason, archaeologists can not dig up culture directly in their excavations.  The broken pots and other artifacts of ancient people that they uncover are only material remains that reflect cultural patterns--they are things that were made and used through cultural knowledge and skills.

Although there is no standard definition of culture, most alternatives incorporate the Boasian postulates as a working version:

Culture: The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.





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