Judith M.S. Pine
History of the culture concept and its use in the field of cultural anthropology. History of its emergence in European colonial expansion and contemporary debates about its place as the central concept defining the field of anthropology.
Agar (1994) recounts the following story: John Gumperz, linguistic anthropologist, was asked at a linguistics meeting: "John, how do you tell which ones are the anthropologists?" His response? "It's easy. They're the ones who never say 'culture.'" (115).
Sociocultural anthropology has at its heart the concept of culture, but this heart is not untroubled. In fact, if you ask a room full of anthropologists to give you a definition of culture you might end up with a spirited discussion that went on for hours and never reached a satisfactory conclusion. While popular discourse and media representations present "culture" as a bounded, identifiable, relatively homogenous entity, anthropologists have had difficulty defining the concept from its inception. A vigorous debate over the definition, and anthropological relevance, of culture continues today.
Our objective in this class will be to examine the complex history of the culture concept, to become more aware of how it is used and the consequences of that use, and to discover ways to rethink this topic that are creative and theoretically useful. To accomplish this, we will consider the historical context that generated the various beliefs about the bundle of ideas grouped under the label culture. We will explore the roles the term has within the discourse of anthropology. We will focus in particular on the role of the culture concept in the construction of an Other as the Subject of research, and the various strategies undertaken by anthropologists seeking to break down this construction.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
A mix of lecture, film, student presentations (in small groups), and general discussion.
This is an introductory course, and does not require specific preparation beyond that expected for any university course.
Class assignments and grading