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Cultural Identity

Cultural Identity

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Published by mirelaghitanemes
Cultural identity - from embracing value systems to recognizing a “local knowledge”; interpretive anthropology contributions to a contextual explanation of left-right orientations in the contemporary Romanian political parties
Cultural identity - from embracing value systems to recognizing a “local knowledge”; interpretive anthropology contributions to a contextual explanation of left-right orientations in the contemporary Romanian political parties

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Published by: mirelaghitanemes on Dec 01, 2009
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09/29/2010

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Cultural identity -from embracing value systems to recognizinga “localknowledge”; interpretiveanthropology contributions to a contextual explanation of left-right orientations in the contemporary Romanian political parties
Motto:“Adev•rul doctrinei relativismului cultural (sau istoric –e acelai lucru) este c• nu putemniciodat• s• înelegem perfect imaginarul altor popoare sau al altor timpuri ca i cum ar fialnostru. Falsitatea ei este c• din aceast• cauz• nu putem s• îl înelegem deloc” (Geertz,C. 1993, p. 44).With the people for the people, and against those who think human rights are a joke, orbetter yet a Machiavellian way to get reach, oh so”liberallyreach.
Rationalist approaches in studying culture.
Even though most of the times it did not take the central role (that of variable to beexplained through the discovery of its determinant factors), culture was not completelymissingfromsocialstudies following a rationalist approach. More often, studiesinterested in describing and explaining differences between countries or communitiesreserved this centralrole toconcepts such as: the level of economic development, thestability of political systems, or degree of democratization. Theculturalparticularitiesbecameofinterest in such an approach especially in the situations in which the otherdeterminant factors of, for example, economic growth, failedto explain all the observeddifferences between the cases studied. Whether coming from politicalscience ormanagement, the studies interested in investigatingculturalvariables from a rationalistperspectivehave several common characteristics: the definition ofculture as a systemof values, operationalization of these values through indicatorsthat are common for all thecultures studies, and a preference for survey as data collection method.One insightful and veryinfluential example of the rationalist approach to culture is the1996 Granato, Inglehart and Leblang study where culture is defined as “a system of basiccommon values that help shape the behavior of the people in a given society.” (Granato,J., Inglehart, R., Leblang, D. 1996, p. 608).They distinguishbetween societies that aremore inclined to manifest achievement motivation and societies that considerothervalues to be more important and worthyofbeing taught to children. The valuesinvestigated pertain to religion, obedience, parcimony, determination, postmodernvalues(environment protection, tolerance for minorities) and are measured with large samplesurveys representative for the population of the countries studied.Aslightlydifferent definition offers Hofstede -“culture is the collective programming of thinking that distinguishes between the members of a group or categoryfrom people thatbelong to other groups or categories” (give reference p. nr.). However, in terms of theculturalcharacteristics studied here, the mere replacement of “values”with “dimensionsofthe thought programming” does not change in essence the approach in studyingculture. The five cultural dimensions power distance, uncertainty avoidance,
 
2individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity and short term/long termorientation –aredefined and measured quite similar to the way Inglehart defines and measures what hecalls cultural values. Much like Inglehart, Hofstde and his collaborators’preferredresearch methods are based on surveys. Both in the IBM study and subsequent inquirieson cultural variables, the questionnaire items are asking people to choose from a series of predefined choices the ones that are closer to their individual values.In the rationalist approach, the specific culture of a country is identified by placing theaggregated responses of people on the scales of the indicators used –culturaldimensionsand their corresponding values. Often, the classification is completed with attempts to testthe connection of the cultural indicators to other factors in causal relations.
The nature of explanation in social sciences after the postmodern critique of theuniversality of the western rationalist discourse
According to Clifford Geertz, the change in the way of studying culture belongs to anentire process of “reconfiguration of social thinking” (Geertz, C. 1993, p.20). Thisconsists in challenging the strit delimitation of the field of social sciences in relation withthe humanist sciencesboth in what concerns the distribution of the adequate investigationmethods and the issues to be studied.Actually, as Geertz points out, this tendency does not limit to scientific investigation. Oneofthe striking characteristics of the contemporary social life is the continuousreconfiguration (and even oblivion sometimes) of the barriers that distance or geographiclocation could hold to the social action. Whether we talk about economic globalization orthe impressive developments in the access to information due to the digitalcommunication, the geographic limitations seem to become less and less relevant or atleast to have a more limited impact on social actions compared to the 20
th
century.The way this tendency manifests in the academic life is of particular interest for thisstudy. What Geertz is pointing to,is quite anirreverence towards the limits that restrictwhat is appropriate for a particular literary or scientific field in the literary or academicpublications. Moreover, he considers that the difficulty with which may of the recentliterary and academic publications can becategorizedin the classic domains of socialsciences and humanities is enough of a general ad distinct phenomenon to suggest that weare facing not only a redesigning of the cultural map –withthe moving of a fewcontroversial boundaries […] –but an alteration of the principles that fundament themere map building. Something is happening with our way of thinking about the way wethink. (Geertz, C. 1993, p. 20).With regardto the socialsciences, this change affects the essence of the investigativeapproach –the nature of scientific explanation. The recent research aiming at studyingsocialactions seem to distance from the explanations which consist in identifying itsdeterminant factors, the relative intensity of the causal relationships between these factorsand the emergence or the nature of the studies social action its effects. Such a way of 
 
3modeling the social action allows predictions and implicitlythe controlofthe effects of asocial action by manipulating its determinant factors. Now, the essential change here isthat the goalofscientific explanation is no longer the control the social action but the
interpretation
ofit.Thecontribution of postmodern critique to acknowledging the contextual, cultural (i.e.historical, geographical, political) determinations of the scientific explanations and ,implicitly, of the worldviews that generated those explanations overshadows theimportance of discovering the cause-effect relationships and reorients the explanationtowards the interpretation of the social action. The postmodern disapproval of theuniversality of a particular scientific discourse localizes the cause-effect explanations, itmakes it dependent of the place, time and sometimes even the politics in which thatparticular explanation was written. The anthropological addition to the postmoderncritique is that even the object to be explained (in particular the social action) may be justas non-universal as the attempts to explain it. The social action does not mean the samething in different cultural contexts. Even if on the surface, it seems to be the same thing –for example respecting the law the meaning of itsays Geertz, may be quite different ina Islamic, Indian or westernculture.Whatdoes aninterpretative explanation looklike? Reorienting the scientific explanationfrom controlto hermeneutics/interpretation has consequences on both its nature and themethodologyused in constructing it. The analogies inspired by the natural sciences in anambition to create a “social physics” (Geertz, C.1993, p.23) are replaced by analogiesinpired from literature or theater, from the humanities in general. The explanationbecomes “connecting the action with its meaning rather than connecting behavior to itsdeterminats” (Geertz, C. 1993, p.34).
Cultural system –local knowledge as a contextually determined pattern of interpretation of reality
Differences between cultures, between localized systems of knowledge become visibleduring the attempts to intercultural understanding, and they do so bycreating difficulties.When a person that belongs to a particular culture is in a position to observe a socialaction in a cultural context that is different from his own, he will have difficulties inevaluating that situation especially because the evaluation criteria he will be using belongto the culture he is coming from and not to the culture he is evaluating. Such crossculturalencounters are of course not new, theyhave existed long before the post-modernorientation in social sciences. However, quite new, (in -what else than -relative terms) istaking in consideration these difficulties as opportunities to interpretation rather thanautomatic evaluation of differenceas something that is less or under developed.
Common sense asdomain of cultural expression
. Even if it is perceived by the oneswho are practicing it as a natural attribute, inherent and defining of the normal behavior,an attribute that accompanies without any cognitive effort the behavior of a common

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