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 is considered superior to nature. A modern consensus of cultural relativism has made the old conception of "Nature" with a capital anachronism.

WHAT IS THE GREAT DEBATE? in social science it is about what shapes us both as individuals and as members of society. anthropologists ask how much of our behavior as a group is pre-determined by geography. culture. but by the complex interaction between them. Inherited genetic predisposition ("nature") or what we learn as we grow up ("nurture") that predominantly shapes us and our differences as individuals? Similarly. 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. .

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: .Darwin‟s theory of evolution . .The dichotomy between nature and culture can be partially explained by: .

technology development race and genetics NATURE or biology religion.The ways we tell differences between peoples: • • • • • • • race. they have the best natural endowment (genes. economy. technology  CULTURE But two categories can overlap. intelligence. . economy. genetics their environment religion. since there has been an underlying assumption that those with the most advance culture are also ‘better’ naturally. that is. strength).

Australian aborigines kinship system is the most complex. unilinear.  technology of locomotion .Hindus or Zen Buddhists most sophisticated. progressive. and universe scale of cultures (with themselves at the top). Only one scale and one orientation – up and West. 19th century social theorists ranked peoples on an evolutionary. Unilinear path of civilization.But questions arise: Whose judges about „advanced‟ vs „primitive‟? Whose scale was being used as the standard? Advanced in what sense?  kinship .some of the Western nations  meditative practices . . as well as religious concepts.

that culture was part of that development. more importantly. the „beginning‟ of culture‟.ASSUMPTION 1: • It was assumed that homo sapiens developed to the modern form (two legged stance. • Now it is generally accepted not just that homo sapiens developed from their ape-ical ancestors to their modern form but also. large brain) and then invented culture. opposable thumb. not proceeded. Clifford Geertz informs us that „the greater part of human cortical expansion has followed. .

for example. A writer‟s/artist‟s genius is supposed to rest on his ability to appeal to universal emotions and circumstances. and motivations.g. But: may be a people‟s emotions and responses are instead conditioned by the particularities of the culture they live in? . a Shakespeare play.ASSUMPTION 2 Human nature is constant and that the differences are only superficial. Implication: e. emotions. could be understood by all people because people everywhere would have the same concepts.

. or human nature. the ecosystem. culture always implies a transformation and denial of natural.Concepts of nature in Anthropology: external nature. inner nature. CULTURE Cultural is always something other than nature.

Dualism. Claude Levi-Strauss b.28. Through cooking the transformation of the raw into cookedthat the passage from nature to culture is symbolised We know it‟s raw only because we know what cooked is. Our non-humanised surroundings may sometime appear as a major threat to human projects: they may threaten to destroy our crops.Binary oppositions: Levi-Strauss‟s axiom: human societies distinguish between culture and nature.Nov. Every cultural project seems to imply a transformation of both external and human nature. 1908 . Interrelation between the two concepts. kill our livestock and so on.

Stereotypical oppositions based on division between nature and culture Men Ritual. political Mind Social Cultural Women Biological. childbirth Body Domestic Natural .

cultural products . Changes our in conceptions of cultural and natural.BUT Nature . Ambiguous: nature simultaneously a source of a legitimation and an opponent. surrogate mothers). .fragile. Replacing „natural‟ reproduction with (cultural) technologically controlled reproduction (test tubes. Marilyn Strathern “After Nature” (1992): exceptional system of kinship and descent. insemination. yet provider of raw materials for cultural products. nature as threatening and difficult to control. vulnerable and temporary.raw materials culture is based on strong relationship of mutual interdependence between the two. nature stronger and more permanent in character than cultural products.

. . we develop concepts about our environment and place ourselves outside it. Nature thus exists both as representation of something outside culture and society. we take part in ecosystems and modify them. yet influencing the ways in which humans live.Two approaches to the nature-culture relationship: .how nature (the environment or inborn characteristics of human) affects society and culture. as cultural beings. As biological species.how nature and the nature-culture relationship is conceptualised in different societies.

common to all of us. Some of them: language. Human nature fixed in perpetuity. . and the capacity to represent the world symbolically through art. self-consciousness. ability to make/use tools. and underwriting everything we do. bipedal locomotion. It is said these capacities evolved gradually from ancient times.Human nature Orthodox view: a suite of capacities universal to the species. design and ritual.

can be seen when comparing world cultures.g. YET: people walk in very different ways. we sustain ourselves with food. Great differences. People around the globe are similar in their essential humanity: we communicate with each other. eat different foods. but because of the particular circumstances they encounter in their lifetimes. depending on factors (surface or terrain. These are what we call cultural differences. this is not because of variations in their nature. Walking and talking. including both the cultural tradition and the physical environment in which they were brought up.: shuffling gait vs upright posture. We all do it. E. gender or status). whether at the level of the individual or the population. Carrying devices (rucksacks to suitcases) are designed accordingly. Yet we speak different languages. What causes them is not always obvious to the ordinary person. . as well as startling similarities.If human beings differ from one another. footwear. as well as age. and when we sleep we often dream. and dream different dreams.

But: people talk in variety of different ways. as a part of human nature.Example: Talking We all do it. Conclusion: it is human nature to speak. Language. Why searching for human nature? . is supposed to have evolved. from the capacity to speak this language rather than which belongs to culture. So somehow we have to distinguish language as a capacity universal to the species. like bipedal locomotion. different languages of the world.

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. and a universal capacity for language. as distinct from the variety of ways in which people actually walk. . Thus a universal capacity for bipedal locomotion. as distinct from the ways people actually talk. through the effects of experience. to a basic constitution that is already in place from the start.But scientists insist on a universal architecture underwriting the human body and mind.

Human nature:  to walk on two feet . Statement: Human being is born of human parents.No absolute attribute of humanity.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? .

.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 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. setting an upper limit to the world of nature that humans alone appear to have breached. and between evolution and history. More than that. 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. it also reinstates the twin distinctions between biology and culture. in the human world it is what makes all the same.

in the suite of capacities with which all humans are said to be innately endowed. of universal human capacities. in ourselves. Thus we inclined to project an idealised image of our present selves onto our prehistoric forebears. and of our own time: uprightness. technological superiority. It is not hard to recognise. markedly ethnocentric vision of human potentials. and so on. such that the whole of history appears as a naturally preordained ascent towards the pinnacle of modernity. and its sense of history as the progressive fulfilment of its own.For it is indeed the case that while affirming human unity under the rubric of a single sub-species. crediting them with the capacities to do everything we can do and have done in the past. intelligence. . Thus where we can do things that they cannot. this is put down to the particularity of their cultural tradition. The bias is all too apparent in comparisons between ourselves and people of other cultures. This kind of reasoning rests on just kind of double standards that have long served to reinforce the modern West‟s sense of its own superiority over „the rest‟. Our idea of what is universal to humans is shot through with moral undertones. the central values and aspirations of our own society. we do so in terms that celebrate the historical triumph of Western civilisation. this is typically attributed to the greater development. But where they can things that we cannot.

Culture is not something „added on‟ to human organisms but a measure of difference between them. Capabilities inside our bodies. . As much biological as cultural.Human abilities and skills: which of them are natural and which are cultural? These skills are not only cultural.

Because: characteristics are not fixed genetically. but emerge within processes of development. over and above the organic. not from lower to higher. Human evolution is still going on. Not upward movement. . not to a superior level of being.To sum up: There is no standard or universal form of human being Humans of today are different not only from one another. For the very idea of a division between nature and culture is a Western conceit. but also from their prehistoric predecessors.

Since humans acquire culture through learning. . Through culture people adapt to their environment in non-genetic ways. people living in different places or different circumstances may develop different cultures. according to which some human beings lived in a "state of nature".The anthropological concept of "culture" is a reaction against Western discourses on opposition “culture" and “nature". Much of anthropological theory has originated in an appreciation of and interest in the tension between the local (particular cultures) and the global (a universal human nature. that is people in different environments will often have different cultures. or the web of connections between people in distinct places/circumstances).

I think. “ .It is. equipped with all the underlying capacities or potentials to do everything we do today. It is high time. awaiting their historical fulfilment – is part of an elaborate ideological justification for the present order of things. Indeed the very notion of human origins – the idea that at some point in evolution these capacities became established. and as such just one aspect of the intense presentism of modern thought. a great mistake to populate the past with people like ourselves. for us to recognise that our humanity. and for which we alone must bear the responsibility” (Tim Ingold). is something that we have continually to work at. far from having been set for all time as an evolutionary legacy from our hunter-gatherer past. in my view.

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