Anthropologists have always had their discrepancies with the word culture and its background significance. There have been numerous definitions that have filtered through the field, yet not one that everyone can accept or agree with. Franz Boas, an anthropologist in the early 20th Century, and his students, had a difficult time figuring out the objective of what culture is. Culture is about learning and shared ideas about behaviour. Although Boas and his students had a slightly different idea in mind. They ultimately reached a conclusion, a definition of culture in their view that is a contradiction in terms. Boas sates that, “ culture was expressed through the medium of language but was not reducible to it; more importantly, it was not race. Culture became everything race was not, and race was seen to be what culture was not; given, unchangeable biology,” (Visweswaran, p. 72).
Not only focusing on culture, but anthropology has a substantial connection as well. Anthropology is the field in which the study of cultural and biological variations among human groups is studied. The difficulty that some people have with characterizing culture
is that they associate it with race, whereas that is not the case. The two are remarkably distinct. Race is something biological, a genetic trait that is innate, while culture is something that is educated and experienced.
Kamala Visweswaran and Lila Abu-Lughod are two well distinguished anthropologists that are currently teaching at Universities in the United States. In their own articles, they speak about culture through an anthropologists view and detail their own opinions within. They may have some different opinions but each has their own strong arguments that prove their points.
Lila Abu-Lughod’s article “Writing Against Culture,” was written in 1991, and was published inside the book, Recapturing Anthropology. Within the article, she discusses culture and many problems with it. The title of her article speaks for itself, writing against culture. There are many issues that she brings up about culture, and various influential strategies for shifting over from the culture concept. She reflects on culture and its need to be redefined. In her discussion of culture and difference she opens with, “ most American anthropologists believe or act as if ”culture,” notoriously resistant to definition and ambiguous of referent, is nevertheless the true object of anthropological inquiry,” (Abu-Lughod, p. 143). She illustrates how essential culture is to anthropology and how anthropology helps to balance culture, as well as its ties with race. She considers culture and race as opposites. “Culture is learned and can change,” (Abu-Lughod, p. 144), and
race is something inborn. Although she can only depict and explain the concept of culture, and how it has become necessary and not the reasons behind it.
Lila Abu-Lughod also writes about feminism in regard to culture. “ It has been important for most feminists to locate sex differences in culture, not biology or nature,” (Abu-Lughod, p. 144). There have been many cultural differences between women and men, “ a different voice” perhaps from Anglo-American feminist Gilligan and her followers, (Abu-Lughod, p. 145), as well as an explanation of the differences, “ whether through a socially informed psychoanalytic theory, a Marxist-derived theory of the effects of the division of labour and women’s role in social reproduction, an analysis of maternal practice or even a theory of sexual exploitation,” (Abu-Lughod, p. 145). With that there has been an increasingly large demand for more women oriented culture, a place where they can express themselves and learn about their gender culture, and not that of men. “That is to say, if women share something in common, it is not the result of a universal bodily maturational process but of mutually experienced interpolations of race, class, and sexual orientation through patriarchal formations,” ( Visweswaran, p. 79).
One of the strategies that Abu-Lughod states is ethnography of the particular, which in part is assumed to upset the culture concept. It is a fact that anthropologists write about what they study and in turn many generalize that what they are observing is quite the same or similar throughout. “ Generalization, the characteristic mode of operation and
style of writing of the social sciences, can no longer be regarded as neutral description, ( Abu-Lughod, p. 149-150). Moreover, writing against culture is to shift from writing in generalized terms. Ethnography of the particular is a way to write in more familiar terms as well as to write about the particulars. “ And the particulars suggest that other live as we perceive ourselves living, not as robots programmed with “cultural” rules, but as people going through life agonizing over decisions, making mistakes, trying to make themselves look good, enduring tragedies and personal losses, enjoying others, and finding moments of happiness, “ (Abu-Lughod, p.158).
The second article is written by Kamala Visweswaran, “Race and the Culture of Anthropology,” which was published in the American Anthropologist Magazine, in March of 1998. She discusses culture, although in a slightly different manner then Abu-Lughod and she elaborates more on the connection with race. Her main argument within the article she states clearly at the beginning, “ Multiculturalism and culture studies have emerged as counterdisciplinary formations that radically foreground race and racial identity precisely because the modern anthropological notion of culture cannot so do,” (Visweswaran, p. 70). She quotes and details a lot of what Franz Boas studied and wrote in his books and incorporates it with her own views on race and culture. Boas himself had more of a “race theory,” then a theoretical view on culture, although he later fixed that. “ It was rather the distinctions Boas made between race, language, and culture that provided the foundation
of a Americanist anthropology, with each term tending toward the provenance of a particular subdiscipline,” (Visweswaran, p. 71).
Although Boas was a very racist and prejudice man, he did influence much thought about culture and anthropology. When discussing the Negro problem in society in conjunction with anti-Semitism, (since he was a member if the Nazi party), he associated it with blood, since he is comparing blood towards a secondary race. His thoughts on the black population was that if they got enough white blood in their bodies through transmissions, that their colour would dissolve and become white, which would solve the racial and cultural problem. In other words, if culture which represents race and racial identity, were to be Aryan then the blood would be superior and the race would have high biological quality. A place where Boas wanted everyone to be the same and there would be no racial or cultural problems. With this new connection to anthropology, the American Anthropological Association, “ passed a resolution denouncing Nazi racism: “ Anthropology provides no scientific basis for discrimination against any people on the ground of racial inferiority, religious affiliation or linguistic heritage, “ (Visweswaran, p. 71).
“The solution is not to replace culture with race but to keep the two terms in contructivist tension with one another,” (Visweswaran, p. 79). Anthropology cannot strive without culture, yet there must be a distinction with race. Culture is something that society is taught and learned, while race is something biological, and something to be
proud of. Boas and his ideas were not yet educated as to what culture means. He was overlooking and only saw his own perspective. Culture creates this diverse world and in turn race creates life with culture.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. (1991) Writing Against Culture. Recapturing Anthropology. Richard Fox, ed. P, 137-162. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
Visweswaran, Kamala. (March, 1998) Race and the Culture of Anthropology. American Anthropologist. p. 70-83. American Anthropological
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