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CultureNeutral® Key Number 1 – Culture

missionThere is no shortage of definitions for “culture.” It is described as everything from ‘The Rules of the Road’at Delta Airlines, to the ‘software of the mind’ in a scholarly discussion of national and corporate cultures and subcultures.

For our purposes here, you can choose your favorite definition. In this discussion of CultureNeutral® Key #1 we’ll focus on an important characteristic of culture rather than on its meaning.

Julian H. Steward, noted University of Illinois Professor of Anthropology, made pivotal contributions to clarity in understanding culture and culture change models.  Among them, his anthropological lens led him to a simple characterization of the important difference between what is organic and what is cultural. In “Theory of Culture Change, The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution,” Steward shares this insight:

“Particular patterns of behavior found among one or more but not all groups of mankind must be explained in very different terms than behavior common to all people.  In fact, particular patterns must be conceptualized differently than universals. The first constitute culture in its proper sense.  The second constitute inherent human biological and psychological characteristics. The former are determined by history and by special local adaptations. They are super-organic.  The latter are reducible to biochemical and psychological processes.”

Said another way, established customs, traditions and modes of behavior which have limited occurrence are cultural. Universals, on the other hand, are organic, immutable.  For example, Steward points out,  “All men eat, but this is an organic and not a cultural fact.  It is universally explainable in terms of biological and chemical processes.  What and how different groups of men eat is a cultural fact explainable only by cultural history and environmental factors.”  Steward makes the same comparison for dance. Every culture has rhythmic movements as dances, but how they dance is cultural. He concludes that, “A formula that explains behavior of all mankind cannot explain culture.”

When we insert the term “bias” into the Steward template, it works. ‘All men are biased, but this is an organic and not a cultural fact. What and how different groups of men are biased is a cultural fact,’ attributable to history and environment.  That’s supportable by documented history, but also by more contemporary neuroscience on bias and “blindspots” and sociological studies such as the long running Harvard Implicit Association Test, and others. Researchers are gaining new insights into bias, sorting out both the nature vs. nurture of it, even from infancy.

Thus Steward’s expression of concern over the contemporary social sciences practice of personality testing in connection with culture and culture change.  Professor Steward contends, ”Personality is shaped by culture, but it has never been shown that culture is affected by personality….In the course of time, culture develops qualitatively new patterns which cause and are not caused by new personality types.” Thus, while problems of individual adjustment seem a valid application for culture and personality studies, there is little relevance for any association with longer range culture pattern change(s).

Given the super-organic nature of culture, meaning that it seems to exist apart from man as an order imposed from outside, it will remain with us for the foreseeable future, and with that, the conflict that arises from differences between cultures.  This is at the core of what Hofstede would term”Culture’s Consequences.”

Understanding the difference between what can be changed and what cannot is a time and energy saver.  We cannot alter the fact of organic bias. But we might alter a cultural bias.

So, is conflict itself organic, or is it cultural? Let’s figure it out…

CONTINUE with us to CultureNeutral® Key Number 2 – Conflict

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Copyright Robert D. Jones – All Rights Reserved

View or review all the CultureNeutral® Keys:

Key #1 Culture (Top of Page)
Key #2 Conflict
Key #3 Sovereignty
Key #4 Citizenship
Key #5 Neutrality

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