Anthropological Concept of Culture

Table of Content


            Culture in the broad perspective of anthropology is explained in remarkable renewal and its occasional renewal. The perspective of anthropology and culture possess a strong link, which paves continuity and societal changes. For anthropologists, culture connotes a much more refinement, cultivation, education and appreciation of heritage and arts. According to Bashkow (2004), culture represents discrete geographical entities that have acquired their own colonial ideology of indirect rule. In addition, the objects of culture separate the minor entities from the national perspective or the general overview of culture, which initiates the idea of cultural boundaries. On the other hand, Abu-Abu-Lughod (1991) gives more emphasis on the increasing connections in terms of the national and transnational connections of people, cultural forms, media, techniques and communities. These factors pose a shift in gaze to include the phenomena of society that defines the aspect of culturalism in anthropological sense. According to Abu-Abu-Lughod, culture should be analyzed anthropologically through the perspectives of diverse relationships and dynamical social structures. Anthropological discourse provides cultural diversions and separation from broad aspect of national culture. Lastly, the views of Gupta and Fergason and Fergason (1992) consider culture as a product of social representations and not merely a territorially based division. As per the Gupta and Fergason’s argument, cultural colony in anthropological sense is established through the creation of cultural identity from vast or nationally existing common culture. Colonialism, culturalism, anthropology and rise of social connections are the components considered in the study of Gupta and Fergason.

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            Within the discussion, the emphasis is to collaborate the ideas of the three authors, Bashkow (2004), Abu-Abu-Lughod (1991) and Gupta and Fergason (1992), in terms of their views of culture in anthropological sense. The arguments of the three authors are further analyzed in anthropological perspective: Bashkow’s argument of cultural boundaries and the Neo-Boasian concept, Abu-Abu-Lughod’s concept of national – transnational cultural conception, and the Gupta and Fergason’s view on culture as unproblematic division of space and naturally occupying discontinuous spaces.


Bashkow’s Argument of Cultural Boundaries

            The concept of cultural boundaries has become the continuously debated subject whether culture is conceived through geographical means, territorial, colonial or other phenomena occurring within the society. As per Bashkow’s article and with the support of other researches (Clifford and Marcus 1986; Gupta and Fergason and Ferguson 1997), the concept of culture is conceived more as a constructs based on cultural representations (e.g. ethnographic monograph). The cultural representations are originated from the diverse social phenomena occurring within the society, which fuels the continuity and change in the prevailing culture. The cultural change and continuity is argued through the ideas of Evolutionists and Boasian anthropology. The principles of evolutionists emphasizes the development of culture in a universal, autonomous process of change, while Boasians argue that the social interpersonal relationships present are the main predisposing factor facilitating the cultural change. Bashkow’s perspective inclines most of its reasoning towards the theoretical stand of Boasian’s cultural boundaries. The ideas of Boasian theory on cultural boundaries are described in three conditions: the porous and permeable aspect of cultural development, the pluralization of cultural boundaries, and divergence between anthropological perspective and folk’s boundaries with its “zone of the foreign” principle. In the first argument, culture in anthropological perspective is viewed as a porous and permeable material capable of acquiring cultural change and modification through the process of cultural diffusion. According to the Boasians, culture progress differently despite of the same cultures present in the social atmosphere. In Boasian’s critique of evolutionism during the 19th century, the similarities on laws, rituals, artistic motifs, ideas, etc. are evidently not the most important precursors of cultural change, but rather the association and socialization between neighboring tribes (Boas 1896 quoted by Bashkow 2004). Culture is thus marked by an irreducible tension between the complementary process of diffusion and integration, which sums to the first condition of the theory. Secondly, the theory considers the pluralization of the term culture since the definitions of culture do not only consider the ecological conditions, livelihood, artistic heritages, social relations, and the individuals involves, but rather, it also gives consideration to the historical background of the tribe, influences of regions and the tribe’s social circle. The aspect of cultural pluralization involves a multi-faceted definition of culture. Boasians consider the term people, culture, society and tribe defined under equivalent meanings.  Lastly, the Boasians’ principles argue against the concept of people’s fold ideas in the concept of human nature and racial inheritance. Boasians believe that cultural development should be defined in the concept associating to cultural traits and merging of foreign influences.

Abu-Abu-Lughod’s Anthropological Culture

            The study of Abu-Abu-Lughod (1991) focuses on culture as an essential maintenance component of anthropology. The perspective of his article argues against the hierarchical implications of culture; hence, arriving to his idea of “ethnographies of the particular”. The argument of Abu-Abu-Lughod utilizes the portrayal of feminine and womanhood as a theoretical example against the anthropology and culture worldwide. As according to the proposed concept, the study of feminists only considers direct focal point, which is womanhood, and the entity of female mind is the sole concentration. Hence, the cultural referencing to womanhood does not directly entail gender separation, but more of a theoretical principle focusing on womanhood. The sole purpose of anthropological culture is to study the primarily the society and its unmarked form. According to Abu-Lughod, culture becomes ambiguous under these circumstances, although culture is a necessary component in providing anthropological distinction between other diversities present in national perspective. In operational perspective, culture becomes the predecessor to a most recognized term in the twentieth century – race. In an anthropological view, culture and racial characters present in it symbolize the concept of civilization; hence, allowing multiple rather than binary differences. Cultural differences become the basic unit of culture phenomena due to the diverse and multiple races, geography, and settings being considered. This phenomenon has been supported by the Orientalist view especially in terms of the hierarchical component of culture. As culture extends its diversion, the elimination of feminism and masculinism as well as orientalism and occidentism are the significant purpose of Abu-Abu-Lughod’s perspective; since, the cultural differentiations do not only occur in physical denominations, but rather to the exact being of the proposed idea. Feminism, despite the acknowledgement of entire body of women, would still face the fact that every woman globally possesses variant and dynamic culture. Anthropologist need to consider these cultural differentiations the in writing against the culture and ethnographic detail of every denomination.  As per Abu-Abu-Lughod, culture, in the anthropological sense, comprises of diverse denominations and differentiations that does not entail physical human categorization (e.g. gender categorization of male and female in the concept of feminism and masculinism, racial categorization, etc.), but rather the ethnographical being of a particular culture.

Gupta and Fergason’s Society and Culture

            Gupta and Fergason (1992) argues that culture in social science and anthropological perspective is based upon a seemingly unproblematic division of space, and naturally discontinuous spaces. In Gupta and Fergason’s illustration, he utilized the concept of these discontinuous spaces to portray the collection of countries, but view it as collection of spaces. These spaces are further divided and categorized into different people, different places and diverse societal characteristics (7). Gupta and Fergason considers the fact that every country possesses its own tradition even with existence of assimilation or acculturation. In Gupta and Fergason’s anthropological perspective, civilizations of geographical entities are the main marks that diversify the culturalism of the so-called “division of space”. Ethnographical maps are the illustration utilized by Gupta and Fergason in order to demonstrate the multicultural nations and their cultural characteristics, such as Indian culture of India, Chinese culture of China, American culture of United States, etc. Such conditions and principles give rise to the concept of cultural isomorphism. In accordance to Gupta and Fergason’s perspective, there are certain problems that have been identified, especially in terms of the geographical basis of cultural identification. The first issue is the consideration of border inhabitants or those living in the geographical edges of these spaces. The confusion on cultural identity lies problematic, since “object-like phenomena occupying discrete spaces become implausible for those who inhabit the borderlands (7).” Gupta and Fergason utilizes the Khmer culture as an example to illustrate the situations of cross-culturalism. The second argument occurs with the conditions of cultural mapping of extremely multi-faceted cultural denomination on a specific area. For example, the broad American culture may still be further subdivided to vast number of subcultures; hence, placing the description as inappropriate or invalid. Lastly, the considerations of postcolonial cultural combinations wherein different cultural might have influenced the specific classical or traditional culture, which should be considered as a hybrid culture. Gupta and Fergason argues that colonialism gives birth to a “new culture” due to the hybridization of different practices, beliefs, etc (7- 8). In the perspective of Gupta and Fergason, a certain unity of place and people having the commonalities and less cultural differentiations should be assumed anthropologically as a conceptual definition of culture.

The Argumentation and Analysis

            Within the three readings, the definition of culture possesses variations and considerable similarities and differentiations in terms of culture in anthropological view. Bashkow argues that culture is a permeable and porous under pluralized definitions (e.g. society, people, culture, tribes, etc.) and is influenced by the tensions of the local cultural traits with the foreign practices. As per Bashkow, culture is formed not by hierarchical contributions, but rather, by influences of the cultural environment present within the society. On the other hand, Abu-Lughod recognizes the diversification of every cultural denomination. For example, a culture of feminism as a broad aspect of women may consider the broad view of women’s culture, but since every woman in the world is different, this may again be subdivided into various cultural diversities of feminism. Abu-Lughod emphasizes the need definition of culture anthropologically as a means of similar beliefs and practices but do not entirely depend on the physical features of the individuals being mixed into the culture. Lastly, Gupta and Fergason argue that culture is hierarchal in terms of ethnographical mapping, which somehow contradicts the idea of Bashkow. The consideration of territorial facets and existing civilization is vital for identifying the category of culture. However, such idea has also been confronted by various criticisms. The problems of Gupta and Fergason’s condition coincide in border settling individuals, multi-faceted cultural denominations – agreeing with Abu-Lughod’s proposals, and the idea of culture formed by colonialism.


            In conclusion of the study, culture in anthropological perspective based on the three readings is evidently diverse in nature, multi-faceted, subdivided into different denominations and continuously evolved by the existing cultural environment that acts as its main influence. In anthropological view, the evolution and formation of culture, as supported by Bashokow, Abu-Lughod and Gupta and Fergason, is developed by the mixing of different culture; however, this usually branches out to form diverse and continuously changing and expanding cultural denomination. Culture is impose hierarchal dispositions, but can be easily modified by the incorporation of influencing cultural trend.


Bashkow, Ira. “A Neo-Boasian Conception of Cultural Boundaries.” American Anthropologist   106.3 (2004): 443–458.

Gupta, Akhil, and James Fergason. “Beyond Culture: Space, Identity and Policy of difference.” Journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology   7.1 (Feb. 1992): 7-21.

Abu-Lughod, , Lila. “Writing Against Culture.” Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present . Ed. Richard Fox.Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press. 1991. 137-162.


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