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    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    Unit Twelve

    Text I: The Science of Custom

I. Learning objectives

    1. Learn to use definition in exposition (e.g. anthropology, custom, culture etc). 2. Know something about anthropology, especially cultural determinism and cultural

    relativism in anthropological studies.

II. Warm-up questions

    1. In Para. 1 the author starts exposition by mentioning some false ideas that people

    have about custom. What do people usually think about custom?

    2. What is the transitional expression to introduce the authors own concept on


    3. What expository means that the author uses to explain what he thinks the meaning

    of custom?

    4. After a definition of custom, the author adds, Yet that is a rather trivial aspect

    of the matter.What does that refer to?

    5. How would you comment on the function of the last sentence of the final

    paragraph? Examine the statement and decide how many aspects that we expect

    the author would elaborate?

    6. What is the difference between customs and language?

    7. Sum up the main ides of this paragraph. How is this paragraph related to the thesis


    8. The author quotes John Dewey, a famous educator and philosopher, to explain the

    predominant influences customs exert on a person. Find the analogy and explain it.

    Does the general language pattern affect personal speech habits or the other way


    9. Sum up the role of customs discussed in Para. 2.

    10. How does the author explain the individual behavior it shaped by customs? 11. The author says in the topic sentence that we have to accept certain ―preliminary

    propositions. What are ―preliminary propositions in authors mind?

    12. What criticism is implored in Para. 3?

    13. What is the normal method when we make research in natural science? In what

    way does natural science differ from social science? How has the study of man

    different from the study of less controversial subjects?

    14. How would you define anthropology?

    15. What criterion must be the anthropologist accepts before he can undertake the

    study of man objectively? How to make a study on custom?

III. Relevant information

    1. Author: Ruth Benedict (1887-1948)


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    2. A discussion of the notion of culture

    The concept of culture has long been a hotly contested issue. Duranti (1997: 23-50) in her 1997 work Anthropological Linguistics makes a review of six

    theories of culture in which language plays a particularly important role. The first view of culture is that of something learned, transmitted, passed down from one generation to the next, through the human actions, either in face-to-face interaction or through linguistic communication. This view of culture as learned is often understood in opposition to the view of human behavior as a product from nature, hence the nature/nurture dichotomy. The second view is to interpret culture in terms of knowledge of the world. This does not only mean that members of a culture must know certain facts or be able to recognize objects, places, and people. It also means that they must share certain patterns of thought, ways of understanding the world, making inferences and predictions. The third view is the semiotic theory of culture that takes culture as communication, i.e., as a system of signs. In its most basic version, this view holds that culture is a representation of the world, a way of making sense of reality by objectifying it in stories, myths, descriptions, theories, proverbs, artistic products and performances. The fourth theory sees culture as a system of mediation. The common use of a language is believed to take place at the same level as the common use of all of the objects which surround us in the society in which we were born and in which we live. In this view, culture includes material objects such as the umbrella and ideational objects such as belief systems and linguistic codes. Both material and ideational structures are instruments through which humans mediate their relationship with the world. The fifth theory views culture as a system of practices. It emphasizes the fact that the human actor can culturally exist and function only as a participant in a series of habitual activities that are both presupposed and reproduced by his individual actions. Related to culture as a system of practices is the sixth theory, the idea of culture as a system of participation. It is based on the assumption that any action in the world, including verbal communication, has an inherently social, collective, and participatory quality. This notion of culture is particularly useful for looking at how language is used in the real world because to speak a language means to be able to participate in interactions with a world that is always larger than we as individual speakers, and even larger than what we can see and touch in any given situation. From these different theories of culture we can see that culture is a highly complex notion and a much contested ground. What is of particular relevance to our discussion of language and culture is that the concept of language is either explicitly or implicitly embedded in each of these theories of culture. However, the argument of this dissertation does not depend on affirming any one theory of culture presented here, but needs only to recognize that, whichever cultural theory we adopt, ―language always play an important part‖ (ibid.: 49).

     ----Rewritten by Chen Yan

    3. Culture relativism


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    Cultural relativism in anthropology is a key methodological concept which is universally accepted within the discipline. This concept is based on theoretical considerations which are key to the understanding of "scientific" anthropology as they are key to the understanding of the anthropological frame of mind. Cultural relativism is an anthropological approach which posit that all cultures are of equal value and need to be studied from a neutral point of view. The study of a and/or any culture has to be done with a cold and neutral eye so that a particular culture can be understood at its own merits and not another culture?s. Historically, cultural relativism has had a twin theoretical approach, historical particularism. This is the notion that the proper way to study culture is to study one culture in depth. The implications of cultural relativism and historical particularism have been significant to anthropology and to the social sciences in general.

    The roots of cultural relativism go to the rejection of the comparative school of the nineteenth century on the basis of exact and specific ethnological information. This information rejected the comparative school?s methodology and as a result its evolutionary conclusions. Furthermore, as the basis of cultural relativism is a scientific view of culture, it also rejects value judgments on cultures. There is, in this view, no single scale of values which holds true for all cultures and by which all culture can be judged. Beliefs, aesthetics, morals and other cultural items can only be judged through their relevance to a given culture. For example, good and bad in are culture specific and can not be imposed in cultural analysis. The reason for this view is, of course, that what is good in one culture may not be bad in an other. This indicates that every culture determines its own ethical judgments to regulate the proper behavior of its members. A result of this view is that it assumes that most individuals would prefer to live in the culture in which they have been enculturated. It must be added to the discussion above that the cultural in cultural relativism and historical particularism is about specific cultures and not about a more abstract, singular and general concept of culture.

    The reasoning behind all this comes from two distinct sources, one of them is the reaction to the inaccuracies of the evolutionary schemes of the comparative school, the other the desire to study culture from an objective value perspective. To be a scientific concept culture has to be studied as an object without evaluative consideration. When we are not able to do that we no longer have a science of culture. Some anthropologist associated with this point of view are France Boas and, his students, Alfred Kroeber, Robert Lowie, Melville Herskovits, Ruth Benedict, Paul Radin, Margaret Mead, Ruth Bunzel and many others. Franz Boas is the key theoretician in this group.

    Boas published his views on the comparative method in 1896. The article, "The Limitations of the Comparative Method of Anthropology," was the first exposition of cultural relativism. According to the tenets of cultural relativism, there are no inferior or superior cultures; all cultures are equal. To order cultures in an evolutionary scheme is unfeasible. All premises of good and bad and/or upper and lower are


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    culture bound and ethnocentric. Put that way, we can see that schemes of evolution are ethnocentric not objective.

    Here are four major limitations to the comparative method according to Boas: 1. It is impossible to account for similarity in all the types of culture by claiming that they are so because of the unity of the human mind. 2. The existence like traits in different cultures is not as important as the comparative school claims. 3. Similar traits may have developed for very different purposed in differing cultures. 4. The view that cultural differences are of minor importance is baseless. The differences between cultures are of major anthropological significance. Boas did not stop his critique of the comparative school at that point he also delineated a methodology to replace it. His new method emphasized the following: 1. Culture traits have to be studied in detail and within the cultural whole. 2. The distribution of a culture trait within neighboring cultures should also be looked at. This suggest that a culture needs to be analyzed within its full context.

    Boas thought that this approach would help the anthropologist (1) to understand the environmental factors that shape a culture, (2) to explain the psychological factors that frame the culture, and (3) to explain the history of a local custom. Boas was trying to establish the inductive method in anthropology and abandon the comparative method. Boas emphasized that the primary goal of anthropology was to study individual societies and that generalizations could come only on the basis of accumulated data. His importance within the discipline is that anthropology should be objective and inductive science. In an age when the scientific method was important, this change in the discipline resulted in the establishment of anthropology in universities. Boas? students were among the first to establish some of the most important anthropology programs on American campuses.

    A point which must be added to the above discussion is that Boas attacked racism throughout his career; he summarizes his views on racism in The Mind of

    Primitive Man (1911). According to Boas the sweep of cultures, to be found in association with any sub species, is so extensive that there can be no relationship between race and culture.

    Following Boas and his emphasis on studying as many societies as possible, Alfred Kroeber, the best known anthropologists of the period produced a good deal of ethnography. In his "Eighteen Professions" (1915), which is a credo, Kroeber affirms some of the basic tenets of cultural relativism: (1) all men are completely civilized, and (2) there are no higher and lower cultures. Much later in his career, Kroeber makes three additional points on cultural relativism, 1)that science should begin with questions and not with answers, 2)that science is a "dispassionate" endeavor which should not accept any ideology, and 3)that sweeping generalizations are not compatible with science. Another major cultural relativist of the period is Robert Lowie whose work is most significant among for cultural relativism.


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    Lowie probably came closer to Boas' views on the proper practice of anthropology than any other anthropologist of his time. He was deeply rooted in the philosophy of science and accepted cultural anthropology as a science. His views and criticism of theoreticians such as Morgan, are based on this scientific world view. His critique of Morgan's evolutionary theory is based on epistemology. Namely, that Morgan's evolutionary scheme of kinship had no proof. Furthermore, Morgan?s data was often erroneous. One of the most important practitioners of cultural relativism was Ruth Benedict.

    For Benedict cultural anthropology is the discipline that studies the differences between cultures. This approach is fully Boasian in character. In this approach the plural "s" that was added to "culture" by Boas and others, becomes crucial. The interest has now shifted from culture to cultures. The focus has shifted to a particular culture and what happens to the individual in that culture. Furthermore, a culture is integrated, and it is more than the sum of its parts. Every culture is different from other culture. Benedict takes the Boasian program a step ahead. She does this through the concept of cultural configurations or patterns. Although her use of this approached is extremely reductionistic it represents a new direction in cultural relativism by transcending the data collection of historical particularism and attempting to organize the data in an explanatory manner.

    The attempt to understand cultures at their own terms and the attempt to an objective ethnography are the major accomplishments of cultural relativism. These have sometimes led to a lack of theoretical depth and an undervaluation of the ethnographer?s own culture. However, the battle against ethnocentrism and the objective view of cultures remain permanent contributions of cultural relativism.

     ----Written by Mark Glazer

    Mark Glazer

    McAllen, Texas

    December 16, 1994

    IV. Organization of the text

Section 1 (Para. 1-2): Introducing anthropology

    Para. 1:Definition of anthropology: Anthropology is the study of human

    beings as creatures of society.

    Para. 2: The distinguishing mark of anthropology among the social sciences is

    that is includes for serious study other societies than our own

    Section 2 (Para. 3-5): Importance of studying custom and the proper approach to its study

     Para.3: Custom plays a predominant role in our experience and our belief, and it

    manifests itself in a great variety of ways.

    Para. 4: The role of custom in shaping the behavior of the individual: No man

    ever looks at the world with pristine eyes.


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


     Para. 5: Preliminary propositions to be accepted before the study of custom can

    be profitable: any scientific study requires that there be no preferential

    weighting of one or another of the items in the series it selects for its


    Section 3 (para. 6): Emphasis on the need to avoid biased approach in culture studies.

V. Language points

    1. unique: adj. being the only one of its kind; without an equal or equivalent;

    unparalleled; unusual; extraordinary;

    e.g. the unique existing example of Donne's handwriting

    That building is unique because all the others like it were destroyed. 2. aberrant: adj. deviating from the proper or expected course; changed from what

    is normal or expected; unusual;

     e.g. a rocket on an aberrant course

    aberrant behavior under the influence of drugs;

    aberration: n. [u] (lit) a deviation from the proper or expected course;

    (fig) stray away from the right path; from what is normal;

     e.g. stealing chocolate in a moment of aberration

    3. gamut: n. 1) a complete range or extent;

    2) (music) the entire series of recognized notes;

     e.g. a face that expressed a gamut of emotions, from rage to peaceful


    the compete gamut of the spectrum

    4. pristine: adj. 1) remaining in a pure state; uncorrupted by civilization; primitive;

    of early times;

    2) remaining free from dirt or decay; clean

    e.g. Who would go back to the pristine simplicity of Anglo-Saxon days?

    pristine mountain snow

    5. pure: adj. free of dirt, defilement, or pollution clean; containing nothing

    inappropriate or extraneous;

    e.g. When the snow began to melt, it lost its pure whiteness. 6. edit: v. to modify or adapt so as to make suitable or acceptable; to alter to bring

    about conformity;

    7. institutions: n. 1) a custom, practice, relationship, or behavioral pattern of

    importance in the life of a community or society; long-established laws, customs

    or practice;

     e.g. Giving presents on Christmas is an institution.

    2) [u] the act of instituting or being instituted;

    e.g. the institution of customs

    3) an established organization or foundation, especially one dedicated to

    education, public service, or culture the building or buildings housing such an

    organization buildings or organization;


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    e.g. academic institution

    8. probe: 1) n. the act of exploring or searching; an investigation into unfamiliar

    matters or questionable activities; a penetrating inquiry;

    e.g. a congressional probe into price fixing

    2) v. to conduct an exploratory investigation; search; to delve into; (journalistic

    use) investigate or examine thoroughly (somebodys thought, the cause of


    e.g. probe a matter to the bottom

    9. as: 1) followed by a predicative;

    e.g. as in contrast with

    2) introducing adverbial clauses of manner, i.e. in the way in which;

    e.g. Do it as I do it. Leave it as it is.

    10. vernacular: 1) n. language or dialect of a country or district;

     e.g. the vernaculars of the U.S.A

    2) adj. (of a word or language) of the country in question

    e.g. a vernacular poet

    11. no more than: only; exactly; just;

     e.g. It is no more than a beginning.

    12. thousandth: adj., n. 1) the ordinal number matching the number 1,000 in a series;

    2) one of 1,000 equal parts

    thousandfold adj., adv. a thousand times;

    13. over against: 1) opposite to; in contrast with;

     2) be compared to;

    e.g. the quality of this product over against that one

    14. accommodate: v. 1) to provide for; supply with;.

    2) to adapt; to make suitable; to get into agreement;

    e.g. accommodate (sb.)for the night

    We must accommodate ourselves to circumstances.

     I will accommodate my plans to yours.

    15. incumbent: adj. 1) imposed as an obligation or a duty; obligatory;

     e.g. It is incumbent upon you to warn the boy of the danger of excessive


    2) currently holding a specified office esp. the stated office;

     e.g. the incumbent president

    16. cactus: n. (pl. cactuses, cacti) a kind of plant; any of various succulent, spiny,

    usually leafless plants native mostly to arid regions of the New World, having

    variously colored, often showy flowers with numerous stamens and petals; 17. nebula: n. (astronomy) a group of very distant stars;

    18. termite: n. (also called: white ant) an insect; any of numerous pale-colored,

    usually soft-bodied social insects of the order Isoptera that live mostly in warm

    regions and many species of which feed on wood, often destroying trees and

    wooden structures;

    19. pagan: n., adj. one who is not a Christian, Moslem, or Jew; a heathen; one who

    has no religion.


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    20. barbarian: n. aboriginal; uncivilized; uncultured;

VI. Difficult sentences (paraphrase)

    1. “something of any great moment”: something of any great significance /


     e.g. a matter of moment;

    something of great (little, no) moment

    2. We have a way of thinking: we tend to think that

VII. Classroom discussion

    1. Discuss the difference in customs between Western countries and China. 2. Give examples to show how culture in which we have been brought up conditions

    the way we think and what we like or dislike.

    3. Why are cultural studies as important as researches of natural science?

VIII. Assignment

    Get an introductory book on anthropology or cultural anthropology and leaf through it to get a rough idea of what it is about.

    Text II Customs

    Clyde Kluckhohn

    I. Learning objectives

    1. Learn to develop a cultural awareness in cross-cultural communication . 2. Learn more about the expository means of illustration with examples

II. Pre-reading questions

    1. Can you give a definition of culture? How does the author define culture? 2. Can you list some cultural differences between China and the West? 3. How can we raise cultural awareness?

III. Organization and development of the text

    Section 1: Defining culture and emphasizing the significance of cultural studies

    Para. 1

    The paragraph starts with several rhetorical questions to sparkle the readers

    interest in knowing why people in different countries behave so differently.

    Thus bringing in the concept of culture, i.e. the total life way of a people,

    the social legacy the individual acquires from his group.

    Para. 2

    Distinguishing the meaning of ―culture‖ in anthropology with that in history


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    and literature.

    ; c.f. The word culture as in a man of culture or the cultured person ,

    meaning civilized, learned, and well-cultivated.

    ; to be human is to be cultured (anthropologist): Man is inevitably

    influenced by the established institutions of the society. What people do can

    not be explained only in terms of the biological properties (i.e. physical

    characteristics). They are affected by the culture.

    Para 3:

    Emphasizing that cultural studies are as important as research in natural


    Section II: Illustrating how man is culturally rather than biologically determined.(Culture conditions the way we think, our likes/dislikes, and our moral values)

     Para 4

     Example 1: American woman and Koryak womans different attitude

    towards marriage (monogamy vs. polygamy) -- to show how our moral

    judgment is shaped by culture

     Para 5

    Example 2: An American young man brought in China ill at ease in America

    -- to show the cultural training is stronger than biological heritage.

    Para 6:

    Example 3: The fancy of the traders wife in treating her guests with snake

    flesh to show that cultural reaction constrains physical reaction.

     Para 78

    Example 4: Communication failure of a Chicago teacher in Indian schoolto show how

    failure in cultural understanding (in the case the cultural incest taboo) will result in

    communication breakdown.

Section III: Conclusion

IV. Language points

    1. be destined to: be planned and will definitely happen

    e.g. We believe we are destined to bring a new principle into history.

    Cf. be destined for (a place): =be bound to

    e.g. a flight load of passengers destined for New York

    2. legacy: (a) money or property which one receives after someone has died; (b) The

    legacy of a person, event, or period of history is the situation or attitudes that they

    leave behind them, and the influence that they have on the future. e.g. the


    A New English Course (5): Lecture Notes

    Unit 12: The Science of Custom


    legacy of Colonialism

    3. clique: a small group of people who often spend their time only with other

    members of the group and seem unfriendly towards other people; used showing


    e.g. They had had made a small, superior, isolated clique.

     Theres always a little clique of older members who are jealous of the young. 4. constitute: If something constitutes something else, it is a particular part or

    fraction of that thing.

    e.g. Conifers constitute a third of the worlds forests.

    5. incarcerate: (fml.) imprison

    e.g. She was to be incarcerated in a cell by herself.

    6. abhorrent: completely unacceptable (=detestable)

    e.g. a ruthless and utterly abhorrent system

    7. bewilder: baffle, mystify

    e.g. A confession of this nature would bewilder and perhaps anger some of my

    India friends.

    8. reminiscent: a rather formal or literary word

    (a) If someone or something is reminiscent of another person or thing, they

    remind you of that other person or thing.

    e.g. The atmosphere was reminiscent of spy movies.

     There was a sweetish smell, vaguely reminiscent of coffee.

    (b) If someone is reminiscent, they are talking or thinking about people or events

    from their past.

    e.g. In her reminiscent moods she used to tell us about her childhood. 9. fill (n.): If you have your fill of something, you eat, drink, laugh, watch, etc as

    much or for as long as you want or need.

    e.g. They could eat their fill of honey.

     When she had laughed her fill, she told him he was too late. 10. be in a huff: Someone who is in a huff is bad-tempered because they are annoyed

    or offended about something

    e.g. The people all left in a huff.

    11. the incest taboo: strong social custom forbidding sexual relationship between

    close relatives in a family

    12. crystallize: (e.g.. an opinion or idea) fix, clarify, settle

    e.g. This involvement has helped me to crystallize my criticisms of the womens


     a role in producing and crystallizing attitudes to leadership

     This was how my thoughts began to crystallize.

    VII. Classroom discussion

    4. Discuss the difference in customs between Western countries and China. 5. Give examples to show how culture in which we have been brought up conditions

    the way we think and what we like or dislike.

    6. Why are cultural studies as important as researches in natural sciences?


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