Six Concepts in Different Cultures
The world is full of different cultures. Every country and continent on earth has several different cultures with several different belief systems and values, and anthropology studies all these cultures throughout time. Aspects of anthropology like enculturation and ethnography I found particularly interesting because of possible impact they have. The process of enculturation is defined as the process by which a society’s culture is passed from one generation to the next. It is interesting that the lives and practices of grandchildren and great grandchildren are impacted so heavily by their grandparents and great grandparents. Ethnography is defined as the process where by an anthropologist goes to live among a different culture to study and record the practices of that culture. The amazing thing about ethnography is that the anthropologist has to live with and totally assimilate themselves to a new culture for an extended amount of time.
I found six concepts that were used in class presentations. Each of them is different in meaning, but are often found in the same culture. Rites of passage, acculturation, dowry, ranked society, adaptation, cultural relativism, and enculturation are the concepts that stuck out most to me. Cultural relativism is the thesis that one must suspend judgement on other people’s practices in order to understand them in their own cultural terms. Through listening to all of the class presentations, I learned that the United States is rich in diversity. I learned that culture is everywhere.
The first concept I chose is rites of passage. This concept was used in the marriage presentation. Rites of passage is defined as “rituals, often religious in nature, marking important stages in the lives of individuals, such as birth, marriage, and death” (Haviland, 490). The marriage group presented rites of passage in three forms, leave parent’s home, establish home, and establish a family. These three passages are main stays in American culture. When a person is married, the first thing that happens is that they move out of their parent’s house and move in with their spouse and establish a home of their own. The third passage is to establish a family with their new spouse.
The second concept is acculturation which is defined as “major culture changes that people are forced to make as consequence of intensive, firsthand contact between societies” (Haviland, 487). The concept of acculturation was most evident in the presentation made by the tourism group. I learned that when an American travels to another country they must abide by that country’s laws, adapt to their language, and the do’s and don’ts of life in that country.
I chose Dowry as the third concept of anthropology I learned about from listening to the Hindu Marriages group presentation. Dowry is defined as “payment of a woman’s inheritance at the time of her marriage, either to her or her husband” (Haviland, 488). I found it interesting that in the Hindu culture the brides family presents gifts to the grooms family as a symbol of thanks for allowing their son to marry the bride. This tradition is similar to the American tradition of the bride’s parents paying for the wedding.
After observing the presentation on pets I found the concept of Hierarchy to be the one concept that stuck out the most. Hierarchy is defined as “ an authoritative body or group of things or persons arranged in successive order; a ranked series of persons or things” (Webster’s dictionary, 170). I chose this concept after hearing one of the presenters talk about the way her three pets have formed a hierarchy amongst themselves. She talked about having a cat and two dogs. She said that the larger of the two dogs took on the role of alpha dog, which formed a hierarchy between the three pets.
The fifth concept I learned about was cultural relativism. I learned about this concept of anthropology from the music group. Cultural relativism is defined as “the thesis that one must suspend judgement on other people’s practices in order to understand them in their own cultural terms” (Haviland, 488). The music industry has several different genres ranging from country to bumping club music. The concept of cultural relativism is experienced by most Americans due to the fact that we enjoy several different types of music on a daily basis.
The sixth and final concept of anthropology I selected is enculturation. Enculturation is defined as “the process by which a society’s culture is passed from one generation to the next, and through which individuals become members of their society” (Haviland, 488). I chose this concept because it has had the most impact on me. The baseball group presented this concept by showing that the love of baseball has been passed down from generation to generation within American families. I learned how to play baseball from my father, and I will teach my children how the game is played.
Understanding others is a social skill that American society has developed since the civil rights era. Although, there is still racism and hatred in American society, we have gained knowledge through cultural relativism of how to accept other people for who they are. Through listening to the class presentations I have gained knowledge and understanding of other culture’s practices. The six groups that I thought practiced cultural relativism the most were the marriage, tourism, Hindu marriage, body art, music, and abortion groups.
The marriage group practiced cultural relativism by describing the traditional western marriage. In American society there are several different cultures that are intermarried. In order to have a successful intermarriage, the bride and groom must be fully accepting of each other’s culture. Take for example a marriage between an African American and an Anglo American. Both parties must be able to accept the culture that they bring into the household in order to truly assimilate themselves to each other. The Hindu marriage group described cultural relativism in a similar way. As with any marriage, the ability of the two families to accept each other is important, but with Hindu marriages sometimes they are arranged by the families. This form of marriage is interesting because the parents are in control of who their child marries, and then it up to the children to accept each other only after they are married.
The tourism group talked about international tourism. When I went to Mexico I had to follow the laws and language of that country. I recall one time when in a restaurant I tried to order some food and the waiter could not understand me, and I had to point to the menu. The way the group described cultural relativism was by sharing their own personal experiences about traveling to other countries and wanting to learn about the cultural practices of that country.
The body art group gave the best example of cultural relativism. The idea of “normal” is widely advertised on t.v. and print ads. Sharply dressed men and thin unblemished women are classified as the norm in our society. Rarely do you see a person with multiple piercings and body covering tattoos on billboards and commercials. I do not have any piercings or tattoos, but I now know that people who do have these use them as a form of self-expression. I am a believer in self-expression, but I choose to express myself in different ways. After listening to them talk about what they know, I have developed a larger tolerance for this type of art.
There are several radio stations in our city that play several different types of music on a daily basis. The music group gave the audience a few different types of music, which served as an example of cultural relativism. I think that music represents culture in that the musician tells a story about their experiences. After to listening to a rap song, I may be able to form an image of what it is like to live his life. I liked that there was a good mix of cultures within the group, which shows that they were able to put aside their own prejudices to present their topic.
The abortion debate has been a major source of debate since the early 70’s. The group that made a presentation on the abortion debate practiced cultural relativism by presenting arguments from both the pro-choice and the pro-life side of the issue. I recognized that each side was able to put aside their differences and listen to each other without incident. The group was probably made up of people who sided on both sides of the issue. I have a lot of respect for the people in that group because the abortion issue is a tough issue to talk about.
One thing I have noticed about the University of Houston in the three years I have been here is the cultural diversity that it has, and my anthropology class is no different. When the group presentation project was first talked about I thought there would be several people presenting about the same topic. I never would have imagined how many different topics were covered. The body art group showed me that all types of people have tattoos and piercings. As an Anglo-American I have never learned about arranged marriages. I find the practice to be strange, but I was eager to learn about it. I found it interesting that the children allow their parents to pick their spouse for the rest of their lives. The abortion debate group gave me information about the types of possible procedures available when a woman gets an abortion. I never realized that there so many different types of abortion procedures. I have never been a pet owner, and I don’t think I ever will, so it was in!
teresting to listen to what the pet group had to say. I found it particularly interesting that when there are more than two pets in a home a hierarchy is formed. I have always thought that the pets just live there and really don’t pay any attention to each other. The tourism group told me about the process of reciprocity. I have only been out of the United States once and I never encountered any person that wanted anything other than money for goods or services. I guess when I went to Mexico I missed all that type of interaction. I would have liked to see what I could get, that would have been interesting. The Hindu marriage group was interesting because they talked about the practice of dowry. As a male, I like the fact in the Hindu culture the bride’s family presents gifts to the groom’s family before the wedding.
In conclusion, the presentations have given me great insight to the multitude of cultures that the University of Houston enjoys. As an Anglo- American from suburban Houston, I have not been exposed to a great many of different cultures. I have learned to appreciate how cultures other than mine practice religion, familial relations, and political processes. Cultural anthropology as a class has taught me several things about culture and how it is recorded. The one thing I especially found interesting was the concept of ethnography. Moving into a totally different culture has to be difficult for both sides. I liked the article I read about the anthropologist who lived amongst prostitutes in New York and Atlanta. I wonder how the anthropologist was able to psychologically handle all the heart ache and abuse she witnessed. Anthropology is a very interesting field and I am looking forward to learning more about it.
Haviland, William A. (1999). Cultural Anthropology: Third edition, University of Vermont. Harcourt College Publishers, 487-493.