Language as a Model for Culture:
Lessons from the Cognitive
In the anthropological soul-searching of the past couple of decades, a core worry has been over the dismemberment (or “deconstruction”) of the traditional anthropological concept of culture (see, for example, Sperber 1996; Kuper 1999; compare Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952). Still, anthropologists for the most part agree that culture (whatever it is) plays a key role in the development (both phylogenetic and ontogenetic) of humans. While anthropologists have been distracted by their culture wars, the wider scientific community has not been idle: the culture concept has been put to use to argue the opposite of the anthropological claim for the dominant role of culture in the development of human beings. Culture is being usurped by cognitive science.
Although anthropology was originally taken to be a contributing member of the cognitive sciences (Gardiner 1989), few sociocultural anthropologists have paid much attention to developments in those fields. Therefore, I have construed my task here as one of characterizing the perspectives toward culture that arise in the cognitive sciences, particularly those that take language, the quintessential cultural phenomenon, as their object of study. To do justice to this assignment would require a serious undertaking in the history of ideas, quite beyond what I can present here. But I will try to sketch the range of presuppositions about culture among this diverse set of theorists and explain why, for some views (including my own), the concept of culture cannot be done away with. Laying my cards on the table at the outset, I see two needs for a concept of culture: we need it in order to talk about
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Publication information: Book title: Anthropology beyond Culture. Contributors: Richard G. Fox - Editor, Barbara J. King - Editor. Publisher: Berg. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 169.
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