Culture Acquisition: A Holistic Approach to Human Learning

Culture Acquisition: A Holistic Approach to Human Learning

Culture Acquisition: A Holistic Approach to Human Learning

Culture Acquisition: A Holistic Approach to Human Learning


Challenging traditional orientations to the study of education and culture acquisition, the authors of this controversial work present a holistic, process-oriented method for examining culture transmission. Their work defines the biological parameters of culture learning, reviews previous research on cultural transmission, conceptualizes, operationalizes, and tests a holistic, context-specific approach to learning culture and then illustrates its use. Advanced students and scholars of anthropology, as well as qualitative educational researchers, will find this to be invaluable.


Humans are closely related to the wild primates, sharing millions of years of evolutionary history. in this chapter we offer an approach to human learning which is based on primate biological and behavioral research. Primatologists such as Rozin and Kalat support this approach:

Given the constraints on adaptation produced by basic properties of the nervous system, the cost of evolving specializations, and the fact that most species face a common set of problems, we doubt that a separate learning mechanism would exist for every situation, or that there would be separate laws for each species. (Rozin and Kalat, quoted in Johnston 1981: 129)

Anthropologists of education often begin their formulation of theories of learning with a study of primates. We are not the first, therefore, to suggest that anthropologists examine primate research and use it to raise issues about human learning (Burton-Jones 1972; Herzog 1974; Kimball 1982; Poirier and Hussey 1982; Reynolds 1976; Washburn 1973; Wolcott 1982). Since our aim in this book is to move toward a scientifically based theory of cultural learning, our perspective on primate research is very broad. We consider all the major strands

This chapter is adapted from Marion Lundy Dobbert and Betty Cooke, The Biological Foundations of Education: a Primate-Based Approach, Educational Foundations Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring 1987), pp. 67-86, and Marion Lundy Dobbert and Betty Cooke, Primate Biology and Behavior: a Stimulus to Educational Thought and Policy, inG. Spindler (ed.), Education and Cultural Process: Anthropological Approaches, Second Edition, Waveland Press, 1987. Used with permission. Marion Lundy Dobbert and Betty Cooke were the primary authors of this chapter.

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