The Study of Culture

The Study of Culture

The Study of Culture

The Study of Culture

Excerpt

Anthropology is the scientific study of human beings—that is, of the human creature viewed in the abstract: male, female, all colors and shapes, prehistoric, ancient, and modern. Anthropology, then, most fundamentally viewed, is simply the attempt of human beings to study and hence to understand themselves at all times and all places.

Cultural anthropology, the subject of this book, is only one part of man's efforts to know himself—that part which deals with culture. Although the concept of culture was introduced into the English language only in the 1880s by Matthew Arnold and Edward B. Tylor, the study of cultural anthropology has existed for much longer than that.It has been suggested, for example, that the metaphysical foundation upon which the definition of culture depended can be found in John Locke An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), and the concept itself was first given clear expression in Europe in 1750 by Anne Robert Jacques Turgot:

Possessor of a treasure of signs which he has the faculty of multiplying to infinity, he [man] is able to assure the retention of his acquired ideas, to communicate them to other men, and to transmit them to his successors as a constantly expanding heritage. (Quoted in Harris 1968:14)

This definition does have a surprisingly contemporary character.

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