Culture, the concept with which anthropology has been intimately identified for over a century, has suddenly jumped to prominence far and wide. Within academia, cultural studies are everywhere. In political science, a reductive analysis of the global political future in terms of culture blocks, or “civilizations, ” has become influential in international affairs (Huntington 1996). Even among the general public, “suddenly people seem to agree with us anthropologists; culture is everywhere. Immigrants have it, business corporations have it, young people have it, women have it, even ordinary middle-aged men have it, all in their own versions” (Hannerz 1996:30).
Traditionally, anthropology has used culture in both a general and a specific sense. In the general sense, it refers to the belief-and-behavior complex that humans learn and practice as members of the species. This is the meaning deployed in statements such as: “culture is humanity's extrasomatic means of adapting to the external environment, ” and “people's perceptions and management of their environment are mediated by their culture.” In the specific sense, culture refers to particular belief-and-behavior complexes exhibited by particular populations, as in references to “the peoples and cultures of the Pacific, ” and “the cultures included in the Human Relations Area Files.”
Ironically, as anthropology's invention has achieved renown beyond the discipline, it has come under increasing attack from within. There is talk that the concept should be abandoned, or that anthropologists should “write against culture”(for a review, see Brumann 1999). In part, these