Richard G. Fox and Barbara J. King
Some years ago, when I published a book on the evolution of culture in
animals, I received a furious letter from an anthropologist telling me to
keep my dirty hands off their word.
—John Tyler Bonner, in a review of Frans de Waal’s
The Ape and the Sushi Master
Anthropologists have never had a single concept of culture upon which they agreed. Perplexity and even anguish over culture have been with us for a long time (British anthropologists, for instance, have always been skeptical of the culture concept). But our disquiet with the concept has increased greatly in recent years. We have become increasingly dissatisfied with the traditional definition of culture within anthropology, by which culture is a highly patterned and consistent set of representations (or beliefs) that constitute a people’s perception of reality and that get reproduced relatively intact across generations through enculturation. The homogeneity and continuity that this traditional definition assumes, along with its failure to address social inequality and individual agency, distress many anthropologists (Brumann  reviews the arguments, but also see Abu-Lughod 1991; Bourdieu 1977; Fox 1985, 1995; Kuper 1999; Ortner 1984; Trouillot 1991).
Discontent with the traditional definition of culture, most apparent in cultural anthropology, makes for other worries. Primatologists, for example, have become disturbed by what appears to be a “glass ceiling” hanging over their use of the culture concept. As primatologists become more convinced that culture defined as learned traditions exists among nonhuman primates, they find cultural anthropologists modifying the concept or retreating entirely from its use. As a result, primatologists