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Anthropological Perspective on Culture and Society

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2676 words Published: 30th Jun 2017

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The three branches of human sciences (Social sciences), Sociology, Anthropology and Psychology are interlinked in that they try to describe the different areas of human life and their relationships to each other. They offer an explanation on human behavior and in the society they live. Furthermore, these social sciences provide essential skills in analyzing the intentions and behavior of individuals and groups they encounter. Individual identity is forged by one’s culture, groups, and by institutional influences. Institutions such as families, schools and even churches greatly influence human beings yet these institutions are merely organizations whose aim is to develop the core social values of its constituents.

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In discussing cultural diversity on the perspectives of the three social sciences there is a need to understand the difference between culture and society. This is because the all the three disciplines explore culture and society to understand human behavior in depth. The term ‘Culture’ has many different meanings, for some it is the appreciation of art, literature, music and food, while for others like biologists; they take it as a colony of microorganisms growing in a nutrient medium in a laboratory. However for social scientists, culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns. Cultures are traditions and customs, transmitted through learning and adaptations. Children obtain such traditions by growing up in a certain society, through a process called ‘enculturation’. A culture results into a degree of uniformity in behavior and thought among the inhabitants of a particular society (Baugher et. al, 2000, p. 4). The terms ‘culture’ and ‘society’ are different as cultures are considered to be complexes of learned behavior patterns and perceptions while society is a group of interacting organisms. Therefore this paper will critically analyze cultural diversity based on the three social sciences, evaluating the social sciences similarities and differences.


Anthropological perspective of culture diversity

When it comes to understanding diversity in cultures, the anthropological view can help humanity understand and appreciate the complexity of diverse cultures. This discipline involves the study of biological and cultural origins of the humans. The subject matter of anthropology is wide-ranging, including, fossil remains, non human primate anatomy and behavior, artifacts from past cultures, past and present languages, and all the prehistoric and contemporary cultures of the world.

The subfield of cultural anthropology is the most commonly studied and useful in analyzing and interpreting the diverse cultures of the world. In recent years, recognition of the need for multicultural awareness, understanding, and skills has grown in our society. The aim is to achieve multicultural diversity competence, which is a term that refers to the ability to demonstrate respect and understanding, to communicate effectively, and to work with different cultural backgrounds (George & Fischer, 1999, p. 71). These diversities in culture encompass differences in gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, social class and physical appearance. Misunderstandings and conflicts in the society are two major consequences of lack of awareness in the ever increasing cultural diversity. Cultural anthropology explains cultural diversity through aspects of social life such as material culture, social organizations, politics, economics, symbolism, change and development, ethnicity and modern nation-state formation.

In explaining and interpreting the diverse cultures, anthropology uses ethnography- describing particular cultures; and ethnology- comparing two or more cultures. In addition it incorporates the holistic approach in cultural studies by studying biological and cultural aspects of human behavior; encompassing the broadest possible time frame by looking at contemporary, historic and prehistoric societies; examining human culture in every part of the world; and studies many different aspects of human culture (George & Fischer, 1999, p.68).

Cultural diversity is relevant to a cultural approach in learning, in that learning and motivational styles and cross cultural pedagogical strategies assume attention to diversity in learner populations and pluralistic learning outcomes. The data, concepts and insights derived from the study of other cultures helps us meet our professional goals and lead more satisfying lives in a multicultural society (Herdman & Macmillan, 2010, p. 23). Moreover, the process of studying anthropology is also valuable because of the skills and competencies that it helps to develop. Activities such as taking courses about different cultures, participating in local internships and international organizations, living in the university’s international dormitory, and participating in study abroad programs all combine to provide students with valuable skills in understanding diverse cultures hence achieve multicultural diverse competence.

There is a need to come up with a strategy to accept cultural diversity, for example, in the United states of America the freedom to pursue ones individual dream and fortunes in the united states has produced a widening gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. According to Herdman and Mcmillian, 2010, managing directors in United States of America made forty times as much compared to the average worker in 1973 and three hundred as much in 2004. At the same time, earnings of middle class were growing slightly and those of lower class were actually shrinking. This situation to a European means that the state is working against well being of the population, particularly in light of tax cuts during this period. Another instance is when expressing feelings of affection which is typical for all human. The manner in which the affection is expressed is cultural, the kiss is not universally accepted as a symbol of affection; some societies consider it suggestive of cannibalism.

A basic anthropological strategy for understanding other cultures is to look at a cultural feature from within its original context rather than looking at it from the perspective of one’s own culture; being inquisitive, non-judgmental, and open to new ways of thinking is vital in understanding other cultures; Balancing contradictory needs instead of trying to eliminate them; emphasize global team work; develop a cognitive complex which is made up of twin abilities of differentiating and integrating; and developing a personal acuity (Naylor, 1997, p. 157). The strategy will not only help you personally in understanding other cultures but assist you in integrating to any culture globally.

Sociological perspective on Cultural Diversity

Sociology is critical analysis of the society in which humans live. People who make sense of the social world-past, present and future- are referred to as sociologists (Anderson & Taylor, 2005, p. 8). Sociologists research on social structures such as class, family, politics, social problems like drug abuse and crime all of which influence the society. Social interaction amongst humans is the basic sociological concept, because all humans and groups that make up a society socialize. Specialists who focus on particular details of specific interactions as they occur daily are called micro sociologists and those that focus on larger patterns of interactions amongst larger sections of the society such as state and economy are called macro sociologists.

A society is rarely culturally uniform hence the result of different cultures. As societies develop and become more complex, different cultural traditions appear. The more complex the society, the more likely the culture will be internally varied and diverse. The causes of cultural changes in a society are cultural diffusion, innovation, and imposition of cultural change by outside world (Anderson & Taylor, 2005, p. 72).

Two concepts from sociology help in understanding complexity of culture in a given society, dominant culture and subcultures. Dominant culture is the culture of the most powerful group in the society. Although it is not the only culture in society, it is commonly referred to be the culture of a society, despite other cultures present. Subcultures on the other hand are cultures of groups whose values and norms of behavior differ from those of the dominant culture. Members of subcultures tend to interact frequently and share a common world view.

Sociology stipulates that culture consists of both material objects and abstract thoughts and behavior. Several elements which sociologists consider in understanding culture diversity are language, norms, beliefs and values (Kaufman, 2004, p. 7).

Language: Learning the language of a culture is essential to becoming part of a society. Language shapes culture as it provides the categories through which social reality is understood. This was proved by Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Worf in the 1950’s through their theory called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. The hypothesis states, “it is not that you perceive something first and then think of how to express it, but that language itself determines what you think and perceive” (Anderson & Taylor, 2005, p. 83). In understanding cultural diversity language is seen to reflect the assumptions of a culture. This is seen and exemplified by: language affecting people’s perception of reality; Language reflecting the social and political status of different groups in society; Groups advocating changing language referring to them as a way of asserting positive group identity; The implications of language emerging from specific historical and cultural contexts; language distorting actual group experience; language shaping people’s perceptions of groups and events in society.

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Norms: They are specific cultural expectations for how to behave in a given situation. Lack of norms in any society results in turmoil however, with established norms people would be able to act, behave and interact in a society properly. In the early years of sociology, William Graham Summer in 1906 identified two types of norms; folkways and mores. Folkways are general standards of behavior adhered to by a group, example wearing pants and not skirts for men. Mores are stricter mores which are seen to control moral and ethical behaviors such as injunctions, legal and religious.

Beliefs: They are shared ideas people hold collectively within a given culture, and these beliefs are also the basis of many cultural norms and values, example in USA there is a widespread belief in God. Sociology study belief in a variety of ways, and each theoretical mentation provides different insights into the significance of beliefs for human society.

Values: They are abstract standards in a society or group that defines the ideal principles of what is desirable and morally correct, for example in USA equality and freedom are important values which provide a general outline for behavior. Values provide values for behavior, but can also be sources of conflict like the political conflict over abortion.

Understanding the four elements of sociology enables proper integration in any society. Integration into the society is achieved by respecting the diverse cultures that are found in a society. Sociology studies culture in a variety of ways, asking numerous questions about the relationship of culture to other social institutions and the role of culture in modern life. The new cultural perspective on culture according to Naylor, 1997, is that it is ephemeral, unpredictable and constantly changing; is a material manifestation of consumer-oriented society; and is best understood by analyzing its artifacts- books, films, television images.

Psychological Perspective on Culture Diversity

Social psychology a subfield of psychology has its origins in the early years of the twentieth century. Its findings do not necessarily concern human thinking throughout history but rather meet the requirements of our modern society. Social psychology research aims to capture the interplay between social thinking and socio-historical dynamics in order to understand how societies function and how culture is produced (Xenia, 2004, p. 13). Psychology is distinguished from neighboring social sciences through its emphasis on studying samples of organisms within controlled settings rather than focusing upon larger groups, organizations or nations. Psychologists test the specific results of changes in a controlled environment on the individual in that environment, but there are strongly set procedures through which organisms are tested psychometrically.

There is a big debate in psychology and more generally in social sciences how to define culture. In some definitions the concept of culture includes behavior, in the sense that our behaviors are expressions of our culture. Other definitions emphasize that participating in a culture means having understanding of our world. However with trying to find a consensual definition of this concept, the main argument of researchers in psychology is to highlight how important it is to take into account the cultural context in which psychological studies were conducted (Kerr & Tindale, 2011). They were right to point out that humans are linked to the social context in which they live, proving that psychological functioning and human behavior are universal and culture specific.

Sharing a culture means that people have a common way of viewing their relationship with the social and physical environment; of communicating their thoughts and emotions; of prioritizing their activities; of dividing tasks and resources; of attributing values, honors, and power (Xenia, 2004, pp.17-18). When they do not share the above listed elements then culture diversity occurs from a psychological point of view. The people of diverse cultures are not like minded hence the question is, whether individuals from diverse cultures can coexist harmoniously in time space and under the same political and social organizations? The answer to this question provides the idea of how to cope with culture diversity.

Various cultures flourish from the recognition that they represent a set of beliefs, modes of thinking and practices that are peculiar to them and different from others. Some cultures are more inclusive example western cultures, others refer to a small group of people for instance the Basque culture, but each one of them is important for its members because they represent the way they construct their social reality, and provides them with action alternatives.


Culture Diversity has been discussed using the three social science disciplines of Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology. Even though all of them have a similarity of trying to understand culture diversity in humans, they are different in terms of how they approach the study. Anthropology looks at culture diversity at the perspective of humanity, his origin and through aspects of social life such as ethnicity, symbolism, politics, race and so on. Anthropology explains that the origin of culture diversity is through mankind hence the concentration a human perspective.

Sociology looks at the society which humans live so as to explain culture diversity. It states that elements such as language, beliefs, norms, and values are what bring about culture diversities. Psychology on the other hand analyses culture diversity with focus entirely on internal factors that influence individuals. Therefore the three social sciences provide an understanding of culture diversity and a basis of respecting other cultures.


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