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Unique And Important Patterns Of Culture Is A Signpost On The Road To A Freer And Tolerant Life New York TimesA Remarkable Introduction To Cultural Studies, Patterns Of Culture Is An Eloquent Declaration Of The Role Of Culture In Shaping Human Life In This Fascinating Work, The Renowned Anthropologist Ruth Benedict Compares Three Societies The Zuni Of The Southwestern United States, The Kwakiutl Of Western Canada, And The Dobuans Of Melanesia And Demonstrates The Diversity Of Behaviors In Them Benedict S Groundbreaking Study Shows That A Unique Configuration Of Traits Defines Each Human Culture And She Examines The Relationship Between Culture And The Individual Featuring Prefatory Remarks By Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, And Louise Lamphere, This Provocative Work Ultimately Explores What It Means To Be Human That Today The Modern World Is On Such Easy Terms With The Concept Of Culture Is In Very Great Part Due To This Book Margaret Mead Benedict S Patterns Of Culture Is A Foundational Text In Teaching Us The Value Of Diversity Her Hope For The Future Still Has Resonance In The Twenty First Century That Recognition Of Cultural Relativity Will Create An Appreciation For The Coexisting And Equally Valid Patterns Of Life Which Mankind Has Created For Itself From The Raw Materials Of Existence From The New Foreword By Louise Lamphere, Past President Of The American Anthrolopological AssociationRuth Benedict Was One Of The Most Eminent Anthropologists Of The Twentieth Century Her Profoundly Influential Books Patterns Of Culture And The Chrysanthemum And The Sword Patterns Of Japanese Culture Were Bestsellers When They Were First Published, And They Have Remained Indispensable Works For The Study Of Culture In The Many Decades Since


10 thoughts on “Patterns of Culture

  1. says:

    Culture and Personality Paradigm Ruth Benedict s Patterns of Culture In her book Patterns of Culture Ruth Benedict presents ethnographic accounts of three unique cultures, the Pueblo Zuni Indians of the Southwest, the Dobu of eastern New Guinea and the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest coast between Washington and British Columbia Benedict employs use of these cultures to demonstrate her theory of culture as personality writ large The book starts out with two sections, largely theoretical Benedict then presents her idea of cultural configurations patterns before moving on to compare the Apollonian Zuni and Dionysian Plains Indians, the paranoid Dobu, and the megalomaniacal Kwakiutls perspectives on marriage, family, resources, animism, and warfare violence The final chapters discuss cultural relativism and also provide an analysis of the relative nature in which abnormal individuals and their actions can be viewed and the constructed nature of deviance through the imposing of strict standards as it relates to conformity The purpose of this summary is to review the main themes of the text and to understand this work in the context to the configurationalist approach, which is an extension of the culture and personality school within the field of American anthropology that Benedict developed and made use of in this work Patterns of Culture contains three central themes 1 human culture can be viewed as personality writ large, 2 comparative studies of different cultures can shed light on our own social and cultural behaviors, and 3 that morality is a dependent cultural variable and cultural dissimilarities should not be judged by absolute standards A central theme of Patterns of Culture is cultural configurations Benedict s hypothesis is that personality patterns can be found in culture In introducing Benedict s book, Boas explains configuration to be a knowledge of the attitudes controlling individual and group behavior Benedict 1934 xvii Benedict views human culture as personality writ large, meaning that a culture can be seen as an individual personality and each person in a culture can be perceived in relation to the pattern, types, or traits which characterize their specific culture According to Benedict, a people s culture should be viewed as an articulating whole, made up of traits, actions and beliefs that are shared by individuals within the culture In explaining her theoretical premises, Benedict puts forth that a culture, like an individual, is a or less consistent pattern of thought an action, that choose from the great arc of potential human purposes and motivations and that the only way in which we can know the significance of the selected detail of behavior is against the background of the motives and emotions and values that are institutionalized in that culture Benedict 1934 46, 237, 49 In saying this, Benedict is making clear her theory of cultural configurations patterns , explaining that each culture has a system of ideas, standards and values that facilitate social cohesion, and that through the process of socialization selected traits are reinforced and the shared behaviors and beliefs of a culture are perpetuated Benedict believes that personality patterns can be found in culture and that these patterns can be characterized in a meaningful way To illustrate this point, she presents chapters on the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest, the Dobu of eastern New Guinea and the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest coast In the first ethnographic chapter, she describes the Pueblo Zuni to be Apollonian, valuing sobriety and inoffensiveness and being controlled and reserved in nature, seeking to follow and reinforce the bounds of their cultural norms she contrasts the Pueblo Indians with the Plains, and other North American Indians, stating they are Dionysian and characterizing them as prone to irrational excess and continually testing the boundaries of their existence In the next chapter she presents the Dobu, describing them as paranoid, fearful and suspicious Finally, she discusses the Kwakiutl, stating they are megalomaniacal in nature, discussing their competitive potlatch to demonstrate their need to dominate others It is important to take note that Benedict s accounts of the Zuni came from her own research, while ethnographic material about the Dobu came from Margaret Mead and Reo Fortunes work in New Guinea, and the chapter on the Kwakiutl was largely formed from Boas work in British Columbia In discussing each of these cultures, she presents their perspectives on marriage, family, resources, animism, and warfare violence Benedict s hypothesis is that all cultures can be described as Apollonian, Dionysian, paranoid and or megalomaniacal and that some cultures are combinations of these traits however, in assigning these terms she is not attempting to create typologies, as each one is an empirical characterization, and probably not duplicated in its entirety anywhere else in the world Benedict 1934 238 The second theme in Patterns of Culture is that comparative studies of different cultures are beneficial and can shed light on our own social and cultural behaviors Benedict puts forth that use of the comparative method in looking at cultures in relation or contrast to each other will act to emphasize differences between cultures and will simultaneously provide the understanding we need of our own cultural processes Benedict 1934 56 To this end, in the concluding chapters of the book Benedict touches upon cultural deviance among the Zuni, Dobu and Kwakiutl and provides an analysis of the relative nature in which abnormal individuals and their actions can be viewed and the constructed nature of deviance through the imposing of strict standards as it relates to conformity Margaret Mead states that the questions Benedict raises related to the connection between abnormality and cultures brings to light the need to question the limited definitions of normal behavior, allowing us to reconsider what is normal and abnormal, and that the widening of cultural definitions might enrich our culture and lighten the load of rejection under which the cultural deviant now labors Benedict 1934 ix Benedict does make a point to state that use of the comparative method has no room for moralizing judgments and that attempts to do so go against the principles of cultural relativism To do this would be a futile endeavor as each culture has certain goals toward which their behavior is directed and which their institutions further, and that these goals are incommensurable Benedict 1934 223 The third theme in Patterns of Culture addresses the concept of cultural relativism Benedict clearly communicates throughout the book that morality is a dependent cultural variable and that cultural dissimilarities should not be judged by absolute standards During her time as a student at Columbia, Boas mentored Benedict and trained her in the, at the time, disputed notion of cultural relativism that greatly shaped his anthropological work Patterns of Culture highlights the issues in understanding cultures on their own terms, often bringing up Western ethnocentric views this is key as when the book was first published the target group was a Western audience Benedict states that a culture s beliefs must been looked at within the context of their own culture, not judged in comparison to the cultural ideals of the individuals studying them Benedict takes a highly humanistic approach and clearly leans towards culture in the culture vs nature debate Her book has gone a long ways in communicating the importance of being aware of our own ethnocentric tendencies and continues to teach the value of human diversity Patterns of Culture in context to the Culture and Personality Paradigm Benedict received her anthropological training at Columbia University under the instruction of Franz Boas The anthropology program at Columbia was somewhat new, and its foundation was based in the four field approach, melding physical and cultural anthropology with archaeology and linguistics as a way to study human biological evolution, cultural differences, the uniqueness of each cultural history and the interconnectedness of language and culture Having studied anthropology during a time when the field was so greatly changing certainly impacted her use of theory and methodology, but also explains why she fell sort of operationalizing the ethnographic data she collected in a quantitative way Believing that culture and personality are so interconnected that they could not be examined independently, Benedict developed and employed use of the configuration approach, which is a specific perspective within the culture and personality school of American anthropology later known as psychological anthropology that melds cultural relativism with psychological theory The roots of the culture and personality school of American anthropology can be traced back to Franz Boas however, Benedict, Margaret Mead and Edward Sapir largely developed this theoretical approach, focusing on socialization, and developing a course of action for comparing cultures in terms of the benefits for individuals Proponents of this paradigm consider how cultures understand their own human identify and focus on understanding the relationship between the cultural environment and individual personality The main premise of the culture and personality paradigm is that socialization constructs personality patterns by shaping an individuals behaviors, thoughts, and norms, and that the behaviors adults display are culturally patterned, allowing them to fit in and function productively within their surroundings In Patterns of Culture Benedict clearly uses a theoretical approach to cultural comparisons and culture theories As Boas points out in his introduction, Benedict s approach is different and distinct from the functional approach, in that it is focused on determining the fundamental attitudes than with the functional relations of every cultural item Benedict 1934 xvii Although it seems rather questionable that the groups she highlighted in this work so succinctly fell into the categories of Apollonian, Dionysian and paranoid, the examples she provides for each of the cultures clearly demonstrated her theory of culture as personality writ large Eighty years later, this view seems a bit simplistic and dated however, her discussions of ethnocentric tendencies, cultural relativism, and historical particularism are timeless Her analysis at times seems to have been highly generalized and far too humanistic, specifically in that she did not make use of enough quantitative data The Zuni, particularly, seemed to be portrayed as devoid of emotion bringing up the question as to if she truly found specific patterns or merely subsets within the culture as a whole It seemed a bit incongruous to be describing cultures as specific categories while at the same time using a cultural relativistic framework, but I think Benedict s theory of cultures espousing certain patterns is certainly valid, although simplistic The specific methodology employed in this work does not translate to my thesis topic however, the general concepts of cultural relativism and historical particularism will certainly play a role in shaping all of our theses.


  2. says:

    For any lovers of anthropology, this is one of the classic texts which fundamentally shaped the study of culture Though of course we have moved beyond some of the basic theoretical issues inherent in the culture concept i.e Critics like Abu Lughod move towards a definition of culture as unbounded and dynamic, and of course the shift away from traditional modern cultures dichotomy so much of this text is still applicable in a globalising world I was surprised actually by how relevant the first few chapters were.It is a beautiful read, and encompasses the rich, descriptive style of classic ethnography I highly, highly recommend this book I was not expecting to enjoy it at first, but it remains to be one of the great classics, and is a guaranteed enjoyable read for any lover of culture studies.


  3. says:

    Probably the most interesting and compelling introduction to anthropology you could ever hope for Ruth Benedict lays out some basic principles that anyone who s ever wondered about the society they live in should read backed up with explorations of three incredibly fascinating cultures This is a very profluent book, so I feel I can safely recommend it to people who have never read non fiction before Patterns of Culture is a book that will change the way you see the world.


  4. says:

    Successful societies reproduce excessively as a hedge against the death accidental or purposeful of those intended to fill necessary positions in the coming generation An upper class redundant the unneeded lesser son of a noble family can move down a notch fill some ranked position in the church, government, or military A merchant s second son might start a new business, become a craft apprentice, or descend to the less protected ranks of labor depending on the good graces of the inheriting son But at the bottom of the underclass, there is really nowhere to go Society keeps an underclass to fill breeches in the higher ranks caused by war, pestilence, or natural disaster but it also tries to keep the underclass at some manageable level through those same disasters in addition to famine As we move from a dispersed hunter gathering to condensed agriculture industry information societies, the underclass is joined by primitives, farmers, and industrial workers who are no longer required Paying the landlords for cash crops produces famine Crowding primitives and agrarians into reservations, ghettos, and airless factories produces pestilence War exhausts not only your own underclass, but might free lebensraum for your survivors so you don t have to invite them home, where they might menace your daughters In the process, some of the underclass can be elevated armies, police, prisons to control the rest of the underclass.Looking at other societies from the outside helps us to recognize the reprehensible nature of our own society My anthropology instructor in college used to spend the lecture hour rehearsing some arcane and gruesome ritual e.g., the Australian aborigine s practice of sub incision and would always end his lecture with the same phrase the whole world ain t like Sebastopol the local Podunk I think Benedict s point is that we are Sebastopol, we just can t see it.Benedict writes beautifully, and she always seems to have interesting material.


  5. says:

    First read in 1960s for an anthropology class Remembered since A foundation building block book for my world view One leg of Benedict tripod rests on the northwest coast of North America For a novel look at Salmon Culture social life, I recommend Houston s Eagle Song.Eagle Song An Indian Saga Based on True Events


  6. says:

    A study of different cultures from a systemic perspective Benedict states that every culture has certain goals toward which their behavior is directed and which their institutions further Her most important discovery is, those goals of different cultures are incommensurable This means that they cannot be compared, which is described as cultural relativism If we want to understand any culture we have to understand it holistically We cannot simply judge a certain behavior, but we have to understand what motivates it and how it is constructed within this specific culture.How a synergistic culture can be created in business, where the personal behavior and organizational direction are coupled to create synergy is explored in a blog post inspired by this book


  7. says:

    In this timeless book, Ruth Benedict brilliantly exposes her theory of cultural relativity, stating that no cultural trait in any culture is or less valid than any other one from the great variety of possible human behaviors Her vision couldn t be actual, since it argues that each culture has a history and temperament of its own, rendering it unique, but not superior nor inferior to other cultures Her description of three contrasting cultures illustrates very clearly that there are no fixed rules on which cultural traits dominate in different societies, and the impossibility of knowing whether these are culturally or biologically determined Cultures are also shown to privilege certain behaviors at the expense of what are considered abnormal behaviors of the individuals that don t fit this society Different societies found contrasting ways to deal with such conflict between the individual and their culture, some elevating him to a higher degree of importance such as shamans in many societies and others downgrading them It is argued that it is the natural tendency of the individual which will determine whether they will fit the dominant culture or be considered as an abnormal type Extreme behaviors can also be privileged, such as someone with greedy ambitions in a society which privileges competition and accumulation of property, such as ours In this case, extremely greedy individuals find legitimacy to go to extremes that others won t, and despite causing suffering to others, are simply seen as successful individuals This social critique is of extreme importance, because since Ruth s age, capitalism and neoliberalism only intensified this situation, legitimizing behaviors that would be categorized as psychopathic in other cultures, and probably will be in some time, in our own western culture.


  8. says:

    This book was a very interesting read It helped me put into perspective cultural values that we take for granted as universal There are no universal values or ethics every culture shapes reality according to their own value priorities Thus it put a large question mark on my mind as to how to solve certain problems that we face as a species how are we ever going to find a common ground from which to tackle these I found the perspective of analysis interesting Apollonian versus Dionysian cultures, but I would add that the basic philosophy and modus operandi of a culture can change over time If we regard western European culture it becomes obvious that our own cosmological outlook has changed a great deal, from Dionysian in Roman and even pre Roman times to the rather Apollonian that we have today Anyhow, I think it is an important and stimulating read that opens the mind to the kaleidoscopic world of possibilities that the human spirit has evolved to answer the fundamental questions of life.


  9. says:

    I liked this book overall It talks about different cultures in three different parts of the world the pueblos of new Mexico, the Dobu of Papua New Guinea and the Kwakuitl of Northwest America the book contrasts some of the norms we take for granted around what constitutes a moral action Ruth looks at the science of custom, the diversity of cultures, its integration, the nature of society and the individual and patterns of society To be honest there were some very interesting bits in the middle when she talks about the three cultures but i found some of those bits a little boring The last 2 chapters is where she sums it all up and it all comes to life Definitely read those last 2 chapters Overall a very good book if a tad slow in places.


  10. says:

    I think Benedict makes some interesting points She has written a book that covers almost exactly the reasons I want to study anthropology She wants people to understand the idea of cultural relativity, which I think is an important idea We have to remember that every culture is different and people fit into their cultures and worlds differently Just because I am a white woman in the US doesn t mean I understand the experience of every white woman in the US We are all different and we fit into this world as an outsider to one culture but as a normal citizen of another culture Culture is a ever changing thing that I think is so interesting and will truly never be fully understood.