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The modern world was taking shape.

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The modern world was taking shape.

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But the map-makers have been kept busy re-forming this world as states have fractured and boundaries shifted. Local claims of ethnic autonomy have often eroded and eventually overcome the encompassing claims of national sovereignty. Suddenly, small is beautiful again. Recent political upheavals ranging from Indonesia to the Balkan states to the political patchwork that was once the Soviet Union testify to the fragility and often illusory stability of the modern nation state.

Many states, it turns out were originally cobbled together and maintained more by the sheer force wommen state-managed terror and by autocratic leaders than by popular will or common interest. The social contract has turned out with disturbing frequency to have been a military one in disguise.

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And these more dramatic late twentieth century events are just the tip of the iceberg. Here, at the turn of the millennium, the simultaneous globalization and localization of identity propose the dialectic of economic and cultural forces in our lives.

In modern democracies, the battle between the claims of the center and those of the margins are more often fought in the media and in the courts than on the battlefield, though violence in the name of cultural autonomy is hardly unknown. Many different issues become rallying points for the rights of culture. These are compelling issues in contemporary American society and in the academy. The resulting political and legal conundrums have made their way into the headlines and eventually into the courts.

What is the proper role of the anthropologist in confronting these cases? For most of us, our initial response is probably to make the discrete women american samoa for culture against the claims of the state and to work to help make the voices and interests of minority populations heard by those in power.

Anthropologists are usually pretty good at making exotic practices comprehensible by translating them into terms understandable by the dominant szmoa. By filling in the cultural or religious context of otherwise anomalous beliefs and practices and providing the missing background information, anthropologists can help make the strange seem familiar, reasonable, or at least conceivable.

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Making the exotic familiar is an ordinary teaching mission for cultural anthropologists, and not just in the classroom. I myself have played this sort of translator role several time as an expert witness on Samoa in court and as discrete women american samoa consultant to local school districts. Here the issues had to do with clarifying to American authorities Samoan notions of appropriate corporal punishment and discrete women american samoa issues in relation to Samoans living in the United States.

Unfortunately, simply clarifying the local logic of a practice in this way is not always effective. It rarely resolves the underlying dilemma, the apparently irreconcilable difference in presuppositions or values between different communities living in the same society. And, like the rest of the world, anthropologists are often loathe to disrcete positions to which they have a personal aversion.

This is anthropology at its most uncomfortable, and many of us have been there.

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Having spent several years analyzing and debating many of these specific cases of norm conflict in which the right of culture competes with those of the state or some general conception of human rights, it has become apparent to me that there can be no viable philosophical position on these sorts of issues in general.

These issues are, after all, classic dilemmas and dilemmas are by their nature not resolvable. Dilemmas can be managed but not solved. To the extent that these cultural conundrums ever get dealt with at all, they are never resolved in principle, only in fact. Such solutions are, at best, merely local, temporary and partial resolutions of conflicts between local custom and national law.

Such pragmatic solutions take the form of judicial decision, and political compromise, and they tend to be hammered out case-by-case. But while the cultural defense is invoked frequently in our courts, anthropologists have been increasingly reluctant to defend the concept of culture itself. The world is not definable in units of culture because culture just does not seem to be a viable unit of human life. If the world ever did support the notion that it discrete women american samoa be neatly carved up into discreet unit cultures, such a notion of culture as a geographic bit is today increasingly difficult to justify.

Today, Samoa, where I did my original fieldwork, is in fact not a place at all but a distributed network of historically linked artifacts, ideas, territories, people and institutions rather than a local entity. On the map, Samoa is two politically distinct groups of islands in the South Pacific, one an independent country and the other a territory of the United States.

And Samoa has taken its place in cyberspace as well, through womdn sites such as Samoa Net, the Samoan Government Web Site, the website of Manu Samoa the Samoan national Rugby Team which features compilations of greetings from Samoans from all over the world, and numerous other internet locations bringing Samoa to the world.

More archaically, a good deal of what passes for Samoan culture is also buried in the storage vaults of ethnographic museums in London, Berlin, New York and Washington, D.

Matters of Form and Content If a culture is difficult to define geographically, it is even more challenging to pin down its basic forms and its content. But such a general view of culture does not make it clear how one goes about studying and comparing cultures. Early on, with interest in the diffusion of culture from region to region, culture womeb viewed as heterogeneous collections of traits, pottery types, languages, houses, tools, clothing styles, kinship systems and the like.

There was, theoretically at least, zamoa end to the and variety of traits that comprised a particular culture.

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In American anthropology of the mid-twentieth century this idea that culture constituted semantically integrated, and patterned systems of symbols, values, concepts and the like took hold, just as functionally integrated notions of social structure dominated British Anthropology of the same period. The modernist vision of culture came of age mid-century and dominated American views of culture until the early s. And so there has been a renewed interest in recent years in an updated kind of trait theory in anthropology, a modular conception of culture as an unstable collection of heterogeneous things which flow, combine, disconnect and reform in all kinds of historically and politically mediated arrangements.

The conditions of the postmodern world have made for some odd bedfellows among culture theorists. Using a gene-transmission analogy zamoa culture, Neo Darwinians conceive of the life of culture as the competition for survival and reproductive success among discrete cultural units. And still others who claim to do cultural studies focus on the transnational flows of objects and images, s and representations.

Culture as Models Over a decade ago, as anthropologists were increasingly noting the lack of fit between current views of culture and the real world, I was looking for an approach to culture that made sense of the world as I saw it. Such a vision of culture would have to for both the obvious reality of culture and the equally obvious fact that traditional coherence models were inadequate to describe what was going on. I had little sympathy with the call to abandon the concept.

I was fortunate enough to have a year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where I had the chance to immerse myself in some of the key literature of cognitive psychology, cognitive linguistics and cognitive science.

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A cultural community shared in a vast stock of conventional models of and for experience, and these models came in many forms. They were also distributed socially and personally in complex ways. Not every member of a community had to share equally every model. Culture in this view was a kind of distributed network of models, some more basic than others.

While many mental models are highly conventional in form, people also have numerous idiosyncratic mental representations of the world, and these are most evident in dreams or in examples of individualistic art.

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Culture as a knowledge system was both shared by a group and distributed differentially among its members. Cultural knowledge was also simultaneously highly personal and highly conventional, so that people might appear to share more than they actually did. Understanding culture in disvrete more discrete women american samoa was required acknowledging two key distinctions: 1 the difference between personal models and cultural models and 2 that between instituted models in the world and mental models in the mind.

Culture was real, but messy. The Trouble With the Cultural Defense So the culture concept might be saved from early retirement by acknowledging both its complexity and the obvious fact that the culture does indeed refer to a ificant aspect of human life: the social and discrete women american samoa resources that promote a degree of social and semantic coordination among groups.

Anyone who has traveled widely, or simply walks the streets of any cosmopolitan city, knows that culture points to something real and important in human life. But it usually takes difference or opposition between styles of living to bring the importance of culture home to people. Left to itself, a culture discrrte generally invisible to its own adherents: it is just ordinary reality.

And so anthropologists have specialized not so much in the study of culture, but, at least implicitly, in the study of cultural difference.

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Ethnography ciscrete always derived its power to engage our interest and imagination by invoking directly or by implication maximal contrast. This focus on exotic contrast is partly rhetorical, a compelling way of highlighting the very dimension of human life to which anthropologists want people to attend. The problem is, of course, that womdn analysis of culture conceals at least as much as it reveals.

It encourages the artificial construction of sharp lines and crisp boundaries where normally there are only blurry edges.

Identities are clarified by suppressing the actual complexity and fragility of what is shared within a community. British anthropologists noted decades ago the power of social opposition to crystallize temporarily concrete groups out of what were otherwise gradations of complex and mixed identities. Stubbornly idiosyncratic and local in their understandings of culture and notoriously unable to agree among themselves about almost anything ificant in their day-to-day cultural life, Samoans nonetheless insist on representing themselves to outsiders as a coherent, unified cultural entity.

Born From Opposition These moments of opposition and maximal contrast are at the heart of the norm conflicts that pit minority cultural groups against the behavioral standards and laws of the greater society. And while we normally understand the situation as one where opposition is born from culture, it is equally the case that culture is born from these situations of opposition.

Nothing will produce a coherent cultural identity more effectively than an embattled political position of opposition. As we shall see, the problem here is not simply discrete women american samoa opposition produces a situationally primed cultural identity, but that the identity is forged not in its own terms but rather in terms of the issues defined by the encounter. The point is that these situations generate notions of culture which no modern anthropologist could defend, culture based upon an image of a single, coherent body of practices and beliefs that are assumed to characterize a discrete community.

Such situations suck the normal life out of cultural communities, reducing them to one-dimensional caricatures of themselves. And I discovered that Samoan culture could discrete women american samoa be accurately described in terms of simple values or beliefs.

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The better way of describing what I saw was conventionally orchestrated conversations among several qomen visions or models for almost any important issue. The more ethically charged the issue, the more likely one was to find a complex interplay of models, positions, and contending voices on that issue. There were ificant differences of opinion among individuals interviewed. Even more complex were the complex layers of belief within an individual, pockets of ambivalence and multiple voicing that had alternative legitimate expressions that emerged in different contexts, and in different speech registers Samoan has distinct formal and intimate speech styles which produce very different responses from informants on key moral issues.

These multiple layers of Samoan meaning were orchestrated in very predictable ways in Samoa, in differences between chiefly and discrete women american samoa models, in formal versus intimate discourse, in public versus private discussions, and sometimes in the form of comedy skits where they would me deliberately made to collide in public in a way that was not normally permitted. In recent years Anthropologists have been anxious to underscore these forms of complex eamoa voicing.

But such complexity has tended to make anthropologists want to give up on the culture concept altogether rather than simply reformulate in a basic way the kinds of models of culture they were using in the first place.

These complex conversations I experienced were neither infinitely variable nor simply generic. They were orchestrated in a distinctive and predictable Samoan way. And so they saamoa clearly culture-specific Samoan ways of handling morally equivocal or otherwise ambiguous situations that had several conventional readings. In their distinct character these conversations pointed to a distinctive Samoan culture.

But they did not add up to any kind of single coherent position that a judge or a newspaper reported dealing with a situation womdn an immigrant context would be able use readily in resolving inter-cultural conflict.

So it appears that at home the amreican and complexity are matter internal to the culture. But faced with norm conflict in a multi-cultural setting, this domestic complexity of voicing and position gets refocused on inter-cultural difference. Particularly on matters that are inherently morally ambiguous, those very issues that often become flash-points in the immigrant context, the actual complexity and heterogeneity of what goes on within a cultural community, disappears from sight.


But it does suggest that such coherence is usually a partial picture of the situation. Or that what is framed as shared at one level of understanding may in fact dissolve at others. As Americans we may all agree in the importance of freedom as a cultural value. But a civil rights worker would clearly have a quite different set of more specific understandings of freedom than would a conservative economist justifying market systems and freedom of competition.

Both are authentic American discourses.