By Patricia C. Henderson
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Extra info for AIDS, Intimacy and Care in Rural KwaZulu-Natal: A Kinship of Bones (Amsterdam University Press - Care and Welfare Series)
In this text he retreated from his earlier, triumphal embracing of culture as the “superorganic” (first launched in 1917; see Kroeber 1952: 22–51) and took a carefully reasoned position that seems not to have been widely noted. All cultural phenomena are invariably related to certain other cultural phenomena to which they are similar and which precede or succeed them or occur near them contemporaneously; and their fullest understanding can be attained only through cognizance of these relations.
Because ideas and behaviors change over time, cultural systems evolve as changes occur in relative frequencies of the variants. Durham illustrates this model through a case study of the Nuer incest taboo. His notion of “pattern” contrasts with those of Brown and Wright. For Wright, a pattern consists of a widely dispersed item of material culture, such as a ceramic decorative style. For Brown, a pattern is a widely shared cognitive understanding, such as the understanding of spatial designations.
There is no doubt that this definition addressed a fundamental issue in our understanding of human evolution. But since we frankly lack procedures by which to identify post hoc how most ideas must have been acquired, this seems to be a sleeping clause in our operational definition for distinguishing culture and not-culture in the empirical world of human ethnography— and we are poorly equipped in the way of any general theory of learning to do much about it. We may thus have legitimate doubts about how much can be achieved, generally and theoretically, in the study of human lifeways by thinking along lines of the question, which distinctive features of ideas might be entailed by the fact that ideas are “learned”?