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The big enchilada

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    The big enchilada

    What builds the culture? How does it change? Is it the trends in people's lifestyles, technology, convenience or all of the above along with many other factors?

    Some call it a continously occuring learning and intellectual experience, others simply label it as a reflection of people's social behaviours and categorical (like religious, regional etc.) beliefs. Is there anything else to it (speaking at the basic level) or this is pretty much it?

    Is the speed of its change is faster than before or it's just how we feel it? Is it more complex than before or our social learning has equivalently kept up to its adoption?

    [This message has been edited by Roman (edited November 11, 1999).]


    >> What builds the culture?

    When you put it like this I assume this question is not only about the Pak culture it's a general one hai na. I think every culture is build by three different aspects that together make a culture and are necessary for its further development. There is a people’s culture, a culture of Arts, and a social culture.

    The culture of people, is which defines how people should behave, it sets the rules, defines the good and the bad manners etc. People who fit in these standards are well cultured. Then there is the culture of arts; which reflect people’s behavior, development in an artistic way, which could be in poetry, painting, high tech etc. The social culture defines the every day life, the dress code, our eating habits etc. These three together builds a culture.

    Therefor a culture does not change because one aspect of life changes. It changes with time and developments in the mentioned factors. However it is possible to ’freeze’ a culture by not allowing all three aspects of it to grow simultaneously, i.e. like under British raj, when the rich mans culture and Awami cultures were frizzed and a new form was introduced, the middle class.

    Some changes in a culture are ’controlled’ (Changes in marriage style, end of zaat-paat differences etc); while other are not, like changes in behaviors, i.e. behaviors that changes the social norms.

    It is the ‘not-controlled’ changes/attitude that shapes the basics of a culture, which later reflects in changed social values and arts – forming a new cultural aspect.

    A culture is however not only that, every culture has a history, some geographical boundaries and some deepness, which makes it unique.


      Dear Roman,

      Sabah is right on the money. I would just like to add a little more:

      Culture is a body of knowledge and tools by which we adapt to the physical environment; it is a set of rules by which we relate to each other; it is a storehouse of knowledge, beliefs, and formulae through which we understand the universe and man’s place in it. Culture is preeminently a means of communicating with others. It is culture that stablizes the social environment and makes it possible for man to associate with his fellows. The sociologist George Simmel once said that every cultural encounter is an immanent disaster. Cues get mixed, signals scrambled, and people become angry, embarrassed, or reduced to inaction by the failure of scenarios to come off as planned.

      There are as many definitions of cultures as there are cultures. Anthropologists don’t agree on a single definition. The most universally agreed upon definition is “how we communicate with each other and relate to the environment”.

      If Cultures do bestow meanings in and upon our lives, giving us our identities, and reducing the chaos of events to order. The meanings have no (over very little) basis except in reference to each other, and everyone’s reality rests on shifting sand. The Jivaro Indians of Ecuador believe that the everyday world is false and chimerical, and the real world is the one they enter after taking hullucinogen ayahuasca, I think they are wrong, but I am not sure why. (why call sky blue).

      And finally, your fascination with Enchiladas can also be explained through a cultural paradigm (it is like “Oedipus complex”, but not the same). Let me know if you want me to get into more detail.


        Yes NYAhmadi, please do explain.


          Dear Roman,

          Now that we have defined what culture is, we can take the discussion to the next level. I don’t know how prepared you are to go deeper. The journey is certainly very fascinating and the events breathtaking. Generally speaking, the study of culture is a journey to the fields
          un-exploited, and the norms unbelievable. What may come as a “common sense” to some, may have deep intellectual stigma attached to by some other. Every little act, or inact, can be explained by studying culture. I took Anthropology in my undergrad, and I am always mesmerized by the study of people, and ask myself everyday what makes each of us tick. Those with little appreciation for social sciences may not find some explanations readily understandable, but what do you expect?

          The next level is to distinguish between the Nature and the Society. (Your level, the enchilada level will follow by getting the basic hurdles explained). This concept (distinction between Nature and Society) is the most confidently repudiated area in the study of cultures. It, in fact, is the contrast between two levels of human culture. It is now beginning to emerge that this distinction of Nature and Society (while of no acceptable historic significance) does contain a logic, fully justifying such a practice as a legitimate methodological tool. In summary, Man is both a biological being and a social individual. Among his responses to external and internal stimuli, some are wholly dependent on his nature, others upon his social environment. For example, there would be no difficulty in establishing the respective origins of the pupillary reflex, and the usual position of the horse-rider’s hand on the reins. But the distinction is not always that easy. The physico-biological and the psycho-social stimuli often arouse similar reactions, and it may be asked whether a child’s fear of the dark is to be explained as revealing his animal nature, or as resulting from his nurse’s stories.

          By giving it its full methodological significance there is a danger that the problem of the transition from the biological to the social may become insoluble. To go back to your Enchilada, the question we need to ask is “where does nature end and culture begin?”

          Most authorities in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology agree that there is an absence of rules. This absence provides the surest criterion for distinguishing a natural form of cultural process. Some most noted areas are the study of “incest” among different cultures. Every society is an exception to the incest prohibition when seen by another society with a stricter rules. The idea of exception is completely relative, with very different meaning, for example, for an Australian Aborigine, a Thongan or an Eskimo. It is not so much whether some groups allow marriages that others prohibit, but whether there are any groups in which no type of marriage whatever is prohibited.

          So what we can briefly say in end is that therefore there is a phenomenon which has the distinctive characteristics both of nature and its theoretical contradiction – culture.

          Now, Roman, is this distinction makes sense to you? If your answer is “yes”, we can then go an and discuss the principles of reciprocity and review some of the work done on Kinship and Dual Organizations. And eventually reaching to the “Enchilada” problem by the way of studying classical systems. If the above is not clear, let me know and I will give it another shot to walk you through. If your answer is “doesn’t matter”, then I don’t know what to say. I will be, however, interested to find out “why it doesn’t matter”.

          If you fancy, we can also examine the Physical Anthropology, revisiting some of the evolutionary theories. I think the study of culture without studying the physical or material (genetic) component is not complete. I think the Enchiladas fall somewhere between Physical and Social Anthropology.


            Thanks NYAhmadi and Sabah. What you both said definitely makes sense. And obviously, there is are no right or wrong answers to these questions.

            I always think that any such phenomena can best be explained or explored using the principles of regression. I.e., not single, but numerous factors or driving forces result in a certain output. Culture is definitely one of them. Whether it's people's social behavior, beliefs, or interests, all act parallel to result in one output.

            Similar to these driving forces, there are also numerous angles of observation to explore culture. Both of you looked at the same thing with a different perspective.

            My personal understanding and definition of culture has changed many times over the years. It's an exploration that does not have an end, as there is not one definitive answer. Among all the answers that anthropologists have put out there, different people choose the one that appeals to them. It pretty much comes to a matter of choice or personal sensibility like a belief in a concept.

            So if I were to define culture in this given point of time in my life, I would say it's the reflection of human conscious or thought at a collective level. It's is true that this definition is not very clear in itself, and actually is quite debatable since human conscious itself is based on different physical, biological, and social factors like NYAhmadi mentioned. So why pick something to delineate culture if that 'something' itself can be delineated by 'something else'? After all, logically speaking, if B results in C and A results in B then A results in C.

            Well, I think there are times when we need to come to a 'pivot', which acts on behalf of other things to drive something bigger. It's just more productive, efficient, and convenient to do so. I am not contradicting any definitions or other factors that derive and change a culture, I am simply trying to reach something pivotal (which itself may be a result of other forces).

            Now, it could also be said that why human conscious or thought should be chosen as a pivot? Why not some other factor or forces, say, social behavior to explain culture? The reason, in my opinion, is that a pivot must be something that has the characteristics of optimal number of factors that act as the rotating force behind it. For example, if we take NYAhmadi's account on nature and theoretical contradiction as two big factors, we can argue that human conscious possess characteristics of both of these factors. Whether it's our physical environment, biological needs, cognitive abilities (Sabah's point on Arts), or supernatural beliefs, all develop one common thing and that is human conscious. This conscious further derives every major or minor thing that is part of a culture.

            Any biological/physical or cognitive need results in development of our conscious and this development further is reflected in the culture. Every time human conscious transforms into something different at collective level, it effects and changes the culture.