ⓘ Cultural universal

Cultural universal

ⓘ Cultural universal

A cultural universal, as discussed by Emile Durkheim, George Murdock, Claude Levi-Strauss, Donald Brown and others, is an element, pattern, trait, or institution that is common to all human cultures worldwide. Taken together, the whole body of cultural universals is known as the human condition. Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviors or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations. Some anthropological and sociological theorists that take a cultural relativist perspective may deny the existence of cultural universals: the extent to which these universals are "cultural" in the narrow sense, or in fact biologically inherited behavior is an issue of "nature versus nurture".


1. Donald Browns list in Human Universals

In his book Human Universals 1991, Donald Brown defines human universals as comprising "those features of culture, society, language, behavior, and psyche for which there are no known exception", providing a list of hundreds of items he suggests as universal. Among the cultural universals listed by Donald Brown are:


2. Non-nativist explanations

The observation of the same or similar behavior in different cultures does not prove that they are the results of a common underlying psychological mechanism. One possibility is that they may have been invented independently due to a common practical problem.

Since any cultures that have been studied by anthropologists have had contact with at least the anthropologists that studied it, and anthropological research ethics slows the studies down so that other groups unbound by such ethics, often at least locally represented by people of the same skin color as the supposedly isolated tribe but significantly culturally globalized, reach the tribe before the anthropologists do, no truly uncontacted culture has ever been scientifically studied. This allows outside influence to be an explanation for cultural universals as well. This does not preclude multiple independent inventions of civilization and is therefore not the same thing as hyperdiffusionism, it merely means that cultural universals are not proof of innateness.


3. Bibliography

  • Bourguignon, Erika; Greenbaum Ucko, Lenora 1973. Diversity and Homogeneity in World Societies. New Haven, Connecticut: HRAF Press. ISBN 978-0875363301.
  • Joseph H. Greenberg, et al. 1978 Universals of Human Language, 4 vols. Stanford University Press.
  • Steven Pinker 2002, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, New York: Penguin Putnam.
  • George P. Murdock 1945, "The Common Denominator of Culture," in The Science of Man in the World Crisis, Ralph Linton ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Charles E. Osgood, William S May, and Murray S Miron 1975 Cross-Cultural Universals of Affective Meaning Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.
  • Charles D. Laughlin and Eugene G. dAquili 1974 Biogenetic Structuralism. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Brown, Donald 1991. Human Universals. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 978-0070082090.
  • Rik Pinxten 1976 "Epistemic Universals: A Contribution to Cognitive Anthropology," in Universalism Versus Relativism in Language and Thought, R. Pinxten ed. The Hague: Mouton.
  • Claude Levi-Strauss 1966 The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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