chapter
After Boas
Pages 7

Boas’s students, and their students, came to see culture primarily through its diversity. The world was made up of lots of ‘cultures’ rather than an abstraction called ‘Culture’. When they did venture comments on the abstraction, Boasians saw culture as fundamentally human, i.e. not the property of animals, and even declared it the attribute which distinguishes animals from humans, or simply that which has no basis in biology. †Ruth Benedict, for example, in her powerful attack on scientific racism describes culture as follows:

For culture is the sociological term for learned behaviour: behaviour which in man is not given at birth, which is not determined by his germ cells as is the behaviour of wasps or the social ants, but must be learned anew from grown people by each new generation. The degree to which human achievements are dependent on this kind of learned behaviour is man’s great claim to superiority over all the rest of creation; he has been properly called ‘the culture-bearing animal.’