What is culture? Culture is the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristic shared by group of people. It could be based on shared ethnicity, gender, customs, values or even objects. Humans lived in fundamentally different cultural worlds was soon taken for granted in anthropology in early 20th century (Thomas et al (2017)). Relativism, is a notion that any area of humans effort in culture is essentially influenced by various interpretations (Paul et al (2015)).
Cultural relativism refers every culture has its own peculiar norms and values that seem incompatible with one another, means that it has its own standards of what is right or wrong, strange or normal.
Some people worry that the concept of culture can be abuse and misinterpreted (Paul et al (2015)). For example in picture 2.1, the people who that his countries’ culture are eating fried insects as normal and he try to share this delicious food to his international friend, but his friend refuse it because for other cultures, there is disgusting food.
Never an uncontroversial perspective on the human existence, not least since it entails an implicit cultural critique, cultural relativism has a history which extends at least back to the German thinker Johann Gottfried Herder (1744– 1803) and the Romantic movement, and if one so wishes, it can be traced to the Sophists in ancient Greece. Arguing against the enlightenment philosophy of the likes of Voltaire, Herder argued that each people (Volk) had its own ways of realising happiness and its own, unique vision of the world.
Unlike later romantic theorists, Herder did not emphasise race as a determining factor, but gave the pride of place to language and place. Often mentioned as a major originator of the modern concept of culture, Herder can credibly be seen as the father of both nationalism and cultural relativism, as both – one an ideology, the other a research methodology – draw on the same concept of culture as a totality of shared meaning common to a delineated, usually named population.
Culture thus appears in practice as a series of bounded cultures, each of them unique and equipped with its own norms, conventions, values and morality. With the growth of modern cultural anthropology a century later, a concept of culture which had grown out of the Herderian one was put to work. Franz Boas (1858–1942), the leading figure in American cultural anthropology for four decades, was a German émigré trained in the Humboldtian academic tradition, where he was introduced to the Herderian concept of culture. It is only a slight exaggeration to state that American cultural anthropology was founded by exiles, many of them Jewish, as a German Geisteswissenschaft, in the early 20th century (see Eriksen and Nielsen 2013 for the details). The notion that humans lived in radically different cultural worlds was soon taken for granted in early 20th century anthropology.
Although there was a broad consensus that human beings had much in common (the psychic unity of humanity was a necessary condition for comparison), it was also widely agreed that cultures were deeply different. Just how different they were was another question. Some, like the French philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, held – at least for a while – that the primitive mind was ‘pre-logical’ and failed to meet the requirements for scientific, rational thinking. The majority of scholars nevertheless held that the form of reasoning was fairly uniform throughout humanity, although their different circumstances meant that they thought about different things – but in similar or comparable ways.
Anthropologists have amply documented the fact that cultures differ in thousands of ways. However, most of the differences seem to concern details in the expression of fundamental underlying similarities (Mihaly et al (2016)). So that, when we think about different cultures and societies, we should think about their customs in a way that helps us make sense of how their culture practices fits with their overall cultural context.