Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
Introduction to Anthropology

3.2 The Winkiness of Culture

Introduction to Anthropology3.2 The Winkiness of Culture

Menu
Table of contents
  1. Preface
  2. 1 What Is Anthropology?
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Study of Humanity, or "Anthropology Is Vast"
    3. 1.2 The Four-Field Approach: Four Approaches within the Guiding Narrative
    4. 1.3 Overcoming Ethnocentrism
    5. 1.4 Western Bias in Our Assumptions about Humanity
    6. 1.5 Holism, Anthropology’s Distinctive Approach
    7. 1.6 Cross-Cultural Comparison and Cultural Relativism
    8. 1.7 Reaching for an Insider’s Point of View
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  3. 2 Methods: Cultural and Archaeological
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 Archaeological Research Methods
    3. 2.2 Conservation and Naturalism
    4. 2.3 Ethnography and Ethnology
    5. 2.4 Participant Observation and Interviewing
    6. 2.5 Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis
    7. 2.6 Collections
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Bibliography
  4. 3 Culture Concept Theory: Theories of Cultural Change
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 The Homeyness of Culture
    3. 3.2 The Winkiness of Culture
    4. 3.3 The Elements of Culture
    5. 3.4 The Aggregates of Culture
    6. 3.5 Modes of Cultural Analysis
    7. 3.6 The Paradoxes of Culture
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Bibliography
  5. 4 Biological Evolution and Early Human Evidence
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 What Is Biological Anthropology?
    3. 4.2 What’s in a Name? The Science of Taxonomy
    4. 4.3 It’s All in the Genes! The Foundation of Evolution
    5. 4.4 Evolution in Action: Past and Present
    6. 4.5 What Is a Primate?
    7. 4.6 Origin of and Classification of Primates
    8. 4.7 Our Ancient Past: The Earliest Hominins
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  6. 5 The Genus Homo and the Emergence of Us
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Defining the Genus Homo
    3. 5.2 Tools and Brains: Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, and Homo erectus
    4. 5.3 The Emergence of Us: The Archaic Homo
    5. 5.4 Tracking Genomes: Our Human Story Unfolds
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  7. 6 Language and Communication
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 The Emergence and Development of Language
    3. 6.2 Language and the Mind
    4. 6.3 Language, Community, and Culture
    5. 6.4 Performativity and Ritual
    6. 6.5 Language and Power
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  8. 7 Work, Life, and Value: Economic Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Economies: Two Ways to Study Them
    3. 7.2 Modes of Subsistence
    4. 7.3 Gathering and Hunting
    5. 7.4 Pastoralism
    6. 7.5 Plant Cultivation: Horticulture and Agriculture
    7. 7.6 Exchange, Value, and Consumption
    8. 7.7 Industrialism and Postmodernity
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  9. 8 Authority, Decisions, and Power: Political Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Colonialism and the Categorization of Political Systems
    3. 8.2 Acephalous Societies: Bands and Tribes
    4. 8.3 Centralized Societies: Chiefdoms and States
    5. 8.4 Modern Nation-States
    6. 8.5 Resistance, Revolution, and Social Movements
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  10. 9 Social Inequalities
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 Theories of Inequity and Inequality
    3. 9.2 Systems of Inequality
    4. 9.3 Intersections of Inequality
    5. 9.4 Studying In: Addressing Inequities within Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Critical Thinking Questions
    8. Bibliography
  11. 10 The Global Impact of Human Migration
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 Peopling of the World
    3. 10.2 Early Global Movements and Cultural Hybridity
    4. 10.3 Peasantry and Urbanization
    5. 10.4 Inequality along the Margins
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  12. 11 Forming Family through Kinship
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 What Is Kinship?
    3. 11.2 Defining Family and Household
    4. 11.3 Reckoning Kinship across Cultures
    5. 11.4 Marriage and Families across Cultures
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  13. 12 Gender and Sexuality
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in Anthropology
    3. 12.2 Performing Gender Categories
    4. 12.3 The Power of Gender: Patriarchy and Matriarchy
    5. 12.4 Sexuality and Queer Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  14. 13 Religion and Culture
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 What Is Religion?
    3. 13.2 Symbolic and Sacred Space
    4. 13.3 Myth and Religious Doctrine
    5. 13.4 Rituals of Transition and Conformity
    6. 13.5 Other Forms of Religious Practice
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  15. 14 Anthropology of Food
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 Food as a Material Artifact
    3. 14.2 A Biocultural Approach to Food
    4. 14.3 Food and Cultural Identity
    5. 14.4 The Globalization of Food
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  16. 15 Anthropology of Media
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 Putting the Mass into Media
    3. 15.2 Putting Culture into Media Studies
    4. 15.3 Visual Anthropology and Ethnographic Film
    5. 15.4 Photography, Representation, and Memory
    6. 15.5 News Media, the Public Sphere, and Nationalism
    7. 15.6 Community, Development, and Broadcast Media
    8. 15.7 Broadcasting Modernity and National Identity
    9. 15.8 Digital Media, New Socialities
    10. Key Terms
    11. Summary
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Bibliography
  17. 16 Art, Music, and Sport
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 Anthropology of the Arts
    3. 16.2 Anthropology of Music
    4. 16.3 An Anthropological View of Sport throughout Time
    5. 16.4 Anthropology, Representation, and Performance
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  18. 17 Medical Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 What Is Medical Anthropology?
    3. 17.2 Ethnomedicine
    4. 17.3 Theories and Methods
    5. 17.4 Applied Medical Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  19. 18 Human-Animal Relationship
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Humans and Animals
    3. 18.2 Animals and Subsistence
    4. 18.3 Symbolism and Meaning of Animals
    5. 18.4 Pet-Keeping
    6. 18.5 Animal Industries and the Animal Trade
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  20. 19 Indigenous Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Indigenous Peoples
    3. 19.2 Colonization and Anthropology
    4. 19.3 Indigenous Agency and Rights
    5. 19.4 Applied and Public Anthropology and Indigenous Peoples
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  21. 20 Anthropology on the Ground
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Our Challenging World Today
    3. 20.2 Why Anthropology Matters
    4. 20.3 What Anthropologists Can Do
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Critical Thinking Questions
    8. Bibliography
  22. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Provide E. B. Tylor’s definition of culture.
  • Distinguish natural behavior from cultural behavior.
  • Describe deliberate and nondeliberate ways that people acquire culture.
  • Explain how biological processes can be shaped by culture.

In the last section, we referred to culture as a combination of materials, technologies, social relationships, everyday practices, deeply held values, and shared ideas. Nineteenth-century British anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (1873, 1:1). That’s a lot to include in one concept! If all of that is culture, then what about human experience and activity is not culture?

Consider this scenario. A student comes to class one day, and the instructor says, “I’ve decided that you’re all a bunch of failures and I’m flunking the entire class.” Imagine then that the instructor simply stands there after that announcement, blinking calmly as the class erupts in protest.

Now imagine that same scenario with one very slight difference. The instructor announces, “I’ve decided that you’re all a bunch of failures and I’m flunking the entire class.” Then, as the class erupts in protest, the instructor calmly blinks one eye, leaving the other eye open.

A sepia colored photograph of a woman wearing a large brimmed hat with a feather and winking one eye in an exaggerated manner.
Figure 3.4 Would you take this woman seriously? In American culture, winking, related to the normal biological function of blinking, takes on special meaning in social interactions. (credit: Motion Picture News/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

What just happened there? Blinking is a biological compulsion common to humans everywhere. Humans blink to keep eyes hydrated and clear of debris. Humans are born knowing how to blink; nobody has to teach us. On average, humans blink 15 to 20 times every minute. Without realizing it, people are necessarily blinking throughout every conversation, every social interaction, every activity during the day. The people we talk to and interact with are also blinking constantly, so often that everyone is accustomed to ignoring it. Blinking does not affect the perceived meaning of speech or actions.

But if someone deliberately blinks one eye, leaving the other one open, that’s a completely different matter. In fact, leaving one eye open makes a blink a wink. Winking is not a biological necessity. Humans are not born knowing to how to wink, and it takes some practice to learn how to do it. Because it requires deliberate effort and people are not constantly doing it, winking can acquire special meaning in social interactions. In American culture (and many others), a wink often indicates that someone is joking around and that whatever they’ve just said or done should not be taken seriously. Of course, a wink can mean different things in different societies. Moreover, a wink can mean different things in the same society. If someone on a date takes their companion’s hand and gives a cute little wink, the person may have reason to hope the winker is not just joking around.

American cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973) used the example of winking to illustrate two important aspects of culture. First, culture is learned. Innate human behaviors—that is, behaviors that people are born with—are biological, not cultural. Blinking is biological. Acquired human behaviors—that is, behaviors that people are taught—are cultural. Winking is cultural. This means that cultural behaviors are not genetically inherited from generation to generation but must be passed down from older members of a society to younger members. This process, as you’ll recall from What is Anthropology? is called enculturation.

Some aspects of enculturation are deliberate and systematic, such as learning the rules of written punctuation in a language. At some point in an English speaker’s childhood, someone explicitly told them the difference between a question mark and an exclamation point. Most likely, they learned this distinction in school, a fundamental institution of enculturation in many societies. Religious institutions are another common force of enculturation, providing explicit instruction in cultural rules of morality and social interaction. Extracurricular activities such as sports, dance, and music lessons also teach children cultural rules and norms.

While a great deal of very important cultural content is deliberately conveyed in these systematic contexts, the greater part of culture is acquired unconsciously by happenstance—that is, nobody planned to teach it, and no one made an effort to consciously try to learn it. By virtue of growing up in a culture, children learn what certain actions and objects mean, how their society operates, and what the rules are for appropriate behavior.

Going back to the cultural notion of home, did anyone ever explain to you why your childhood home was structured in a certain way? Did anyone ever point out the cultural assumptions about gender and family built into your house? Probably not. Now, imagine that you were taken away from your parents as a baby and adopted by a family far away, with a very different way of life situated in a very different environment. With your adoptive family, you might have been raised in a very different kind of home. Growing up, your everyday habits, activities, and expectations would have been shaped by the setup of that home. Living in that house, you would have wordlessly absorbed a set of assumptions about family, gender, work, leisure, hospitality, and property. And all of it would seem quite natural to you.

Many forms of culture are passed down through a combination of deliberate and unconscious processes. Perhaps when you were a child, someone told you what a wink was and showed you how to accomplish one; or perhaps you just witnessed a few winks, figured out what they meant from their contexts, and then learned how to accomplish one through trial and error. Geertz pointed out that there are two important aspects to winking: the meaning and the action. As both are learned, both are cultural. But perhaps more importantly, both the standardized action of winking and the assumed meaning of this action are commonly known among members of a group. That is, culture is shared.

Consider another aspect of human biology: dreaming. People in all societies dream, and no one has to teach them how to do it. Dreaming is biologically innate and spontaneously performed. Biological researchers hypothesize that dreaming helps the human brain process daily stimuli and convert recent experiences into long-term memories. As a biological necessity for brain health, dreaming is natural, not cultural.

But why do people dream in stories? And why are those stories so often confusing, even troubling? In many cultures, people are perplexed by their dreams, never really knowing what the objects and situations they dream about are meant to indicate—or if they have any meaning at all. In other cultures, however, dreams are recognized as arenas of spiritual communication with supernatural beings. In Ojibwa culture, young people are encouraged to fast for up to a week in order to bring on special visionary dreams (Hallowell 1992; Peters-Golden 2002, 188–189). In such dreams, a young person may be approached by a guardian spirit who imparts knowledge for successful hunting, warfare, or medicine. People are discouraged from discussing the meaning of these dreams, but young people are taught to expect and anticipate this kind of dream, and they know how to interpret the content of such dreams without discussion. The widely shared ability to dream such dreams and the shared knowledge to understand their content makes dreaming profoundly cultural among the Ojibwa.

Summing up, when an element of human experience or behavior is learned and shared, we know it is an aspect of culture. That delineates the concept of culture to some degree. However, the variety of things that are learned and shared by humans in groups is still quite enormous, as indicated by Tylor’s rambling list (knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, etc.). Instead of thinking of culture as one vast hodgepodge of things, it’s helpful to break that hodgepodge into three basic elements. These basic elements of culture are understood to come together in larger combinations, or aggregates.

Do you know how you learn best?
Kinetic by OpenStax offers access to innovative study tools designed to help you maximize your learning potential.
Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Citation/Attribution

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-anthropology/pages/1-introduction
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-anthropology/pages/1-introduction
Citation information

© Jun 13, 2022 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.