Culture Area: For Anthropology UPSC Mains
A culture area was defined as a geographical/cultural region whose population and groups share important common identifiable cultural traits, such as language, tools and material culture, kinship, social organization, and cultural history.
History of this concept:
- The culture area concept was developed in the early 1900s, at a time when American anthropology was in its infancy
- A culture area is a concept in cultural anthropology in which a geographic region and time sequence (age area) is characterised by substantially uniform environment and culture
- The concept of culture areas was originated by museum curators and ethnologists during the late 1800s as means of arranging exhibits.
- Clark Wissler and Alfred Kroeber further developed the concept on the premise that they represent longstanding cultural divisions.
Franz Boas and his students were collecting enormous amounts of data about the “disappearing” native cultures of North America. There was no framework for organizing this data, however. The concept of the culture area was first applied by ethnologist Clark Wissler in order to provide a theoretical framework for the information being generated.
- A culture area was defined as a geographical/cultural region whose population and groups share important common identifiable cultural traits, such as language, tools and material culture, kinship, social organization, and cultural history.
- Therefore, groups sharing similar traits in a geographical region would be classed in a single culture area.
- The underlying idea of this concept is that by spatially tracing traits, it is possible to understand the history of an institution. By defining the idea of a “culture core,” (later culture centre or climax) or the group in the culture area that produces the most complex traitsand then shares those with other nearby groups, this concept provided a powerful explanatory tool.
- The notion of the culture area has been viewedas being ethnocentricbecause it ignores adaptation or biology and appears to rely on diffusion as an explanation for similar cultural traits (especially inventions) in a single geographic area.
- This concept, is very selective in the kinds of traits on which it focuses. As a result, local and regional differences are virtually ignored, and the concept of independent invention was often discarded.
- Anthropologists cannot agree on the number of culture areas and how groups should be classified within those divisions. The current division of culture areas tends to be the most popular; however, there are certainly variations on this scheme: Arctic, Subarctic, Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, Great Plains, Southwest, Plateau, Great Basin, and California.
Despite its apparent faults, anthropologists continue to use the culture area concept. As an explanatory tool, this concept falls short; however, the concept still provides a mechanism for organizing a multitude of data. In addition, the idea of a culture area certainly illustrates the interaction between neighboring groups of people. Comparisons of groups within and between culture areas allow anthropologists and archaeologists to examine those common environments and historical processes that may link groups or and create similarities and differences between them.The culture area concept also provides a common language for anthropologists working in a particular area. It is often the case that studies are focused by region, and the literature will be equally focused. In addition, research questions and theoretical issues tend to link anthropologists working in a particular culture area. This concept has therefore both divided and united anthropologists.
- Useful in archaeology- where culture areas were seen as archaeological equivalents to ethnographic “cultures” and this concept was used to narrowly define and explain similarities in material culture of the past.
- In museums: Useful to organize data, catalogue artifacts, and created displays.