Sie sind auf Seite 1von 25

SC2218 Lecture 3

Films & Readings: Culture, Cultures & the Human Condition

Film: "Strange Beliefs" (Evans-Pritchard)

Thinking Questions
How did Evans-Pritchards view of magic and witchcraft differ from some of his predecessors?
How were Azande granaries important in Evans-Pritchards research?
What does it mean to say that Azande thinking has a different point of departure?
Why was Evans-Pritchard interested in Nuer cattle?

In Strange Beliefs, written and produced by Bruce Dakowski, Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchards(E.P.) contribution to
the field of Anthropology is documented. He is said to have revolutionized Anthropology by turning it away from the
search for universal ways of human behaviour. Anthropologists rather, were to be seen as interpreters rather than
scientists, and their task was the translation of culture.
E.P.s debut work Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande, was produced from his interaction with the
Azande back in 1926. E.P.s study stemmed from his interest in how the Azandes ideas could be pieced together to
form their system of belief, and how it compared to his own. He found that the Azandes underlying assumptions were
different, exemplified by a rice granary. Now a granary, supported by wooden posts would be expected be worn down
by termites and eventually collapse. Why it falls at a particular time on a particular person is something his culture
called bad luck, or by chance. However, to the Azande, that sort of misfortune is believed to be caused by
witchcraft. The Azande attributed any misfortune, particularly those fatal ones, to witchcraft. In E.P.s words, It is death
that answers the riddle to mystical beliefs. The witchdoctor is highly regarded in Azande land, and he is integral to
their society because he is supposed be combat witchcraft, with his ceremonies of spells, substances and procedures.
The Azandes faith in witchcraft is so inherent that it is unshaken and not disproved by its failures.
Through his study of the Azande, E.P. sought to raise the question of what can be considered rational thinking in any
culture. Professor David Pocock of the University of Sussex, who was a student of E.P., comments that Azande
express and manage envy, hate and spite through the concept of witchcraft. Witchcraft then, was a practical way of
organizing life for the Azande.Before E.P., witchcraft and magic were loosely-used terms by the Western world, and
meant to imply primitive and misguided thinking and behaviour. There were no study of African religions and were
simply classified as mysticisim and odd beliefs. E.P.s record of the Azande society, has led African religions to be
treated with the same seriousness and philosophical thinking as world religions.
The second part of Strange Beliefs followed E.P. to Cairo, Egypt in 1932 where he acquired a university post. It was
there he studied Primitive Mentality, particularly focused on human thought. In addition, he stressed the importance
of history in Anthropology, much to the displeasure of his former teacher Malinoswki. E.P., wanted to learn more about
the history of ideas and sought to utilise anthropology in a historical context. This is where E.P. was made famous by
his conviction of Anthropology as not a natural science, but something that lies between humanities and the social
science. Because it is not understandable at face value, anthropologists are to aid by being translators of the foreign
culture, as how interpreters translate language.
Shortly after, E.P. was sent by his government to the land of Nuers, which led him to produce an ethnography of their
society. The Nuer, were seen as problematic by his government, because there were a war-like tribe prone to
aggressiveness and displayed strong resistance to being governed. E.P. discovered from his stay with the Nuers, that
this was due to their egalitarian upbringing. The Nuers are described to be deeply democratic, easily prone to violence
and find any sort of restraint irksome. Every Nuer considered himself as good as his neighbour and would strut
around like lords of the Earth, which they considered themselves to be.
As fundamental as witchcraft is to the Azande, were cattles to the Nuers. Young boys would take the name of their
favourite bulls, songs were composed about the beauty of the beast, and its presence in Nuers folklore abounded.
Cattles were also used in social processes such as payment and compensation for settling feuds. E.P. described the
cattle as the idiom for the way the Nuer thinks, highlighting its importance to the Nuer society. Rather than being
organized by a legal institution, the Nuers lives are centred around the cattle. E.P. termed the political structure of the
Nuer ordered anarchy, in which it is not ruled by any officer. This finding derived from the Nuer tribe, was another
great contribution of E.P. as it challenged western political views of African societies, which stereotyped them as

Rather than accepting widespread belief of what is considered "irrational" and "primitive", E.P. managed to contest
those notions, convincing his fellow anthropologists that those terms were irrelevant because the societies of the
Azande and the Nuer, functioned no poorer than their own. What does not make sense in their culture, is actually they
know as "common sense" to the Azande or the Nuer. Hence there can be no universal theory of human behaviour.
A common question often raised to anthropologists is, why go out of their way to study other cultures when they can
study their own? In response, E.P. cites two reasons: Objectivity and Distinction. The former is developed and
achieved through the study of other people, as it is easier to make correlations and observations in societies unlike
ones own. While the latter, distinction, is necessary for these remote societies to be studied in their entirety, and for
their whole social life to be evaluated. By letting the people talk, the authority is shifted from the anthropologist to the
people. The anthropologist then takes on the ideal position of being a translator, interpreting what he observes to the
rest of the world.
In conclusion, the role of an anthropologist is best illustrated in E.P.s analogy of one who is not just member of the
audience, but also on the stage. This highlights the imperative requirement for the anthropologist to be active
participants, rather than passive observers in order to effectively translate anothers culture.

A Commentary on Similarities (Strange Beliefs)
In the documentary film, Strange Beliefs, Edward Evans Pritchard, is commemorated for his unprejudiced
observations of the Azande people, the Nua people and the Bedouins. My commentary is mainly focused on part 1 of
the documentary, and the Azande people. Here are some of my views.
In my view, anthropology has come a long way, as detailed in the lecture, from biological determinism, geographical
determinism, to cultural relativism. Here, Pritchard is lauded for being one of the pioneers in practising cultural
relativism, and following Malinowski, making disciplined observations. What Pritchard did in his observations was not
only to make an unbiased view, but also to respect the entire system of their humanity (their culture, norms, value
propositions, kinship structures, etc.) as equal to his own background of Western civilisation.
In the documentary film, what I noticed was how similar the Azande peoples beliefs were to the Chinese culture here
in Singapore. The wichdoctors and poison oracles role in the Azande society is somewhat similar to our own. If one
had been experiencing a spate of bad luck, it could be attributed to ones having been cursed by enemies, or it could
be that the feng shui of the house or office is not good, or it could be that not enough good deeds were done. That is
similar to the Azande peoples belief that if someone has encountered an accident or an illness, one must have been
cursed by someone else. To counter the spate of bad luck, the Chinese in Singapore seek out fortune tellers, popular
monks, or mediums to try to counter and correct the source of bad luck and misfortune. In the documentary, a young
man enquired with the poison oracle about the health of his mother, who was ill. And he also approached the
witchdoctor for certain medicines and a healing ceremony to cure his mother. In Singapore, some Chinese still seek
mediums and the like for illnesses, believing that bad spirits are harming them.
Further, there are also similarities in many other cultures around the world. Voodoo healing practices are also
practised in New Orleans in the USA. Faith healing is also practised in Christian churches and has quite significantly
spread throughout the globe. There are also cases of exorcism practised by Catholic priests. Catholics have also
made pilgrimages to Lourdes, France, to seek out the spring of healing waters. And as Professor Thompson
mentioned, the Malays in the kampong he studied in Malaysia sought out their local bomoh as well. It seems like no
matter how modern our culture is, there will always be people seeking answers for questions that cannot be answered
by rational thinking, such as luck, longevity, illness, and perhaps, child-bearing.
Another issue I noticed was that the poison oracle of the Azande, featured in the documentary, mentioned a sentiment
of betrayal by the white man. He also mentioned if the film crew was here to take their land or to be their true friends.
The development of anthropology as a study, independent of biases and external interests, has, in my opinion, in its
early years, been hampered by colonial interests. Betrayal must have been harsh, in that the tribe welcomes the
anthropologist, accepts him or her as one of them, and allows the anthropologist to stay, eat and sleep amongst them.

And these tribes, might, like the Azande, remember the injustices perpetrated against them, and they might not be as
accepting of foreign eyes as they were before.

Can Any Belief System Really Be Considered Rational/Irrational? (Strange Beliefs)

I just wanted to write a post about the film Strange Beliefs, in particular about how it helps us learn to not judge other
cultures' beliefs as irrational or ridiculous like how many colonialists in the past viewed the Azande belief system. In
addition, I think it is also interesting how comparing our belief systems to those of the Azande might cause us to
question the validity of our own belief systems which I'm quite certain many of us might intuitively think is a rational
Let's look at how the Azande people deal with illness versus how we (i.e. people in contemporary societies) do.
Firstly, the Azande consult various oracles (rubbing board oracle, poison oracle etc.), which they believe to be
authorities on the subject matter due to the oracles knowledge. They do so to find out about the nature of illnesses.
This can be likened to how many of us look to medical doctors to diagnose our illnesses. In contemporary societies,
doctors play the same role as the oracles do for the Azande in that they are the authorities on the nature of illness.
However, this is because we too believe doctors possess a much higher level of knowledge than ourselves with
regards to illnesses. Do we really know for a fact that the diagnoses provided by doctors are accurate? The answer is
probably No. It is just that almost every one that grows up in contemporary societies like Singapore is taught and
conditioned to believe in the wisdom of doctors when it comes to illnesses and diseases. Similarly, the Azande people
grow up being taught about witchcraft and oracles. As such, through this comparison, it can be seen that there is a
sort of symmetry between Azande beliefs and those of contemporary societies.
Next, let us look at the efficacy of the healing dances of the Azande witchdoctors and that of western medicine.While
some people might think that our belief in germ theory is more rational than the Azande's witchcraft beliefs, there isn't
actually much basis for such a conclusion. The failure of the witchdoctors healing to save Guguda's mother as seen in
the film did not cause his belief in witchcraft to waver at all. That may seem odd, but it is no different from the way
many of us believe in western medicine. Even in western medicine, sometimes people still do not recover from
supposedly curable illnesses despite taking the appropriate medicine. These cases are merely dismissed as rare
anomalies and do not affect our belief in the system. As such, if we apply this logic to the Azande peoples behaviour,
we can see why they continue to believe in their own methods of healing. This point is further emphasized by what
Richard Lee mentioned in his book, The Dobe Ju/'hoansi, that both western doctors and African witchdoctors operate
on similar success odds, as humans recover from over 90% of illnesses naturally regardless of what treatment they
use. Thus, there is no real basis to reject the Azande belief system and their practices as irrational.
I guess my main point here is that I like how this film causes us to question if any beliefs can truly be considered
rational or irrational. At the end of the day, as long as a belief system helps people make sense of things, be it in
answering metaphysical questions or explaining uncertainties, there is no reason why it should/could be considered
irrational. Only through participant observation and anthropological studies can we truly understand these strange
belief systems and accept them.
Being an interpretor of culture and the threat of going native

In the film Strange Beliefs, Evans-Pritchard (E.P) repeatedly emphasized on and demonstrated the importance of
immersing oneself in the culture that one is studying in order to truly understand the significance of its practices from
within instead of merely conducting arm-chair theorizing in the comforts of ones home country. The video set E.P up
as though he was a human microscope, being inserted into the Azande culture to examine it, withdrawn back to his
home culture, and later inserted into the Nuer culture to carry out anthropological study again. The necessity of
assimilation into a culture in order to truly understand it is taken as a given, in order for the anthropologist to offer a
comprehensive analysis of the culture.
However, this route of analysis seems to neglect the fact that anthropologists are thinking and feeling creatures and
their assimilation into the culture they are studying can lead to them going native. What I mean by going native is

that these anthropologists might become so inculcated into viewing the world through the eyes of his subjects of study
that he/she loses his/her objectivity as an anthropologist. Objectivity is supposedly developed and achieved through
the study of other people, as it is easier to make correlations and observations in societies unlike ones own, yet the
need for assimilation into the tribes in order to gain insider access to tribal life may taint the anthropologists lenses as
the tribes lifestyles grows to be familiar to him/her.
Another question that comes to mind is the reliability of the observations made by the anthropologist. Given the close
relationship forged between the anthropologist and the natives (eg. Richard Lees being adopted by the !Kung San
people in the Dobe/Ju Hoansi text), the anthropologists may choose to not report some of the facts that are highly
unlikely to be accepted by people outside of the tribes (even if it is emphasized that one should not use his/her own
cultural yardstick to measure another culture) in order to protect his friends in the tribe from being persecuted by
So my question is, how can an anthropologist objectively study a foreign culture while avoiding the possibilities of
going native?
Commentary on "Strange Beliefs"

In the film Strange Beliefs, we are introduced to a British anthropologist by the name of Evans-Pritchard and his
contributions to anthropology especially with regards to his study of the Azande and the Nuer. His aim was to produce
a finer understanding of irrational behaviour and culture. Evans-Pritchard emphasized that anthropologists should be
seen as interpreters of culture, not just an observer. Thus, in his study of the Azande, he examined their culture,
beliefs, system of thoughts and he immersed himself in their culture by sharing in their way of life and culture. EvansPritchard also emphasized that anthropologists should be active participants in order to translate and explain the
culture of the society that one is studying.
Hence, seeing this film made me think of what exactly is culture, its importance and functions in society. Like what we
have studied in lecture that the form is fixed and culture takes off, thus, it means that human biological change is
only largely and literally superficial in the past 50,000 years, thus our biological changes are only skin-deep,
however, human diversity is mainly cultural and human society and culture have changed significantly. Thus, this
makes me think that cultures are dynamic systems that react to changes and actions within and around them. And as
Haviland, Prins, McBride and Walrath (2011) have stated (in their book: Cultural Anthropology, the Human Challenge)
that when one element within the system shifts or changes, the entire system strives to adjust, just as it does when
an outside force applies pressure (p. 36), hence, a culture needs to be flexible enough in order to permit such
adjustments under changing conditions so as to function adequately / sufficiently. However, just as all cultures are
dynamic, the degree as to how dynamic they are differs. Some cultures are rather rigid and static that it is unable to
endure because it fails to provide its people with the means for long-term survival when changes occur while some
cultures are so fluid that they are too adaptive to changes and hence, they lose their distinctive character (Haviland
et. al, 2011, p. 36) in the process.
There are many definitions which explain what culture is, but the main idea is that culture is a general capacity and
process and it is like second nature to us. Through reading this book on Cultural Anthropology, the Human
Challenge, I have come across this interesting model on culture which gives an in-depth explanation on what culture
is and how it functions. Haviland et. al (2011) explained that anthropologists usually think of culture as a wellstructured system consisting of distinctive parts that function as a whole. However, Haviland et. al (2011) also added
that even though anthropologists may distinguish each part as a clearly defined unit consisting of its own
characteristics and special place within a larger system, they noted that social reality is complex and changeable and
that divisions among cultural units are often blurry (p. 35). Hence, Haviland et. al came up with the barrel model of
culture in which a societys cultural features fall into three main categories, i.e. social
structure, infrastructure and superstructure. Social structure is the rule-governed relationships (with all their rights and
obligations) that promotes group cohesion and hold all the members of the society together. It includes power relations
(politics), households, families and associations. It allows for the members within a society to survive because basic
needs such as food and shelter are obtained through work. Hence, there is a direct relation between a groups social
structure and its economic foundation which includes materials, tools and equipment for the members to make a
living. The next aspect of culture is the infrastructure which is the economic foundation of a society, i.e. subsistence
practices, tools, materials and other equipment to make a living. It involves making use of the available resources to

survive and meet societys basic needs. The last aspect is the superstructure which is the shared and collective sense
of identity and worldview that a society has. It involves the shared beliefs, ideas and values that help members of
society to understand the world and their place in it, thus giving security, meaning and direction to their lives. It
includes religious and national identity. And this is clearly shown in the Azandes collective beliefs and ideas in
witchcraft and how they attribute everything that happens to them to witchcraft. And hence, through constant and
continual adaptation, reinforcement and influence, Haviland et. al (2011) stated that these three interdependent
structures together form a cultural system.
And we can see the link between the barrel model of culture to E.B. Taylors definition of culture which states that
culture or civilization is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any
other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society and also the link to Clifford Geertzs definition
of culture which states that culture is our models for and of the world, models of categories, ideas through which we
make sense of the world and models for categories and ideas through which we act in the world.
Seeing this film also made me think about and highlight the importance and functions of culture. Through his
anthropological fieldwork on the Trobriands, Polish-born anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski said that there are three
basic levels and functions of culture, i.e. 1. Culture must provide for biological needs (e.g, the need for food and
procreation), 2. Culture must provide for instrumental needs (e.g., the need for law and education) and 3. Culture must
provide for integrative needs (e.g., the need for religion and art) as stated by (Haviland et. al, 2011, p. 37). Hence, I
feel that a culture must support all aspects of life as indicated by the barrel model of culture which I had mentioned
earlier. A culture needs to be able to deal efficiently with all the basic challenges and problems (whether biological or
psychological) in order to survive and function. Thus, I feel that a culture functions to provide strategies for its people
to deal with the problems and challenges faced. For example, with regards to biological challenges such as
procreation and ensuring the on-going survival of its society, a culture must provide a social structure for mutual
support, reproduction, passing down of knowledge and facilitation of social interaction of its members so as to ensure
that its members will stay on and contribute to its biological continuity.
And seeing the Azandes collective and shared beliefs and ideas about witchcraft and how everything revolves around
and is explained through witchcraft, hence, this made me reflect the importance and the function of culture in
addressing the emotional and psychological needs of its members. And Haviland et. al (2011) stated that this function
is met simply by the measure of predictability that each culture, as a shared design for thought and action, brings to
everyday life (p. 36). However, apart from this, it also involves a worldview and a collective sense of identity that
helps each member make sense of the world and understand their place in it. For example, every culture provides its
members with certain routine rituals and ideas that help them think about life and death, and even afterlife so as to
help its members imagine about such ideas and conceptions which in turn would help them to cope with the loss that
death has brought. And this is clearly seen in the Azandes collective belief in witchcraft whereby a young Azande,
believing his mother to be bewitched, seeks the hierarchy of oracles. The first one he visits feeds poison to the
chicken, believing that if the chicken dies after ingesting the poison, then it means that his mother will die if she gets
the medicine, but if the chicken lives, then his mother will live. The next one he visits is the witchdoctor (who is held in
very high regard among the Azande) so as to obtain the right kind of medicine for his mother. And even though his
mother died eventually, his belief in the oracles and in witchcraft is not shaken, he still believes strongly in them. And
this is because the belief in witchcraft helps him to think about life and death, to account for such conceptions thus
giving him a sense of security and to cope with the loss that he has.
This film has also made me think about this concept of cultural adaption. We, humans have become increasingly
dependent on cultural adaptation which Haviland et. al (2011) explain that it is the complexity of ideas, technologies
and activities which allow us to survive and even thrive in our environment. And biology has little to do with it. Biology
has not provided us with in-built speed to run as fast as animals, for e.g., a cheetah but through culture and its many
constructions (Haviland et. al, 2011, p. 38), we are able to build and create vehicles that can transport us and make
us travel even faster and longer than any animal. Biology has not given us in-built jackets and sweaters to cope with
the cold weather or cold climate but through culture and its many constructions, we are able to make our own
sweaters, coats and build fire to keep ourselves warm. And hence, cultural adaption has allowed humans to survive
and expand as well, from moving into a wide range of different environments (environments with a very cold climate
to environments with a very hot climate).
Lastly, Evans-Pritchard emphasized that anthropologists should immerse themselves in the culture that they are
studying in order to accurately translate and explain the culture. Hence, cultural relativism is being used throughout his
research, as an essential research tool. However, the question that arises is, how much is cultural relativism too

much? In the case of the Azande and the Nuer, Evans-Pritchard is able to appreciate their way of life and culture with
regards to the Azandes belief in witchcraft and the Nuers deep connection with their cattles. However, how should we
react then, for example, to a culture that engages in cannibalism as their way of life? Are we then supposed to defend
their right to engage in that cultural practice, even though it is destructive and goes against our own morals?
Personally, I agree that cultural relativism is essential as a research tool in order to appreciate and understand the
culture that we are studying. However, using cultural relativism for research does not mean that we suspend and
cease to make any comments / judgements when we see a cultural practice that is destructive or that is morally wrong
and it does not also mean that we have to defend the peoples right to participate in any cultural practice, no matter
how morally wrong or destructive it is. And I agree with what Haviland et. al (2011) stated that it ultimately requires us
to avoid making premature and impulsive judgements until weve fully come to understand the culture that we are
studying. We shouldnt jump to conclusions before taking an informed and critical stance / attitude in understanding
the advantages and disadvantages as well as the purposes that particular cultural practices, beliefs and behaviours
have for its members and its society. And only then can we make informed and reasonably objective comments /
judgements about those particular cultural practices.
In addition to my previous commentary, viewing this film has also made me question about how well does a culture
satisfy the biological, psychological, social and emotional needs of its members whose behaviours are guided by it?
And interestingly, Haviland et. al (2011) stated that specific indicators of this can be found in the general physical and
mental health as well as nutritional status of its members / population: the occurrence of crime, delinquency, violence,
the demographic structure, stability and tranquillity of domestic life; and the groups relationship to its resource base
(p. 43). Hence, the culture of a people who experience and suffer from high incidence and rates of violence, crime,
deliquency, malnutrition, psychological and emotional disorders and diseases, and environmental ruin may be
suggested to be functioning less well and successful than those cultures that experience little of such problems. And a
cultural breakdown is said to happen when people are not able to cope and start feeling helpless and worthless
regarding shaping and determining their own lives within their own society. Thus, I feel that a cultural system is like a
maintenance system, it helps to ensure the well-being of its members. And I agree with what Haviland et. al (2011)
noted that a cultural system may be deemed as successful if it ensures the survival and continuity of its members in a
way that they find it rationally fulfilling. And hence, the Nuer can be deemed as a successful cultural system because it
functions well even without the presence of a government (ordered anarchy) and also because the people there have
respect for one another, thus there are no slaves or masters. As a result, Evans-Pritchard was rather impressed with
the political organization and way of life of the Nuer as it contradicts and challenges the contemporary notions of
people being governed. This is because the cultural systems in stratified, hierarchical and modern societies tend to
favour and benefit the elites while the groups that are at the bottom tend to suffer the most. And this difference is
usually in terms of material wealth. However, such inequalities were not seen among the culture of the Nuer.
Hence, Haviland et. al (2011) stated that anthropologists must always ask whose needs and whose survival are best
served by the culture in question. And I feel that this is because one can only make reasonably informed and objective
judgements about how well a culture is functioning only by looking and understanding the overall situation.
Being 'white'- power, prestige and wealth
Credibility of Evans-Pritchard's ethnography
First of all, what interests me the most is that in Evans-Pritchard's film, Evans-Pritchard was seen sitting on a chair
whereas the tribe members surround him. This brings into question whether the method he intended to employ was
indeed "going native". Especially since it was mentioned that white colonialism was taking place at that time, the
constructed hierarchy of the colonial whites and the relegated African blacks would have been highly pervasive then.
The picture of Evans sitting on a chair gives off the feel of superiority- as though the Azande tribe members were his
subjects while he is the 'king'. I wonder then if the treatment Evans-Pritchard received was bias. Indeed, while how
others perceive him could not be controlled, his own everyday interactions to minimize special treatment could.
Hence, to me, although Evans' ethnography on the Azandes should not be discounted totally, the type of relation
between himself and the tribe members might still be that of a superior and an inferior. This might have skewed his
lived experiences and interpretations of the Azandes' culture.
Positive meaning ascribed to being white and its consequences
The correlation of being 'white' and prestige (and with prestige comes high socio-economic status) is noteworthy. In a

South African legislation, the Japanese are viewed as "honorary white" (Honorary Whites, 1962), clearly depicting
that being white carries a positive meaning and is highly esteemed so much so that it would be a great privilege to be
one. This phenomenon can be explained by European colonialism in the early part of the 1500-1600s, which yields the
longstanding belief that Eurasians are superior to other communities, thereby creating a system that values
'whiteness' over 'blackness' (Lake, 2003). During the colonial period in India, lighter skinned Indians were more
privileged than their darker skinned counterparts. They had better job prospects and were more socially mobile
(Blackout, 2008). Consequently, European colonialism might have been the springboard to which 'whiteness' is being
prized up until today. Today, societies all over the world strive to achieve that 'whiteness' or generally lighter skin
colour than others. Notably, record sales of whitening cosmetic products in East Asia show how lighter skin is seen as
ideal and beautiful (SKIN DEEP: Dying to be white, 2002). The 'brown paper bag test' once implemented in certain
African American sororities and dormitories to sieve out those whose skin colour was darker than the brown paper
bag, reflected how being lighter skinned led to social acceptance and access to greater resources (Kerr, 2006).
Hence, throughout societies, the ideal lighter skinned form an exclusive group in relation to the alienated dark skinned.
Apart from social and psychological implications, the spill-over on their economic status is alarming. Darker skinned
African Americans were found to be poorer and less likely to hold elective office compared with their lighter skinned
counterparts (Hochschild, 2007). From this, it is apparent that the darker skinned may be effectively deprived of better
life chances. If that is the case, the seemingly benign value placed on being lighter skinned may actually prove to be
maliciously otherwise. What is unsettling is that, given the ideologys history and pervasiveness, it may be difficult to
overcome its highly entrenched prominence.
"Strange Beliefs"
The film Strange Beliefs captures the important contributions that EE Evans-Pritchard made in the field of
anthropology. It recounts Evans-Pritchards study of the Azande in Sudan, which at the time was revolutionary as he
had lived among them, making it the first intensive anthropological fieldwork that was being carried out on an African
At a time when the discipline of anthropology was largely influenced by colonialism, the conception that the subjects of
colonisation were uncivilised and inferior was prevalent. Tribal peoples then, were especially considered to be
primitive and the African tribes beliefs and practices of magic and witchcraft were seen to be ludicrous, irrational and
misguided. Evans-Pritchard, however, believed that the Azandes belief in witchcraft was a logical system of thought.
Evans-Pritchards stand on the Azande and their beliefs would be a clear example of cultural relativism that was
unconventional at the point in time. Instead of judging the cultures of these backward peoples as being primitive and
illogical based on the standards of the more advanced and sophisticated cultures of the civilised West, EvansPritchard respected the different cultures he witnessed among the people he so closely observed, recognising their
beliefs as being unique to these people. It is apt to point out here that the colonial authorities who had colonised the
lands of such backward peoples, in contrast, failed to understand their subjects and their way of life.
The belief in witchcraft was widespread in Azande society and its practices were manifested in everyday life. The
Azande believed that serious misfortunes like that of death was a result of witchcraft because the mystery surrounding
death was akin to the mystical notions of witchcraft. The Azandes believed that humans were sources of witchcraft,
whether conscious of it or not, and took precautions to prevent misfortunes from happening to them at any point in
time. This was done by establishing contact with evil powers through oracles and witchdoctors, who played an
important role in Azande society and who possessed a large repertoire of magic spells, substances and procedures.
Yet, even with the failure to prevent deaths and other misfortunes from occurring at times, the belief in the power of
witchcraft never subsided among the Azande who placed great faith in it. A parallel could thus be drawn with the
beliefs of astrology and Marxism and even established world religions like Christianity which could fail to bring hope
and salvation to people at times, yet remain legitimate rational belief systems in other cultures. Azande religion was
never taken seriously by the Western world precisely because of the superior positions that the West took in relation to
the rest of the world, failing to recognise that their own religions and ideologies rested on the same principles as
Azande witchcraft a belief system that brings hope to people and perhaps provides certain answers for lifes
mysteries (and also containing certain practices that are carried out by adherents).
The next major anthropological study that Evans-Pritchard took on was the study of the Nuer people, also in Sudan,
as a request from the British colonial government who was having difficulties with them. The Nuer had resisted any
attempts at being governed and as Evans-Pritchard soon discovered, this was due to the Nuers practice of
egalitarianism. The Nuer did not recognise a superior entity and instead recognised everyone as being equal, hence

readily accepting Evans-Pritchards presence among them - a contrast to their apparently hostile reception towards
the British colonial government. The British authoritys view of the Nuer as being a violent war-like tribe again points to
the lack of understanding that colonial powers had towards their colonised subjects. Apart from the lack of authority in
Nuer society that Evans-Pritchard discovered, he also found out the importance and value that was placed on cattle in
Nuer society.
In conclusion, Evans-Pritchards study of the Azande and the Nuer peoples were an important step towards
understanding these foreign peoples and took on major implications for the study of anthropology.
"Strange Beliefs" - additional summary and commentary on the Nuer

The summary in the aforementioned link talks mainly about the first part of the film, which is the section on E. E.
Evans Pritchards work with the Azande people of South Sudan. As such, I will be concentrating on summarising and
providing a commentary on the second section of the film that was mentioned but not touched on in a lot of detail in
the original summary; the section on the Nuer people, also of South Sudan.

The Nuer
E. E. Evans Pritchard was introduced to the Nuer when the anglo-egyptian government requested his services in
understanding a group of people who were not cooperating with the colonial government. They were thought of as
warlike peoples, who strongly resisted the imposition of government. The relations between the Nuer and the colonial
administrators had got so sour that at one point the Nuer deliberately assassinated a colonial administrator, and the
government bombed the Nuers cattle in an attempt to discipline them.

Evans Pritchard had no dictionary or interpreter with him, but did not let that deter him. He was accepted by the Nuer
as a guest and in a few months he had learnt their language well enough to communicate with them. He set up his
quarters in the centre of the Nuer village, which was a great observational post as he did not miss much of what went
on in Nuer society by living, literally, in their very midst.

Here are some of his observations about the Nuer in his own words;
The Nuer is a product of a hard and egalitarian upbringing, is deeply democratic and is easily roused to violence.
The turbulent spirit finds any restraint irksome and no man recognises a superior.
That every Nuer considers himself as good as his neighbour, is evident in their every movement. They strut about like
lords of the earth, which indeed they consider themselves to be.
There is no master and no servant in their society... only equals.
In these observations we see the value of the anthropological perspective, which comes about when societies are
respected and studied on their own terms, and preferably in their own language. This is necessary to really appreciate
the societal norms, beliefs and practices that have been produced by these people for themselves, through their own
Hence, Evans Pritchards observations here tell us a lot more about the Nuer, how they think and feel, than the
observations of colonial administrators who were not anthropologists and could only say that they are warlike and so
troublesome. Thus, although the colonial administrators did not understand the Nuer, Evans Pritchard felt that he
could relate very closely to the Nuer.Through Evans Pritchards descriptions, the Nuer are much easier to identify with
than in the portrayal by the colonial administrators as a frightening and fierce group of people. We can thus see how it
is possible for gross misunderstandings and serious conflicts between societies to occur without the anthropological

Though there are many interesting features of Nuer society, the film focused a lot on cattle and the place of cattle in
Nuer society.

Although the cattle are an important source of livestock, they mean much more than that to the Nuer, who invest in
their cattle intellectually and emotionally, and would be willing to risk their lives for the safety of their herd.

Every cow or bull has a name and Nuer folklore contains many stories about splendid cattle. Songs are composed for
cows or bulls about their beauty, and then sung to the animal in question.

A herd of cattle can be used to trace the ties of kinship, where a dead mans herd is split up among his sons, who then
take care of those animals until they die. Cattle is also used as a form of payment, to settle social feuds or as bride
wealth, paid by a man to the family of the woman he wants to marry in compensation for their loss of a daughter.

For a male, being able to hone a bull is a mark of being a man, a freedom from boyhood. As a man, he is entitled to be
killed by his enemies, and to have a girlfriend or a wife, in addition to owning a bull, or bulls. In Nuer society, the bulls
are tied to ideas of masculinity, where men go parading with their bulls to display their manhood and to gain the
attention of the opposite sex . A man may take on the name of his favourite bull, and be known by that bull from then
on, which is known as the mans bull name. A man also has a bull song, which is the song he composes by himself
that has a personal meaning to him and is also very much related to his bull (which encapsulates his masculinity in
Nuer society, and gives him his place in society as a man).

Thus, cattle and Nuer society are intimately linked. According to Evans Pritchard, Cattle [is] the idiom through which
Nuer think.

Hence we can understand that different societies have different systems of social organization. In the case of the
Nuer, cattle form the means of this organization. It is no more irrational a system of social organization than that in
industrialized and commercialized societies, where people commonly organise their lives around consumerism or

Evans Pritchard was shocked to find no political or legal institutions in the Nuer societies, nor any member of society
that was accorded with authority above the rest. There were spiritual experts who donned a particular leopard skin
robe that served as an arbiter for conflicting groups but had no power to sanction anybody. Evans Pritchard called this
state of affairs ordered anarchy.

Thus, the Nuer are able to organise their life such that there is no institution of governance, or at least, easily
recognizable institutions of government as we know them.

This fact, coupled with the highly egalitarian and independent ideology of the Nuer where no man recognises a
superior brings little wonder as to why the Nuer resisted so strongly the imposition of colonial governance!
Aragon, Living in Indonesia without a Please or Thanks (Ch. 1 in Everyday Life)


In this chapter, Aragon investigates the lack of the English equivalents of please and thanks in the Indonesian
language as well as recording and making sense of customs and rules that stood out to her while staying in the
Tobaku Islands of Indonesia. Through this investigation, she discovers that the lack of these terms in the Indonesian
language and the locals askance of personal items reveal not only [the] technical language usage and conversational
routines, but alsothe widespread Southeast Asian cultural practices of economic exchange and hierarchy. She

divides her chapter into 5 brief segments after an introduction to her study.

1. Indonesian National and Local Languages

Aragon provides a historical context for the Indonesian language as it is used today through this segment,
documenting briefly how Malay and Indonesian came to be the dominant languages used for communication across
Between a choice of Indonesian, Dutch, Javanese, and other regional languages, Malay was chosen by a youth
congress of pro-Independence nationalists to be Indonesias national language in 1982. The other languages were
rejected on terms that they tended to emphasize social, economic and political hierarchies when a national language
should emphasize unity and equality. Malay was widely used as the language of trade among the islands that made
up the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia in its colonized time) and was already widely used across all islands. Malay was
also able to be written in the Latin alphabet, making it the best choice for a nation that planned to live alongside the
rest of the world.
Indonesian was introduced as a second language learned in schools and through mass media as the children still
spoke regional languages. Indonesian also shares high similarity in vocabulary and grammatical structure to Malay.
Indonesian and Malay are therefore used as the dominant languages of communication in Indonesia.
2. Mapping the many Indonesian words for please
Aragon observes that there is no exact equivalent in Indonesian for please and thanks but instead there exists a
multitude ways of expressing these two words and states that many of the Indonesian terms work rather differently
than [their] generic word, please. She cites 7 different words that mean please in Indonesian. She notes that each
one of them is to be used in unique contexts in which the user has to consider his relation to the addressed party.
Using this word must also be accompanied with the correct honorifics, tone of askance, body positioning and even eye
3. Being asked for the clothes off my back
The author refers to the custom of asking for a tanda mata (lit: sign for the eye), a souvenir, from the visitor by the
Tobaku locals. She notices that this souvenir always seemed to refer to something that the visitor has used on their
trip to the Tobaku Islands, like the literal clothes off their back. In exchange, the locals would exchange for these
personal items locally produced materials. She deduced after observing a fellow visitor employ the strategy of wearing
her most run down clothes throughout the visit and thus giving all those away except for the clothes she would need
on the return trip to the city, that the locals were not asking for their personal belongings because they were in lack of
the finery that the visitors owned. She deduced that the locals attached meaning to the clothes that the guests have
worn, taking them to contain some essence of the wearer. The locals were asking for personal items in order to
remember the visitors by and not for the economical value of the item exchanged.
4. Speaking about family, age and gender
Aragon notes that in the Tobaku islands, people are addressed according to their teknonyms (kinship titles in the
form of mother of X or husband of Y). Even the bus uncle (a new acquaintance) is called Om (uncle), which
according to Aragon is a way of reminding him that you respect him as authority and yet expect him to care for your
well-being on the journey as if you were cherished kin.
She was struck by the Indonesians practice of asking for the other persons age, an act that is considered rude in the
US where she was from. In investigating this cause, she finds out that age ranking is more important than gender in
the organization of social relationships in Indonesia. She supports this with the observation that the terms showing
age ranking (kakak and adik) are gender neutral.
5. When a verbal expression of thanks just wont do
Aragon concludes with this segment with an analysis of the Indonesian trait of refusing to stop at a short and sweet
thank you but instead insist on adding more through the expression of their current happiness at receiving a gift or
demeaning themselves for not being able to reciprocate at that very moment.
To Aragon, the use of Indonesian here is an indication of an unequal gift exchange (delayed reciprocity), which would
mean the intention of continuing the social relationship between the gift giver and the receiver. As the receiver is
unable to reciprocate the givers generosity on the spot, he or she is indebted to the giver and will endeavor to repay
this generosity in the future, thus prolonging their relationship.



The above reading is yet another illustration of language being very much reflective of larger cultural practices and
beliefs in societies; indeed it can be said that language is embedded in wider sociocultural practices, ways of being
and contexts. The very absence of the equivalent of thank you in most regions of Indonesia (a contrast made even
more pronounced by the many different Indonesian equivalents of please) is very telling of the social relations and
cultural norms in these societies that social relations are sustained and maintained through the creation of feelings
of indebtedness. This socially recognised requisite to reciprocate is seen further in the self-deprecatory remarks that a
receiver typically makes, which emphasises the need for that person to sustain and develop the social relation by
responding in kind. Hence, language, in this instance, reveals the mechanisms and processes behind the
establishment of social relations, as we see how exactly these relationships are established, continually maintained
and sustained. Here, a parallel to the Dobe Ju/'hoansi's hxaro exchange can be drawn. Although hxaro is distinct from
this example of Indonesian reciprocity in that it has other functions of social redistribution and restoring ecological
balance in times of disaster or other natural phenomenon, the articulation of the phrase, "in hxaro, you are never
finished", reveals that the two societies foster social relations by operating on the same creation of feelings of
This also brings to our attention the idea that the very same social action has very different
implications/intentions/meanings that vary according to the given social context: whereas a verbal expression of
thanks in one society is regarded as expressing gratitude and respect and serves as acknowledgement of the other
persons efforts, in Indonesian society this is shied away from because it absolves one of his/her obligation to
reciprocate, and in doing so this facilitates continuous maintenance and fostering of a social relationship. It is
significant that the Javanese are noted for practising the same linguistic property, for they are typically regarded as
notoriously manners-obsessed, which confirms that the apparent lack of verbal expressions of thanks has wider
implications in terms of social relations rather than being merely a matter of social decorum.
Links can also be made to the chapter Eating Lunch and Recreating the Universe by Avieli, in which linguistic
qualities of a language once again reveal certain cultural traits of a society that there are very specific terms for the
various styles of cooking and ways of enjoying rice shows exactly how central it is to Vietnamese identity and culture.
Indeed, the elaborate social processes surrounding the consumption of rice and the observation that "rice makes the
event of eating 'a meal'" reinforces its cultural significance. Language, therefore, should be examined in relation to the
respective culture(s) in which it is spoken, for the same language can be used and adapted in a myriad ways to suit
and better represent the cultural beliefs, identity and ways of being in that particular region. (Think the English
language and how differently it is spoken/adapted in the US - which also varies from state to state, Australia, the UK,
and Singapore!)

Causey, Toba Batak Selves (Ch. 2 in Everyday Life)

Who are we exactly?

Toba Batak Selves: Personal, Spiritual, Collective
The Toba Batak people of Indonesia have three senses of self, or identities an individual personality, a spirit and a
unique position in a collective group. These three senses of self do not co-exist with each other in complete harmony.
In the everyday life of Bataks, a man or woman makes decisions, and this may prove to be challenging as the three
identities come into inevitable conflict. It is required, of Bataks, to constantly balance you might even say juggle a
number different notions of self that were both constructed both by themselves and the socio-cultural world around
Batak Notion of the Individual (Personhood)
Bataks value subjectivity, a quality within people that makes them exclusive as compared to the rest of the world. A
persons idiosyncrasies constitute this individuality, which is also known as sifat (character). Sifat is believed to be

inherited and therefore not malleable by any form of personal agency.

Batak Notion of the Spiritual Self :Tondi
Tondi is conceptualized as an autonomous life-force that exists within an individual. There are two characteristics
of tondi. First, tondi is inextricably intertwined with the well-being of the physical body. Secondly, this mystical lifeforce possesses an exalted status similar to that of an omnipotent god. These two qualities clearly explain the
imperative for tondi to exercise its prerogative over sifat when the individuality comes into opposition with the spiritual
It is interesting to note that Bataks reify tondi, describing it as if it had human-like qualities, with an autonomous mind
to make preferences and godly abilities to coerce the material body into compliance.
Batak Notion of the Group (Collective Self)
Membership to a larger collective group defines their last of the three identities. A high regard for tradition results in
strict adherence to the hegemony of cultural rules implemented by the ancestors. One of them is the idea of
communitarianism. The Bataks see themselves as a collective where ones actions are guided by the communitys
law and regulations.
Through the lens of functional-structuralism, it is not difficult to recognize the way this notion of collective self serves
as an ordered cultural script put forth to organize the Batak society in a way in which personal needs are kept in
balance with that of the social group, advocating solidarity within the community.
Identities in Singapore
Do we face the same identity crisis in Singapore? Here, the state elite disseminate its top-down discourse about
nationality. Schools serve as potent agents of socialization, enforcing the daily ritual of the national pledge and
anthem. Every year, on the 9th of August, the National Day Parade sweeps its citizens into a temporal fervor of
patriotism through performances that aim to remind them of their tumultuous past and their common journey to
present-day success, underscoring the paramount importance of national solidarity in ensuring future success. These
are but non-exhaustive examples of the material aspects of nationalist discourse. In essence, the point that I am trying
to put forth is that we are similar to the Bataks because we both are constrained in a sense that we have to consider
the well-being of the larger social group, which is the nation, in the case of Singapore. Our senses of self can be said
to be embedded in our sense of national identity.
The extent to which this discourse is being internalized as guiding principles of life is difficult to ascertain. It is difficult
to generalize Singaporeans attitudes towards their national identity without scrutinizing the significant factors of race
and social class. Unlike the Bataks, it can be argued that Singaporeans do not face as much pressure to conform to
nationalistic or communal ideals, because of rising affluence and exposure to Western ideas that apparently advocate
individuality over communitarianism. Also, the authoritarian nature of the government has silenced political dissent,
minimizing the citizens participation in the nations affairs to a bare minimum. Without emotional engagement in the
nations future, it is not difficult to see why some Singaporeans are not only politically apathetic, but also unable to
visualize their sense of belonging to the national community.
I feel that the idea of conforming to communal ideals subjugates individuality, and that itself is detrimental to a
persons well-being. Although there is a connotation of altruism in sacrificing for the greater good, a more pertinent
question is for whom are we sacrificing for? Who stands to gain in these personal sacrifices? Who may be covertly
accruing benefit under the guise of this altruistic system? A cynic would say that the Batak system of selves is a
cultural conspiracy.

Hanks, Merit and Power in the Thai Social Order (Ch. 7 in Everyday Life)

Summary and Commentary of Merit and Power in the Thai Social Order

In Chapter 7 of Everyday Life in Southeast Asia, Lucien M. Hanks, Jr.s Merit and Power in the Thai Social Order
provides a broad analysis of the Thai culture, with numerous shared values and beliefs of the Thai society drawn from
the religious teachings of Buddhism. Given that over 90% of the total population in Thailand are Buddhists according
to the CIA World Factbook Thailand, Buddhism is Thailands national religion and an essential component to the Thai
identity. Hence, it can be seen in Hanks account how the Buddhist belief of a cosmic order and merit is commonly
applied and intertwined with a second factor of power in order to make sense of the social order and mobility that exist
between hierarchies and even within kinship relationships for example, in Thailand.
Merit is viewed as a fluid form of measure rather than a fixed one in the Thai context, as merit is constantly gained or
lost. Thais believe that a persons birth into a particular social position within fixed hierarchical stations can be traced
back to past merit earned in their previous life. Nonetheless, merit can be gained or lost throughout ones life just like
one can move up and down the Thai social order ranks through merit and also through aligning with someone who
has greater resources than one alone possesses. An example of a young man that went to Bangkok from the
countryside to join his uncle was an interesting case mentioned that shed light on the construct of kinship as a means
of social mobility and mutual benefit. The young man was afforded opportunities to climb the social ladder and hold a
managerial position in his uncles factory due to the special kinship blood relationship they shared. In return for that as
well as food, housing and basically an inclusion into his uncles family, there seemed to be an implicit obligation of filial
piety, to care for his uncle and his family. Yet, it was revealed that the man abandoned his benefactors when his
uncles business suffered and he no longer saw a mutual benefit and thus, changed his affiliation with that uncle who
no longer possesses greater resources.
Power possessed due to accumulation of special knowledge or supernatural blessing from amulets or guardians is
also recognized in the Thai culture as the other factor besides merit that is present in the establishment of the social
order. It helps in the explanation of certain discourses between merit and social rank as moments of perfect justice in
an orderly system are rare.
I thought this was an interesting article to ponder as this one major religion country whose national identity and culture
was derived so strongly from Buddhist beliefs stood in stark contrast to our multi-religious, multicultural society of
Singapore. The way Thai society portrays the clear distinction of social ranks and preaches the acceptance of ones
social rank as result of past merit, followed by accumulated merit and perhaps power as mentioned above strongly
utilizes religious beliefs to account for ones economic, political or social standing. Hence, merit is a repeated word,
but it is rather far apart from the Singapores society that practices meritocracy instead. Our idea of meritocracy
leads us to believe in equality of opportunities, especially in terms of education, with success going to those who work
hard and perform the best. Hanks addresses education as an important new barrier to social movement in Thailand
and it is interesting to see how education and its leading to social closure of certain groups and professions for
example, can be included into Thailands perception of factors that affect social order.
Avieli, Eating Lunch and Recreating the Universe (Ch. 17 in Everyday Life)
A former postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore, Nir Aivieli uses the Vietnamese daily home-eaten
meal as a model to help us understand how the people of Hoi An, Vietnam, view the world they live in. Analyzing a
meal might appear radical, but Avielis analysis drills deep into the cultural significance of the dishes used in the meal,
how these dishes are prepared, the ingredients that are used, and how these dishes actually relate to Taoist

First, Avieli suggests that it is instructive to understand the Hoianese meal as a structure that comprises two
core elements.
This structure might not be followed religiously by Hoianese families, but most people will recognize and
acknowledge that it is a representation of the ways things should be:
1) Rice
2) Things to Eat

He then explains that these two core elements encompass five dishes that are almost always present in the
Hoianese meal:

a) Rice (a steamed dish)

b) Greens (a raw dish)
c) Soup (a boiled dish)
d) Fish (a fried/cooked dish)
e) Fish Sauce (a fermented dish)
Avieli calls this the twofold-turn-fivefold structure of the Hoianese daily meal.

He goes on to explicate on the various dishes that constitute the meal:

For instance, Avieli emphasizes the importance and centrality of rice in Vietnamese culture, pointing out that the
Vietnamese language features a range of terms for rice. There are words for rice seedlings, paddy, husked rice, sticky
rice, boiled sticky rice, steam sticky rice, rice porridge, and steamed polished rice. Furthermore, these words are in
turn combined in various ways to convey different types of meals. Evidently, the wide-ranging vocabulary for different
facets of rice production, cooking and consumption suggest the prominence of rice in the culture, similar to how the
Inuit have dozens of words for different kinds of snow.
Avieli also explains that Nuoc mam, or fish sauce, was created partly out of practical necessity. The tropical weather in
Hoi An means that fresh fish and seafood spoil very quickly, so a means of fermentation resulted in rge creation of
this culinary icon. Because it is rude to adjust the taste of a dish through the use of condiments, Avieli even ventures
that this fish sauce allows diners to personally adjust the taste of a dish politely without offending the cook, since the
fish sauce is not considered a condiment in the Hoianese worldview.

In the final section of his essay, Avieli explores how the Hoianese meal structure is in fact, indicative of
Chinese Taoist principles.

Yin and yang, or shadow and light, permeates the Hoainese meal. This binary opposition can also be understood in
terms of hot and cold, or masculinity and femininity. Rice, for instance, is compatible with the notion of femininity, while
the colorful and flamboyant dishes to eat could be seen as entities that have a masculine character about them.

Avieli mentions that the more common discourse on the Hoianese meal structure harped more on the medical hotcold diagram. In Singapore, many Chinese would be familiar with this concept, understood as heaty and cooling.

Avielis essay contends that every time the Hoainese cook and eat their daily meal, they are in fact making a
statement about the ways in which they perceive the universe reaffirm(ing) the principles that shape their cosmos
and ensuring their continuity.

Yet, such a statement might not be entirely accurate. In an era of globalization, the people of Hoi An especially the
younger ones will increasingly find their diets changing. When these people begin to incorporate western modes of
eating (for instance, having individually plated dishes and the concept of having courses in a meal), would that signify
the end of reaffirming their worldview and culture through food? Indeed, even as future generations of Hoianese grow
up and carry on with the traditional way of serving and eating their meals, it remains to be seen if they will still
subscribe to traditional beliefs that food can be characterized along a hot/cold dichotomy.
Nir analyzes the Hoianese daily, home-eaten meal. She records her observations, such as what are specific
ingredients used, how are the dishes cooked, and/or eaten, what are the significance of each dish. Base on her
observations, she theorizes a twofold-turn-fivefold structure that can be used to explain what a typical Hoianese
home-eaten meal consists of. Food is a cultural artifact through which people can exhibit their cultural traits. In the last
part of the article, Nir theorizes that cosmic principles and worldview of the Hoianese influences the way their meals
are structured, and served.

The twofold structure broadly categorizes the meal into Rice, and Things to Eat. The fivefold meal structure
comprises of Rice, Greens, Soup, Dry dish, and Fish Sauce. Each of these five components serves a special
significance in the composition of the meal. Nir relates rice with the larger demographic of Vietnam, wherein rice
cultivation is an important aspect of the society. Specific names are assigned to different varieties and products of rice,
further illustrating its importance in the culture.
Observations are made of how the fish sauce, nuoc mom, is made, and commonly used in the preparation of dishes,
and also how diners would dip morsel of food into the sauce before eating it with rice. These enable us to understand
the social norms, and also the Hoianese tradition in terms of dining. It draws out unique aspect of the culture, for
example, the fish sauce is in fact made from fermenting fish.
Observations are also made, of the kinds of greens that are used in the meal. Nir explains how the meal is composed
so as to achieve a balance meal. For example, the Hoianese rationalize the incorporation of greens with certain
dietary functions, such as preventing constipation. These practices reveal to us Hoianese interpretation of dietary
balance, and health.
Nir relates the twofold structure to the cosmic principle of yin and yang. She further brings in the presence of the
popular and common discourse of heating and cooling food. Nir relates the five elements in the fivefold structure to
the five elements in Taoism of Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, and Fire: Rice to Earth; Soup to Water, Greens to Wood;
Dry Dish to Metal; Fish Sauce to Fire. Hence making the connection between Vietnamese cosmic laws to their daily

Who we are is what we eat

Chapter 17 from Everyday Life in Southeast Asia talked about how and what the Hoianese eat constitutes to their way
of life and allows outsiders to have an understanding on what are they rich in, in terms of their resources. Avieli also
compared cosmological principles of am (yin) and duong (yang) with the foods they feed on daily and further
categorized them into categories such as earth, water, wood, metal and fire.
An interesting point from the authors perspective and understanding from the Hoianese friends taken could be the
fact that the way she grouped the foods the Hoianese eat were somewhat similar to the cosmological principles as
followed by the Chinese. This could actually be traced back to the ancestors of the Hoianese, whom most likely came
from China. For instance, cucumber in the Chinese context is considered cold food, which can also be grouped
under yin, then in Hoianese context, am. There are many other foods that can be categorized under cold and hot. I
find that it is rather innovative for the author to further categorize the foods into earth, water, wood, metal and
fire. We seldom see in our context as to group the foods we consume under these five categories.
From Avielis descriptions of the foods the typical Hoianese eat, they exemplify that the Hoianese are people with a
simple life and appreciating their life as it is, with what they can obtain from nature. I feel that they are people who are
satisfied with what they have and do not dare to demand much more. This portrays their relatively relaxing lifestyle
and submissive character, in which they have the luxury of time to prepare their foods.
However, in comparison to the life of Americans, especially their diets, we can see that the power of consumerism is
huge and that the community does not hesitate to demand for more. I refer to the documentary video Supersize
Me (, where the documentary exemplifies a typical Americans meal,
which mainly consists of fast food or processed food. With every American asking for things to be done promptly,
emphasizing on the quantity of food, where the attendants over the counter would ask, Do you want to upsize your
meal? (and most Americans are obliged to!). This may be a threat to their health. From these expectations they have
on their foods, I feel that Americans are people who perceive time as something more precious than their health and
not seeing the point that, we are what we eat. Americans can be also viewed as the people of how they eat. They
always have efficiency/productivity in mind; this reflects in the way they order/prepare their food.
Through such eating cultures, one may come to a conclusion that the Americans are very results-driven; in the case of
the Hoianese, it is the process that counts. This is most evident in the making of Nuoc mam (fish sauce), where the
Hoianese are concerned about the conditions that perfect their dish, allowing time for the fish sauce to reach its
optimal quality. As illustrated by Avieli, the process of making Nuocmam is not easy as there are many conditions (for
example, duration, temperature and humidity) that have to be taken care of. The Hoianese are witty for they can

actually come up with various methods in preparing just a simple food item like fish; they can make fish sauce, steam,
fry or make minced fish dishes out of the simple ingredient that is widely available for them. On the other hand, the
Americans' lifestyle is so hasty, that the only way that they could think of to prepare their food instantly is to fry it,
furthermore, the food items may not be fresh, but frozen and processed ones. Such methods in preparing their food
can shed some light on their lifestyles and actually tell us more about how urbanization had caused such change in
thinking and the constant yearning to have an effective and fast way of arriving with solutions to our problems.
The Hoianese and Singaporean (Chinese) Culture of Food
In a daily traditional Hoianese meal, there are two broad categories of food namely rice and things to eat. Greens,
soup, dry dish and fish sauce are part of the things to eat while rice is on its own. This is referred to as twofoldturn-fivefold structure of their everyday meal. For us, there is a general format to cook 3 dishes and 1 soup. The
dishes can be of fish, vegetable, meat, seafood and so on. Rice is also an essential part of the meal. However, this
structure is not strictly followed especially for smaller families who would not be able to finish all the food.
Rice, which is called com in Vietnam, is the most important part of a Hoianese diet. It constitutes the largest part of
the meal and most of the calories and nutrients come from rice. An adult can consume up to 2 to 3 bowls of rice per
meal. Rice is heavily cultivated in Vietnam and made into many food items such as noodles and crackers. There are
two types of rice; ordinary and sticky rice. While plain rice is cultivated at a larger scale, sticky rice is often considered
the real rice. The cooking of rice is also a very sophisticated process to ensure the clear separation of each grain.
With the usage of electric rice cooker, the temperature and duration of cooking rice is even more accurate now. I
believe that most Singapore families also own a rice cooker and many would not cook rice the traditional way. With
that said, rice is also a staple item in our culture to eat with other dishes. This is especially so for the older generation
in which some elderly would not feel full unless they consume rice. Although said so, most Singaporeans do not eat as
much rice as the Hoianese.
Fish, also known ca, can be cooked into the dry dish or soup of a Hoianese meal. With Vietnam having more than
three thousand kilometers of coastline, there is a great variety of fish and seafood to enjoy. As such, coastal or
freshwater fishing is an important skill to master. One interesting fact about the people is that they are often satisfied
with their catch of just a few small fish. All the fish together are then served as a family meal but they are only
comparable to one sardine can size. Like in our culture, the fish can be fried, steamed with sauce or boiled into soup.
However, if only that small portion of fish is served to guests, it would be embarrassing because there would not be
enough. In our meals, the dishes are more important than the rice itself. Rice is something to go with the dishes; not
something that the dishes go with. For delicacies like fish or seafood, the bigger the size or the larger the quantity
would be better.
Fresh greens are also another dish that a Hoianese meal must have, be it some stir-fried kangkong or just a bowl of
coriander. Due to the lack of vitamins and fiber in rice, leafy greens are an important source of these nutrients needed
by the body to function properly. As the vegetables are usually crunchy and fragrant, they act as a neutralizer to food
with very strong taste. Different greens will result in a unique combination of taste. While it is an important part of their
meal, it may not be considered a compulsory element in our everyday meal. For example, if a Singaporean family
cooks spaghetti for dinner, they would not necessary cook an extra plate of vegetable to complete the meal. However,
in most home cook or meals cooked for festivals, greens are often present.
Fish sauce, nuoc mam, is a traditional type of sauce made from the fermentation of long-jawed anchovy. It can be
used to marinate food, as condiment during the cooking process or as a dip while eating. Fish sauce is also another
compulsory item to have on the dining table. Not only does it taste good with food, it aids in the adjustment of food
taste. As such, fish sauce acts as a more polite way of modifying the taste of the food if it is too bland. Although fish
sauce is available in grocery stores in Singapore, not many people use them. Most of us would use soy sauce or salt
to adjust the taste of the dish. Other than that, one can also find sambal or belacan as a dip for the chili lovers. (In
fact, I know of some people who need chili in all their meals)
We have compared the main parts of a Hoianese meal in Vietnam and a Chinese meal in Singapore. As Singapore is
a multicultural country, many types of food can be found here. As the country continues to develop, people are getting
busier with their careers and other commitments. As such, many families do not cook on weekdays but often opt to eat
out. The food they consumed daily can range from restaurant meals, fast food to convenience meal made ready by a

Cronk, Lee (1999) Righting Culture, pp.1-15

This reading is aptly named Righting Culture, because Cronk seeks to define, alter and correct the meaning and
definition of the term culture. Through an active discussion of many case studies of people all over the world, he
challenges the readers own flawed perceptions and misunderstanding of culture. Through his explication on the
development of the evolutionary and cultural science of human behaviour, he hopes that readers will obtain a better
understanding of who they are, beyond the individual level to encompass cultural groups and humanity as a whole.
Cronk starts the reading by stating clearly the universal significance of culture. He says culture determines behavior
far more than any other factor, be it race, class, economic background, or ethnicity. He stresses on the importance of
respecting cultures that are unlike ones own, and that no one culture is superior to another. In his own words, All
cultures are equally valid and worthy of study and respect. Furthermore, he claims that a severe lack of knowledge
exists of the history of the concept of culture and the effects it has on peoples behavior.
After establishing these facts, he goes on to give several definitions of the word culture, emphasizing particularly one
by Edward Tylor, which is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs, and any
other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. He explains that culture is no longer a limited
commodity belonging to a particular favored group of people, but rather, something that every member of society has.
A modern day version of this definition of culture would be Everything that people have, think, and do as members of
society in the other words, culture is intricately intertwined with behavior.
He then identifies a loophole in this particular definition, claiming that if behavior is included in the definition of culture,
then it becomes impossible to separate the two. It would then be highly difficult to explore how culture affects behavior
and vice versa, which would render the study of culture to understand behavior redundant.
Cronk gives a wide array of case studies to explain the disparities between lingual and social-motor types of
behavior that is, the inconsistency between what is being done and what is actually said. He cites the Mukogodo
people in Kenya, who in reality take better care of their daughters than sons, but have a stated (said) preference for
males simply to identify themselves as part of the larger Maasai tribe, where masculinity is celebrated and feminity
despised. He also mentions a study regarding regarding the acceptance of Chinese people at restaurants and hotels
in the United States in the 1930s, where it was discovered that actual racist behavior was significantly less prevalent
than spoken racist attitudes towards the Chinese.
He goes on to elaborate on this strange phenomenon, saying a very possible explanation would be that peoples
rhetoric has not caught up with their reality, or vice versa, where peoples rhetoric runs ahead of their behavior. Hence,
he uses these inconsistencies between attitudes and behavior to correct the loophole in the definition of culture as
mentioned previously. He argues that behavior cannot be included in the definition of culture, because, as proven,
human behavior is not definitely or absolutely determined by nature alone. Certainly, culture has definite effects and
impacts on ones actions and behavior, but they are not the same thing. He wraps up his argument succinctly by
linking to Clifford Geertz's notion of culture as "patternsfor behaviour, not patterns of behaviour". Thus, culture is the
socially transmitted information that tells a person how to behave or act, but it is certainly not the sole determining
factor, nor is it the equivalent.
In conclusion, Cronk ends by reminding readers of the pervasiveness of culture, such that we often mistake culture
and behavior for the same thing challenging the reader to be more aware of the distinction between the two, leading
up to a more fruitful and better understanding of culture.

Complexity of Culture
Cronk (1999) addresses the perennial debate on the definition of human culture, a concept hard to fully grasp in the
anthropological field. He critically critiqued Tylors usage of the behavioural perspective in explaining culture as
redundant, since all behaviour is innately culture. The focus, in his opinion, should be in explaining the role of culture
in shaping behaviour and society. He suggested that the linkages between cultural anthropology and evolutionary
theory have to be explored to better understand the concept of culture.

In Cronks Kenyan fieldwork on a group of people called the Mukogodo, the interesting contradiction between the
lingual and social-motor types of behaviour was raised. The Mukogodo speak of the preference towards boys than
girls, but in practice they ironically tend to take better care of their daughters than sons. This surprising dissonance
between the lingual and social-motor similarly ignited interest in me. In my opinion, the dissonance is caused by the
gap in the culture they live by, and the culture they live with. The culture they live by refers to the cultural system the
Mukogodo perceive that they are in; hence they have learned to adopt a similar preference to sons to fit into a
collective identity with the Maasai. The culture they live withrepresents the reality people live in, involving the social
forces at play in the different cultural system to create differences and diversities even within a same cultural group. As
Cronk succinctly puts it, peoples rhetoric has yet to catch up with their reality.
The Mukogodo, one of the last people on Earth who have lived in caves, have evolved to be indistinguishable from the
Maasai as they adopted their language, religion, rituals and other daily practices. Furthermore, intermarriages
between Maasai and Mukogodo increased cultural exchanges as knowledge, ideas and beliefs are transferred and
mixed between the two groups. The Mukogodo have then adopted the Maasais strongly male biased perspective in
their spoken attitudes and beliefs given their self-identification as Maasai. Yet, their social-motor behaviour appears
otherwise, possibly influenced by other existing social structures. The favouritism in practice towards daughters is
largely due to the fact that daughters have higher potential to elevate the Mukogodos family social status when they
are married off to wealthy men from neighbouring tribes, whereas the Mukogodo men face greater difficulties in getting
married due to their low social status and poor economic power. Hence, it seems logical and practical for Mukogodo
parents to invest more resources on their daughters. We see how the inequality in power structure between the
Mukogodo and Maasai comes into play and kinship relations can be seen as a means of leverage to bridge the
inequality between the two groups. It is important to note that the interplay between the various social structures
brought about variations within a cultural group.
Cronk suggested a shift in the focus away from behaviour and the material results of behaviour, to the ideational
elements where the socially transmitted information may partially determine the patterns of human action. In our
course of study, we have established culture as an iterative process where the interaction between the cultural
structures and the agents in the cultural structures constantly remake culture and culture changes with time. Hence,
understanding culture from an evolutionary point of view is of importance. It is thus vital to note that there is never a
fixed culture even in a same cultural group because cultures are always evolving.
This is especially relevant in todays society where the notion of hybrid cultures is prevalent. Hybrid culture is
produced through the interaction between two unlike cultures, and it is observable in the Singapore context.
Singapore, an Asian country, adopts traditional Asian values, yet the way of thinking has increasingly been fused with
Western influence. This once again highlights that culture is always evolving and change is an on-going process
caused by the different social forces acting on the cultural system.
RE:behavior and culture - two sides of the same coin
This discussion is actually my reply to the threads started by nyx89 and buckabella regarding their comments
on behavior and culture - two sides of the same coin. I wanted to post my reply as a thread but could not do so
because of the word limit. Hence i am putting it up on another page.
Although Cronk Lee agreed that culture is an important influence on an individuals behaviors and actions, he stressed
that it was necessary and important to make a distinction between culture ( rhetoric)and behavioral actions (behaviors
and actions) due the discrepancies between the two
In my opinion, I think the reason why sometimes peoples rhetoric do not catch up with their reality or there are
discrepancies in what people say and do has got to do with how effectively an individual has been socialized within
that particular culture /cultural system and the degree to which that individual has positively internalised and made
sense of the values that the/ that particular culture prescribes. I agree with buckabella that, Behaviour is a personal
mannerism derived from the socialization of culture but it does not necessarily determines behavioural actions
wholesale. The structure agency argument / theory also comes to mind. Structure, in this case culture does affect
and influence individual agency however it does not determine it a 100%. In some individual agency can have more
autonomy over structures.
I also agree with nyx89, that as much as culture has an influence on behaviour, behaviour has influence on culture. I
would like to give my two cents worth to and delve further on the second part of the equation. I think it is important at

this point in time to highlight that culture is not static. It evolves over time and varies according to contexts. Behaviour
at a collective level have the capacity to change some aspect of culture or cultural system. What might seem
unacceptable to a culture at a particular point in time or moment in history might become acceptable to that very
culture overtime. Hence culture also changes and adapts.
Hence culture influencing behaviour is a very top- down kind of an approach in understanding peoples actions and
behaviours. Whereas, thinking of behaviour having an influence and affecting culture is taking the bottom- up
approach and point of view in understanding and attempting to explain why people behave and act the way they do.
Lastly, I would like to say that we should avoid looking at Culture as traditonal, old- fashioned and constraining.
Instead we should appreciate culture as enabling, creating new worldviews and possibilities.

And here's what I think...

After stating that different groups of people approach culture differently because of the simple reason that culture is
basic to society and is a powerful influence when it comes to peoples behaviour, Cronk goes on to tell us why the
definitions of culture used in the past are not adequate or correct then attempts to provide readers with his version of
what is a correct or acceptable definition. According to him, definitions in the past included behaviour as a factor in
explaining culture and thus it makes it impossible to use culture to explain anything about behaviour. Throughout the
rest of the reading, Cronk attempts to explain to readers how culture does not explain human behaviour, drawing from
examples like the Mukogodo from Kenya, the Maasai who are a group of East African herders, a group of African
pastoralists the Herero of Botswana, South Asian parents and the Americans.
In the entire reader, the author attempts to explain why behaviour is not influenced by ones culture. To put simply,
according to Cronk, people (based on their culture) say or believe in one thing and yet they do a different thing, which
is usually contradictory (to a certain extent) to what they believe in (their culture). Cronk believes that this mismatch in
peoples attitudes and actions is because peoples rhetoric has not caught up with their reality and also because
sometimes rhetoric runs ahead of behaviour.
After reading Cronks Righting Culture, I have to say that I agree with some of his arguments but I must add that I
strongly disagree with his line of argument that culture does not affect behaviour. If anything, I believe that it is
precisely because of culture that groups of people act in certain ways that could be similar or vastly different from
other groups of people. I do not mean to say that all human behaviour is because of culture. Culture alone cannot
explain all our actions, but most of the time I believe that culture is a key reason and an important consideration to
understanding why people do certain things and act in certain ways. I believe that human behaviour, to a large extent,
can be attributed to culture. In other words, humans act the way they do mostly because of their culture.
Using Symbolic Interactionism framework in understanding the complexities of the concept of Culture

E.B.Tylors definition of culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs ,art, morals, law, customs
and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. Tylor includes behaviour in the
category of culture and posits that all behaviour is cultural behaviour because all behaviour is culture. (Cronk Lee,
1999: 4) As such, Tylor tends to use culture to explain behaviour in a deterministic, unidirectional way and hence is
limited in understanding and explaining why people do what they do.
In my opinion, the use of Tylors concept of culture to study human behaviour comes from the structural-functionalism
paradigm which tends to categorise and box people into certain particular patterned ways of being and treat as if it is
fixed. Human agency is downplayed and negated whilst cultural determinism is reified.Culture does indeed have
something to do with behaviour in terms of influencing and guiding human behaviour but it certainly does not
necessarily determine all human behaviour and is definitely not the same thing as behaviour as highlighted by Cliiford
Geertz. Geertz offers a more flexible and tenable understanding and definition of culture.

Culture can be understood as those webs of significance that man himself has spun in order to make sense of the
world in which he lives in and make meanings of things that are significant to us. As Geertz aptly puts it , Culture is
patterns for behaviour ;not of behaviour. Here, the role of human agency is accounted for in making culture as well as
the use of culture in reality. Hence Geertz offers a more comprehensive and holistic understanding and framework of
culture. Human agency as well as structure is take into account in explaining the human condition which is essentially
what anthropology seeks to explain and understand.
In my opinion, Geetz definition and understanding if culture as an interpretive one in search of meanings stems from
or can be viewed from the symbolic- interactionism paradigm/perspective which is very useful in deconstructing the
concept of culture and highlighting the complexities of concept of culture in the real world and in reality.
Symbolic Interactionism was a term coined by Herbert Blummer (1969) who put forward that people interacted with
each other by intrepreting or re-defining each others actions instead of merely reacting to them. Thus human actions
and behaviours are based on the meanings that they attach to their situations. The symbolic interactionism
perspective investigates how people attach and create meanings during the course of social interactions, how they
construct the self and how they eventually define their own situation in the presence of others. Hence one of symbolic
interactionisms main idea is that the reason people act and behave the way the do is because of how they define
situations and not how the situations defines them and controls their behaviours or actions.
Hence humans are given or ascribed with active rather than just passive agencies and mere followers as can be
understood by Tylors behaviorist explanations of human behaviour which is limited as it does not allow for
intrepretation between stimulus and response. Hence in my opinion using the Symbolic Interactionism perspective
rather than the Structural functional perspective in understanding the concept of culture and Geertz conceptualization
of culture is the way to go in helping us understand our /the human condition as they tend to see the/our social world
as dynamic and dialectical.
Commentary on Lee Cronk's 'Righting Culture'
When I read Lee Cronks article on Righting Culture, I realized that there is no fixed definition of culture. Culture is
something that makes us who we are, and it is as human as our basic biological traits. However, culture is a
malleable concept. Anthropologists themselves have different ideas of what the definition of culture should include,
and Cronk, using a lot of clever metaphors, gives us his own take on this quandary. Edward Burnett Tylor, the pioneer,
if you will, in this attempt to define culture, called it a complex whole. Yes, Cronk argues, culture is indeed complex,
but is it really a whole?
Cronk believes that the definition of culture should not include every single behaviour that man (or woman!)
expresses. Culture is more ideational, and less behavioural. He illustrates this by giving many instances where
peoples rhetoric (their culture) does not coincide with reality (their behaviour). Why would they say one thing, and do
something else? This obviously nullifies the popular assumption that culture is behaviour, and proves that behaviour is
just one of the products of culture. Or does it? When I read these examples of cognitive dissonance, I immediately
realized that a large part of culture is peer pressure. This goes beyond the behavioural or ideational definition of
culture. To add to Cronks cake metaphor, then, culture is the recipe that helps us bake the cake but it also provides
the heat, or pressure, necessary to turn the raw batter into a well-cooked dessert.
Cronk talks about how some South Asian parents now treat their daughters better than their sons because women
have entered the workforce in huge numbers, and thrived there. However, they still say that they prefer sons over
daughters. Being an Indian, I know that there is a long history of preferring sons over daughters. This is changing
rapidly now, but it something of a social norm, a norm with historical roots. If something is embedded within your
culture, it becomes, in a way, a part of you. If you express publicly that you are not conforming to the cultural norm,
then you become a kind of an outcast. For example, a lot of popular culture involves pressure to conform. Cricket is a
huge sport in India, almost akin to religion. If one express distaste for it, he or she is immediately considered an
I am not trying to argue that culture, pop culture or otherwise, is entirely about peer pressure. Nonetheless, culture
plays a huge role in exerting pressure on the people who are a part of it. This is probably why some Indian parents
feel compelled to say that they prefer sons over daughters, even though their actual behaviour says otherwise. They
are simply conforming to the cultural norm, merely going along with what they have always learned is right. They do
not want to be deemed outliers or cultural misfits. So why does their behaviour not match? In private, these parents

will not feel the same pressure to conform. In their own time, they will do what they feel is right and what makes
practical sense. To the outside world, they are adhering to the norm, but in reality, they are following their own norms.
The outer layers of an onion are exposed to dirt and other environmental pressures, but once we peel those away, the
inner layers are intact and unexposed to outside influence. In the same way, our culture and its norms, folkways and
mores exert pressure on what we say, but not so much on what we do!
Which, then, is more important? Our outer culture, or our inner behaviour? What we do is far more important than
what we want the world to think we are doing. Yes, some South Asian parents may unfairly say that they prefer sons
over daughters, but they are treating their daughters more and more as equals (and even sometimes superior to their
sons!) every single day. Thus, this union of peer pressure and culture is not that threatening to our ultimate behaviour.
I agree that we need to make it more acceptable and normal to step outside the norm, but as long as the pressure to
follow these cultural norms has only minimal influence on our behaviour, there is no reason to worry (yet!)
I want to end this commentary by going back to the tussle between behavioural and ideational definitions of culture.
Why is it that most people would think of culture and behaviour as being synonymous? To answer this, I believe, we
need to go back in history to the Scientific Revolution. From an age where superstition was rampant, humanity
entered an era where empiricism was suddenly everything. What was most valued was what could be observed
empirically. Three hundred years later, we still hold observable behaviour in high regard. Thus, we like the behavioural
definition of culture because it gives us something to observe directly. Knowledge, ideas and concepts are all fine, but
how do we measure them? I, however, would like to agree with Cronks take on this dilemma. Culture may not be the
directly observable, but it can and should study the processes, mechanics and interactions behind the directly
observable. These mechanics may be concepts, ideas, knowledge or, as I suggested, even peer pressure. Thus,
could we suggest that culture represents an amalgamation of the two definitions? Could there be an ideationalbehavioural definition of culture? I definitely think that it is possible to juxtapose both definitions, but do you? Sound off
in the comments below!
Culture and Behaviour: the conundrum
Cronk argues that behaviour ought not to be included in ones definition of culture, using a cake analogy to argue
about behaviours relation to culture: that culture is but a recipe that guides ones behaviour, and is a pattern for
behaviour and not of behaviour. I disagree with this, and will attempt to argue that our understanding and experiences
of the world construct culture, and culture itself constructs and shapes our ideas and understandings about the world.
Therefore, as our experiences and understandings about the world change, especially with the intersection of cultures
and thus influx of new ideas and understandings about the world, our cultures necessarily evolve and thus shape our
behaviour continually. Therefore, it would be folly to distinguish behaviour from culture.
What one knows comes from our experiences and observations of society, which will necessarily affect our thinking
and thus behaviour. Similarly, our culture; the socially transmitted information passed on from person to person,
generation to generation, bound by our physical environment is essentially what we know, what we understand of and
about the world and thus necessarily shapes our actions and behaviour. Therefore, our culture shapes our behaviour,
but since our experiences and ideas shape our thinking, it necessarily shapes our culture as well, which in turn shapes
our thinking and thus behaviour again.
Complications arise when different cultures intersect, and different ways and ideas about the world are spread around
and interfere with and affect what we know and understand about our world, that which ones culture constructs
about ones place in the world.
When different cultures intersect, different ideas are spread around and this thus affects our understanding of the
world. Conflicting and sometimes contradictory behaviours then arise, as mentioned in Cronks article about the
Mukogodo people. This is not to say that such behaviours are not part of ones culture and therefore should be
mutually exclusive to culture, as mentioned in nyx89s commentary. It could just mean that ones culture has evolved
and changed, and new practices included in with the old. These new understandings and experiences necessarily
affect ones behaviour. This change in behaviour stems from new socially transmitted information, so how then can it
be separated from culture? New factors, like what modernfamilyfan has mentioned, such as peer pressure could
indeed play a part in constructing a new culture, a new idea of ones understanding of the world.
After all, being socially transmitted information and thus social constructs, cultures are not fixed, inanimate objects that
are limited. Such social constructs were formed by our experiences and observations, and with an opening up of the

world and the necessary enlargement of our physical and thus cultural environments, our experiences have been
changing, and so therefore will our cultures. For example, the Chinese culture in Singapore has definitely evolved. The
traditional practices, such as the tea ceremony during weddings or traditional practices during the Chinese New Year
are carried out only selectively, almost at our convenience. I think therefore that culture and behaviour ought not to
separated, but the different behavioural patterns observed that lie contradictory to what ones culture is supposed to
be could actually be insights into the different factors and practices that help shape culture, and thus allow us to
understand better the nature of culture, how it is shaped and affected and influenced.
Cronk, Hebdige, Stuart Hall and Gramsci
In Cronks Righting Culture, he discusses the misconception of culture. He explores the ways in which culture is
oftentimes described as being intricately intertwined with behaviour, as implied by Edward Tyler. He problematizes this
notion as he probes about the separation of culture from behaviour and explores how rhetoric may not have caught up
with reality. Culture, in Cronks opinion, is therefore the socially transmitted information that tells a person how to
behave, but is influenced by other factors as well. While I personally agree with Cronks ideas on culture and its
significance and meaning, I would also like to substantiate and support his ideas with the writings of Hebdige and
Stuart Hall. Their ideas of culture can be seen to complement Cronks ideas in discussing how culture has been made
to seem natural and how culture can be decoded in various ways. I will therefore elaborate more on the writings of
Hebdige and those of Stuart Hall, illustrating how they support and strengthen Cronks writings on culture.
Hebdige discusses the ways in which culture is a form of transmitted information that is made to seem naturalized, as
if it were common sense ideas. Culture being constructed in such a way that it is deliberately made to seem common
sense therefore explains why Edward Tyler would assert that culture was intertwined with behaviour. Hebdige explores
how we are thrown into a culture that dictates our actions. Culture has a symbolic significance as it involves thought
processes that help us to construct a sense of self and a common-sense reality. It essentially disguises the ways in
which culture is constructed, making one think that culture is as it should be. This complements Cronks ideas that
while culture is the socially transmitted information telling somehow how to behave, it is certainly not the sole
determining factor. Culture and behaviour should therefore be seen as two different and separate entities, allowing us
to examine how they affect each other. Hence, Hebdiges ideas of culture and the ways in which it is made to seem
natural complements Cronks ideas in pointing out that culture and behaviour are separate and distinct. Stuart Hall
explores the relevance of encoding and decoding, and how despite culture being a dominant and a key determinant of
ones behaviour, there remains room for individual and collective creativity to be expressed within it and with its
reception. Stuart Hall's ideas support Cronks ideas in discussing the disparities between lingual and social-motor
types of behaviour, that an inconsistency exists between what is done and what is said, that rhetoric may not have
caught up with reality. According to Stuart Hall, each message has a meaning encoded in it that the audience engages
with. The audience has to decode it in order to understand what is being conveyed both at the level of content (what)
and ideology (why). In the process, he may misunderstand or subvert messages, due to constrains imposed by the
medium and context. Given the same transmitted message (culture) therefore, the relationship between text and
context allows for meaning formation and interpretation and may vary.
In conclusion, it is interesting to examine Cronks ideas of culture alongside Hebdige and Stuart Hall to gain a better
understanding of the symbolic significance of culture. While culture is a form of transmitted message or instruction, it
is made to seem natural and is left to the individual, within the context, to decode the encoded messages.
Righting Culture - An opinion

This article by Cronk seeks to anlayse and define the concept of culture.
Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor defined culture as the complex whole that includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals,
custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. If behaviour is indeed a
subset of and a result of culture, as Tylor has deemed it, then it is impossible, or at the very least, incorrect, to use the
culture concept to explain behaviour. The big question is - If culture is behaviour and behaviour is what we seek to
explain as anthropologists, then, how do you use culture to explain behaviour?
Cronk then attempts to separate culture and behaviour and asserts that behavior is not entirely dependent upon
culture. He provides a host of examples to exemplify how sometimes peoples behaviours are different than their

beliefs / values (culture). He then offers various suggestions to explain behavior. One way he suggests is to use the
ideational (non-material) elements of culture such as knowledge, morals, beliefs, etc. to explain behaviour. He also
posits that culture is learned patterns for behaviour and a kind of knowledge that is transmitted from person to person
within a society where he also brings up the idea of memetics.
Although Tylors definition of culture is by far much simpler and easier to agree with, Cronks analysis of the concept of
culture is intriguing and certainly food for thought. I tend to lean towards the memetics concept of cultural transmission
and the idea that the inception of various memes in the mind and their transmission from one mind to another results
in the formation or end of a culture. In effect, a whole pattern of behaviour is formed because of one meme. As an
illustration, the underground art culture is a pattern of behaviour that has been promulgated by the spread of memes.
Since a meme is a unit of culture, it could have been the simplest unit, an idea, a thought or a conversation about
deviant art that could have spawned this entire culture.
In conclusion, it is difficult to state just one definition or use just one theory to explain culture and behaviour because
there are several schools of thought that address different areas of cultural anthropology.
Problems with conducting research when discrepancies in culture and behaviour occur

Cronks article gives a fresh outlook on the term culture. All along in my Sociological journey in NUS, I have been
exposed to definitions that are similar to Tylors, which in essence state that culture is behaviour. Cronk challenges
these traditional definitions of culture by stating that culture is really a cognitive tool that we have as a blueprint for
our behaviour. I particularly like the part in the article where he says that a phenomenon in terms of itself is circular
and meaningless. This reminds me of our secondary school days when we had to give the meaning of words in the
vocabulary section of a comprehension test, where the word itself or variations of it are not allowed in the answer
otherwise no marks will be awarded. It is certainly a good analogy used by Cronk to illustrate the problem of equating
culture to behaviour.
Overall, I agree with Cronks argument that it would be methodologically more appropriate to remove behaviour from
the definition of culture. The core of his argument is that discrepancies between culture, meaning the ideas taught by
society, and behaviour, meaning our actual actions in reality, exist. Thus, culture is not synonymous to behaviour.
However, what left me hanging after the end of the article was the question: how are we to do research and infer a
particular culture if such discrepancies exist? Cronk explains that such discrepancies exist because peoples rhetoric
has not caught up with their reality or vice versa. This means that a particular social norm, which is part of the culture,
has to be modified to suit the current situation. Let us assume that I am a social scientist who is interested in studying
the culture and will do so by interpreting and inferring from the behaviour of the group. Majority of the people in a
particular society say that they do not favour any gender; male and female children are treated equally. However in
reality, their behaviour show otherwise: females are favoured. If culture is inferred from their behaviour, I would then,
as a researcher, conclude that this particular society favours females. However, this is in direct conflict with what the
people claim to believe in and what they know as their social norms--- that their society is egalitarian. Moreover, as
Cronk mentioned, many a times people unconsciously behave differently from what they say, meaning that cognitively,
they are aware of certain social norms that they have been socialised with but in reality, they unconsciously act the
opposite because a new environment has emerged. Thus, how are we to give an appropriate description of a
particular culture in such a situation? Should what the people claim verbally be used to infer culture, or should what
the researcher observes be used? If the observations take greater priority over what the people claim, is the research
method of interviewing then rendered useless? If culture is best understood from the viewpoint of the natives itself,
meaning how they claim to see themselves, yet I observe otherwise during my field work, how am I to resolve this
conflict? Will the natives be offended if I were to denounce their claims and tell them that their norms have in fact
Therefore, Cronks idea of limiting culture to an ideational definition is indeed useful in bringing about better scientific
methodology in the study of humans but it leaves questions about conflicts between the researcher and the natives.
Behaviour and Culture : the Conundrum

Cronk argues that behaviour ought not to be included in ones definition of culture, using a cake analogy to argue
about behaviours relation to culture: that culture is but a recipe that guides ones behaviour, and is a pattern for
behaviour and not of behaviour. I disagree with this, and will attempt to argue that our understanding and experiences
of the world construct culture, and culture itself constructs and shapes our ideas and understandings about the world.
Therefore, as our experiences and understandings about the world change, especially with the intersection of cultures
and thus influx of new ideas and understandings about the world, our cultures necessarily evolve and thus shape our
behaviour continually. Therefore, it would be folly to distinguish behaviour from culture.

What one knows comes from our experiences and observations of society, which will necessarily affect our thinking
and thus behaviour. Similarly, our culture; the socially transmitted information passed on from person to person,
generation to generation, bound by our physical environment is essentially what we know, what we understand of and
about the world and thus necessarily shapes our actions and behaviour. Therefore, our culture shapes our behaviour,
but since our experiences and ideas shape our thinking, it necessarily shapes our culture as well, which in turn shapes
our thinking and thus behaviour again.

Complications arise when different cultures intersect, and different ways and ideas about the world are spread around
and interfere with and affect what we know and understand about our world, that which ones culture constructs
about ones place in the world.

When different cultures intersect, different ideas are spread around and this thus affects our understanding of the
world. Conflicting and sometimes contradictory behaviours then arise, as mentioned in Cronks article about the
Mukogodo people. This is not to say that such behaviours are not part of ones culture and therefore should be
mutually exclusive to culture, as mentioned in nyx89s commentary. It could just mean that ones culture has evolved
and changed, and new practices included in with the old. These new understandings and experiences necessarily
affect ones behaviour. This change in behaviour stems from new socially transmitted information, so how then can it
be separated from culture? New factors, like what modernfamilyfan has mentioned, such as peer pressure could
indeed play a part in constructing a new culture, a new idea of ones understanding of the world.

After all, being socially transmitted information and thus social constructs, cultures are not fixed, inanimate objects that
are limited. Such social constructs were formed by our experiences and observations, and with an opening up of the
world and the necessary enlargement of our physical and thus cultural environments, our experiences have been
changing, and so therefore will our cultures. For example, the Chinese culture in Singapore has definitely evolved. The
traditional practices, such as the tea ceremony during weddings or traditional practices during the Chinese New Year
are carried out only selectively, almost at our convenience. I think therefore that culture and behaviour ought not to
separated, but the different behavioural patterns observed that lie contradictory to what ones culture is supposed to
be could actually be insights into the different factors and practices that help shape culture, and thus allow us to
understand better the nature of culture, how it is shaped and affected and influenced.
Behaviour As Performance?

I agree with Lee Cronk that culture acts as a guide for behaviour but it is not behaviour itself. If culture constituted
behaviour, then animal behaviour would have to fall under some cultural category. However, it has been established
that animals do not have the capacity for culture that humans have, and that animal acts that seem "cultural" are too
obscure and rare to be considered as some form of culture.
The culture of any society is fluid and subject to change over time. Even though some societies are steeped in
tradition and view historical practices/artefacts etc as a very important part of their lives, social changes such as
globalisation may cause varying degrees of cultural change in the organisation of social life. Nevertheless, there are
many instances when there is a disjuncture between how members of a society view their own culture and how
members outside that particular society view the "other". The gaze of an outsider looking in may cause those on the
inside to behave in a way that is not in tandem with their own cultural prescriptions of behaviour. This is most evident
in the field of tourism, especially in places such as Bali and Thailand which are viewed by many Westerners as lands

of exotic rituals and spirituality. Locals may stage culture, such as dressing up more elaborately and deliberately
exaggerating their everyday rituals for the sake of the tourist gaze and complying with tourists' expectations. Hence,
behaviour is like a performance which is culturally informed by standards of the "other" rather than that of the locals'
own society. The tourists may believe that the locals' behaviour is determined by their cultural practices and beliefs,
but the locals may feel otherwise.
Behaviour can be influenced and shaped by any kind of culture, thus saying that culture is the same thing as
behaviour is too deterministic. It excludes the possibility that one's beliefs may be in accordance with that of a
particular society but one's behaviour in a situation governed by different social structures may be guided by that of
different cultural beliefs.