There is a good editorial about that classic anthropological question “What is Culture?” in the New York Times today by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is salient because presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently made assertions about the nature of culture and its relationships to economic activity while he was in Israel recently. His statements, made in the heat of a political campaign, have meant that the Culture Question will at least briefly (and probably ephemerally) push itself again into the national consciousness. Still it is a good entrée into the subject for anyone teaching an Intro to Cultural Anthropology course this Fall. Note that in the very first sentence, Coates gives credit to anthropologists as having a unique identity relative to “triumphalists!”
Romney’s Side Course of Culture
By TA-NEHISI COATES
Published: August 9, 2012 259 Comments
When Mitt Romney asserted last week that “culture does matter,” he settled into a pose that was more triumphalist than anthropologist. Romney had begun by asserting that culture explained the difference in G.D.P. between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but soon he was claiming that culture also made the United States “the greatest economic power in the history of the earth.” His attempt to define American culture settled in on vague attributes like “patriotism,” “family orientation,” “honor and oath” and “freedom,” a list that seemed cribbed from Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness.
Is it worth noting that America, itself, was secured from its aboriginal tribes through centuries of oath-breaking, through a malleable regard for freedom, and through the auctioning of families? Continued Here