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
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.