Culture and "Culture"
Culture, as it is understood here, is not the only source of influence on human behavior, but it affects everything people do and is the indispensable base for social relations. There may be some merit in the vertiginous, Weberian metaphor wherein humans are suspended in a web of meaning whose substance is culture, but the trope distorts the realities of human life.
Unless "meaning" is understood so broadly as to be almost useless in analysis, Weber's web is spun of only one of the two broad contributions culture makes to human life. The other is to provide instructions for doing things such as making money, friends, and love; what I call "procedural understandings" (Swartz and Jordan 1980:49) and in some ways similar to what Goodenough calls "recipes" (1971:30–31).
"Culture" is a concept referring to the propositions or understandings that exist in the minds of individuals and that are similar to the comparable propositions in the minds of their fellow group members. That is, the understandings that make up culture are shared, so that culture's locus is both social and psychological. The basic units of culture are in people's minds, but the fact of their being shared, manifested and influenced in interaction, is a social fact. The component shared understandings have both direct and, as we will see below, vitally important indirect influence on the members of the group, some of whose members share them.
The direct influence comes from the guidance the understandings provide both for behavior and for the evaluation and assessment of whatever the actor views as relevant to that behavior. This direct influence is psychological in origin, and its primary operation is in the cognitive processes of the culture sharers. But culture's effects are not limited to those processes, crucial though they are, that occur in the human mind.
The manifest, public activity that is guided by culture is not itself culture, but it is, in considerable part, produced by it in the sense that the behavior of those involved is guided by shared understandings. This behavior, when assessed and evaluated according to understandings shared among those who express it and those who are concerned with it, is itself an influence on the
subsequent behavior of those involved and, often, on the behavior of those who become aware of what was done. The behavior produced under cultural guidance thus serves as a vehicle for further, but indirect, cultural influence (see Goodenough 1971:18–20).
Some of the phenomena addressed in my approach, including the simultaneous occupancy of a number of "statuses" (in the sense explained below) and the importance of different sorts of situations to how statuses function as guides to behavior, are interestingly and differently developed in Goodenough's pioneering work (1965:12) as well as in Keesing's Chomskian-ethnoscientific "building blocks model" of social participation and cultural competence (1970, esp. 432–436). I did not have the advantage of reading Keesing until the field research on which this book was based was completed, but I am struck by the thoughtfulness of his formulations and the fact that many of his suggestions work well with the data presented here.