Anthropological theory: Culture and Personality(Benedict, Mead, Linton, Kardiner and Cora-du Bios)

The culture and personality movement was at the core of anthropology in the first half of the 20th century. It examined the interaction between psychological aspects of the individual and the overreaching culture. Culture and personality was too divided to really be considered a “school of thought.” It had no orthodox viewpoint, centralized leadership, or coherent training program (LeVine 2001); however, there were also some basic ideas that most practitioners would agree with. This would include: adult behavior as being “culturally patterned,” childhood experiences influencing the individual’s personality as an adult, and the adult personality characteristics influencing the cultural institutes such as religion (LeVine 2001). Theorists of culture and personality school argued that socialization creates personality patterns. It shapes a person’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, cultural values and norms to fit into and function as productive members in the surrounding human society. The study of culture and personality wanted to examine how different socialization practices resulted in different personality types.

A culture according to Ruth Benedict, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action”. Each culture, she held, chooses from “the great arc of human potentialities” only a few characteristics which become the leading personality traits of the persons living in that culture. These traits comprise an interdependent constellation of aesthetics and values in each culture which together add up to a unique gestalt. She described in detail the contrasts between rituals, beliefs, personal preferences amongst people of diverse cultures to show how each culture had a “personality” that was encouraged in each individual.

Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) provided “the first sustained consideration of the relation between personality and culture,” (Winthrop 1991:214). Culture and Personality reached a peak during the 1930s and 1940s and lost support after 1950. It was viewed as being unscholarly, and the few remaining practitioners changed the name to psychological anthropology to avoid the stigma (LeVine 2001). Modern psychological anthropology attempts to bridge the gap between anthropology and psychology by examining how cultures understand human identity and with “cross-cultural study of social, political, and cultural-historical constitution of the self” (Lindholm 2001).

Abram kardiner:

His contribution concerned the interplay of individual personality development and the situated cultures. He developed a psycho-cultural model for the relationship between child-rearing, housing and decent types in the different cultures. He distinguished primary institutions (e.g. child training, toilet behavior and family structure) and secondary institutions (such as religion and art). He explained that basic personality structures in a society influenced the personality types which further influenced the secondary institutions. He also was noted for studying the object relations and ego psychology in psychoanalysis.

In this social-psychological study, she advanced the concept of modal personality structure. Cora Dubois stated that individual variation within a culture exists, and each culture shares the development of a particular type which might not exist in its individuals.

Basic Personality Structure Approach: This approach was developed jointly by Abram Kardiner and Ralph Linton in response to the configurational approach. Kardiner and Linton did not believe that culture types were adequate for differentiating societies. Instead, they offered a new approach which looks at individual members within a society and then compares the traits of these members in order to achieve a basic personality for each culture.

National Character :These studies began during and after World War II. It Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead led this new attempt to understand different peoples. Through Mead’s study of the British, she learned that English women were reliant upon young male’s self-control and conditioned not to have to quiet the men’s urges. On the other hand, American society held the belief that women should exert their self-control over the men’s urges (Singer 1961). Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture (1946) was a national character study on the Japanese culture. Geoffery Gorer wrote The People of Great Russia in which he hypothesized that the Russian technique of swaddling their infants led them to develop personalities that are cold and distant. Most national character studies have been heavily criticized as being unanthropological for being too general and having no ethnographic field work incorporated. (source:books)

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