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Schneider's Symbolic Culture Theory: An Appraisal [and Comments and Reply]

Richard Feinberg, Bernhard Bock, Ralph Bolton, Keith S. Chambers, Peter J. Claus, Indra Deva, J. Patrick Gray, Bozkurt Güvenç, Charles Hudson, Roger M. Keesing, Sherwood Lingenfelter, A. K. Mark, Susan P. Montague, Philip L. Ravenhill, Dorita Sewell and Karen Ann Watson-Gegeo
Current Anthropology
Vol. 20, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 541-560
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2742111
Page Count: 20
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Schneider's Symbolic Culture Theory: An Appraisal [and Comments and Reply]
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Abstract

Two traditions have been vying for supremacy in the area of cultural analysis. The first sees culture as encompassing the totality of socially learned human phenomena; the second restricts the term to shared mental-primarily cognitive-properties. David Schneider has achieved a dominant positon in the latter school. In this paper I examine critically Schneider's approach to culture, with special attention to the problems raised by his perspective with respect to intracultural consistency and contradiction. While agreeing that the ethnographer must attempt to shun prior assumptions as to the nature of symbolic and conceptual domains recognized by the people under study, that it is incumbent on the anthropologist to comprehend reality from the natives' point of view before attempting to formulate laws or generalizations, that the symbolic systems and their associated meanings plays an essential part in making sense of any human action system, I shall argue that cultures do not exhibit the degree of integration, consistency, and articulation assumed by Schneider, that in his attempt to render culture wholly integrated and consisten he strips the concept of its analytic utility, that social action and symbolic systems are empirically and epistemologically more closely intertwined than he would lead us to believe, and that the very debate over what culture "really" is constitutes an exercise in reification.

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