DSS EVENT: Starting a Conversation on Culture

Please join the College of Sciences for our next Distinguished Speaker Series event, Starting a Conversation on Culture: Multidisciplinary Perspectives across the UCF Community.

The event will be held Tues, Nov. 15 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Egmont Key room located in the Student Union.

An abstract of the presentation is below.

Anthropologists are rarely able to predict when a culture trait will influence behavior and when it will not. To make this problem more tractable, I recommend that we define culture in a way that separates it from behavior, consider the impacts of individual culture traits on behavior rather than treating culture as an undifferentiated whole, and focus on culture traits that have clear behavioral referents. Most importantly, we need to modify the question.

Rather than “what is the relationship between culture and behavior?” we should ask “if we know that a person has been exposed to a particular culture trait, how much does that improve our ability to predict his or her behavior”?

This rephrasing allows hypotheses regarding what sorts of culture traits have the greatest impacts on behavior to be tested. One way to examine the impacts of individual culture traits on behavior is to transfer them from the societies in which they originated to new ones and then assessing their impacts on behavior. I have used this technique in a series of studies using a Maasai gift-giving norm. The impact of the norm on behavior is revealed through experimental games framed in terms of the norm played by both Maasai men and American college students.

The results suggest that even unfamiliar social coordination norms may easily influence behavior across societies but that this effect depends crucially upon exactly how the norm is framed.

Lee Cronk is an evolutionary and cultural anthropologist at Rutgers University.  After receiving his Ph.D. in 1989 from Northwestern University, Cronk taught at Texas A&M University before moving to Rutgers in 1999.  Cronk’s approach to the study of human behavior incorporates both evolutionary theory and the concept of culture, a focus reflected in his first book, That Complex Whole: Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior. Long-term fieldwork in Kenya led to his second book, From Mukogodo to Maasai: Ethnicity and Cultural Change in Kenya.







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