This is a discussion post essay I wrote on 2014-09-22 for EDF 6155: Lifespan Human Development & Learning, a graduate class at University of Central Florida.
EDF 6155 Module 3 Discussion Post, “Culture”
22 September 2014
Name: Richard Thripp
Grade Contract: A
1. Culture and Development – Important Ideas
a. Culture and Family
Collectivist subcultures in America, such as African Americans and Asians, often live together in extended family households that include several generations and even married children and their spouses (Berk, 2010, p. 66). This structure has many benefits, such as closer communication and familial ties, lower costs, and shared responsibilities. It is ironic that American culture tends to encourage families to split up, children to move out or move far away for college at an early age, and for working adults (and especially men) to prioritize their careers over their children or grandparents. While independence has its benefits, denigrating young adults for living with their parents—even when they may be providing support and kinship while saving money on housing—demonstrates a lack of insight and a predilection for wastefulness. Thus, we should not overlook the numerous benefits of collectivism at the family level, despite living in an individualistic society.
b. Culture is a Moving Target
The idea that the intangible aspects of a culture can be preserved is misguided at best—these ethereal qualities are constantly in flux as people and circumstances change. An example is the move to support the ancestral culture of the native, white majority in the United Kingdom (Boyes, 2008)—this is a culture that, with the decline of the British Empire, diminished power of royalty and nobility, and recent wide-scale immigration into the U.K., arguably does not even exist anymore. Cultures are both dynamic and relative and cannot be pinned down on the basis of race, nationality, language, or any other factor. Even the borders between languages and nations exhibit their own unique blends of speech and identity—each of which is a distinct culture.
c. Alleviating Cultural Oppression
According to Ifeyinwa Mbakogu, the long-standing cultural dominance of the West steamrolls African cultures—there is no “exchange” of cultures but merely imposition (2004, p. 39). There is little imperative that Western culture be preserved when the premier institutions of power promulgate its immortality—however, no such mechanisms exist for Africans, Native Americans, and other oppressed groups. Therefore, disproportionally elevating the prominence of cultures that have been historically ignored and oppressed could be considered social justice in action. Just as it is arguably impossible for blacks to exhibit racism toward whites or women to exhibit sexism toward men (though prejudice is a different matter), it would be near impossible for too little attention to be paid to Western culture, given the centuries-long surplus it has accumulated. However, allowing Westerners the reins to interpret and present oppressed cultures may result in the proliferation of bastardizations of these cultures—a fate hypothetically worse than no representation. For instance, consider the misrepresentation of Native Americans in the 20th century Western film genre (Schnupp, 2011). If Westerners wish to be culturally competent, it might be best for them to cede space and airtime to actual members of the cultures they aim to publicize, because any interpretation by an outsider is bound to lack contextual depth.
Berk, L. E. (2010). Development through the lifespan (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Boyes, S. (2008, November 4). Whose culture is it anyway? Culture Wars. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from http://www.culturewars.org.uk/index.php/site/article/whose_culture_is_it_anyway/
Mbakogu, I. (2004). Is there really a relationship between culture and development? The Anthropologist, 6(1), 37-43.
Schnupp, B. (2011, October 15). The shifting other: Native Americans in film, 1950-present. Native American Identity in Popular Film, 1950-Present. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from http://bill-shiftingother.blogspot.com/