The concept of universality of culture in anthropology refers to the idea that there are certain aspects of human culture that are common to all societies, regardless of their geographical location or historical time period. This concept has been the subject of extensive study and debate within the field of anthropology, with some scholars arguing that there are indeed universal cultural traits, while others maintain that cultural differences are too significant to be overshadowed by similarities.
Significance of Universality of Culture
One of the earliest anthropologists to propose the idea of universality of culture was George Murdock. In his seminal work, “Outline of World Cultures,” Murdock identified a number of cultural traits that he believed were present in all societies, such as marriage, kinship, and religion. While some of his specific claims have been disputed, his broader assertion that there are fundamental cultural elements shared by all human societies has been influential in the field.
Other scholars have expanded upon Murdock’s work and sought to identify additional examples of universal cultural traits. For example, Donald Brown has proposed a list of over 300 “human universals,” ranging from language and music to warfare and sport. Brown argues that these universals are the result of evolutionary processes that have shaped human behaviour over the course of our history as a species.
Despite these efforts to identify universal cultural traits, there are also many anthropologists who are critical of the concept. Some argue that the idea of universality is based on a flawed assumption of cultural homogeneity, and that there is actually much more variation between cultures than there is commonality. Others maintain that cultural universals are too broad and vague to be of much use in understanding the specific practices and beliefs of different societies.
Despite these criticisms, however, the concept of universality of culture continues to be an important area of inquiry in anthropology. One reason for this is that it highlights the fact that, despite their differences, all human societies share certain commonalities. This can help to promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation, and can also aid in the development of more effective strategies for addressing global issues such as poverty, disease, and environmental degradation.
Another reason why the idea of universality of culture is important is that it can shed light on the nature of human nature itself. By identifying those cultural traits that are shared by all societies, anthropologists can gain insights into the underlying biological and psychological processes that shape human behaviour. This can help us to better understand the origins of our species and the forces that have driven our evolution.
Implications of Universality Of Culture
In addition to these theoretical and philosophical considerations, the concept of universality of culture has practical implications for fields such as education, public health, and international development. For example, by understanding the cultural universals that underpin human behaviour, educators can design more effective curricula that are relevant and engaging to students from diverse backgrounds. Similarly, public health practitioners can develop interventions that are more likely to be accepted and adopted by members of different cultural communities.
To sum up, the concept of universality of culture is an important area of inquiry in anthropology, and has generated much discussion and debate within the field. While some scholars argue that there are indeed universal cultural traits that are common to all human societies, others maintain that cultural differences are too significant to be overshadowed by similarities. Despite these disagreements, however, the idea of universality of culture remains a valuable tool for understanding the nature of human behaviour and promoting cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.
Murdock, G. P. (1945). The common denominator of cultures. In R. Linton (Ed.), The science of man in the world crisis (pp. 123-142). Columbia University Press.
Peacock, J. L., & Haviland, W. A. (Eds.). (2016). The anthropology of globalisation: A reader. John Wiley & Sons.
Shweder, R. A. (1991). Cultural psychology: What is it? In J. W. Stigler, R. A. Shweder, & G. Herdt (Eds.), Cultural psychology: Essays on comparative human development (pp. 1-43). Cambridge University Press. https://humdev.uchicago.edu/sites/humdev.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/Shweder/36.%201990–Cultural%20Psychology%20-%20What%20is%20it.pdf