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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Notes from: Culture and Motivation, by Ruth Benedict, Reprinted from Patterns of Culture, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934, by permission of the publisher. CROSS-CULtURAL STUDIES OF BEHAVIOR, edited by Ihsan Al-Issa, Univ. of Calgary, and Wayne Dennis, City Univ. of New York. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1970, pgs. 155-1598.

Culture and Motivation

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Ruth Benedict was a brilliant anthropologist, noted chiefly for her interpretations of cultures. In this selection she described how great, in her opinion, is the wealth of possible human motivations, and indicated that each culture selects for emphasis only a few of the motives that can activate mankind. Thus, in a sense, culture rather than human nature determines a man's motives and drives. To put it another way, every man has many potential interests and goals, but society to a large extent determines which will be actualized. Mozart could not have been a musician if he had been a devout Quaker, nor Napoleon a conqueror if he had been an Eskimo.


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In culture we must imagine a great arc on which are ranged the possible interests provided either by the human age-cycle or by the environment or by man's various activities. A culture that capitalized even a considerable proportion of these would be as unintelligible as a language that used all the clicks, all the glottal stops, all the labials, dentals, sibilants, and gutturals from voiceless to voiced and from oral to nasal. Its identity as a culture depends upon the selection of some segments of this arc. Every human society everywhere has made such selection in its cultural institutions. Each from the point of view of another ignores fundamentals and exploits irrelevancies. One culture hardly recognizes monetary values; another has made them fundamental in every field of behavior. In one society technology is unbelievably slighted even in those aspects of life which seem necessary to ensure survival; in another, equally simple, technological achievements are complex and fitted with admirable nicety to the situation. One builds an enormous cultural superstructure upon adolescence, one upon death, one upon after-life.

The great arc along which all the possible human behaviors are distributed is far too immense and too full of contradictions for any one culture to utilize even any considerable portion of it. Selection is the first requirement. Without selection no culture could even achieve intelligibility, and the intentions it selects and makes its own are a much more important matter than the particular detail of technology or the marriage formality that it also selects in similar fashion . . . .


[Notes from: Culture and Motivation, by Ruth Benedict, Reprinted from Patterns of Culture, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934, by permission of the publisher. CROSS-CULtURAL STUDIES OF BEHAVIOR, edited by Ihsan Al-Issa, Univ. of Calgary, and Wayne Dennis, City Univ. of New York. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1970, pgs. 155-1598.]




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