Culture and Socialisation

The cultural knowledge we have acquired and routinely use will have been learned, in the course of primary and secondary (including organisational []) socialisation, and will to a certain extent be shared with others:

Cultural knowledge is coded in complex systems of symbols. It involves the "definitions of the situation" (Thomas 1931) that must be learned by each generation. Children in every society are taught to "see" the world in a particular way. They learn to recognize and identify some objects and to ignore others ...

... Thus, through a long process of socialization, children learn to organize their perceptions, concepts, and behavior. They acquire the knowledge that members of their society have found useful in coping with their life situation. They are taught, in short, a "tacit theory of the world" (Kay 1970:20). This theory is then used to organize their behavior, to anticipate the behavior of others, and to make sense out of the world in which they live. (Spradley & McCurdy, 1972, p.8-9)

(Hutchison, 1993a, addresses the question of what it means for knowledge to be 'shared' by a group and to what degree it can be 'shared'; see also Wallace, 1970, 34ff; Spradley & McCurdy, 1972, pp. 28ff; Keesing, 1981, p.97ff. For succint descriptions of 'primary' and 'secondary' socialisation, see Berger & Berger, 1976, p.62ff; see also Spradley & McCurdy, 1972, pp.8-9).

Culture -- thus conceived as internalised knowledge -- cannot be observed directly. Clearly, as observers, we have direct access only to the behaviour (including linguistic behaviour) and artefacts that are generated. Learning the culture, for members of the culture, is a lengthy process of inferring the underlying abstract knowledge from observed behaviour and artefacts:


Figure 4: Making cultural inferences (adapted from Spradley, 1980, p.11)

The ethnographer learns (rather than simply learns about) the culture by observing and describing the behaviour and interpretive strategies of members of the culture.


[] I.e., "the way in which individuals are transformed into group members with certain responsibilities, obligations, expectations and values" (Weeks, 1980, p.112)
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