Culture and Cultural Universals in Anthropology

Part of the Anthropology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Anthropologists don't just study the evolution of human beings, they also learn about their cultures, how cultures develop, and how cultures shape human behavior. If you need to refresh your memory about culture, like what it is and how it guides human behavior, take a look at these aspects:

  • Culture is a learned set of ideas and rules about appropriate behavior shared by a group; it's passed on from one generation to the next not by the genes but with language.

  • Although the contents of each culture are different, each culture has specific ideas of language (a way to communicate), ethics (concepts of right and wrong), social roles (rights and responsibilities per gender and age class), the supernatural (the realm of supernatural beings), styles of bodily decoration (styles normally indicate identity), family structure (marriage customs and rules for inheritance), sexual regulation (incest taboos and marriage customs) and food preferences (ideas of what's appropriate for consumption at various social gatherings).

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