A Method for Measuring the Motion of Culture



ABSTRACT  Beginning with Edward Tylor's (1889) definition of culture as socially “acquired,” I focus in this article on motion as social acquisition and transmission through “artifacts”—both durable (like ceramic pots) and fleeting (like sounds). Motion can be detected by comparison of the artifacts to which people are exposed with those they in turn produce. I examine rates of interaction with artifacts and changes in rates as evidence of the operation of “forces” such as interest and metaculture. I develop a set of axioms or laws of motion, growing out of fine-grained research on naturally occurring discourse, and endeavor to demonstrate their utility through application to three empirical cases. Although I deal with relatively small-scale artifacts, I conclude this article with the suggestion that its methods may prove useful in the broader study of cultural phenomena.