The Construct Validity of Cultures: Cultural Diversity, Culture Theory, and a Method for Ethnography

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Abstract

If we distinguish culture (embodied in individuals) from cultures (embodied in the superorganic properties of groups), we make it possible to accommodate the observation that individuals vary, make choices, and exert control over their lives with the observation that those same individuals find themselves constrained by recurrent patterns with properties of things. This shift in perspective makes the central problem for ethnography the identification and description of the evolving configurations of cognition, emotion, and behavior at the intersection of evolving, individually unique cultural sets. Principal components analysis of similarities among informants identifies and describes this intersection and its important variations precisely. Ordinary least squares and logistic multiple regressions test for plausible antecedents of intracultural and intercultural variation, respectively. I illustrate with data on cultural diversity in the relative importance of components that make up a partnership between parents and teachers in the United States and in how to organize these components effectively. I demonstrate the existence of a single model of the importance of these components, with intracultural variation. I demonstrate the existence of two cultural models of how to organize these components into effective parent- teacher partnerships (Separate but Equal and Mutual Decision Makers). Discordance between these cultures and the social identities of the cultural participants validates Keesing's claim that culture is not bounded in ways many people have long assumed. The shift in perspective that reconciles Sapir and Kroeber points past culture theory to a theory of culture. As we work out the details, it will also help us make ethnographic sense out of the contemporary world and give us a better grasp of the past one. [Key words: cultural diversity, culture theory, ethnographic methods, ethnology]

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