Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 1999

Culture and Mind:
An Introduction to Cultural Psychology

Main Discipline: Anthropology
Lecturer: Professor Bradd Shore
Institution: Emory University, Atlanta, USA
Dates: 2nd - 6th August 1999

Advances in cognitive science have made possible a new way to understand culture. In the past "culture" has been defined in many ways: symbol systems, adaptive strategies, world view, belief systems, life ways and material artefacts. This course will explore an exciting new way of thinking about culture from a symbolic and cognitive perspective. Human cultures involve the human propensity for modelling experience. What anthropologists call "cultural models" involves both public models (institutions) and mental models. This essentially two-sided view of cultural models will provide an introduction to what is being called "cultural psychology."

The course starts by looking at culture and mind from an evolutionary perspective, reviewing the evidence for the co-evolution of the human nervous system and human culture. It then introduces the notion of modelling as a basic function of the human brain and develops a view of culture as a collection of collectively shared models. Material from the lecturer's own field research in Samoa, illustrates how a specific culture looks when it is described in terms of models.

The course then considers the importance of play in culture, as well as the role of multiple models for the same domain within a cultural community. Furthermore, it discusses the issue of socialization and enculturation: how individuals internalize culture. The course will also discuss the important links between cultural models and human memory. And finally, culture is studied as a resource for meaning-making. The crucial role of analogy-formation will be discussed as an important aspect of how cultural models make shared meaning possible for humans.

Basic Readings

The lecturer
Bradd Shore was chair of the Anthropology Department at Emory University until 1997 and has been on Emory's faculty since 1982. He is presently President-elect of the Society for Psychological Anthropology. Having lived in Samoa for over five years, Shore has written a teaching grammar of Samoan, edited a volume on Pacific islander migration to the United States and published dozens of papers on aspects of Samoan social organization, cosmology and indigenous psychology.

Among his books are Sala'ilua: A Samoan Mystery (Columbia University Press 1982), Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture and the Problem of Meaning (Oxford University Press, 1996) is an attempt to provide a theoretical and ethnographic bridge between cultural anthropology and cognitive science. Shore is currently working on a book with Jerome Bruner on the relationship between psychology and anthropology, a monograph on rethinking culture as models and a collection of his essays on Shakespeare and social theory.