The Concept of Culture in the Works of Franz Boas Cover Image

A kultúra fogalma Franz Boas munkásságában
The Concept of Culture in the Works of Franz Boas

Author(s): Áron Bakos
Subject(s): Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology / Ethnology
Published by: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület
Keywords: Franz Boas; concept of culture; history of anthropology

Summary/Abstract: In my paper I investigate how the notion of culture appears in the writings of Franz Boas, especially in his probably most prominent work, in The Mind of Primitive Man. Firstly I try and see why we find such contradictory opinions about Boas’ status in the history of anthropology. In this section, besides following Stocking’s reasoning, I introduce gossip and oral tradition as a possible explanation for why Boas sometimes – even today – is depicted somewhat similarly to a culture hero. To avoid the mistake of an unhistorical inquiry, as a next step, I follow how the concept of culture, and the way the Other is viewed and depicted, changed in the intellectual traditions of Europe. I see Boas’ work as one in a boundary position, in a historical period where both the term culture and that of the Other is seen differently, when the former becomes a tool for writing down the latter. In my analysis I aim to prove that Boas’ use of the concept of culture remains contradictory, an that the terms in his writings appear not only in a neutral, descriptive, plural sense. Rather, culture sometimes appears as ideal and spiritual, opposed to a material, technological civilization; and it is also used to describe a more ideal state of man. From these points I conclude that it is false to see Boas as the inventor of the concept of culture, he is, rather, an important actor in the historical changes that led to a new discourse of the Other.

  • Issue Year: LXXVII/2015
  • Issue No: 2
  • Page Range: 128-138
  • Page Count: 11
  • Language: Hungarian