Culture and Epistemologies: Putting Culture back into the Ecosystem

This chapter reviews a body of research on cultural differences in framework theories for engaging with nature, focusing primary on Indigenous American and European-American comparisons. Native-American samples reveal a pattern of converging observations that point to a relational epistemological orientation and a propensity for systems level thinking. In contrast, Non-Native samples show observations suggesting that humans are conceptualized as more psychologically distant from the rest of nature. Correlated with distance is a tendency for a taxonomic rather than an ecological orientation. We also suggest that the way that researchers think about and study culture may reflect their own cultural practices and we propose a more ecological analysis of culture itself.

In any analysis of culture and cognition, one might expect an answer to the question, “What (or where) is culture?” This question dances between traditional disciplinary boundaries. Cognitive psychologists tend to think of culture as strictly in people’s heads and don’t usually pay much attention to the environment, artifacts, or even other people. Conversely many anthropologists appear to equate culture with everything but what is in the minds of individuals. We hope to offer another perspective on the culture question. Our work has led us to navigate complex but consistent patterns of results by taking an “ecosystems approach,” one that focuses on systemic interactions between ideas, artifacts, and the social and ecological environments that comprise what we might call ‘cultural ecosystems.’ Critically, these cultural elements co-develop and may reinforce one another in ways that make it hard and perhaps even irrelevant to give explanatory priority to any single factor or dimension.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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