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Two maps here--the geographic one represents the internal maps people have of their cultural terrain, knowing that "the map is NOT the territory" that reality is always vastly more complex than our mental renderings of it. The other is a mind-map, which depicts the network of associative links in our minds--knowledge triggered by a single word, for example, or the feelings and meanings we associate with a particular behavior. These associations are partly personal, partly collective. Culture in this metaphor is the map of a group's shared meanings and connections.

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While a foundational figure in cultural anthropology, Tylor thought about culture in radically different terms than we do today. He accepted the premise that all societies develop in the same way and insisted on the universal progression of human civilization from savage to barbarian to civilized. Nowhere in his writing does the plural “cultures” appear. In his view, culture is synonymous with civilization, rather than something particular to unique societies, and, so, his definition refers to “Culture or civilization.” In part, his universalist view stemmed from his Quaker upbringing, which upheld the value of a universal humanity, and indeed Tylor’s refusal to accept the concept of race as scientifically significant in the study of culture was unusual in Victorian science.

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The earliest stage of savagery featured largely in Tylor’s study of culture; the term itself derives from the Latin for forest-dweller, and at the time it had both neutral and positive connotations as well as the negative ones that remain today. Societies within each stage have superficial differences masking their fundamental similarity, and the anthropologist’s job is to identify the latter. Determining where the group stood on the hierarchical ladder of cultural development provided the context for interpreting all aspects of the society by comparing it with others on the same rung around the world. One of the most prominent consequences of this logic was the familiar practice in Victorian museums of displaying together all objects of one type from around the world, arranged to illustrate the intrinsic cultural evolution of a musical instrument, bowls, or spears, for example. A cursory glance at most illustrated anthropological books from the time, such as Friedrich Ratzel’s The History of Mankind (1885-86), demonstrates the same principle at work.


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