Culture: The Use and Abuse of an Anthropological Concept

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Title

Cultural Competence in Applied Psychology


The concept of culture, as developed within the discipline of anthropology, has had a significant influence on Western understandings of humanity. The concept percolated widely into the discourse of the Western world as an alternative to explaining human differences as a result of racial or biological factors. A philosophical concept of culture in the West can be traced back to Roman times and the Enlightenment period. The anthropological concept of culture was developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the anthropological concept of culture has gone through considerable changes over the last century. This chapter will discuss how the concept was used and abused by practitioners and academics in many disciplines. The concept was loosely employed by many as an autonomous variable and determinant of individual, ethnic, national, and sometimes civilizational group behavior. This usage resulted in the separation between the disciplines of anthropology and psychology. More recently, a more nuanced understanding of this anthropological concept of culture has been the consequence of groundbreaking research within the cognitive approaches in anthropology and psychology. This refined understanding of culture can provide a foundation for improvement in dealing with the practical issues in counseling, social work, and other related applied psychology fields.


DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-78997-2_11

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