Models of Culture

Lesson 1: Topic 9 of 25

A machine is a famous metaphor for culture. Parts are dependent on one another to make the whole mechanism work. Remove an important part, and what happens to the function of the machine? It becomes useless.

An example of this cultural breakdown is that of Native American tribes, who through displacement and forced acculturation found themselves unable to maintain cultural equilibrium. My Cree great-grandmother was reportedly one of hundreds of thousands of Native American children who were taken to boarding schools for a western education, via the Indian Civilization Act of 1819. For nearly a hundred years, such schools operated in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, with lasting repercussions. Also, forced government relocation among Plains tribes was catastrophic in its failure. Efforts to train these nomadic people in agricultural skills often resulted in mere subsistence farming where it endured. Poor farmland quality and training were insufficient replacements for entire lifestyles, and as a result, few people thrived.

Another more recent machine-like metaphor for culture comes from a gent named Geert Hofstede. He proposed a computer and software relationship. People, or society, are the hardware (the computer itself), and when the software of culture is plugged in, it fills in the gaps to determine underlying values and external behavior.