Culture and Environment I. The Unity of the Environment

Luther Lee Bernard

 THERE is a strong recent tendency on the part of those who deal much with the concept of culture to place the concepts of environment and of culture in opposition and to think of them as mutually exclusive. This implied distinction between culture and environment is, in my opinion, essentially erroneous and is likely to be the source of much unscientific analysis and partisan or sectarian writing. Already the orthodox or strict culture interpretationists have erected the concept of culture into an underived ultra qua non similar to the soul, the old time free will, the first cause, logos, etc., which are prone to be used as axiomatic starting points in casuistical discourse and thus become the mothers of much error and of more intolerance. What the culture interpretationists have to defend apart from the concept of culture and the methodological independence of anthropology (which always has been annoyingly confused in subject matter and mixed in administrative control with sociology] I am unable to say. However, the concept of an underived cultural entity may possibly be regarded as a sort of substitute defense for routed biological determinists who can no longer appeal to instinct as the final explanation of the genesis of human behavior and who must perforce transfer their system. of causal explanation from a hereditary to an environmental basis. It is also perhaps an equally good substitute defense for those who were formerly worshippers at the shrines of custom and tradition, taking their oracular pronouncements as valid and final.

Perhaps it is useless, and somewhat psychoanalytical, to seek the motivation back of the culture entity or culture-in-a-vacuum dogma. If science ends in the discovery of the fact and eschews speculation as to the why of the fact, we may begin with this indubitable datum that the orthodox cultural interpretationists are loath to seek the origins of culture in environment and that they practically uniformly conceive of environment as natural environment. The evidence for the former assertion will appear in the course of this article. The recent work of R. B. Dixon, The Building of Cultures (1928), may be taken as an illustration of the truth of the latter statement. Dixon expressly limits the term environment to the physical,[1] specifying such phases of the natural environment as

( 328) climate, topography and raw materials[2] and geographic position.[3] Practically the same limitation to the term environment is made by most of the other social anthropologists. Wallis speaks of the geographic environment, ignoring other forms,[4] Goldenweiser criticises the environmentalist interpretations of culture of such men as Montesquieu, Taine, Buckle, Ratzel, Semple, and Huntington and specifies the factors of the environment —which he appears to regard as exclusively physical —as "climate, flora, fauna, geographical position."[5] Boas,[6] Kroeber,[7] and Lowie[8] likewise confine their use of the term environment to the physical natural environment, although Kroeber at least recognizes a superorganicfactor[9] which might as well be termed environment as culture. Wissler [10] also writes with the same limitation upon the concept of environment, dealing specifically with such natural environmental factors as "land and sea, climate, plant and animal life, etc.,"[11] but he also recognizes specifically the social environment under the more anthropological (as contrasted with sociological) term of "ethnic environment. "[12] This ethnic environment is the culture-carrying environment. Tribal groups react against each other and thus spread their culture. "Hence, the environment that really counts for most is the ethnic environment, the culture setting."[13] But even with this strong recognition of a social environment, there is no analysis of it by Wissler as environment, but only as culture.

In 1925 I published a paper [14] designed to show that the concept of environment must be expanded to include not only the natural environment, but also a series of evolving and cumulative social or cultural environments, whose content is essentially the same as the culture" of the anthropologists. In this paper I offered what is in effect a. theory of the origin of culture from the impact of one term in the natural environment (man) upon another term in this natural environment, the inorganic and organic worlds to which man must make his adjustment and which he must learn to control in order to survive and develop his culture. In 1926 I published another paper [15] with the definite purpose of demonstrating the relationship between environment and culture, both as to their origin and as to their content. I wish in this paper to attempt to make more pointed and specific the argument for this

( 329) relationship, supported by an analysis and a. criticism of the cultural and environmental concepts of the culture anthropologists.

There were at least three fundamental weaknesses of the old anthropogeography. One of these was its necessary disregard of the social environmental factors. Another was the inadequacy of its detailed analyses of the relation of the natural environment to behavior. A third weakness was that it lacked any adequate classification of the environments—even of the natural environmental factors—which would enable the student and the investigator readily to place or classify their data when procured. As a result of the first deficiency analyses were incomplete. Because of the second, the subject lacked concreteness and precision. This difficulty is in part now being removed by the more detailed field and laboratory analyses of the new school of human geographers. The third deficiency was the cause of a perennial confusion of the antecedents and conditioners of behavior. The writer recalls a long and fruitless controversy in his student days between his instructor and himself as to whether human behavior was to be interpreted "environmentally" or "psychologically." It is now clear that neither disputant understood adequately the contention of the other, simply because there was available no scheme of classification which would place, delimit, and define the two supposedly opposing concepts. As a matter of fact, the two concepts of behavior determination were not wholly distinct and unrelated, when viewed from the standpoint of a more inclusive classification of environments, but were (as used by the two contestants) very decidedly assimilable. The difficulty was that there was no schema available for bringing about this accommodation and partial assimilation of the two concepts. The classification of environments published in 1925 was designed to provide such a schema.

In this classification I separated the natural from the social or cultural environments, not because environment as a whole suddenly ceases to be "natural" and becomes all at once "artificial" or "cultural," but because I wished to illustrate the fact that man, in his struggle to make an effective adjustment to his world, creates new environment as a means to this end. It is in this way that he learns to control his environment. The environment to which he must adjust thus becomes decreasingly "natural" and increasingly" artificial" and "cultural" or "social." This he creates environment to be used as a tool in the control of his world and he creates incidentally and cumulatively a new environment to which it is easier for him to make adjustment and which it is easier for him to control because, for the most part, this environment has been created to meet his needs and it has been created as a tool. Of course there are incidental phases of this environment, by-products and unanticipated developments, as it were, which may produce complications in his cultural environmental evolution and which possibly may interfere with the adequacy or the facility of his adjustment to and control of (really one and the same process viewed from opposite angles) his world. The danger that the utilization of modern technical inventions may be used in warfare for the destruction of civilization is a good example of the unexpected and incidental results of the human creation of environment. The creation of new cultural or social environments is itself at first a process purely incidental to the more fundamental process of adjustment to the environments previously existing. The behaviorist sees

( 330) all human activity as a phase of adjustment, or of the reciprocal interrelationships of organisms and environments. [16] The creation of social or cultural environments is at first merely incidental to this reciprocal interrelationship, but with the development of thinking and language as phases of this incidental development, the purposive or projective creation of cultural or social environment to be used consciously as tools or means to the control of the adjustment process may and does come into play in the adjustment situation.

It is scarcely necessary of course to say that it is not intended to imply that primitive man worked out the theory of all this process of the creation of cultural environments as tools and as means to the modification of the relatively hard and austere natural environments before he started to work to accomplish the results he has achieved. In a behavioristic interpretation of social phenomena there is no definite dividing line between the purposive and the non-purposive whereby to separate them into two distinct kingdoms of human action. Such a separation is the work of metaphysical logic, not of human experience. Moreover, consciousness does not come suddenly into the adjustment process and radically transform it. It also is a gradual growth and, where it functions constructively and intelligently instead of destructively and emotionally, it appears to be correlated with a refinement and further particularization of the adjustment process. When the adjustment process could be slower and could work by generations rather than by individuals, in the pre-human days of the world, it seems to have occurred largely through the mechanism of natural selection. But individual habit modifications appear even then to have been important in mediating differential adjustments to the environments. When habits became conscious and conceptual or verbal with the development of some sort of symbolizing and objectivating technique, that is, some sort of language, the adaptation of the organism to the environment began to pass decisively from the subjective (the modification of inheritance and of neuro-muscular habit merely) to the objective (the permanent and conserved modification of the environment transmitted through language symbolization) phase. The development of verbal communication or language symbolization aided greatly in the maintenance of these external and environmental modifications or in the creation and perpetuation of culture.[17] It is not necessary to suppose that all the persons concerned knew what was happening in the production of artificial or cultural environment, or even that any one realized the wider and more ultimate significance of the process at these earlier stages of the control of adjustment through tradition. Relatively few persons in our present civilization have achieved with any degree of adequacy this second realization or power of objectifying the process through the philosophic or scientific utilization of language. But, at whatever stage it occurred, this external modification of the environment, whether unconscious or conscious, whether its social significance was understood or not, was an invention; and invention, or the adaptive modification of the environment of man, has now become a recognized and honored profession.

It was by means of invention that the original natural environments were modified and new cultural or artificial environ-

( 331) -ments were created. These artificial environments varied in character according to the materials out of which they were constructed. Out of the inorganic materials of the natural (and later of the artificial) environments, and out of the organic materials rendered inorganic through the process of utilization, was created a physico-social or material cultural environment. This environment began at first as tools, shelter, ornaments, and later evolved into machines, the equipment for transportation and communication, cities, etc. Out of living things, not transformed into inorganic materials by the process of utilization, was created a biosocial environment, or a cultural of behavior and performance rather than a culture of things. This field of culture lies between the material and the non-material culture of the culture classificationists and its presence would seem to make necessary a four-fold classification of culture, to take the place of the old dual classification into material and non-material culture, somewhat as follows: [18]

I. Cultural objects

(1)Material objects or things (involving changes of form or of content)

(2) Symbolical objects (involving objectivated symbolic behavior such as arc and written language)

II. Cultural behavior

(1) Overt behavior (neuro-muscular adjustment forms)

(2) Inner behavior (neuro-psychic adjustment or symbolical behavior forms in action)

This second phase of cultural environment, the bio-social, is produced by means of the breeding and training of plants and animals and includes, under the category of training, both domestication and education. To these processes we do not ordinarily apply the term invention, since by precedent and practice we have been accustomed to limit the application of the concept invention to direct modification of inanimate things or cultural objects rather than of living beings and their cultural behavior. Thus we speak of invention when we make new modifications of significance in the inanimate physical environment or in the organizations of symbols. We approximate the application of the term invention to modifications of behavior when we plan or put into administrative functioning a new organization of human relationships, but in this last case the emphasis seems to be primarily upon the plan or system of behavior; rather than upon the behavior itself. These three types of inventions have been denominated physical, method (methodological), and social inventions.[19]

The two types of cultural modification of the environment indicated above—physico-social and bio-social —were originally visible modifications of the inorganic and organic natural environments and have remained visible modifications of the form and content of the material objects, or of the behavior of living things corresponding to categories I, (1) and 2. (1) of the classification of culture suggested above. In both cases the transformation is essentially objective and visible. A third type of environmental transformation or cultural creation is essentially symbolical. It began in the subjective modification of the adaptive behavior of the individual who was under the necessity of making a more refined adjustment to his environment, which would at the same time be coadaptive or social. Language undoubtedly had its beginnings in the process of

( 332) natural selection or the modification of inheritance, but it has had preeminently its greatest development as a phase of acquired modification of behavior. As long as language remained in the gesture and vocal phases it was essentially a form of behavior and was to be grouped under the second or bio-social phase of environment corresponding to category 2, (1) of our culture classification scheme. Of course, in large measure it is to be classified there still, for most communication remains in the gesture and vocal stage. But the most advanced and socially significant environmental aspects of language are in its objectivated or symbolical forms (symbolical cultural objects, corresponding to category I, (2) of our culture classification scheme), and in this aspect it really constitutes a third most important phase of social or cultural environment. I have called it psycho-social environment, because its roots are psychic and subjective rather than material and objective.

In its phases distinct from the bio-social environment, out of which it grew, this psycho-social environment has developed into several successive forms. Inclusive of the symbolical element in both the behavior and post-behavior or symbolically objectivated aspects, the chief forms of the psycho-social environment or culture maybe represented in a condensed manner as follows :

Gesture Language When meanings are standardized
Vocal Language
Written Language
Traditions, beliefs, etc.— composite residual vocalizations (having quasi independence of carriers)
Art in all its forms Objectivated symbolic language content (having actual independence of carriers)
Philosophic discourse
Scientific discourse
Creeds, codes, systems, etc.
Museums, art galleries Collections of objectivated symbolic language content (condensers and carriers of all the above).
Periodical Press

This as a whole is what the culture classificationists call non-material culture and what I have indicated under the second subdivision of each of the two general types of culture suggested in my proposed revision of the classification of the types of culture (I, (2), 2, (2)). It partakes of both of these major divisions of culture because in the long process of its evolution it develops from the subjective or internal behavior phase to an objectivated or super-organic and super-object phase. In this second stage of objectivated development it does not itself consist of material objects, but is carried by material objects, usually of an inanimate character, just as in the first stage of development it is carried by living objects who manifest its symbolic meaning through their behavior.

In my classification of social or cultural environments I have included a fourth phase of artificial environment, which I have called the derivative control environment. It is in the main institutional in character and is a composite of the other three artificial environments, and even of as much of the natural environments as may survive untransformed to the stage of institutionalization and as can at the same time be integrated into a social control system. This environment is primarily conceptual in character and its function is to serve as a system of norms, expressed primarily through its psycho-social or symbolical content for the standardization and regulation or control of the coadaptive or social adjustment behavior of individuals in the presence of their environment. The physico-social and bio-social phases of his environment, in so far as they are included in the in-

( 333) -stitution which directs his adjustment, serve as means to the adjustment. Important examples of these lower forms of the social environment are the material equipment and administrative organization of the directive institution. The psycho-social environment may consist of such important elements as constitutions, laws, creeds, codes, traditions, beliefs, scientific knowledge and principles, etc. This phase of the cultural environment is distinct from the other phases only in a functional sense, but this functional integration constitutes it a new and distinct phase of culture.

It is not possible to determine exactly when each of these four phases of culture began its existence. It is certain that in their more primitive forms all are very ancient. Nor is there any intention to maintain that each type of culture thus evolved is wholly distinct from and unlike the other forms. In their beginnings they are very closely related, but in their more developed aspects the lines of distinction become more marked, but never absolute. The point selected for emphasis here is that all of these phases of culture developed originally out of the old natural environments as a result of man's attempt to make more successful adjustments to these natural environments. If today each additional increment to culture is the result of an adaptive transformation of previously constructed cultural environments, it is because man has so far progressed in his adaptive and transforming adjustment to his environment that he lives primarily and most immediately in a world of culture, that is, in an artificial or socially created environment, and only secondarily or derivatively in a natural environment. The derivation of the physico-social and the bio-social environments from the natural environments in the manner here described is easily enough understood.

But when it is recalled that the psycho-social environment begins in language and that language begins in behavior, even in instinctive behavior, the analogous naturalistic derivation of this environment likewise is made clear. The derivative control environment, primarily of institutions, being made up of functional integrations of the other three cultural environments must therefore be ultimately derivable from the natural environments.

If the foregoing are facts rather than fancies—and surely they are easily observable and demonstrable facts—how can it be said that culture is an underived social entity? Nor is there any other method of deriving culture from environment than that of invention, although culture when thus derived obviously may be transmitted by borrowing. I do not mean to contend that any culture interpretationist makes verbal denial of these facts. The denial is only by implication based largely on their limitation of the concept of environment to the natural environment, as demonstrated above. Of course, it might be asserted, in contravention of the viewpoint here presented, that culture proceeds from revelation, or that it is the result of the human reason uncovering the natural laws that are inherent in the universe, of some sort of innate ideas,[20] or, finally that it is the result of the maturing of our inherent or instinctive powers and potentialities.[21] In the past such contentions have been made with the intention of "confounding" such a "materialistic" doctrine of culture as that set forth

( 334) above. It is scarcely to be believed, however, that the modern culture interpretationists are so tied up in their sympathies or by their training with these old theological and metaphysical systems of explanation of a pre-scientific age of thought as consciously to offer any one of them in defense of their tacit viewpoints.


  1. Op. cit., p. 8.
  2. Ibid., p. 13.
  3. Ibid., p. 18.
  4. An Introduction to Anthropology (r91.6), Cli. VII.
  5. Early Civilizatiom (1911), p.191.
  6. The Mind of Primitive Man (1911) pp. 161 ff.
  7. Anthropology (1913), pp. 181 tr.
  8. Culture and Ethnology (1917), Ch. III.
  9. "The Superorganic," Amer. Anthropologist, XIX: 163-113 (1917).
  10. Man and Culture (1913), Ch. XV.
  11. lbid, p. 311.
  12. Ibid., pp. 322-325.
  13. Ibid., p. 311. Lowie likewise speaks of the cultural environment, which he is inclined to regard as more important in shaping human behavior than the natural environment (Culture and Ethnology, p. 58), However he does not make active use of this concept of cultural environment as such in developing his theories.
  14. A Classification of Environments," Amer. Journ of Sociol., XXXI: 318-331(1925).See also An Introduction to Social Psychology, 1926, Ch. VI. This classification is in bare outline as follows: I. The Natural Environments; 1. Inanimate; a. Organic. II. The Social or Cultural Environments; t. The Physico-Social Environment; 1. The Bio-social Environment; 3. The Psycho-Social Environment; 4. The Derivative Control of Composite Social Environment.
  15. "The Interdependence of Factors Basic to the Evolution of Culture," Amer. Journ. of Sociol., XXXII: 177-205 (1926). See also F. A. Cleveland (Ed.), Modern Scientific Knowledge of Nature, Man and Society, pp. 454-455 .
  16. Cf. M. Brasov, "Structural Analysis in Psychology from the Standpoint of Behavior," Jour. of Genetic Psy., XXXVI: 267290 (1929).
  17. Cf. " Neuro-Psychic Technique," Psy. Review, XXX: 407-437 (1913).
  18. Cf. "Neuro-Psychic Technique," loc. cit.; also Instinct: A Study in Social Psychology (I924) Chs. V and VI, and An Introduction to Social Psychology (1926}, Ch. X, for underlying statements of this point of view by the author.
  19. "Invention and Social Progress," Amer. Jour. of Sociol., XXIX: 1-33 (1923).
  20. Bastian did actually hold to a theory of innate or elementary ideas. See Boas, Mind of Primitive Man, p. 159 and Barnes, History and Prospects of the Social Sciences (1925), p. 211.
  21. Possibly Wissler's "drive to produce cultures," which he finds in man's protoplasm and which "carries him forward even against his will" may belong to this instinctive category (Man and Culture, p. 265).

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