Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dip or Bow: Lessons in Negotiated Culture or just making friends...

Back from my conference in Tucson, I am still a bit tired and in a moment of weakness, I decided to bring up the Presidential bow/dip issue. Did we all see this? Was it a "dip", was it a "bow", a sign of loyal fealty revealing his secret Muslim sentiments, a very tall man stooping to equal heights, or perhaps stooping to conquer? BTW, there are, also, quite a few YouTubes asking the question...Did Obama bow to the Queen?

What I find amusing are the attempts to understand all these bits of non-verbal communication. Terrorist fist bumps all around. Kind of ends up being one of those nice moments of "what bias (cultural or otherwise) are you assuming".

The interesting Teachable Moment is the way that students think there exists a firm set of "cultural rules" that govern this behavior. As if the subset of American Presidents greeting Saudi Kings in large touch-filled crowds of heads-of-states has a firmly established, well-defined required behavior. Good luck with that. I think I was only marginally successful at making the point that much of human behavior is negotiated and created anew not set in stone. That is the ones who don't think I am a "socialist"--whatever they think that is.


Anonymous said...

Wow, you have students who think there are cultural rules that govern behavior? My students think we (Americans) live in a free nation where everyone does what they want all the time. It's hard for me to get to them past their individualism to see any structural constraints at all. It seems easy for them to see OTHERS as to some extent constrained by culture, but practically impossible for them to see that THEY ARE TOO!!

That next step (these "rules" are constantly renegotiated) is crucial though--otherwise they're stuck with stupid stereotypes about what those "other" cultures are like.

In sum, great post! Keep up the good work.

Pamthropologist said...

Thanks missives....can I call you miss? *snerk*.

I think my students only get the culture idea cause its in the title of the course. At least that is my theory.

I think anthro and socis have nothing but trouble with the whole "group" concept. I am so tired of it. If I have to explain one more time that the decision to have breast implants is not a completely individual choice because its made in a CULTURAL context one more time, I just may give in and get myself a pair so big they block my view of all my students and I can quietly exist in my own private Idaho.

Sorry, end of year, end of semester rant.

larry c wilson said...

If no choice is free of cultural conditioning, then the Social Darwinists were/are correct.

Pamthropologist said...

I never said it was black and white. That is why its negotiated not determined.

larry c wilson said...

Sounds a bit weasely to me.

[I would have said "wishy-washy" but that would have been politically incorrect. Of course, weasels may have their defenders....]