A study of cultural change

Blog at http://www.blog.culturalecology.info

In 1934 Ruth Benedict published Patterns of Culture, which has continuously been in print. Her message, still relevant today, is that "Anthropological work has been overwhelmingly devoted to the analysis of cultural traits, rather than to the study of cultures as articulated wholes."[123] She argued that

"The first essential, so it seems today, is to study the living culture, to know its habits of thought and the functions of its institutions" and that "the only way in which we can know the significance of the selected detail of behavior is against the background of the motives and emotions and values that are institutionalized in that culture."//[//124]

She also argued that

"the whole determines its parts, not only their relation but their very nature,"[125] cultures, likewise, are more than the sum of their traits."[126] Just as each spoken language draws very selectively from an extensive, but finite, set of sounds any human mouth can make, she concluded that in each society people, over time and through both conscious and unconscious processes, selected from an extensive but finite set of cultural traits which then combine to form a unique and distinctive pattern."[127]

A culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action. Within each culture there comes into being characteristic purposes not necessarily shared by other types of society. Each people further and further consolidates its experience, and in proportion to the urgency of these drives the many elements of behavior take more and more congruous shape. When assimilated by a well-integrated culture, the most ill-assorted acts become characteristic of its particular goals, often by the most unlikely metamorphoses.[128]

Although Benedict felt that virtually all cultures are patterned, she argued that these patterns change over time as a consequence of human creativity, and therefore different societies around the world had distinct characters. Once people accepted the results of scientific research, people would:

"arrive then at a more realistic social faith, accepting as grounds of hope and as new bases for tolerance the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence."[129]. This of course is the goal of a truely international society.

Cultures appear when people share the following three humanising structures of time.

  • Looking to the past for our origins (e.g. gods in heaven, continuity of major occupations/customs);
  • Stabilising human relationships in the present (e.g.’men’ as a collection of people and their natural resources);
  • Coming to terms with human death in the future (e.g.spiritual life after death).

A culture emerges when these three fundamental human concepts are the basis of a harmonised blend of belief, education, work and leisure. The culture is then one of reassuring stability bonded to place through the continuity of customs, institutions and behaviour. When any one of the humanising structures of time changes irreversibly through economic progress or decline, so does the culture.
The educational proposition of this wiki is that the East Anglian community of Lowestoft is currently bound to ‘place’ by events which brought about widespread local cultural behavioural change in the second half of the 19th century. These localised changes are focused on the life of Samuel Peto, a master builder at the dawn of British civil engineering, whose ambition was to capitalise on geographical possibilities for the economic development of Lowestoft and Kirkley, its neighbouring village, then both relatively small fishing communities confined at the extreme eastern edge the British Isles. By the turn of the century, the 'Peto Initiative' had brought together the above three humanising structures of time, which are defined as:
  • the long heritage of inshore surface fishing as the major livelihood of past families, in which there was an ingrained antagonism to the neighbouring community of Great Yarmouth;
  • the stabilisation of human relationships based on the industrial exploitation of surface and deep water fishing and the commercial development of sandy heathlands and sandy beaches for the mass-leisure industry. It was the connection of Lowestoft to the newly created national railway network that was the stimulus and stabilising influence for both these cultural changes.
  • the expansion of Christian places of worship for a greatly increasing immigrant population to come to terms with life after death, which in the fishing community has always been a daily presence.

These humanising structures came together in Lowestoft financed by the heavy borrowing of Samuel Peto, to produce a self-reliant, self-justifying culture which thrived for half a century, between 1870 to 1920, but which was unsustainable in the long term because of the limited productivity of the North Sea and North Atlantic fish stocks, and the growth of a global tourist industry.


A culture is a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning. Culture is made up of the common things that members of a community learn from family, friends, media, literature, and even strangers. In this definition a culture is made up of communities.

A community is a group of people bounded by geographical links, such as a village, settlement or district, but also includes those brought together by lifestyle, religion, hobby, interest, etc. A community often pursues a common goal, concern or interest on an entirely voluntary basis..