The Concept of Culture and Higher Education: An Anthropological Perspective

The Concept of Culture and Higher Education: An Anthropological Perspective

Raymond Scupin (Lindenwood University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2145-7.ch001
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Abstract

Twenty first century university and college students face a world that is increasingly global and multicultural. To ensure students develop the cultural competence to adapt to this global arena, universities and colleges have been developing cultural competence policies and programs, as an interdependent global economy requires well-trained, multilingual, and culturally knowledgeable employees.In assessing the results of cultural competence policies in higher education, it is first necessary to examine the concept of ‘culture' as it has been employed in the media and in many educational, academic, political, and corporate settings. This essay will summarize the history of the concept of culture and how it was developed within Western anthropology. In many cases the concept of culture has been abused and misapplied. It will also explore more nuanced approaches to the concept of culture that may contribute to a discussion about how cultural competence should be implemented in higher education programs.
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Introduction

Twenty first century university and college students face a world that is increasingly global and multicultural. To ensure that students develop the cultural competence to adapt to this global arena, universities and colleges have been developing cultural competence policies and programs, as an interdependent global economy requires well-trained, multilingual, and culturally knowledgeable employees. The internationalization of higher education to help produce and to educate a future labor force with intercultural competence is a goal for the U.S. and Western universities throughout the world (Stier, 2006, p. 2). In practical terms employers are seeking multilingual professionals with a knowledge of other cultures. Thus, intercultural competence has become an increasingly valuable asset and global commodity. Educationally, intercultural competence and global awareness enables students to enhance their critical thinking and personal development, which is integral for any genuine liberal arts curricula. One normative byproduct of these intercultural competence policies is the expectation that students engage with other societies and develop tolerance and understanding of different cultural traditions and practices. Students will become involved in communicating with people from other societies that have different norms and practices (Gundykist & Kim, 2003). As a result of such engagement, students may become more cosmopolitan and strive for a more sustainable global distribution of resources to ensure that every individual has a decent living standard, an objective that may contribute to the development of a more democratic and equal world (Stier, 2006, p. 3).

In assessing the results of cultural competence policies in higher education, it is first necessary to examine the concept of ‘culture’ as it has been employed in the media and in many educational, academic, political, and corporate settings. Although the concept of culture has been part of Western discourse since the time of the early Roman Empire—and indeed became a central conceptual feature of Western philosophical thought by the time of the Enlightenment (roughly 1685–1815)—the concept only fully emerged within the discipline of anthropology during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The anthropological concept of culture has had a definitive influence on Western understandings of humanity for over a century. 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. The concept of culture is thought to be one of the signal paradigmatic achievements within the field of anthropology. Although the concept is foundational to modern Western thought and has been widely diffused throughout the world, it has also been abused by many as a type of deus ex machina that is used to explain all types of human thought and behavior.

Anthropologists have been re-examining the concept of culture in an attempt to explain its misuse in popular accounts within the public sphere, particularly in education, the media, academia, and in political and economic circles. In some instances, the concept of culture has been loosely appropriated by many as a vague and autonomous variable serving as a determinant of individual, ethnic, national, and sometimes, civilizational group behavior. The misuse and/or misapplication of the term, particularly in the absence of analytic rigor, has led to both skeptical and critical inquiries by many anthropologists. This essay will summarize the history of the concept of culture and how it was developed within Western anthropology. It will also explore more nuanced and critical approaches to the concept of culture that may contribute to a discussion about how cultural competence should be implemented in higher education programs.

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