Cultural area

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African sccs cultures.jpg
Circum-mediterannean sccs cultures.jpg
East eurasian sccs cultures.jpg
Insular pacific.jpg
North american sccs cultures.jpg
South america SCCS cultures.jpg
From top, clockwise: Africa, Circum-Mediterranean, East Eurasia, South America, North America and Insular-Pacific cultural areas in the Standard cross-cultural sample.
Cultural areas of North American people at the time of European contact. Nordamerikanische Kulturareale en.png
Cultural areas of North American people at the time of European contact.
Cultural areas of Europe EthnicEurope.png
Cultural areas of Europe
Clark Wissler's map of native American cultural areas in the United States (1948) Culture-area-Wissler.gif
Clark Wissler's map of native American cultural areas in the United States (1948)
Cultural areas of the world by Whitten and Hunter Kulturareale.png
Cultural areas of the world by Whitten and Hunter
Cultural areas of Africa by Melville J. Herskovits AreasCulturais-Africa-Herskovits.jpg
Cultural areas of Africa by Melville J. Herskovits
Historical areas of Europe by Christian Giordano Historische Regionen Europas.png
Historical areas of Europe by Christian Giordano
China and areas with strong Chinese culture influence Map-Chinese World.png
China and areas with strong Chinese culture influence
The Nine Nations of North America Ninenations.PNG
The Nine Nations of North America

In anthropology and geography, a cultural region, cultural sphere, cultural area or culture area refers to a geography with one relatively homogeneous human activity or complex of activities (culture). These are often associated with an ethnolinguistic group and the territory it inhabits. Specific cultures often do not limit their geographic coverage to the borders of a nation state, or to smaller subdivisions of a state. Cultural "spheres of influence" may also overlap or form concentric structures of macrocultures encompassing smaller local cultures. Different boundaries may also be drawn depending on the particular aspect of interest, such as religion and folklore vs. dress and architecture vs. language.

Anthropology is the scientific study of humans and human behavior and societies in the past and present. Social anthropology and cultural anthropology study the norms and values of societies. Linguistic anthropology studies how language affects social life. Biological or physical anthropology studies the biological development of humans.

Geography The science that studies the terrestrial surface, the societies that inhabit it and the territories, landscapes, places or regions that form it

Geography is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth and planets. The first person to use the word γεωγραφία was Eratosthenes. Geography is an all-encompassing discipline that seeks an understanding of Earth and its human and natural complexities—not merely where objects are, but also how they have changed and come to be.

Culture societys way of life within anthropology

Culture is the social behavior and norms found in human societies. Culture is considered a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of phenomena that are transmitted through social learning in human societies. Cultural universals are found in all human societies; these include expressive forms like art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies like tool usage, cooking, shelter, and clothing. The concept of material culture covers the physical expressions of culture, such as technology, architecture and art, whereas the immaterial aspects of culture such as principles of social organization, mythology, philosophy, literature, and science comprise the intangible cultural heritage of a society.


Cultural areas are not considered equivalent to Kulturkreis (Culture circles).

The Kulturkreis school was a central idea of the early 20th-century Austrian school of anthropology that sought to redirect the discipline away from the quest for an underlying, universal human nature toward a concern with the particular histories of individual societies. It was the notion of a culture complex as an entity that develops from a centre of origin and becomes diffused over large areas of the world.

History of concept

A culture area is a concept in cultural anthropology in which a geographic region and time sequence (age area) is characterized by substantially uniform environment and culture. [1] The concept of culture areas was originated by museum curators and ethnologists during the late 1800s as means of arranging exhibits. Clark Wissler and Alfred Kroeber further developed the concept on the premise that they represent longstanding cultural divisions. [2] [3] [4] The concept is criticized by some, who argue that the basis for classification is arbitrary. But other researchers disagree and the organization of human communities into cultural areas remains a common practice throughout the social sciences. [1] The definition of culture areas is enjoying a resurgence of practical and theoretical interest as social scientists conduct more research on processes of cultural globalization. [5]

Cultural anthropology branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans

Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans. It is in contrast to social anthropology, which perceives cultural variation as a subset of the anthropological constant.

The age-area hypothesis is a concept in cultural anthropology that cultural traits tend to expand outward from their origin with time. Thus, the larger an area that a trait is found in, the older it is.

Clark Wissler American anthropologist

Clark David Wissler was an American anthropologist.


A formal culture region is an area inhabited by people who have one or more cultural traits in common, such as language, religion, or system of livelihood. It is an area relatively homogeneous with regard to one or more cultural traits. The geographer who identifies a formal culture region must locate cultural borders. Because cultures overlap and mix, such boundaries are rarely sharp even if only one cultural trait is mapped and so there are cultural border zones, rather than lines. The zones broaden with each additional cultural trait that is considered because no two traits have the same spatial distribution. As a result, instead of having clear borders, formal culture regions reveal a center or core, where the defining traits are all present. Away from the central core, the characteristics weaken and disappear. Thus, many formal culture regions display a core-periphery.

Language capacity to communicate using signs, such as words or gestures

Language is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; and a language is any specific example of such a system.

Religion is a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.

In contrast to the abstract cultural homogeneity of a formal culture region, a functional culture region may not be culturally homogeneous; instead, it is an area that has been organized to function politically, socially, or economically as one unit: a city, an independent state, a precinct, a church diocese or parish, a trade area or a farm. Functional culture regions have nodes or central points where the functions are coordinated and directed, such as city halls, national capitols, precinct voting places, parish churches, factories, and banks. In that sense, functional regions also possess a core-periphery configuration, in common with formal culture regions. Many functional regions have clearly defined borders that include all land under the jurisdiction of a particular urban government that is clearly delineated on a regional map by a line distinguishing between one jurisdiction and another.

City Large and permanent human settlement

A city is a large human settlement. Cities generally have extensive systems for housing, transportation, sanitation, utilities, land use, and communication. Their density facilitates interaction between people, government organizations and businesses, sometimes benefiting different parties in the process.

Urban area Human settlement with high population density and infrastructure of built environment

An urban area or urban agglomeration is a human settlement with high population density and infrastructure of built environment. Urban areas are created through urbanization and are categorized by urban morphology as cities, towns, conurbations or suburbs. In urbanism, the term contrasts to rural areas such as villages and hamlets and in urban sociology or urban anthropology it contrasts with natural environment. The creation of early predecessors of urban areas during the urban revolution led to the creation of human civilization with modern urban planning, which along with other human activities such as exploitation of natural resources leads to human impact on the environment.

Vernacular, popular or perceptual cultural regions are those perceived to exist by their inhabitants, as is evident by the widespread acceptance and use of a distinctive regional name. Some vernacular regions are based on physical environmental features; others find their basis in economic, political or historical characteristics. Vernacular regions, like most culture regions, generally lack sharp borders, and the inhabitants of any given area may claim residence in more than one such region. It grows out of people's sense of belonging and identification with a particular region. An American example is "Dixie". They often lack the organization necessary for functional regions although they may be centered on a single urban node. They frequently do not display the cultural homogeneity that characterizes formal regions.

Dixie Nickname for the Southern United States

Dixie is a nickname for the Southern United States, especially those states that composed the Confederate States of America. The term originally referred simply to the states south of the Mason–Dixon line, but now is more of a cultural reference, referring to parts of the United States that "feel" southern.

Allen Noble gave a summary of the concept development of cultural regions using the terms "cultural hearth" (no origin of this term given), "cultural core" by Donald W. Meinig [6] for Mormon culture published in 1970 and "source area" by Fred Kniffen (1965) and later Henry Glassie (1968) for house and barn types. Outside of a core area he quoted Meinigs' use of the terms "domain" (a dominant area) and "sphere" (area influenced but not dominant). [7]

Cultural boundary

A cultural boundary (also cultural border) in ethnology is a geographical boundary between two identifiable ethnic or ethnolinguistic cultures. A language border is necessarily also a cultural border, as language is a significant part of a society's culture)l, but it can also divide subgroups of the same ethnolinguistic group along more subtle criteria, such as the Brünig-Napf-Reuss line in German-speaking Switzerland, the Weißwurstäquator in Germany or the Grote rivieren boundary between Dutch and Flemish culture.

In the history of Europe, the major cultural boundaries are found:

Macro-cultures on a continental scale are also referred to as "worlds," "spheres," or "civilizations," such as the Muslim world.

In a modern context, a cultural boundary can also be a division between subcultures or classes within a given society, such as blue collar vs. white collar etc.

Role in conflict

Cultural boundaries sometimes define the difference between friend and foe in political and military conflicts. Ethnic nationalism and pan-nationalism sometimes seek to unify all native speakers of a particular language, who are conceived of as a coherent ethnic group or nation, into a single nation-state with a unified culture. The association of an ethnolinguistic group with a nation-state may be written into nationality laws and repatriation laws, which establish eligibility for citizenship based on ethnicity, rather than place of birth.

In other cases, attempts have been made to divide countries based on cultural boundaries by secession or partition. For example, the Quebec sovereignty movement seeks to separate French-speaking province from English-speaking Canada to preserve its unique language and culture, and the Partition of India created separate majority-Hindu and majority-Muslim countries.



A music area is a cultural area defined according to musical activity. It may or may not conflict with the cultural areas assigned to a given region. The world may be divided into three large music areas, each containing a "cultivated" or classical musics "that are obviously its most complex musical forms," with, nearby, folk styles which interact with the cultivated, and, on the perimeter, primitive styles: [9]

However, he then adds that "the world-wide development of music must have been a unified process in which all peoples participated" and that one finds similar tunes and traits in puzzlingly isolated or separated locations throughout the world. [9]

See also

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Alfred L. Kroeber American anthropologist

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A pan-region is a geographic region or state’s sphere of economic, political and cultural influence extending beyond that state's borders. For example, the pan-region of the United States of America (USA) regions both bordering the USA and its close neighbors including, Canada, Mexico, and many South America other states.

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  1. 1 2 Brown, Nina "Friedrich Ratzel, Clark Wissler, and Carl Sauer: Culture Area Research and Mapping" University of California, Santa Barbara, CA. Brown, Nina "Friedrich Ratzel, Clark Wissler, and Carl Sauer: Culture Area Research and Mapping" University of California, Santa Barbara, CA. Webarchive of;
  2. Wissler, Clark (ed.) (1975) Societies of the Plains Indians AMS Press, New York, ISBN   0-404-11918-2 , Reprint of v. 11 of Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History, published in 13 parts from 1912 to 1916.
  3. Kroeber, Alfred L. (1939) Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
  4. Kroeber, Alfred L. "The Cultural Area and Age Area Concepts of Clark Wissler" In Rice, Stuart A. (ed.) (1931) Methods in Social Science pp. 248-265. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  5. Gupta, Akhil and James Ferguson (1997). Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  6. Meinig, D. W., "The Mormon Culture Region: Strategies and Patterns in the Geography of the American West, 1847-1964" Annals of the Association of American Geographers 60 no. 3 1970 428-46.
  7. Noble, Allen George, and M. Margaret Geib. Wood, brick, and stone: the North American settlement landscape. Volume 1: Houses, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984. 7.
  8. Marty, Martin (2008). The Christian World: A Global History. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN   978-1-58836-684-9.
  9. 1 2 Nettl, Bruno (1956). Music in Primitive Culture, p.142-143. Harvard University Press.


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