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.
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
China and areas with strong Chinese culture influence Map-Chinese World.png
China and areas with strong Chinese culture influence
The Celtic nations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and Isle of Man) where the Celtic languages are still spoken, can also be considered as a cultural region Map of Celtic Nations-flag shades.svg
The Celtic nations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and Isle of Man) where the Celtic languages are still spoken, can also be considered as a cultural region
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.


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

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]


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.

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.

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.

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

Related Research Articles

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Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia and is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and Asia to the east. Europe is commonly considered to be separated from Asia by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas and the waterways of the Turkish Straits. Although much of this border is over land, Europe is generally accorded the status of a full continent because of its great physical size and the weight of history and tradition.

Eastern Europe Eastern part of the European continent

Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent. There is no consistent definition of the precise area it covers, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic connotations. There are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region". A related United Nations paper adds that "every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct". One definition describes Eastern Europe as a cultural entity: the region lying in Europe with the main characteristics consisting of Greek, Byzantine, Eastern Orthodox, Russian, and some Ottoman cultural influences. Another definition was created during the Cold War and used more or less synonymously with the term Eastern Bloc. A similar definition names the formerly communist European states outside the Soviet Union as Eastern Europe. Most historians and social scientists view such definitions as outdated or relegated, but they are still sometimes used for statistical purposes.

In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics, human impact characteristics, and the interaction of humanity and the environment. Geographic regions and sub-regions are mostly described by their imprecisely defined, and sometimes transitory boundaries, except in human geography, where jurisdiction areas such as national borders are defined in law.

Melanesia subregion of Oceania

Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from New Guinea island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Tonga.

An ethnic group or ethnicity is a category of people who identify with each other, usually on the basis of presumed similarities such as common language, ancestry, history, society, culture, nation or social treatment within their residing area. Ethnicity is often used synonymously with the term nation, particularly in cases of ethnic nationalism, and is separate from but related to the concept of races.

Sphere of influence area where a state has a level of political, military, economic or cultural influence

In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence (SOI) is a spatial region or concept division over which a state or organization has a level of cultural, economic, military, or political exclusivity.

Pacific Islander indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands

Pacific Islanders, or Pasifika, are the peoples of the Pacific Islands. It is a geographic and ethnic/racial term to describe the inhabitants and diaspora of any of the three major sub-regions of Oceania: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. These people speak various Austronesian languages. It is not used to describe non-indigenous inhabitants of the Pacific islands.

Clark Wissler American anthropologist

Clark David Wissler was an American anthropologist.

Northern and southern China Two approximate mega-regions within China

Northern China and southern China, are two approximate mega-regions within China. The exact boundary between these two regions is not precisely defined. Nevertheless, the self-perception of Chinese nation, especially regional stereotypes, has often been dominated by these two concepts, given that regional differences in culture and language have historically fostered strong regional identities of the Chinese people.

In cultural anthropology and cultural geography, cultural diffusion, as conceptualized by Leo Frobenius in his 1897/98 publication Der westafrikanische Kulturkreis, is the spread of cultural items—such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies, languages—between individuals, whether within a single culture or from one culture to another. It is distinct from the diffusion of innovations within a specific culture. Examples of diffusion include the spread of the war chariot and iron smelting in ancient times, and the use of automobiles and Western business suits in the 20th century.

Nordwestblock Geographic region

The Nordwestblock is a hypothetical Northwestern European cultural region that several scholars propose as a prehistoric culture in the present-day Netherlands, Belgium, northern France, and northwestern Germany, in an area approximately bounded by the Somme, Oise, Meuse and Elbe Rivers, possibly extending to the eastern part of what is now England, during the Bronze and Iron Ages from the 3rd to the 1st millennia BCE, up to the onset of historical sources, in the 1st century BCE.

Robert Harry Lowie was an Austrian-born American anthropologist. An expert on North American Indians, he was instrumental in the development of modern anthropology.

Language border Geolinguistic boundary between mutually intelligible speech communities

A language border or language boundary is the line separating two language areas. The term is generally meant to imply a lack of mutual intelligibility between the two languages. If two adjacent languages or dialects are mutually intelligible, no firm border will develop, because the two languages can continually exchange linguistic inventions; this is known as a dialect continuum. A "language island" is a language area that is completely surrounded by a language border.

Greek East and Latin West are terms used to distinguish between the two parts of the Greco-Roman world, specifically the eastern regions where Greek was the lingua franca and the western parts where Latin filled this role. During the Roman Empire a divide had persisted between Latin- and Greek-speaking areas; this divide was encouraged by administrative changes in the empire's structure between the 3rd and 5th centuries, which led ultimately to the establishment of separate administrations for the Eastern and Western halves of the Empire.

The traditional narratives of Native California are the folklore and mythology of the native people of California. For many historic nations of California, there is only a fragmentary record of their traditions. Spanish missions in California from the 18th century Christianized many of these traditions, and the remaining groups were mostly assimilated to US culture by the early 20th century. While there are sparse records from the 18th century, most material was collected during the 19th and the early 20th centuries.

East Asia Subregion of Asia

East Asia is the eastern subregion of Asia, which is defined in both geographical and ethno-cultural terms. The region consists of China, Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. The East Asian states China, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan are all unrecognized by at least one other East Asian state. Hong Kong and Macau are officially highly autonomous but are under effective Chinese sovereignty. North Asia borders East Asia's north, Southeast Asia the south, South Asia the southwest, and Central Asia the west. To the east is the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast is Micronesia.

Continent Very large landmass identified by convention

A continent is one of several very large landmasses. Generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly regarded as continents geopolitically. Ordered from largest in area to smallest, these seven regions are: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia. Variations with fewer continents may merge some of these, for example some systems include Eurasia or America as single continents.

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 neighbours including, Canada, Mexico, and many South America other states.

Southeast Asian Massif Geographical region in southeastern Asia

The term Southeast Asian Massif was proposed in 1997 by anthropologist Jean Michaud to discuss the human societies inhabiting the lands above approximately 300 metres (1,000 ft) in the southeastern portion of the Asian landmass, thus not merely in the uplands of conventional Mainland Southeast Asia. It concerns highlands overlapping parts of 10 countries: southwest China, Northeast India, eastern Bangladesh, and all the highlands of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Peninsular Malaysia, and Taiwan. The indigenous population encompassed within these limits numbers approximately 100 million, not counting migrants from surrounding lowland majority groups who came to settle in the highlands over the last few centuries.

The Hidden Frontier: Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley is a classic study of ethnography, published in 1974 by John W. Cole and Eric R. Wolf.


  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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