Notes on Intercultural Communication

Basic Anthropological Theories – Morgan / Boas

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Basic Anthropological Theories

There are two fundamental approaches to a different culture, represented by L.H. Morgan (1818-1881) and Franz Boas (1858-1942).


Morgan believed in an evolution of cultures: a ladder, on which all cultures climb up or down. This thought was the beginning of Western anthropology.

L.H. Morgan (1818-1881) / Oetjhoe von Boegh



Boas tried to explain different cultures from their own background. Hall and Hofstede use different parameters or indices for comparing different cultures.

Franz Boas (1858-1942)

Frans Boas Projekt



Additional Material

Universal Human Rights, Cultural Relativism and the Asian Values Debate

(…) Cultural relativism is the position to which local cultural traditions (religious, political and legal practices included) properly determine the existence and scope of civil and political rights enjoyed by individuals in a given society. It is premised on the idea that all cultures are equally valid and that standards of evaluation are internal to traditions. It sees that values emerge in the context of particular social, cultural, economic and political conditions and therefore vary enormously between different communities. However, the language of cultural relativism is often exploited by various state leaders and high officials to justify and rationalise repressive policies, despite such policies having no philosophical or cultural justification. The paradox of cultural relativism is that participation is necessary to understand what values are legitimate within a society, but that the rhetoric associated with cultural relativism helps effectively hinder any participation or freedom of thought within a given society. This lies at the heart of the problem of effectively implementing universal human rights. (…)

Community values are (…) consistently highlighted as a typical Asian value and are posited against the Western value of individualism. However, there are ambiguities about the definition of community. In political discourses, one often sees the community collapses into the state and the state collapse into the regime. When equations are drawn between the community, state and the regime, criticisms of the regime become crimes against the nation-state, the community and the people. This conceptual manoeuvre allows the dismissal of individual rights that conflict with the regime’s interests. At the same time, this view denies the existence of conflicting interests between the state and communities in an Asian nation or society. (…)

Patrick Chin-Dahler is currently studying a Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Studies (Honours) at the Australian National University.

Read the full article online at the East Asia Forum or download pdf here.


updated 01.01.2011

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