The Validity of the Culture Concept
Malcolm M. Willey
Within the last decade the cultural group of sociologists has grown to occupy an important position in the field of sociology. The concept of culture, and the procedure outlined for its analysis, have, however, been vigorously attacked, especially by certain psychologists of whom Floyd Allport may he taken as typical. Allport's objection to cultural sociology is based on two points: what he terms the group fallacy in social explanation, and his insistence that cultural phenomena may be described in cultural terms but explained only on the next lower level of phenomena, the psychological. Each of these objections upon examination may be seen to involve a fundamental error, as the attempt to analyze certain cultural problems from a purely psychological approach makes evident.
The relation of sociology to the other social studies, especially psychology, is not altogether clear. Both psychologists and sociologists have defined their field as the study of human behavior, and certainly the historian and the economist would avow that the definition included them as well. All would agree that man "behaves." Is, then, only one social science rightfully concerned with the analysis of this behavior?
The several social sciences represent approaches in the analysis of this behavior-an analysis that will lead to further understanding of it, and even to explanation. Any approach that contributes to understanding and explanation is justifiable, and the approach is most justifiable (or useful) that contributes most toward the explanation of the behavior that is being studied. If two approaches yield supplementary explanations, much is gained; if two approaches under different names contribute equally, there is no harm; there is nothing sacred in academically departmentalized nomenclature.
Sociology, then, represents one of several approaches to the study of man's behavior as a member of a social group. The final clause is added advisedly; the sociologist is not interested in all human behavior. But what is the sociological approach? What is so-
( 205) -ciology? A survey of the literature makes it evident that within the classification "sociology" two positions are represented.
First, some writers conceive sociology to be a synthesis of the other social studies. The sociologist, accordingly, is one who correlates the results of research in the special social sciences and utilizes this correlated knowledge in a more abstract analysis of social life. The majority of the sociology textbooks utilized in elementary courses take this position. In them sociology is represented as the study of the influences that shape man's behavior as he lives with fellow-men, and there are discussed the geographical, the psycho-logical, the biological, the economic, and the social influences. Sociology is thus resolved into an orientation course covering these other specialized subjects. At best such a conception transforms itself eventually into a philosophy of the social sciences, and the tendency always is to diverge from this into discussions of social amelioration. As an approach to the study of social behavior, this synthesis contributes no more than would be contributed by a more thorough mastery and application of the relevant principles of the fields that were synthesized.
Within the last decade another conception has developed: sociology is the study of culture and the processes involved in man's adjustment to it. The cultural approach to sociology is considered in this article. Since the concepts employed by the cultural sociologists are of recent origin, it is necessary first to state them briefly. Then, since they have been vigorously attacked, chiefly by certain psychologists, the criticism will be stated and analyzed.
Characteristic of the behavior of man as he lives in social groups is orderliness. This orderliness attracted the attention of William Graham Sumner and led to the publication of Folkways. Sumner in his analysis of custom, incomplete as it is, stressed the influence upon individual behavior of customs that are common within any social group. The American anthropologists have carried the analysis much farther, and to them falls much of the credit
( 206) for the formulation of the theories which have been absorbed by the cultural sociologists.
Culture has been defined by Wissler as "the mode of life of a people." The word has been used in other senses  but for analytical purposes a definition in the terminology of Wissler is adequate. Two points are implicit in this definition: First, "the mode of life" is that of a group of people living within a circumscribed geographical region, or culture area, as it has been termed. A survey of the world reveals geographical areas within which prevail modes of life that differentiate one area from another. This "mode of life," which assumes a type form in each region, is revealed in the acquired responses (neuromuscular and neuropsychic) of the individuals living within that area; a study of the distribution of habits enables the student to set the geographical boundaries of an area. Second, the habits of any individual born and reared within the culture area will develop in conformity with the habits of those who have already matured within the area. The habits of the individual are not self-determined; they are a reflection of the established habits of the associated group members; they vary from region to region as the totality of habits of the group members varies: to this extent they are superindividual. Individual habits become so integrated with the habits of other individuals, and the habits of others are such constant stimuli impinging upon any given individual, that no single individual can free himself totally from his own habits, or those that in others are the stimulus to his own behavior. This is meant by saying that culture is superindividual (superorganic) .
To understand, or explain, the behavior of individuals in a culture area, one essential is the analysis of these common and inter-related habits that constitute the mode of life of the people. This analysis is in terms of culture traits (basically, habits carried in the individual nervous systems) which constitute the elements of the culture. Civilizations differ as the number and form of these culture traits differ. Because of the multitudinous number of traits  enumeration of them is virtually impossible. Traits in association, however, may more readily be studied. A grouping of traits is designated a culture complex. In the individual it constitutes an integration of associated habits. Attempts have been made to classify the fundamental complexes that are present in all cultures; Wissler has perhaps been most successful with his nine-fold system: speech, material traits, art, mythology and science, religious practices, family-social systems, property, government, and war. In any attempt to systematize the complexes of a given area two points are to be observed: (1) all of the complexes of an area are interrelated, so that a modification in the traits in one division of the culture (a modification of one or more of the common habit systems) reacts in all phases of the culture. Thus with us the introduction of the steam engine is accompanied by far-reaching ramifications in the culture as a whole. A culture is a system of interrelated and interdependent habit patterns or responses. (2) To the observer certain of the complexes within an area are seen to be subsidiary to others; speaking descriptively, there are core complexes. In our civilization the habits associated with money-getting, science, machinery, political democracy, mass education, and speed function more vigorously and frequently than do the habits designated as religious, artistic, feudalistic, literary, etc. To the former other habits are secondary. Among other peoples a similar relationship prevails between the common habit systems: in East Africa the cattle complexes constitute the core of the mode of life; in Australia, certain complexes associate with age grouping. This configura-
( 208) -tion of habitual responses—seen only through a study of behavior —is called the culture pattern. Each culture area is characterized by a culture pattern. There may be phases of any culture common to several areas, but enough complexes are unique to enable distinction.
Every man is born into a culture area, and his flexible nervous mechanism is conditioned to stimuli (the habit systems of others) that prevail in the area. Thus the Chinese boy grows up to speak Chinese and the Kwakiutl, Kwakiutl. Culture is accordingly, one factor in any equation designed to explain behavior of men in association.
The study of culture-the processes of its origin and its growth, its spread and its perpetuation-constitutes the study of sociology. Or, sociology is the approach to the study of human behavior that offers explanation in terms of cultural, influences.
Certain characteristics of culture (the totality of interrelated individual habits) are to be noticed. (1)Culture is cumulative. In any area, with the passing of years new traits develop and are added to the old; while some habits may fall into disuse, knowledge of them is not lost. In contemporary society each generation of individuals is born into a social group in which the number of traits is greater than the number carried by the preceding generation. The "culture base" is continuously augmented. Social change, following this interpretation, is a change in or increase of traits. Within each generation some individuals create inventions (new habits); these are copied by or taught to others, and in turn become stimuli for others of the same or of subsequent generations. Habits so transmitted constitute the "social heritage" of a group. (2) This transmission and perpetuation of habits underlies cultural continuity. In this manner the habits of earlier years are extended to the present. The Babylonian divisions of the year become ours; the
( 209) ethics of individuals dead 2,000 years are still our ethics. While the special interrelationship that marks the pattern of a given culture group may be disrupted, the individual habits (traits) may be transmitted. The configuration is lost, not the traits. The Roman culture pattern has gone; the traits of which it was composed persist, or are merely in disuse. As Wissler has said, "Tribes may come and tribes may go, but culture goes on forever." In material objects this cumulation and continuity can be traced back to the eolithic period; the history of many contemporary habits may be followed into a distant past. (3) Because of the mobility of man, traits spread on the earth's surface. Usages of one area are adopted in another. Every culture trait has its origin at some point (where an individual invents it) and theoretically the history of every trait or complex can be traced. A culture represents the massing of traits; each trait in the mass, however, can be studied genetically. Traits also spread vertically within any culture area. (4}) The study of the cumulation, continuity, and mobility of culture traits reveals that the processes are superindividual in that they are de-pendent upon no given individual, and that each individual in every step of the processes is conditioned by habits that were established by others. The individual begins life at a given point, historically. Every step in the process of cumulation is a cause as well as an effect; one habit develops from, and is modified to become, another. The development of any mechanical invention illustrates this dependence of the inventor upon the accumulation of the past. While each step in an invention is made by a specific individual, no step can be taken until necessary antecedents have been established, no matter what the abilities of the inventor. Because the inventor utilizes the transmitted culture and is limited by it, invention may properly be considered as a social process and studied sociologically. A study of duplicate inventions substantiates this position. Thus it may be said that invention is superindividual; resting upon a given inventor, the invention represents none the less the accumulation of a series of inventions in which the given inventor played
( 210) no part, and yet without which he would not have been able to make his contribution.
In The Psychology of Social Institutions C. H. Judd stresses the superindividual nature of the culture of a group. Such complexes as language, precision, writing, number, and those underlying punctuality have each had a long cumulative history, and each additional trait in the complex renders more improbable any individual deviation from the extant type. Survival of the individual rests upon his acquisition of the fundamental common habits of his group; the single individual has no choice; his behavior must con-form with the accepted norms. And in this very acquisition he is rendering essential the conformity of those who come after him; the habitual ways become traditional ways.
The culture of a group, which is always oriented around certain culture complexes, acts as a limiting factor in the addition of new traits, which become part of the culture only if they can be integrated with existing habits. Acceptance of a new trait does not rest solely upon modification of an individual's habit or habits; it rests upon modification of an individual's habits as those are conditioned by the habits of other individuals of the group. In this sense just stated, it seems justifiable to regard the culture of any group as super individual.
This deterministic aspect of culture (the corrollary of `the superindividualistic aspects) has lead to the special emphasis given by cultural sociologists in their analysis of group behavior. The accepted procedure rests upon the principle that behavior which is the outgrowth of the cultural influences can be understood only through the analysis of culture and that the explanation of cultural phenomena must be stated in cultural terms. The appearance of a given invention can be explained only in terms of cultural accumulation; the particular forms of the culture can be understood only in terms of antecedent forms. To this there is a corollary: In any given behavior situation involving groups of individuals, the proper procedure in analysis and explanation is first to ascertain the probable cultural factors that are operative before positing explanation in biological or other terms. Where behavior is possibly the result
( 211)of two factors, inherent and cultural, to assume an explanation in terms of inborn characteristics without attempting an explanation in cultural terms, is methodologically unsound. This applies when studying group behavior within a given culture, or in contrasting differences in behavior in different cultures." The historical method assumes great importance in cultural analysis; the history of traits and their spread, and their interrelationship with other traits, are essential in cultural explanations.
From this cultural approach to the analysis of behavior and to the statement of causation in cultural terms there has been vigorous dissent, chiefly from certain psychologists 
Floyd H. Allport in several articles has taken sharp issue with the cultural position as outlined in summary here. His objections are at bottom, two: (1) against what he has termed "the group fallacy" in the study of culture; and (2) his insistence that while descriptions in culture terminology are possible, explanation of cultural phenomena must inevitably be in terms of the next lowest level of phenomena, namely the psychological.
1. In "The Group Fallacy in Relation to Social Science" All-port states succinctly what he conceived the fallacy to be: "the error of substituting the group as a whole as a principle of explanation in place of the individuals in the group." The error lies, he declares, in abolishing the individual, and in addition, psychology as a helpmate of sociology. In this article he attacks the work of Kroeber. "Professor Kroeber," he writes, "insists that we must study the laws of development and change in these (cultural) data alone." But in doing so the individual basis of behavior is lost from sight and in its place a descriptive entity, a superbeing, arises. Many of Allport's objections, especially with reference to the work of C. H. Judd, rest on loose use of terminology. Allport himself writes:
To say that group difference tendencies [culture complexes] exert a control over the individual is only to say in an inexact manner that other individuals, through mechanisms of learning and control understood by the behavior psychologist, so stimulate the individual in question that his original responses become modified in conformity with behavior patterns common to the group.
But fundamentally his objections go deeper than terminology. He argues that "group tendencies" (cultural patterns) are merely expressions of individual life; they are the way the individual feels impelled to behave. The impulsion comes only in appearance from the group itself, the real drive for adopting these ways is inherent in the individual If, therefore, the group difference tendencies are real only as the manner in which the majority of individuals are disposed to react, there is a fallacy in the reasoning which would treat them as determining causes wholly distinct from the individual.
This means that causes of behavior can be stated only in terms of individual psychology. The crux thus becomes the nature of the stimuli to which a given individual reacts. May a culture complex, defined as it has been defined here, be considered a stimulus to which an individual reacts, and as a stimulus, which exerts a "con-trot" over his behavior?
In cultural terminology, an institution .is a culture complex. Allport, speaking as a psychologist, has defined an institution as follows: "That which the sociologist calls an `Institution' is from the psychologist's standpoint merely similar and reciprocal habits of individual behavior, together with tools which individuals have constructed for carrying them out.” In this as stated there is little to criticize; the subsidiary point is the one of contention: may institutions so defined be considered from the standpoint of a given individual, as a stimulus to or cause of that individual's behavior? Allport raises the question also in his article on "The Psychological Nature of Political Structure," where he argues that it is a fallacy to consider a nation, "the law," etc., as causative stimuli in individual behavior. "A citizen does not react to the law as a stimulus, nor is he controlled by the law, in any behavioristic sense." Two questions are involved: (i) Are the habits of individuals in a social group interrelated so that the reciprocal functioning develops an integration different from any single individual's habits? (2) May any given individual (a newcomer, a growing child) react to this interrelationship of habits (this group action pattern) so that it becomes the conditioning factor in the development of habits in him?
While the group possesses no mental life that is apart from the individuals, the converse (that mental life in the group is purely individual mental life) is not true. The individual does react to the integrated reactions of others, and if these integrated behavior pat-terns are named, for example, "the law," then from the point of
( 214) view of any given person these are stimuli to behavior, and stimuli that would not derive from any single individual. The individual reacts to the integrated reactions of others; he reacts accordingly both with and to the law. This is meant when cultural sociologists say that culture "controls" the individual behavior. The individual is born into an area and learns for life-situations what habits are common to the group-individuals in those situations; in each individual situation he is conditioned to the behavior of the others, but not as individuals; his own behavior then serves to reinforce the others, and becomes part of the stimuli that will influence the behavior of those that may follow. In these terms the nation may be said to control the behavior of an individual. The culturalists recognize in the reciprocal stimulation of individuals an integration that supersedes any individual, and which gives a cast to the mode of life of any people which is not an individual cast.
If individuals were isolated from each other and merely responded to like stimuli, carried separately to each, Allport's position would be tenable. But individuals are not so isolated and they respond not only to common stimuli, but to each other as they respond. This distinction Allport fails to utilize.
2. Allport's principle of explanation in terms of a lower level of phenomena is best developed in "The Group Fallacy in Relation to Social Science" and in " `Group' and `Institution' as Concepts in a Natural Science of Social Phenomena."
The phenomena studied by any science are approachable from two different viewpoints. The first is that of description, the second is explanation. A complete program for any science embodies both these forms of approach. Now the essential fact is that in the hierarchy of sciences the field of description of one science becomes the field of explanation for the science immediately above it. Not all of the descriptive material of the lower science is used by the higher; but only that which is relevant to the explanation of the data studied by the higher science 
This position is opposite to that of the cultural sociologists who have insisted that cultural phenomena not only may be described in terms of culture, but are explicable in those same terms. The explanation is on the level of the phenomena themselves, and not on a lower level. The point does not merely involve splitting of hairs; it
( 215) involves questions of methodology that are fundamental in the analysis of specific social situations. Are cultural explanations valid, or must cultural phenomena always be given psychological explanations? Is sociology only a descriptive approach?
The validity of Allport's position hinges upon his ability to justify his use of the word explanation (cause). He insists upon a distinction between analysis (description) and determination of process (explanation). The psychologist may describe emotions, habit response, patterned reflexes, etc., but to explain them (Allport argues) he must descend to the level of the neurologist. The physiologist may describe the arc, the synapse, etc., but for explanation he must drop to the level of physics and chemistry.
While it is always desirable to reduce any behavior to its elements, it does not follow that a statement in terms of a lower level of phenomena gives more valid "explanation" than possible "explanations" on the level of the phenomena being studied. Allport's underlying assumption is a demarcation between description and explanation. Ultimate, first-cause explanation is not within the province of science; explanation can mean nothing more than description that is sufficiently accurate, including the description of the attributes of a phenomenon or of phenomena, to permit of prediction. Description is a broad category, ranging from the roughest statement of the elements observable in connection with or antecedent to, any given phenomena, to a description so minute that it includes a large number of the involved variables. Description of the latter degree becomes explanation: description when carried to the prediction point becomes cause, or explanation. Instead of two discrete categories, there are here involved only different degrees of the same category.
Allport has confused what for better name we may designate as the principle of necessity and the principle of sufficiency and this confusion has led him into the error involved in his position as stated in the preceding paragraphs. The error lies in assuming that because a part of a whole is necessary in order that the whole may exist, the whole must accordingly be stated (explained) in terms of the necessary part. An example of this confusion is found in some of the writing of Charles Ellwood. He has written,
All are agreed that the social life is possible only through the mental interaction of individuals. This means that the social process must be described in essentially psychological terms. If sociology is to become a science, it must find, therefore, some psychological universal to explain social condition and change, structure and functioning.
Substitute the words "breathing of air" for "mental interraction of individuals," and the error is apparent. Similarly, men must have stomachs to live social life, but it does not follow that social phenomena, therefore, must be stated in the terminology of the chemistry of the stomach. Yet apparently this error, in a subtler form, has led Allport to formulate his doctrine of explanation in terms of a necessary "lower level." Because psychological factors underlie behavior (just as there are chemical and physical factors) he posits that these necessary factors are also sufficient to explain cultural behavior. The growth of any invention makes this error clear. Why did the steam engine develop when and where it did? Man, the biological mechanism, with his psychological attributes is a necessary factor in its appearance. But man, so conceived, was present long before the appearance of the steam engine; the sufficient explanation of the invention comes only through the cultural approach, and with statement in cultural terminology.
The error in Allport's distinction between description and explanation can also be approached another way: in specific instances in the field of natural science explanation is in terms of the
( 217) phenomena under observation, and moreover, is possible only in these terms. Thus the explanation of the rising of the sun is totally in terms of the "rising" of the sun. The explanation is an elaborate description of the position of the sun and the planetary bodies in our universe; there is and can be no sufficient explanation on a lower level. Again, the growth of an organ of the body is not only described but "explained" in terms of that organ. Only when the organ is understood in terms of its own processes of growth can any possible reduction to a lower level of explanation be attempted. And even when this step has been taken, the result is no new principle of explanation, as Allport conceives it, but rather description in different terminology.
The practical, methodological implication of this theoretical discussion is important. Instead of an original attempt at explanation in terms of a lower level of phenomena, the first step is explanation in terms of the level of the phenomena under observation. To show the validity of this generalization, as well as to illustrate the distinction between the principles of necessity and sufficiency, four problems from the field of sociology will be stated, and (now reverting to Allport) the question asked, What explanation is possible in terms of a psychological level?
1. In certain sections of rural New Hampshire linguistic changes have resulted in the transformation of a final en into an ing. Thus chicken is pronounced chicking. South of a geographic line in the United States ing tends to become in: as in runnin'. A child reared either north or south in the areas mentioned has his linguistic reactions "controlled" accordingly. Is a psychological-level explanation adequate to account for the differences in behavior? Would it not inevitably "explain" either too much or not enough, and thus be no explanation at all? Would any knowledge, even in detail, of reflexes, the physiology of the voice box, or the processes of conditioning, enable one to account for these differences which are clearly cultural phenomena? Given a psychologist with his technical knowledge, and a philologist with his cultural background in linguistics, which would offer the better explanation?
2. An unusually interesting recent volume by Robert Graves bears the title Lars Porsena or the Future of Swearing. Graves points out that in Egypt the gravest insult a man may be given is to call him, "You father of sixty dogs!" In India, on the other hand, no response would be forthcoming with this epithet, but hint that a man has had a liaison with his brother's wife, and mortal offense has been given. Individuals born into these two culture areas respond to the stimulus of the oath, but would knowledge of psychology re-veal the differential in the behavior? As a matter of fact, the difference becomes apparent only through a cultural approach, and explicable only in terms of culture.
3. Robert Fulton's "Cleremont" appeared in 1807. It is a typical invention. Allport admits the need for consideration of social background in the inventive process, yet at the same time he writes, "Invention, a term lightly used by ethnologists, must be explained in psychological rather than cultural terms. The need or prepotent drive behind inventive behavior exists only in individuals." Here again is the seeming confusion of the necessary with the sufficient. What is the psychological explanation of the "Cleremont" that does not explain too much?
4. From the history of paper-making and block-printing a fourth typical problem may be cited. Both inventions are Chinese, and of early origin. The spread of block-printing and paper west-ward was over the well-established silk routes; but block-printing did not reach the European world until the fifteenth century-approximately seven hundred years after reaching a high level of development in the Orient. During these seven hundred years many other elements of Oriental culture were brought into Europe and adopted-including paper, the compass, and gunpowder. Why did the printing process falter in diffusion? This is a specific problem in culture contact, but is there an explanation in psychological terms? Would knowledge of suggestion, imitation, or conditioned responses enables the psychologist to explain without first having knowledge of cultural factors? Can a sufficient explanation be
( 219) given on other than the cultural level? Is not the psychological explanation possible only after the cultural explanation has been given?
There are problems in the study of cultural phenomena in which the psychologist may supplement the work of the sociologist, especially in problems centering in the differential adjustment of individuals within a culture area. But there are other problems in which the psychologist is of little aid and in which a knowledge of psychology renders no service in deriving the necessary explanations. The cultural approach is valid because it contributes more toward an explanation of some of the problems associated with group life and the behavior of individuals in the group than other approaches contribute.