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What do humans share?

26 May, 2007

German anthropologist Christoph Antweiler has a new book out: What do humans share? (Was ist den Menschen gemeinsam?).

Anthropologists traditionally have put much more emphasis on human diversity (á la Clifford Geertz) and neglected approaches focusing on the empirical study of cultural universals (á la George Peter Murdock). Antweiler sets out to map the latter, stating that “knowledge about universals is practically relevant to realistic solutions for society”. Individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds come to be more and more interconnected (“living in one world”), yet “cultural difference” is one of the most successfully globalized concepts and harbours the danger of turning the world into one of full-scale identity politics.

I haven’t read the book yet, but judging from an interview with the author, I liked the way he aims at a differentiated picture, mid-way between the dominant “culture as mosaic or container” model, exemplified in works from Huntington to management consultants Hofstede and Trompenaars and the hybridity-hype (everything is fluid and changeable and there are no distinct cultural groups). I’ll write more about this work once I have actually read it (391 pages, … it will have to be late summer), but it seems that anthropologically informed approaches addressing identity issues, which are behind so many burning socio-political problems are gaining some momentum, also in Germany.

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