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2.6: Cultural Universals

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  • Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) - Cinco de Mayo dancers greeted by former Pres. George W. Bush.”The holiday, which has been celebrated in California continuously since 1863, is virtually ignored in Mexico.”[3]

    Cultural universals ( which has been mentioned by anthropologists like George Murdock, Claude Levi-Strauss, Donald Brown and others) can be defined as being anything common that exists in every human culture on the planet yet varies from different culture to culture, such as values and modes of behavior. Examples of elements that may be considered cultural universals are gender roles, the incest taboo, religious and healing ritual, mythology, marriage, language, art, dance, music, cooking, games, jokes, sports, birth and death because they involve some sort of ritual ceremonies accompanying them, etc. Many anthropologist and socialists with an extreme perspective of cultural relativism deny the existence or reduce the importance of cultural universals believing that these traits were only inherited biologically through the known controversy of “nurture vs. nature”. They are mainly known as “empty universals” since just mentioning their existence in a culture doesn’t make them any more special or unique. The existence of these universals has been said to date to the Upper Paleolithic with the first evidence of behavioral modernity.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) - A woman dancing folklórico in the traditional dress of Jalisco

    Among the cultural universals listed by Brown are:
    • Language and cognition – All cultures employ some type of communication, symbolism is also a universal idea in language.
    • Society – Being in a family, having peers, or being a member of any organized group or community is what makes society.
    • Myth, Ritual, and aesthetics – Different cultures all have a number of things in common, for example: a belief system, celebration of life and death, and other ceremonial events.
    • Technology – There are worldwide variations in clothing, housing, tools and techniques for getting food through different types of technology.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\) - Residents of Vanuatu making fire. The use of fire for cooking is a human cultural universal

    Dance is a great example of a cultural universal because it exists in every culture as form of expression, social interaction, or presented in a spiritual or performance setting. Traditional dances found in Mexico are quite different from those found in the United States. American style dancing includes Flat Foot Dancing, Hoofing, Buck Dancing, Soft Shoe, Clogging, Irish Sean-Nós Dance, and Irish Jig. Because these forms of dance are not commonly found on stage, in the media, or taught in the dance schools, it has received minimal attention and its practice has significantly decreasing compared to its past popularity. Mexico on the other hand had a traditional style of dance called Ballet Folklorico which reflects different regions and folk music genres. These dances are widely known and are constantly being taught in schools and performed during festivities such as Cinco de Mayo.


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