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Patterns of Culture

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,420 ratings  ·  59 reviews
"Unique and important . . . Patterns of Culture is a signpost on the road to a freer and more tolerant life." -- New York Times

A remarkable introduction to cultural studies, Patterns of Culture is an eloquent declaration of the role of culture in shaping human life. In this fascinating work, the renowned anthropologist Ruth Benedict compares three societies -- the Zuni of
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 25th 2006 by Mariner Books (first published 1934)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Along with Franz Boaz and Margaret Meade, Ruth Benedict help overturns the idea of unidirectional cultural development or hierarchy of development and ushered in modern anthropology by looking at cultures on their own terms, not on a measuring stick of how closely they ape the west. Fairly groundbreaking in the 1930s but is probably closer to conventional wisdom today. It was definitely a step forward.
Sep 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Culture and Personality Paradigm:
Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture

In her book Patterns of Culture Ruth Benedict presents ethnographic accounts of three unique cultures, the Pueblo (Zuni) Indians of the Southwest, the Dobu of eastern New Guinea and the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest coast between Washington and British Columbia. Benedict employs use of these cultures to demonstrate her theory of culture as “personality-writ-large.” The book starts out with two sections, largely theoretical;
Will Kaufman
Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
Probably the most interesting and compelling introduction to anthropology you could ever hope for. Ruth Benedict lays out some basic principles - that anyone who's ever wondered about the society they live in should read - backed up with explorations of three incredibly fascinating cultures. This is a very profluent book, so I feel I can safely recommend it to people who have never read non-fiction before.
Patterns of Culture is a book that will change the way you see the world.
David Haws
Apr 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Successful societies reproduce excessively as a hedge against the death (accidental or purposeful) of those intended to fill necessary positions in the coming generation. An upper-class redundant (the unneeded lesser son of a noble family) can move down a notch (fill some ranked position in the church, government, or military). A merchant’s second son might start a new business, become a craft apprentice, or descend to the less-protected ranks of labor (depending on the good graces of the inheri ...more
Anna Harrison
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: anthropology
For any lovers of anthropology, this is one of the classic texts which fundamentally shaped the study of culture.

Though of course we have moved beyond some of the basic theoretical issues inherent in the 'culture concept' (i.e. Critics like Abu-Lughod move towards a definition of culture as unbounded and dynamic, and of course the shift away from 'traditional/modern' cultures dichotomy) so much of this text is still applicable in a globalising world. I was surprised actually by how relevant the
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthro, natives, 1900-1939
First read in 1960s for an anthropology class. Remembered since.
A foundation building block book for my world view.
One leg of Benedict tripod rests on the northwest coast of North America.
For a novel look at Salmon Culture social life, I recommend Houston's Eagle Song.
Eagle Song: An Indian Saga Based on True Events
Jens Rinnelt
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A study of different cultures from a systemic perspective.

Benedict states that every culture has “certain goals toward which their behavior is directed and which their institutions further.” Her most important discovery is, those goals of different cultures “are incommensurable.” This means that they cannot be compared, which is described as cultural relativism. If we want to understand any culture we have to understand it holistically. We cannot simply judge a certain behavior, but we have to
Fernando Kaiowá
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In this timeless book, Ruth Benedict brilliantly exposes her theory of cultural relativity, stating that no cultural trait in any culture is more or less valid than any other one from the great variety of possible human behaviors. Her vision couldn't be more actual, since it argues that each culture has a history and temperament of its own, rendering it unique, but not superior nor inferior to other cultures. Her description of three contrasting cultures illustrates very clearly that there are n ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a very interesting read. It helped me put into perspective cultural values that we take for granted as 'universal'. There are no universal values or ethics - every culture shapes reality according to their own value priorities. Thus it put a large question mark on my mind as to how to solve certain problems that we face as a species - how are we ever going to find a common ground from which to tackle these? I found the perspective of analysis interesting - Apollonian versus Dionysi ...more
Oct 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
I liked this book overall. It talks about different cultures in three different parts of the world – the pueblos of new Mexico, the Dobu of Papua New Guinea and the Kwakuitl of Northwest America. the book contrasts some of the norms we take for granted around what constitutes a moral action. Ruth looks at the science of custom, the diversity of cultures, its integration, the nature of society and the individual and patterns of society. To be honest there were some very interesting bits in the mi ...more
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I think Benedict makes some interesting points. She has written a book that covers almost exactly the reasons I want to study anthropology. She wants people to understand the idea of cultural relativity, which I think is an important idea. We have to remember that every culture is different and people fit into their cultures and worlds differently. Just because I am a white woman in the US doesn't mean I understand the experience of every white woman in the US. We are all different and we fit in ...more
Jan 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Ruth Benedict's classic work on culture through individuals and the arc of human potentialities. "Social thinking at the present time [1934] has no more important task before it than that of taking adequate account of cultural relativity," she writes. The first chapters, re-reads from years ago, were a welcome reminder; the last one was a welcome surprise, as it touches on the arbitrariness of cultural "deviance" and resultant suffering. Skimmed the middle.
I remember this for the basic dichotomy of 'Apollonian' and 'Dionysian' cultures. I suspect Benedict chose the case studies she did because she felt they best represented polar forms of this dichotomy. Real societies, of course, aren't neatly cut in two--so she tended to exaggerate a bit betimes, probably.
Pradipa P. Rasidi
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anthropology students, general public interested in the studies of culture
Shelves: theories-methods
Revisiting classics almost always provides a worthy read, and such is the case with reading Benedict's Patterns of Culture. More well-known for developing culture and personality school of thought, in this book we could actually see Benedict's wider influences on anthropology.

Benedict begins the book with three solid chapters on theoretical discussion of the way we should see and understand culture. Being a student of Franz Boas, Benedict takes a particularistic view on culture, seeing it is de
Sep 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Reviewing this book is almost meaningless but having read excerpts many years ago as an undergraduate it was interesting to read the whole. I did so because I was trying to get to the root of the idea of Puebloan society as Apollonian. An argument I am even less convinced of than ever.

From this distance Benedict suffers from the flaws of all anthropologists, but considering her reputation she was more sensitive to historic evolution of societies than I realized, it us a shame she did not bear th
Penny P Hammack
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this I was reminded of a meeting I once attended. The physician speaker was describing a medical procedure and kept using a long obscure word. Most of her audience were lay people and probably couldn't process the word or what she was attempting to describe. This was an interesting read but I found myself having to decipher every sentence. Definitely not for the casual reader. I wish my patience and tolerance were better but I ended up skipping large portions of the book, not because it ...more
Joseph Carrabis
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A friend gave me Patterns of Culture because "you study anthropology, don't you?" I'm glad he didn't want it back. Patterns of Culture is an amazing read for anyone interested in ethnography, cultural anthropology/psychology/morality, language and a few other fields. Find a copy and give yourself a joyful afternoon's adventure.
Jeff Keehr
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is unforgettable. I read it nearly 40 years ago and I still remember how she compared the two cultures, the one peaceful and quiet and the other aggressive and loud. I haven't read a lot of cultural anthropology but if most of the field was half as interesting as this book makes it, I would have been an expert by now.
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
It’s a brilliant book! I bought it thinking it was a novel, it turned out to be an academic book on anthropology. I wasn’t disappointed, it’s beautifully written with some amazing information but at the moment, I needed an escape from my dull academic studies and final exams and this book didn’t help.
Marilyn Sue Michel
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Instructive on the arbitrariness of cultural norms - most of them don't even contribute to longevity or protection of the tribe, and nonconformers may be in great peril, for no important reason. Slow at first but it picks up with the description of Dobu and Kwaikiutl tribal practices.
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this one as assigned reading for a history of social thought class my senior year in college. In it, the author, a noted anthropologist of the first half of the 20th century, compares and contrasts three very different cultures and how they impact the individuals living in each one.
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Read for school. Had some good discussions about how in a modern perspective Benedict's narrative can be problematic, but this was a very enjoyable read. I'll be looking for her that book.
Oct 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
"...Heredity is an affair of family lines. Beyond that is mythology."
-pg 15

The caliber of thinker we're dealing with, here.

How can any adult believe in what's presented in this book?
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Classic work in cultural anthropology. Taught the subject with Margaret Mead as one of her students. An excellent introduction to the discipline.
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read all but chapters 5+6.
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be incredibly insightful. Through my time I haven't been able to help questioning the foundations that society and culture is built upon, and I believe this is because simply I just don't agree with many of the firm views of life, but also because the ideas of truth, fact, and certainty seem to be more fluid, in my experience, than the rock hard foundations they have been described as. It seems to me that many, if not every single aspect of existence, is a choice, and if fre ...more
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anthropology
Patterns of Culture is a seminal work in the field of Anthropology, written in 1936 by Ruth Benedict, the Columbia University Professor of Anthropology, student of Franz Boas and mentor of the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead. In fact, Margaret Mead wrote the preface to Patterns of Culture.

This book is a study of three diverse cultures - the Zuni indians of the American Southwest, another tribe of the Pacific Northwest and a people of the Pacific Islands of Micronesia. In this work, Benedict
In her book Patterns of Culture, Ruth Benedict examines the concept of cultural relativity by examining three indigenous groups in different areas around the world. These groups are: the Zuni, the Dobu and the Kwakiutl of the pacific northwest of North America. Written in 1934, the book reveals is age by the seemly derogatory terms by today’s standards. However, within the confines of the book, it appears as though Benedict is looking at the margins of the culture area for patterns which are bey ...more
Roberta McDonnell
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In Patterns of Culture, renowned anthropologist Ruth Benedict reveals many wonderful ideas and examples of how humans as individuals and groups carve out the meanings and practices of their lives. As well as demonstrating a robust method for understanding cultural phenomena within historical and social contexts, Benedict shows how the self and the social world are like two sides of the one coin, each shaping the other in an ongoing dynamic (as I argued in my thesis (2006), quoting Benedict liber ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Read for a Cultural Theory class, but as engrossing as if I had picked it up on my own. Benedict, an obvious student of Franz Boas, argues that all cultures could be traced back to a basic core principal, she calls them "intellectual mainsprings," which one can find embodied in a culture's many manifestations, like marriage customs, religion, trading partners-- a pattern if you will. She includes three short ethnographies which highlight some of her points, so there is a bit more application tha ...more
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Ruth Fulton Benedict (June 5, 1887 – September 17, 1948) was an American anthropologist and folklorist.

She was born in New York City, attended Vassar College and graduated in 1909. She entered graduate studies at Columbia University in 1919, where she studied under Franz Boas. She received her Ph.D and joined the faculty in 1923. Margaret Mead, with whom she may have shared a romantic relationship

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Ashley Poston made her name with Once Upon a Con, a contemporary series set in the world of fandom, and her two-part space opera, Heart of...
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“The life history of the individual is first and foremost an accomodation to the patterns and standards traditionally handed in his community. From the moment of his birth the customs into which he is born shape his experience and behavior.” 1 likes
“A culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action. [...] Each people further and further consolidates its experience, and in proportion to the urgency of these drives the heterogenous items of behaviour take more and more congruous shape. [...]

Such patterning of culture cannot be ignored as if it were an unimportant detail. The whole, as modern science is insisting in many fields, is not merely the sum of all its parts, but the result of a unique arrangement and interrelation of the parts that has brought about a new entity. Gunpowder is not merely the sum of sulphur and charcoal and saltpeter, and no amount of knowledge even of all three of tis elements in all the forms they take in the natural world will demonstrate the nature of gunpowder.”
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