Cross-Cultural Studies Research Paper

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The effect of people moving from one location to another or the realization that heritage is a major determinant in all that we do provides the background for the explanation of why we view and analyze cross-cultural studies. Looking back to the beginning, humans vary in numerous ways. Anthropology seeks to answer these questions about Homo sapiens. Scientists have sought to discover where and why humans appeared on earth, why the changes occurred, and why humans vary in physical features throughout the world.

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Cross-cultural studies are significant because the relationship between different cultures has an effect on all cultures. The history of the area in which people live affects their lives, their families, and the communities they inhabit. Understanding heritage and understanding expectations in one’s environment allows people to view themselves in a hierarchical structure. All cultures are organized, from the smallest tribe to the largest groups, and everyone must have knowledge of their community. This knowledge must include language, social structure, political insight, and religion. Even before these areas are identified and labeled, they have existed in both modern society and in the early gatherings of humans. Inherent in the differences is the fact that there are similarities in all cultures as each one strives to maintain its existence. This existence is vital even before the group assimilates with the larger environment.

It is reported that the first anthropologist to conduct cross-cultural studies was Abu Rayhan Biruni. He conducted research in the Mediterranean area, the Middle East, and India long before any other scientists. European scientists also administered various interviews and recorded the results of their research. As American scientists continued this research process, the need for identical methods of gathering information became evident. Cross-cultural studies use scientific methods to analyze data. Samples of a larger proportion are used to better clarify behavior, traits, and beliefs of various cultures. With the larger samples, researchers are able to apply findings to statistical surveys. Each culture has some differences that apply to only that individual group, so compiling this information has to be accurate and consistent. As this information is recorded accurately, the data can be analyzed scientifically. With greater reliability, other disciplines can use data collected internationally and cross-culturally.

The importance of collecting field data will be discussed in this research paper, along with the statistical methods used. As more scientific methods are used, the connections with various disciplines is more easily recognized and assessed.


George Peter Murdock is noted among the earliest anthropologists. In the late 1940s, Murdock and colleagues organized the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF). He recognized the need to set a standard to evaluate and list all cultural groups, and to put this in writing. HRAF now consists of years of committed research recorded by approximately 400 different ethnographers. Well before Murdock, Lewis Henry Morgan conducted research with the Seneca Indians, collecting data from more than 70 Native American Indian tribes in unilineal evolution. This comparison of cultures using evolution as a basis for organization was first undertaken by Morgan and is still considered advanced today. Some of the first British social evolutionists were Herbert Spencer, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, Sir James Gerorge Frazer, and Edward Westermarck.

In 1949, a nonprofit organization based at Yale University further organized the HRAF ethnographic data and later preserved this information on microfilm. Now the files are accessible by electronic databases as well. As we view scientific data today, the availability of research to be shared and analyzed expediently is of great value to scientists and researchers. The proliferation of methods to study cultures and peoples is extensive. The refining of these methods scientifically spearheads the reliability of anthropological research. In this research paper, the major researchers are highlighted as well as the different theories they believe lead us to better means and methods of analyzing cultures.

Cultures have some traits in common with each other within clusters of characteristic behavior. All societies progress through an identical series of distinct evolutionary stages, which Tylor proposed in his writings. Tylor (in Gillies, n.d.) stated that “human culture developed through three stages—that of savagery, barbarism and civilization” (p. 1). Morgan (1877) was one of the first to provide a written analysis by collecting questionnaires about Native Americans and other U.S. groups. These questionnaires provided a basis for Morgan to formulate additional ideas and theories on this subject. This type of research provided a framework for other anthropologists who followed Morgan and completed extensive documented research on individuals and their cultures.

As we take into account recent steps in understanding culture, there must also be a discussion of the role archaeology reveals. Archaeology is the systematic study of past cultures recognizing that the remains of a culture and their adaptations to that environment provide a look into what occurred previously. This type of research must be able to establish what happened, when it happened, and how these occurrences affect how the specific culture is evolving today. Of course, language or linguistics plays an integral part in anthropology. Record keeping and the ability to accurately document and explain data compiled during research are essential.

Spencer, a philosopher who lived in the 19th century, believed that society had strong and weak individuals. Spencer, an Englishman, followed the theories of social evolutionists in believing that the weaker characters in a society should not be included or considered a part of the group. Frazer, an English anthropologist, also supported the social evolutionist movement and Spencer’s ideology. Frazer’s major work, for which he is widely known, is titled The Golden Bough (1890). This publication details the evolution of religion, and it was the first book to bring together as much information on this topic. The evolutionists thought that man’s social and cultural history could be arranged in a sequence of developments and that populations of people progressed at different rates.

This philosophy was disputed by the next generation of scientists in the 20th century, the followers of anthropologist Franz Boas:

Boas and his students tended to emphasize the variety of local cultural traditions and the accidental course of their development. Some of his most creative associates came to see cultural anthropology as one of the humanities, and this became the dominant cast of American cultural anthropology in the last decades of the twentieth century. (Kuper, 1996, p. 25)

In all corners of the world, studies involving different cultures affect research.

German and Russian anthropologists also provided valuable theories on cross-cultural analysis. As a society grows, the overlap in disciplines becomes more apparent. Cross-cultural studies detail the significance of compiling statistical data accurately. Only when an unbiased account of evaluating cultures worldwide is instituted can there be a true analysis of cultures and disciplines nationwide.


Tylor stated that culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Lassiter, 2002, p. 42). In Tylor’s book Primitive Culture (1871), the author focuses on belief systems, which were frequently noted by writers during this period. However, Tylor believed that the development of culture is unilineal since the process was not instant but evolved over a longtime period. He continued to do research in England as other anthropologists formulated similar and other very different theories; he is attributed with conceptualizing a more advanced picture of the early hunters and gatherers. His three stages of evolution did contribute to the understanding of other cultural evolutionists.

Morgan presented a systematic way of analyzing cultures. He was the first to use a written discourse in the form of questionnaires. The questionnaires were used to collect data about kinship relationships of numerous American groups, such as Native Americans. This information helped to substantiate the intellect and strong sense of survival of the Native Americans.

Without substantial facts, the early evolutionists believed that the Europeans were the most advanced culture existing in this world. Boas wrote from completely different viewpoint of the cultures and cultural traits. The historical particularists explained that a culture’s traits had to be analyzed in terms of the society lived in. This approach proved significant as scientists continued to seek broader guidelines to measure similarities, differences, growth, and changes of numerous groups/cultures. Murdock developed a “measure of cultural complexity among ethnographically known cultures. The measure looks at 10 different features of the culture, including its technology, economy, political system and population density” (Ember, Ember, & Peregrine, 2002, p. 28).

Followers of Darwinism believed in the theory of natural selection whereby the frequency of human traits has evolved over time. Charles Darwin wrote in his publications, such as The Descent of Man (1871), that “every species is composed of a great variety of individuals some of which are better adapted to their environment than others. . . . Without variations, one kind of characteristic could not be favored over another” (Ember, 2002, p. 34). Darwin also believed in heritability recognizing that offspring inherit traits from their parents. Individuals that are better adapted in their environment produce more offspring year after year. The stronger individuals extend these traits to their offspring, and the results are stronger offspring and stronger generations of people in the family structure. A new species emerges when changes in traits or geographical barriers result in the reproductive isolation of a population.

Various scientists in the 1930s and 1940s added genetics as a factor in understanding culture. In 1972, Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould wrote that evolution moves quicker than scientists earlier believed. There are various schools of thought about evolution and these beliefs have affected how we presently study culture.

Anthropologists have discovered stone tools over 2 million years old in regions of East Africa. This discovery led scientists to develop certain timelines according to humankind’s ability to control and survive in its surroundings. In this research paper on cross-cultural studies, it is necessary to discuss the beginning of culture. Culture is a set of learned behaviors. Adaptation and change are a part of culture: “Cultural change regularly occurs as new and beneficial means of adaptation are developed and shared” (Ember, 2002, p. 108).

The German-born anthropologist Boas did not accept the evolutionist theories. Rather, he challenged the beliefs that Western culture was considered a higher form than others. These anthropologists were in the forefront of cultural relativism, acknowledging that a society’s customs and ideas should be explained within the context of that environment. Boas’s work was viewed with significance by researchers.

William Graham Sumner, a sociologist and economist, was instrumental in introducing concepts of folkways and mores in Folkways (1906). Sumner was a follower of Darwinism, believing that most fit members of society survived; thus, the biologically strong lived longer. This belief supports the Darwinian theory of cultural evolution. However, Sumner was an avid proponent of using ethnographic methodology in research.

Another anthropologist, Alfred Louis Kroeber, published numerous works on culture and culture growth. He was an American who early in his career studied the Native American Indians of California and believed in the study of human culture as a discipline in itself. Thereby, Kroeber helped to express the need for the emergence of anthropology as a necessary academic area to be studied.

These anthropologists advanced the major theories of cross-cultural studies. Morgan used interviews and questionnaires in his kinship research (1871). Tylor (1889) was the first to attempt statistical cross-cultural analysis. Murdock in his world-renown HRAF (1930s and 1940s) coded ethnographies of over 300 cultures. Levinson published A Guide to Social Theory: World Wide CrossCultural Tests (1977), and Murdock published Atlas of World Cultures (1980). These are a few of the major works that revealed the need and importance of taking an analytical look at methods of research and cultures.


Researchers have taken a more cautious look at methods of obtaining data in the social sciences. Anthropologists have especially noted that some past observations were not performed exactly accurately. Some processes now used by scientists include regional comparisons, holocultural analysis, controlled comparisons, and coding. The two major methods of research in this field of study are the comparative method using scientific principles, explicit theory and details, research and sampling procedures, and data and tests available for authentication. As scientists have experimented and been challenged in their research methods, a greater attempt to make this research accurate and consistent has emerged. The second major method of research is the use of the hypothesis. The hypothesis and the variations recorded must withstand testing. In hologeistic research, information is based on firsthand, ideographic accounts of single populations. In Thompson’s writings, he notes that the “modern cross-cultural survey method emphasizing deductive theory-testing represents a logical development. A leading proponent of this method notes that the main idea of holocultural study usually is to test an existing theory by means of worldwide correlations. The increasing use of computers has greatly facilitated cross-cultural comparisons in social anthropology, as well as in history, sociology and economics” (Thompson & Roper, 1980, pp. 907–908).

While, the holistic approach permits anthropologists to develop a complex understanding of entire societies, anthropology also adds another dimension of analysis through crosscultural comparison. When examining any particular society, the anthropologist is interested in seeing how that society is similar to or differs from others.

Cognitive anthropology involves explaining the unique and meaningful features of a particular culture. Tylor stated that “it is assumed that each people has a unique system of perceiving and organizing material phenomena and the major task of cognitive anthropology is the empirical discovery and understanding of these organizing principles” (Thompson & Roper, 1980, p. 911). The use of the term intercultural diversity refers to developing decision models to ensure that all researchers prepare, organize, and record data the same. Researchers often have to study and spend time in the environment before they can accurately evaluate. This need evolves since all researchers have not elicited information the same way in all research, nor have informants always reported or perceived behavior the same in their analysis. Thus there is a problem of reporting data in a uniform manner. “Researchers use quantitative methods of research, such as survey research, secondary analysis, existing statistical analysis and experiments. Qualitative methods include field research, historical comparative research, and natural experiments” (Birx, 2006, pp. 2018–2019).

Sir Francis Galton disputed much of the research of Tylor and other anthropologists. He believed that the experimental design was flawed and not scientific.

When looking back to the period since the 16th century, Europeans had accumulated a considerable body of information on the peoples of Asia, the Americas, and Africa. These reports were unsystematic and unreliable. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, information was gathered on various cultures.

In the early twentieth century there was a shift to longer, more intensive field studies of particular cultures. Franz Boas made a long-term study of the native peoples of southern, coastal British Columbia, collecting a huge archive of vernacular texts from key informants. Russian scientists made intensive studies of the Siberian peoples, and European scholars began to publish studies of small societies in the tropical colonies. (Kuper, 1996, p. 23)

The ethnographies produced between 1920 and 1970 were holistic in nature. “From the 1960s, ethnographers increasingly began to develop historical perspectives, drawing on oral traditions as well as archival sources, particularly as more studies were undertaken in peasant societies in Europe and the Near and Far East” (Kuper, p. 24). The development of broadening research techniques has been beneficial for all the scientists, observers, and participants in these studies.

Practical Applications

Cultural anthropology, ethnography, ethnology, and archaeology are all processes to show how studies are used to advance the study of anthropology.

Cultural anthropology involves the description and comparisons made by human groups to the diverse ecosystems of the earth. Adaptations are seen in the two traditional areas of focus that are referred to as ethnography and ethnology. Ethnography is the descriptive study of one’s culture, subculture, or microculture based on fieldwork, which takes many years to study. It is the genre of writing that presents varying degrees of qualitative and quantitative descriptions of human social phenomena based on fieldwork. Ethnology is the comparative study of culture or a specific attribute of that culture. Ethnology presents the results of a holistic research method founded on the idea that a system’s properties cannot stand alone without some interaction on another. Ethnography requires firsthand research seeking the local people in a village setting to converse and obtain information that cannot be taken only from written reports. It is this method that leads to more in-depth interpretation of data collected. “As projects are compared, our understanding of cause and effect increases. New generalizations about culture change are added to those that anthropology have discovered in traditional and ancient cultures” (Kottak, 2000, p. 358).

The term applied anthropologist is used when explaining the hands-on methods of gathering data from various cultures. The applied anthropologists, the forerunners of using fieldwork to answer cultural questions, are part of the following four disciplines: (1) The biological anthropologists are the groups that work in public health, nutrition, genetic counseling, substance abuse, epidemiology, aging, and mental illness. (2) The archaeologist and biological anthropologists are the groups that work alongside each other to determine how physical features play a significant role in determining the time period a human existed. (3) The linguistic anthropologist is the subdiscipline that studies languages of the present and makes inferences about those of the past. Linguistic techniques are useful to ethnographers because they permit rapid learning of unwritten language. Both linguistic and cultural anthropologists are interested in how language links up with other aspects of culture. Some argue that the linguistic categories people use produce distinctive psychological traits in different cultures. (4) The sociocultural anthropologists are the largest group of the disciplines in which social workers, businesses, media researchers, advertising professionals, factory workers, nurses, physicians, and school personnel participate. Each group requires information from the anthropologist to help assess how best to interact with others in their environment.

Practicing and applied anthropology are considered interchangeable yet the discipline of applied anthropology is concerned with producing knowledge that will be useful to others, while practicing work directly involves anthropologists intervening beyond social scientific inquiry, making their knowledge and skills useful and easily accessible. (Birx, 2006, p. 177)

None of these subdisciplines can exist without archaeology, the systematic study of past cultures reorganizing the remains of a culture and its adaptations to that environment. It is that environment that provides a look into what occurred previously, as well as the language that evolved. In biological anthropology, Homo sapiens are studied as beings both in the present and the past. The evolution of our species is taken into account as scientists explain our relationship to other species. Some anthropologists view Homo sapiens in a holistic nature seeing the biological and cultural aspects of life being taken into account for every event that has happened during a lifetime. Each event further explains the evolution and adaptation of the human animal. The subdisciplines merge information to establish evidence of human activity before any written account existed.

Comparison (Global/Topical)

There are vast differences among cultures, yet there are similarities as well. In this section, a few cultures will be discussed, which allow researchers to begin analyzing each. The first example is that of the Native American Indian. Tribes have a government affiliation in the United States. Most prefer to be called Native Americans. Many tribes speak their own language, others have lost it, and some are relearning their native language. Tribes had lived in their own environment until the U.S. population grew and they were forced to move to different territories. Scientists would have to be aware of the changes in the tribes due to changing, geographical locations. In this cultural group, the women make up about 50% of the population. They are younger than the national average, undereducated, and have a median income of under $20,000. The average life expectancy is 74.7 years, and unemployment in this group is 13.4%, more than twice the national average (St. Hill, 2003, p. 29). Some traditional families are reluctant for an infant to be born in the hospital, believing that the hospital is not a safe place. Many students leave school early and only 9% have a bachelor of science (BS) degree or higher compared with the national average of 20.3%. The teen pregnancy rate is the highest among all ethnic groups, with 45% of youth giving birth before the age of 20. Traditionally, young women are considered to be of marriage age by 14 (p. 32). The most frequent causes of death are heart disease and malignant neoplasms. Grieving, burial, and behavioral practices vary by tribe as do burial rituals. Not all tribes are eligible for health coverage (p. 44). Women older than childbearing age believe that female exams are not needed. Family/relatives share medicines. The cultural view of health and illness is holistic, and health is associated with balancing physical, mental, spiritual, and kinship realms. In order to encourage healthy behavior, the tactics of talking to small groups using spiritualism and holistic behavior would probably get results. The researcher in the Native American population would have to be cognizant of these behaviors and design their research accordingly.

Arab Americans make up another cultural group. Approximately 5,000,000 Arab immigrants and their offspring currently live in the United States. More than half speak a language other than English at home, and 86% speak English as well. More than 50% have some higher education (St. Hill, 2003, p. 45). Higher education is expected, yet boys’ education is given more attention. Arab cultures socialize women to be wives and mothers. Male circumcision is an Islamic practice followed throughout the Arab world and in Sudan and Egypt. Between 20% and 30% of Arab women marry by the age of 20, 80% by age 30. Arranged marriages are the norm; divorce is allowed but not expected (p. 50). Major illnesses experienced by the Arab American are hypertension, heart disease, cerebrovascular accidents, cancer, diabetes, renal disease, and anemia (p. 61). Obesity is prevalent in this culture.

Asian Americans make up another large population of people who settled in America:

The Chinese are the largest Asian subpopulation in the United States with more than 2.4 million persons of Chinese descent residing here in 2000. . . . The literacy rate is very high in China and education is compulsory. . . . Between 1970 and 1980, the number of Koreans in the United States increased from approximately 70,000 to 355,000. (St. Hill, 2003, pp. 93, 95, 202)

Getting settled in a new country causes loss of familiar work, caregiving activities, and lack of support in performing these roles. Many ethnic-minority women stand out because of clothes, accents, mannerisms, or responses. Often, they are reminded about their foreignness and lack of belonging, which tends to marginalize them and increase their vulnerability. Marginalized people react differently; their dress, language, religious practices, and food preferences vary from the norm. This group learns to be secretive and disclose personal information only to those they trust and feel safe around. Again, researchers have to take into account all of these factors when designing methods to discover information.

African Americans brought to America as slaves contribute now to the second-largest minority group in the United States. Currently, “54% live in the South, 19% in the Northeast, 19% in the Midwest, and 8% in the West totaling 36.4 million African Americans residing in the United States” (St. Hill, 2003, p. 12). Historically, African Americans in all areas of the United States have adapted to their environments and surroundings to survive. Family members look to other family members for guidance. High blood pressure, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS are dominant diseases, with lupus and breast cancer being prevalent in the female population as well. Due to previous injustices, some African Americans may not trust researchers. A degree of trust and respect would be necessary, as is the case for all groups researchers seek to study.

As several groups have been mentioned above, the area of health care is one that merits attention. For instance, the way women interact in the health care system provides some insight into how a researcher would approach asking them questions. Existing models of women’s health tend to neglect the integration between cultural values and norms that shape their responses and experiences. Various models exist, yet none are totally adequate. Both women and men are influenced by educational background, family, heritage, social class, economic factors, occupation and work, urban/rural origin, length of time in a new environment, and ethnic identity. People employ different cognitive styles, decision-making strategies, and health care providers. People who migrate from the same country share similar historical events, values, and norms based on their heritage. All of these factors are useful to assist researchers as they collect data on various subcultures and groups.


Use in Cross-Cultural Disciplines

Whether researchers study individual cultures or evaluate changes in communities, the opportunity to study and analyze various populations is increasingly significant:

The applied anthropologist’s effectiveness depends on his being able to obtain data from monitoring the adaptive changes taking place within the target population, and he must be able to model the relationships with the target population as it diverges from the larger community. Time sampling within the project, and between the project and the total community provide the applied anthropologist with the tools for the application of the comparative method to extract objective measures of change in both the project and its environment. (Hackenberg, 1985, pp. 218–219)

A new linkage of physical, biological and social science within the framework of a comprehensive theory of evolution is in the making. Specific hypotheses await the empirical testing at the sociocultural level, and the environment in which applied anthropologists are employed provides the opportunity. (Hackenberg, 1985, p. 222)

Structural changes are the essence of both economic and social development. (Higgins,1977, pp. 121–122)

The real contradiction in anthropology is not concerning relevance—rather its relevance often serves the interest contrary to the people researchers are studying. Anthropological research in general is systematically shaped and utilized by the dominant interests in our society for ends which many anthropologist would oppose. (Stauder, 1974, p. 48)

Phenomenology is the study [of] independent existence through various participant observation-like methods, of the structures of the life-world, meaning the forms, structures or features that people take as objectively existing in the world as they shape their conduct upon the presumption of their prior independent existence. Phenomenology is the natural perspective for ethnographic research that would probe beneath the locally warranted definitions of a local culture to grasp the active foundations of its everyday reconstruction. (Katz & Csorders, 2003, p. 284)

In the discipline of history, Lepencies (1976) states that “more important than the emergence of new disciplines is the exchange of subdisciplines back and forth between established fields” (p. 287).

In the area of education, focus is given to anthropology and education, anthropology of education, anthropology in education, and the anthropology of education and social problems:

The ethnographer needs to be a sensitive and perspective observer, sympathetic, skeptical, objective, and inordinately curious. He needs to have substantial physical stamina, emotional stability, and personal flexibility. The ethnographer’s approach should be holistic, meaning that one must take some view of the total situation, conceptualizing individuals in relationship to aspects of the physical environment, social organization, religion, world view, ideology, and evaluation. (Hill-Burnett, 1979, pp. 8–9)

Research is inductive, so ethnographers must be storytellers, keeping continuous diaries with consistent data collection procedures:

Key skills that are taught and refined in the study of anthropology are germane to the study of education. These include seeking multiple perspectives, rational speculation, dialogue, scientific inquiry, analytical reading, data collection, comparison and contrasting, testing hypotheses and applying theories. Attention is given to research methodology, logic and reasoning, detailed record keeping and clear thinking. Teaching of scientific inquiry therefore is significant when students learn to question circumstances and problems as they arise. Students need to learn that people and other ethnicities and cultures may bring different questions to a situation. (Birx, 2006, pp. 780–781)

John Dewey had a profound and lasting influence on the field of education: “Dewey favored practice over theory, based on his belief that learning best occurs when students are free to generate their own experiments, experiences, questions and creations” (Birx, 2006, p. 784). Emphasis on multiculturalism, hands-on learning, and participation in authentic learning experiences with real world audiences reflect the pedagogical contributions of Dewey. One of his most important works, Human Nature and Conduct, was published in 1922. According to Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist,

Human intelligence is not a fixed characteristic, but instead it is a dynamic entity that can be enhanced by social interaction and collaborative work. He also believed that knowledge is not directly transferred from teacher to learner. Rather, through social interaction, the learner constructs his or her own meaning. (Birx, 2006, p. 784)

In the area of linguistics, Zetterberg (2006) has said that emic sentences are those that tell how the world is seen by particular people who live in it. Etic sentences contain additional information and sentences of an observer or analyst rather than that of a mere participant. Etic observation may contradict truths believed by participants. Claude Lévi-Strauss commented that society was like language with structure.

Communicative actions such as descriptions, evaluations and prescriptions can be an initial phase of research. They can be used by biographers and psychologist, historians, sociologist or anthropologist. By a series of separate logical operations, the units of description, evaluation and prescription thus begin to define units of a society—not only attitudes, valuations, norms, but a host of other terms in the language of social science, such as positions, roles, organizations, networks, media, markets and firms. (Zetterberg, 2006, p. 250)

Thus, language helps to establish and stabilize any group of humans, community, or organization. On the human side, anthropologists were expected to learn the language of the people they studied rather than use interpreters.

In other areas of anthropology, Lévi-Strauss’s program became the “normal science” for the discipline referred to as structural anthropology. He attempted to bring some order to the accumulated data on kinship relations in his 1949 text, The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Lévi-Strauss is remembered for his theory that “human culture is therefore like language in the sense that all human cultures satisfy the same basis needs, like eating or reproducing, but they do so in different ways” (Birx, 2006, p. 156). Structuralism purports that all human social behavior has symbolic meaning—not just at the superficial level of everyday appearance but at the deep level of underlying structure.

Clifford Geertz, the best-known theoretical anthropologist and ethnographer, has led discussions concerning objectivity in research and fieldwork. Geertz’s book, The Interpretation of Cultures, is widely recognized as a major publication to consult on ethnographic research. “In anthropological discourse, the purpose of any given study is generally presented in the first paragraph, how that study plays itself out and proves or disproves its hypothesis is not” (Stockton, 2002, p. 1114).

An early contributor to the cross-cultural study of psychology was the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, who did research in the South Pacific. Malinowski reached a conclusion that proved significant to other psychologists. His theory demonstrated that individual psychology depends on the sociocultural context in which it occurs. Yet anthropologists perform research in order to better analyze the actions of people in the larger community or society.

Previously, American anthropologists had used the term psychological to describe cultures considered synchronically rather than historically. After Sapir (1917), it became possible to think of cultures and person or dynamic psychologies together. As language differed, so did psychologies. It was Benjamin Lee Whorf who studied Edward Sapir’s theories and further developed these ideas. Sapir in his research was able to advance the goals of anthropology while instilling the connection with sociology and psychology. (Birx, 2006, p. 641)

Birx (2006) commented about economic anthropology, another of the cross-cultural disciplines:

[It] includes the examination of the economic relationships found among pre-capitalist societies (nonmarket economies) which includes band, village and peasant societies. This discipline studies the historical incorporation into the world market economy of state socialist economies of tribal peoples and peasant societies. Formal economics uses individual behaviors as its methodology. Cultural values are important in defining the standard of living. (p. 158)

The social interest of the whole must be used to justify the economy, including the systems of production, distribution, or exchange. All social relations within the economic system reflect a person’s moral position within the community. Every step in the production process must meet some social claim to other members of the community. The social claims are the basis of the economic philosophy and the motivations around which people organize their labor. (p. 160)

Marxist and other substantivist anthropologists define economics as providing for the material necessities of life, while formal economics looks at economic choices in how societies and individuals invest their resources. Marxist economics concentrates on production, while formal and substantivist economics look at distribution as central to their studies. This allows a closer look at how anthropologists and economists can draw conclusions about people in different cultures based on respected economic theories:

In all material systems, humans face the practical choice between producing for the self and producing for the other. In the first case, material activities assume a reproductive pattern, and this supports group independence. In the second case, production is set within exchange: humans trade with others to secure needed and desired things.The first form may be termed community economy, the second is market economy. Real economies are complex, shifting combinations of the two, and humans often are pulled in both directions at once. (Kuper, 1996, p. 26)

Ethnographers have discovered that individuals trade within their communities based on their present need. As the need changes based on household, kinship, village, or other situations, the individuals adapts to the model that works for them and their families.

Cross-cultural studies have significant effects on the world of literature and humanities. Although the term cross-cultural was mostly used in the 1980s, there are writers that have used this concept in their works of earlier periods. When cross-cultural studies are used, the author is not merely writing about two different cultures. Cross-cultural studies in literature are better understood when readers have some knowledge of the culture used:

In cross-cultural narratives, some elements that may be used are ethnographic description, travel writing, culture shock, acculturation and social obstacles such as discrimination, racism, prejudice, stereotypes and speech problems. The use of trickery, kindness, luck and hard work are all areas that might be included as the reader seeks to understand various characters in a discourse. (Glimpse Foundation, n.d.)

Future Directions

According to Hill-Burnett (1979), the future includes more global emphasis on research and development, development of a quantitative methodology to complement the qualitative methods. The future must address limits placed on educational process by political economy, dependency, and exploitation. The ethnography of communication provides bilingual and bicultural school programs when videotaping is used as a tool. This process provides a more exact means of collecting and evaluating data.

Great educators that look at all aspects of teaching in a critical manner help our students to understand different perspectives. As we continue to live on this earth, groups of people will combine ideas and principles. Educators will have to be ready to embrace and teach these changes:

An essential part of scientific procedure is the development of precisely defined concepts which together provide an internationally agreed upon frame of reference in terms of which the particular phenomena observed by different investigators may be described. Scientific progress is possible only because all the specialists in a given discipline use units of description that are commonly understood and have precisely defined meaning. (Leach, 1968, p. 339)

With the advent of professional associations to instill guidelines for the cross-cultural studies, researchers will more rapidly reach uniformity in methods of statistical analyses. Associations such as the Society for CrossCultural Research ( can be consulted. That uniformity promotes acceptance of cultural research worldwide. Naroll, in a quality control study, listed the following six systematic biases. They are “scholarship of the ethnographer, native language familiarity, use of nonnative local resident helpers by ethnographers, the tendency of the ethnographer to make clear commitments, taking of ethnographic census by the ethnographer and ongoing ethnography as contrasted with its opposite, memory ethnography” (Thompson & Roper, 1980, p. 910). Overcoming obstacles such as poor sampling techniques and using multidimensional scales to test related hypotheses advances the future of crosscultural studies.


A renewed look by societies and anthropologists has taken place. A greater understanding of using scientific methodologies to reach hypotheses and conclusions of cultures has surfaced in the dominant societies. Scientists in most disciplines will inordinately analyze information gathered on poor, indigent, primitive, preliterate, or just different groups of people in a more detailed and exact process.

Anthropological insights can be used to address numerous issues of today. Immigration, migration, education, ethnic relations, racism, and medical problems are better understood as scientists gather information on all cultures and make them accessible. From the earliest anthropologists to the contemporaries of today, the success of understanding and measuring the qualitative and quantitative differences and similarities of cultures all over the world are preeminent. Recognizing this need is paramount and continuous as our society expands.


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