Cultural area

(Redirected from Cultural region)

In anthropology and geography, a cultural area, cultural region, cultural sphere, or culture area refers to a geography with one relatively homogeneous human activity or complex of activities (culture). Such activities are often associated with an ethnolinguistic group and with the territory it inhabits. Specific cultures often do not limit their geographic coverage to the borders of a nation state, or to smaller subdivisions of a state.

Standard cross-cultural sample, Africa region
Standard cross-cultural sample, Circum-Mediterannean region
Standard cross-cultural sample, East Eurasia region
Standard cross-cultural sample, Insular-Pacific region
Standard cross-cultural sample, North America region
Standard cross-cultural sample, South America region
From top, clockwise: Africa, Circum-Mediterranean, East Eurasia, South America, North America and Insular-Pacific cultural areas in the Standard cross-cultural sample
Clark Wissler's map of native American cultural areas within the territory of the United States (1948)
Cultural areas of the world as defined by Whitten and Hunter
Cultural areas of Africa as defined by Melville J. Herskovits
East Asian cultural sphere, areas with historical influence from Chinese culture
The Celtic nations, homelands of the Celtic languages, can be classed as a cultural region

History of conceptEdit

A culture area is a concept in cultural anthropology in which a geographic region and time sequence (age area) is characterized by substantially uniform environment and culture.[1] The concept of culture areas was originated by museum curators and ethnologists during the late 1800s as means of arranging exhibits. Clark Wissler and Alfred Kroeber further developed the concept on the premise that they represent longstanding cultural divisions.[2][3][4] The concept is criticized by some who argue that the basis for classification is arbitrary. But other researchers disagree and the organization of human communities into cultural areas remains a common practice throughout the social sciences.[1] The definition of culture areas is enjoying a resurgence of practical and theoretical interest as social scientists conduct more research on processes of cultural globalization.[5]


Allen Noble gave a summary of the concept development of cultural regions using the terms "cultural hearth" (no origin of this term given), "cultural core" by Donald W. Meinig for Mormon culture published in 1970[6] and "source area" by Fred Kniffen (1965) and later Henry Glassie (1968) for house and barn types. Outside of a core area he quoted Meinigs' use of the terms "domain" (a dominant area) and "sphere" (area influenced but not dominant).[7]

Cultural "spheres of influence" may also overlap or form concentric structures of macrocultures encompassing smaller local cultures. Different boundaries may also be drawn depending on the particular aspect of interest, such as religion and folklore vs dress and architecture vs language.

Cultural boundaryEdit

A cultural boundary (also cultural border) in ethnology is a geographical boundary between two identifiable ethnic or ethnolinguistic cultures. A language border is necessarily also a cultural border, as language is a significant part of a society's culture), but it can also divide subgroups of the same ethnolinguistic group along more subtle criteria, such as the Brünig-Napf-Reuss line in German-speaking Switzerland, the Weißwurstäquator in Germany or the Grote rivieren boundary between Dutch and Flemish culture.[citation needed]

In the history of Europe, the major cultural boundaries are found:[citation needed]

Macro-cultures on a continental scale are also referred to as "worlds", "spheres", or "civilizations", such as the Muslim world.[citation needed]

In a modern context, a cultural boundary can also be a division between subcultures or classes within a given society, such as blue collar vs. white collar etc.[citation needed]

Specialized termsEdit

Cultural blocEdit

The term cultural bloc is used by anthropologists to describe culturally and linguistically similar groups (or nations) of Aboriginal peoples of Australia.[8] It may have been coined first by Ronald Berndt in 1959 to describe the Western Desert cultural bloc, a group of peoples in central Australia whose languages comprise around 40 dialects.[9][10] Other groups described as a cultural bloc include the Noongar people of south-western Australia;[11] the Bundjalung people of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland;[8] the Kuninjku/Bininj Kunwok bloc and the Yolngu cultural bloc in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.[12]

Examples of cultural areasEdit


A music area is a cultural area defined according to musical activity. It may or may not conflict with the cultural areas assigned to a given region. The world may be divided into three large music areas, each containing a "cultivated" or classical musics "that are obviously its most complex musical forms", with, nearby, folk styles which interact with the cultivated, and, on the perimeter, primitive styles:[14]

However, he then adds that "the world-wide development of music must have been a unified process in which all peoples participated" and that one finds similar tunes and traits in puzzlingly isolated or separated locations throughout the world.[14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Brown, Nina "Friedrich Ratzel, Clark Wissler, and Carl Sauer: Culture Area Research and Mapping" University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.; Brown, Nina "Friedrich Ratzel, Clark Wissler, and Carl Sauer: Culture Area Research and Mapping" University of California, Santa Barbara, CA. Webarchive of
  2. ^ Wissler, Clark (ed.) (1975) Societies of the Plains Indians AMS Press, New York, ISBN 0-404-11918-2 , Reprint of v. 11 of Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History, published in 13 parts from 1912 to 1916.
  3. ^ Kroeber, Alfred L. (1939) Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
  4. ^ Kroeber, Alfred L. "The Cultural Area and Age Area Concepts of Clark Wissler" In Rice, Stuart A. (ed.) (1931) Methods in Social Science pp. 248–265. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  5. ^ Gupta, Akhil and James Ferguson (1997). Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  6. ^ Meinig, D. W., "The Mormon Culture Region: Strategies and Patterns in the Geography of the American West, 1847–1964" Annals of the Association of American Geographers 60 no. 3 1970 428-46.
  7. ^ Noble, Allen George, and M. Margaret Geib. Wood, brick, and stone: the North American settlement landscape. Volume 1: Houses, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984. 7.
  8. ^ a b "FAQs". Yugambeh Nation. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  9. ^ Dousset, Laurent (2011). "Part one: A historical and ethnographic overview". Aboriginal Australian kinship: An introductory handbook with particular emphasis on the Western Desert. Marseille: pacific-credo Publication. p. 14-44. doi:10.4000/books.pacific.561. ISBN 9782956398110. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  10. ^ Berndt, Ronald M. (1959). "The Concept of 'The Tribe' in the Western Desert of Australia". Oceania. [Wiley, Oceania Publications, University of Sydney]. 30 (2): 81–107. ISSN 0029-8077. JSTOR 40329194. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  11. ^ "Strong Culture & Community". Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation. 14 November 2019. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  12. ^ "Djelk: Traditional Owners and area of operation". Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences. Australian National University. 4 December 2017. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  13. ^ Marty, Martin (2008). The Christian World: A Global History. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-58836-684-9.
  14. ^ a b Nettl, Bruno (1956). Music in Primitive Culture, p.142-143. Harvard University Press.

Further readingEdit

  • Philip V. Bohlman, Marcello Sorce Keller, and Loris Azzaroni (eds.), Musical Anthropology of the Mediterranean: Interpretation, Performance, Identity, Bologna, Edizioni Clueb – Cooperativa Libraria Universitaria Editrice, 2009.
  • Marcello Sorce Keller, “Gebiete, Schichten und Klanglandschaften in den Alpen. Zum Gebrauch einiger historischer Begriffe aus der Musikethnologie”, in T. Nussbaumer (ed.), Volksmusik in den Alpen: Interkulturelle Horizonte und Crossovers, Zalzburg, Verlag Mueller-Speiser, 2006, pp. 9–18

External linksEdit

  Media related to Cultural regions at Wikimedia Commons