Building Character and Culture

Up coming book by Pat Duffy Hutcheon ( Westport, CT.: Praeger, 1999).

Thesis:

If we are ever to solve the problems of society we must understand how humans function as both the creators and creatures of an evolving culture. Only by viewing socialization as the ongoing product of social interaction in the context of a hierarchy of dynamic, self-organizing, feedback systems will we begin to build the scientifically reliable knowledge that can provide us with the conceptual tools necessary for ensuring the survival of our species and the health of our ecology.

Purpose:

To focus attention of people at all levels of society on the critical role of socialization in both character formation and cultural evolution.

Major Points:

a) Character in the individual is both the source and product of culture, with socialization functioning as the connecting link between the two.

b) The nurture resulting from socialization is inextricably intertwined with nature, in the form of genetic predisposition and the impact of the physical and social surroundings. This "triple helix" is ongoing at three critical levels of social interaction: individual development, organizational change, and the evolution of culture. At each level human beings are generating, by their behaviors, the very circumstances that feed back to shape the character and culture of those who follow after.

c) Because socialization is so all-pervasive, and because its consequences tend to define the very nature of the human condition in any historical era, the principles by which the process operates must necessarily provide the fundamental organizing concepts for all of social science.

Special Features of Interest to Buyers:

a) The book should be of interest to the public in general, in that it is about life events with which everyone is familiar, and the issues that most of us face every day.

b) The information concerning the well-documented, worrisome effects of the content of media offerings upon character and culture (in Chapter 6 and in the comprehensive annotated bibliography on the subject in Appendix B) will be of particular interest to parents, teachers, social workers, therapists, criminologists and politicians.

c) The practical and developmentally based "Guidelines for Moral Education" in Appendix A will be extremely useful to teachers, parents and other caregivers.

d) The fact that every chapter of the book moves from explanations of soundly grounded theory and reliable research findings to what these explanations imply for practice should appeal to the general reader as well as to the social scientist.

e) Although the book at times deals with extremely complex ideas, these are presented by means of intriguing examples and described and analyzed in ordinary language, and with a clarity and precision not always characteristic of writing in the social sciences.

f.) Educators, especially, will appreciate the way the book is organized. It is a format which brings the discussion back again and again to what the preceding information and analyses mean in terms of the cultural function of education and the role of the classroom teacher.

g) The author's evolutionary systems approach sheds new light on what may appear to be the old problem of how to build wise and humane characters and a workable, adaptable culture. This will be of special interest to scholars in the exciting new field of evolutionary studies.

 

Challenges To Current Thinking:

a) The basic premise of this work -- that human beings have created their own problems and are, as a collective, solely responsible for solving them -- is somewhat challenging to those who prefer fatalism and quietism.

b) The book raises many questions about the viability of popular bandwagons such as "cultural relativism" and all forms of anti-science and anti-reason thinking.

c) Socialization is typically considered the exclusive domain of social psychologists, and of little relevance to other scientific specializations -- or to either theorists or practitioners in the broader arena of social science. Character is usually left to moral philosophers; cultural matters to anthropologists; the task of rehabilitating deviants to social workers, criminologists and therapists; problems of political economy to economists and political scientists; education to teachers and parenting to parents. And evolutionary theory is anathema to almost all students of the human condition. This book places the socialization process squarely at the center of all these currently divergent perspectives, and attempts to develop an approach that takes them all into account, while forcing the practitioners of each, in turn, to face up to their own unacknowledged assumptions concerning how all of us become civilized and productive social beings.

Claim To Uniqueness:

The book is unique in that it speaks to readers on two distinct levels. On the one level it is designed to reach the general public and to provide practical guidance for the caregivers responsible for bringing up children; the teachers struggling to maintain integrity and direction in the nation's schools; the social workers mired in the problems created by our collective refusal to face up to the spiraling consequences of our own romantic and self-serving choices; and the politicians who feel forced to respond expediently to the conflicting demands of pressure groups. On the other level it is offering a radically new theoretical perspective to social science: one that is grounded in an approach to evolutionary theory which specifically acknowledges the interactive-systems nature of the human condition.

Official Description:

Building Character and Culture stresses the importance of culture in human development, along with our collective responsibility for the direction in which that culture evolves. From the perspective of an evolutionary-systems model, it explains the ongoing interaction between nature and nurture, while identifying the devastating consequences of allowing nurture to occur in the absence of sound scientific analysis and proactive intervention, guided by universally applicable values and reliable knowledge. The book proceeds from an exploration of humans as both the creators and creatures of culture to a consideration of the key role of agents of socialization in cognitive development and character formation. Culture is presented as a hierarchy of nesting systems feeding into the socialization process from birth to death -- beginning with the subcultures of the family, school and peer group which are, in turn, influenced by their relationship to larger, enveloping systems. The most worrisome forms of the latter are identified as (1) "the culture of violence" -- that terrifying product of our modern electronic media; (2) the destructive mirror images of the cultures of affluence and poverty; (3) the incompatible cultures of pluralism and tribalism; and (4) the culture of fantasy, with its seductive appeal of simplistic certainties in response to the threat of wholesale social breakdown. The message throughout is far from pessimistic, however, in that the analyses of current problems presented throughout are clearly seen to point the way to practical solutions.

Contents:

Preface

Introduction

1. The Power of Culture

2. Humans as Creators and Creatures of Culture

3. Agents of Socialization

4. How Children Learn

5. Where Does Character Come From?

6. The Culture of Violence: Creating the Monsters Among Us

7. Second Stages and Second Chances: Socialization in Later Life

8. A Tale of Two Cultures: The Culture of Affluence and the Culture of Poverty

9. A Culture of Pluralism or a Culture of Tribalism?

10. The Culture of Fantasy: Gullible Victims and the Spinners of Delusion

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Appendix A: Guidelines for Moral Education

Appendix B: Annotated Bibliography of Research on the Effects of Media Portrayals of Violence and Pornography on Human Development