American cultural denial: The CATs’ compass

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology

Publication Title

Reflecting on America: Anthropological views of U.S. culture


Franz Boas is considered the father of modern cultural anthropology precisely because he zeroed in on the species-specific adaptive aspect of culture and saw cultures as the product of this process. The Boasian concept of culture called attention to the interaction between a population and its environment on the one hand and its history on the other, and it emphasized how all aspects of behavior both emerge from and affect the adaptive social processes underlying such interactions. Postmodernism’s emphasis on narcissistic self-reference and interpretive autonomy, its implicit denial of structural constraints, and its alluring play on the potential for personal self-invention and reinvention were bound to resonate very strongly with American competitive individualism. Cognitive scientists have been giving increasing attention to the ‘metaphors we live by’ in order to document the experiential basis of human thought. The characteristics of the CATs’ compass offer an introductory glimpse into the culture of a people that is still awaiting a comprehensive ethnography.

Link to Published Version