How cultures see each other
The aim of this project is to collect comments made by travellers, now and in the past, about the way people behave in other countries or cultures. These comments are stored in a database which is freely available for those interested in exploring the ways that we see people from other countries, the ways in which behaviour may vary in different countries, and the ways in which cultural differences may influence our perceptions.
UPDATE - VERSION 2 OF THE DATABASE TOOL, A MAJOR REVISION, IS IN PREPARATION. CONTACT THE EDITOR (see below) FOR MORE INFO.
Who are we?
Cultures.org is an independant non-profit association based in Toulouse, France. Its only aim and activity is the establishment of an open database of cultural observations. Data collection is under way, and database development is progressing. We would welcome help from others, and also academic participation and/or adoption of this project.
A full presentation of the Cultures Observations Database, its raison d'être, its functions, and technical details are available here.
The pilot version of the database, which requires that you have the database programme Microsoft Access 2007 or later on your computer and approximately 6Mb of free disc space, can be downloaded here
Why do it?
1. Using data analysis techniques it may be possible to: better distinguish between stereotypes and real behavioural phenomena; look for behaviour patterns and cause-and-effect theories at a cultural level; see if and how observed cultural behaviours change with time; better understand the ways in which the cultural environment may influence the way individuals think, and vice versa; anticipate areas of potential misunderstanding between cultures and no doubt to explore many other interesting phenomena (but this is a data collection, ethnographic project, not a theorising ethnological project...)
2. Anthropologists have traditionally observed people in distant societies. Unfortunately, people from those societies didn't often send anthropologists to study others, so major collections such as the Human Relations Area Files at Yale University are relatively poor in, for example, archives on industrialised societies. Travellers are not anthropologists, but they can be valuable sources of information when other data sources do not exist, and they have one major advantage: there are far more of them. Much old documentation has been lost, but there are still enormous quantities to be found in neglected books, personal letters, articles, radio and TV archives, etc. It is urgent to collect these unique sources of information from the past and to provide an easy way of looking at the data. That is what this database is intended to do.
3. Cultural phenomena are habitually studied through observations by professionals (anthropologists), and this has resulted in the collection of much valuable material. But the notes of an English observer are likely to be different than those of a French, African, or Japanese observer. The Cultures Observations Database can help get around this problem by putting the observers on the same level as the observed.
4. This quote is from Gary Ferraro, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina:
"... what we know, or think we know, about our own culture is not necessarily perceived in the same way by culturally different people. In other words, we may see ourselves as holding a particular value or cultural trait, but then describe that trait in only the most positive ways. Those looking at us from the outside, however, are more likely to see some of the negative implications as well. Thus, if cultural anthropology is to help us function more effectively in an increasingly interconnected world, we will have to…