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culture area

  A concept derived from cultural ecology, referring to the geographical region over which a degree of homogeneity in measurable cultural traits may be identified (see also culture). The concept\'s origins lie in Ratzel\'s notions of a Kulturprovinz, and to the concern among German geographers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to delimit the boundaries of the German Reich by means of such cultural indicators as language, settlement form, and Landschaft. The influence of German geographic thought on inter-war American anthropological and geographical studies of native American cultures (Benedict, 1935), seeking to differentiate these groups cartographically, brought the concept into Anglophone geography. Recognizing the absence in such cases of clear boundaries similar to those between nationstates, students using the culture area concept frequently subclassified them into three contiguous zones:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } the core, the area over which the culture in question has exclusive or quasi-exclusive influence; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } the domain, over which the identifying traits are dominant but not exclusive; and the realm, over which such traits may be found but in which they are sub-dominant to those of other culture groups.A classic example of such study is Meinig\'s (1965) identification of a Mormon culture area centred on the Great Basin of Utah. The organismic dimension given to the original concept by Ratzel\'s biologically based environmental determinism, and notions of expansion and conflict between culture areas struggling for life are absent from such morphological studies (Jordan, 1973).

Today the concept of culture area is little used in its classic form as culture is identified much more with process, connection and network than with areal extent, and because geographical interest has turned from questions of homogeneity and bounding of cultures towards those of connections, interaction and contestation between groups for whom culture is a mode of self-signification, and to matters of transculturation and cultural hybridity. Such questions neither assume a necessary connection between culture and territory nor lend themselves to the cartographic correlation techniques which underpinned the concept of culture area, although the horrors of \'ethnic cleansing\' during the Bosnian War of the early 1990s, when different religious and nationalist groups sought to produce homogeneous culture areas through warfare, civil violence and forced migration, demonstrate the continued power of blood-soil attachments in certain contexts. Studies of other contemporary cultural conflicts, such as that in Northern Ireland (Graham, 1994), have examined the use of visible landscape markers such as graffiti, flags and murals to identify and claim defined areas for culturally defined groups (cf. territoriality). In a less directly conflictual context, small, mainly urban, areas dominated by specific sub-cultural lifestyles, such as communities based on ethnicity or sexuality, have been examined in San Francisco and London (Forest, 1997), and artificially delimited parts of metropolitan cities where an erzatz culture is officially celebrated, such as Chinatowns (Anderson and Gale, 1992), have attracted the attention of cultural geographers. Although the term culture area may be absent in such studies, they often use visible landscape indicators to record the existence, extent and changing nature of such areas, as for example David Ley\'s discussion of the fate of suburban sequoias in Vancouver as traditionally Anglo-dominated streets passed to new Asian owners (Ley, 1995). (DEC)

References Anderson, K. and Gale, F., eds, 1992: Inventing places: studies in cultural geography. London: Longman Cheshire. Benedict, R. 1935: Patterns of culture. London: Routledge. Forest, B. 1997: West Hollywood as symbol: the significance of place in the construction of gay identity. In L. McDowell, ed., Undoing place? a geographical reader. London: Arnold, 112-30. Graham, B. 1994: No place of the mind: contested Protestant representations of Ulster. Ecumene 1: 257-81. Jordan, T. 1973: The European culture area: a systematic geography. New York and London: Harper and Row. Ley. D. 1995: Between Europe and Asia: the case of the missing sequoias. Ecumene 2: 185-210. Meinig, D. 1965: The Mormon culture region: strategies and patterns in the American West. Annals, Association of American Geographers 55: 191-220.



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