Culture area

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In the past, a large settlement area was referred to as a cultural area in cultural studies , the inhabitants of which were assigned an identical or at least similar culture . The term was coined in 1898 by the German ethnologist Leo Frobenius , as part of his culture theory , which is considered outdated . The culture group theory summarized cultures through their similarities and similarities ( cultural affinity ) in culture groups.

Today this term is rejected in German-speaking ethnology . Instead, the term cultural area, which is also ideologically charged, is sometimes used, which postulates a geographic cohesion of a culture and is closely related to ethnology (geographical provinces according to Bastian).

Outside of the ethnological and historical sciences, one speaks of cultural areas or cultural parts of the earth , which depict the current situation in the respective context of their specialist area. These terms, too, primarily represent ethnographic concepts of spatial limitation of culture, which are viewed critically.


A cultural area is a "spatial-temporal construct that believes to recognize characteristic similarities in different cultural elements, which supposedly suggest a common origin". These different cultural elements can include material possessions, social groups, religious practices and much more. be. The resulting cultural groups were not only spatially limited, but could extend across continents if the same cultural elements appeared in distant cultures. Thus, according to the culture group theory, many cultures z. B. belong to an exogamous cultural area, which only describes that all cultures included in it have in common that their individuals marry outside their own groups. The concept of the cultural area usually exceeds other classifications of social units such as social groups , tribes , societies , nations or “ peoples ”. The definition of a culture in terms of size is made differently and depends on the selection of provisions that should be typical for differentiation. On the one hand there is talk of a Scandinavian cultural area, which on the other hand can also be part of the European cultural area. A popular classification is that of "Western culture", "Far Eastern culture" or "Arab culture".

The typification of cultures plays a central role in the ideal-type historical images based on the “cycle theory” , as already formulated by Giambattista Vico . The typing of cultures is still in the 20th century, typical of historians and cultural scientists as Othmar Anderle , Rushton Coulborn , Christopher Dawson , Nikolai Danilevsky , Reinhold Niebuhr , Henri Pirenne , Pitirim Sorokin and Karl August Wittfogel , is currently a de Jos Beus , Samuel P. Huntington or Bassam Tibi . With Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee these concepts were most consistently constructed in their rigorism .

In particular, the German humanities excelled in the typification of cultures, especially under National Socialism and in folk and cultural soil research . Supporting concepts were primarily the concepts of ethnic and national community , the habitat and cultural area , the customs , the morals and the alienation . The continuities in the methodology, the biographies of the scientists and the vocabulary of science can be traced back to the Völkisch movement from the interwar period through National Socialism to the present day.

Culture doctrine

The culture circle theory was introduced in 1898 by Leo Frobenius as the theory of ethnology (see also his theory of culture morphology ). It is asserted that human culture is developing in chronological order. Frobenius himself gave up this theory as not convincing and instead developed the approach of culture morphology. It was taken up and further developed by the German historian Fritz Graebner as a counter-theory to evolutionism , which assumes a common origin for all ethnic groups . "His most cited source is a certain Christoph Meiners , a German professor of philosophy, one of the authors of the cultural evaluation of races , which is a cradle of the conception of the master man of Adolf Hitler ."

The culture circle teaching was mainly taken up by the Vienna School of Ethnology at the beginning of the 20th century, by Father Wilhelm Schmidt and Father Wilhelm Koppers . They invented the term “Urkulturkreis”, which has lived monotheistic , monogamous and patriarchal from the beginning and is therefore the most valuable from an ethnological point of view. The teaching thus became a race theory . Schmidt was also a supporter of social Darwinism . Another representative from Vienna was Paul Schebesta , who worked as a missionary in Mozambique .

The Viennese School used the terms “primitive culture”, “primary culture” and “secondary culture”, with the primitive culture being the most valuable; the “civilized peoples” were seen as degenerate by comparison (see also classical diffusionism ).

“The Viennese school of culture group theory dominated German-language ethnology until the 1930s, perhaps 1940s, although in the later years it was increasingly exposed to massive criticism, which […] was primarily against the schematic approach and the increasingly out-of-time fixation turned to pseudo-historical reconstructions. "

- Martin Rössler : German-speaking ethnology up to approx. 1960. A historical overview. (2007, p. 14)

Conceptual criticism

Nowadays the term “culture area” is being reused in opposite directions. Although the cultural area in its historical technical meaning described commonalities between cultures that suggest an origin, nowadays people generally speak of cultural areas in order to make differences between cultures clear (comparable to the cultural area ). The talk of the “culture circle” as a difference formula experienced a first boom in the First World War and spread continuously during the Weimar Republic and in the time of National Socialism. However, the term was most frequently used in the context of the early Cold War from 1947 to distinguish it from the so-called "East". For example, the “Christian Occident ” or the “Islamic Orient ” are spoken of as two large cultures that are each characterized by specific values , social norms , manners and customs and, above all, are different.


  • Guy Ankerl: Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. Inupress, Geneva 2000, ISBN 2-8815-5004-5 .
  • Gazi Çağlar: The Myth of the War of Civilizations. The west against the rest of the world. A reply to Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. Münster 2002, ISBN 3-89771-414-0 .
  • Marie-France Chevron: Adaptation and Development in Evolution and Cultural Change. Findings from the history of science for contemporary research and a reminder of A. Bastian's work. Lit, Vienna 2004.
  • Frank-Rutger Hausmann: "German Spiritual Science" in World War II. The " Ritterbusch Action " (1940–1945). Dresden 1999.
  • Martin Rössler: The German-speaking ethnology up to approx. 1960: A historical outline. In: Cologne working papers on ethnology. No. 1, Institute for Ethnology, University of Cologne, April 2007, pp. 3–29 ( PDF download possible ).

Web links

Wiktionary: culture area  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Leo Frobenius: Origin of African Cultures . Borntraeger brothers, Berlin.
  2. cf. Marie-France Chevron: Adaptation and Development in Evolution and Cultural Change: Findings from the history of science for contemporary research and a reminder of the work of A. Bastian . Volume 14 of Ethnology , Volume 6 of Freiburg Social Anthropological Studies , LIT Verlag, Münster 2004, ISBN 978-382586817-8 , especially Chapter 2.Comparison of the concept of cultural area with similar approaches in German-speaking ethnology , 2.1 Cultural areas and cultural circles , p. 224 ff ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  3. ^ Ulrich Braukämper: Culture group . In: Walter Hirschberg (Ed.): Dictionary of Ethnology . Reimer, Berlin 2005, ISBN 978-3-496-02650-1 , pp. 223-224 .
  4. a b Ruth Kronsteiner: "Culture" or Racism - Sexism in a new guise? To deconstruct “old” and “new” differences. (PDF; 288 kB;) International Society of Pharmacovigilance (ISOP), May 20, 2005, archived from the original on December 9, 2011 ; accessed on July 24, 2014 (14 pages; presentation at an ISOP event). P. 2
  5. Martin Rössler: The German-speaking ethnology up to approx. 1960: A historical outline. In: Cologne working papers on ethnology. No. 1, Institute for Ethnology, University of Cologne, April 2007, pp. 3–29, here p. 14 ( PDF download possible ).
  6. Philipp Sarasin : The cross with the #Kulturkreis. In: History of the Present. Gleb Albert et al. a., February 11, 2016, accessed on April 12, 2019 .