Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Word of the Month: Die Kulturbrille

Word of the Month: Index

I'm reading Helen Macdonald's book Falcon, where she introduces, on the first page of the introduction, our current Word of the Month. It is a term coined by German-born Franz Boas (1858-1942), who is considered the father of American anthropology (pictured at right).

The word has two compounds: Kultur ("culture") and Brille ("glasses" or "spectacles"). In Macdonald's words, it's "the invisible mental lens your own culture gives you through which you view the world". The author describes in subsequent chapters how our very human Kulturbrille makes falcons the "repository for human meanings". For Boas, it was important for anthropologists to become aware of their Kulturbrille to prevent them from making biased judgments about the alien cultures they encountered and tried to understand. The same is important for people like us, who increasingly live in a multi-cultural environment.

I like the present term because it captures an abstract concept through a very concrete image, a characteristic it shares with other words of the month I have introduced.


Heika said...

Great addition. I think we all tend to wear "kulturbrille" when viewing worlds outside the one we know. The word itself is a good reminder to try to take them off as much as possible when confronted with traditions or beliefs other than our own.

Ulrich said...

Yes, Heika! Come to think of it, Kulturbrille is the perfect term to explain why I find Paul Theroux so annoying as a travel writer: He is completely unable or unwilling to take his off when he visits other countries. It often looks like the only reason he is travelling is to feel superior to the natives because they do not conform to what he considers proper behavior.