The theory of cultural logic: How individuals combine social intelligence with semiotics to create and maintain cultural meaning
Enfield, N. J.
The theory of cultural logic: How individuals combine social intelligence with semiotics to create and maintain cultural meaning. Cultural Dynamics, 12
(1), 35-64. doi:10.1177/092137400001200102.
The social world is an ecological complex in which cultural meanings and knowledges (linguistic and non-linguistic) personally embodied by individuals are intercalibrated via common attention to commonly accessible semiotic structures. This interpersonal ecology bridges realms which are the subject matter of both anthropology and linguistics, allowing the public maintenance of a system of assumptions and counter-assumptions among individuals as to what is mutually known (about), in general and/or in any particular context. The mutual assumption of particular cultural ideas provides human groups with common premises for predictably convergent inferential processes. This process of people collectively using effectively identical assumptions in interpreting each other's actions—i.e. hypothesizing as to each other's motivations and intentions—may be termed cultural logic. This logic relies on the establishment of stereotypes and other kinds of precedents, catalogued in individuals’ personal libraries, as models and scenarios which may serve as reference in inferring and attributing motivations behind people's actions, and behind other mysterious phenomena. This process of establishing conceptual convention depends directly on semiotics, since groups of individuals rely on external signs as material for common focus and, thereby, agreement. Social intelligence binds signs in the world (e.g. speech sounds impressing upon eardrums), with individually embodied representations (e.g. word meanings and contextual schemas). The innate tendency for people to model the intentions of others provides an ultimately biological account for the logic behind culture. Ethnographic examples are drawn from Laos and Australia.