Is the Idea of the 'Person' Culturally Constituted?

The idea of the ‘person’ being culturally constituted refers to the belief, which Mauss insisted on, that a person is inevitably shaped by their society and culture. Personhood is produced on the foundation of culture and the reason that differences exist between people is purely cultural in cause. Two examples, which highlight this, are the Tallensi people and the Aboriginal Australians. These two peoples share many similarities however their cultures are different and they hence have a different view of the definition of a person. This is clear through their use of totemism, naming, masks, kinship, economy, social organization, beliefs and values, hierarchies/ranking.

There are many ideas of how personhood is constituted and the main anthropological idea, which is used to explain this is that of cultural construction. This differs from the notion of essentialism, which proposes that a culture consists of fixed traits that do not change or vary. It also differs from the idea of innateness, which presents personhood as something people are born with and does not transform throughout ones life. The idea of cultural construction, meanwhile, presents the anthropological belief that personhood is created by the culture it is surrounded by. What or who a person is, has a different definition in every culture, therefore the each person living in separate cultures shall have a different idea of what constitutes personhood. This definition of personhood can describe humanity and culture on every level, ‘the notion of the person in the Maussian sense is intrinsic to the very nature and structure of human society and human social behaviour everywhere’ (Fortes 1987:253). According to the idea of cultural construction, every part of society and humanity is shaped by culture including one’s idea of what constitutes in being a person.

There are many different societies, which portray the concept of cultural constitution including the Tallensi people in their use of...