French historian Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the conflict between the ideals of individualism and community defines American culture. In this groundbreaking new work, anthropologist Charles Nuckolls discovers that every culture consists of such paradoxes, thus making culture a problem that cannot be solved. He does, however, find much creative tension in these unresolvable opposites.
Nuckolls presents three fascinating case studies that demonstrate how values often are expressed in the organization of social roles. First he treats the Micronesian Ifaluks’ opposition between cooperation and self-gratification by examining the nature versus nurture debate. Nuckolls then shifts to the values of community and individual adventure by looking at the conflicts in the identities of public figures in Oklahoma. Finally, he investigates the cultural significance in the diagnostic system and practices of psychiatry in the United States. Nuckolls asserts that psychiatry treats genders differently, assigning dependence to women and independence to men and, in some cases, diagnoses the extreme forms of these values as disorders.
Nuckolls elaborates on the theory of culture that he introduced in his previous book, The Cultural Dialectics of Knowledge and Desire, which proposed that the desire to resolve conflicts is central to cultural knowledge. In Culture: A Problem that Cannot Be Solved, Nuckolls restores the neglected social science concept of values, which addresses both knowledge and motivation. As a result, he brings together cognition and psychoanalysis, as well as sociology and psychology, in his study of cultural processes.