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I.6.(e). Culture and personality- Ruth Benedict

Ruth Benedict cultural pattern

Ruth Benedict was student of Franz Boas. She was a bridge between  the older type of anthropology, represented by the theoreticians like Tylor, Frazer, Morgan etc., on one hand, who relied upon the missionary’s account, old travel document etc., and the new type of anthropology related to living and contemporary culture, which grew out of field work, on the other.

She was founder of Pattern school of thought. As per her, integration of ingredients in culture is brought through its contents arranged into a permanent or semi- permanent design or style called pattern. Cultures must be taken as wholes, each one integrated on its own principles, each with its own configuration. A culture is organised around a basic theme, and that all of the various elements of that culture fit together. She stressed on a typological approach, like Apollonian or Dionysian, to culture, which has distinctive characters like individuals. 

She studied Zuni and Kwakiutl Indians to bring out the concept of cultural pattern and associated personality.

The Zuni Indians of the South-Western United States

The basic configuration of Zuni culture is Apollonian. The Zunis

  • very cooperative,
  • never excessive in any aspect of their life
  • did not seek to express their individuality.
  • to blend into group,
  • to no stand out as superior.

This basic personality type was reinforced in all other elements of Zuni culture, forming the overall cultural configuration.

  • Child-training patterns were designed to suppress individuality.
  • Initiation ceremonies were characterized by a lack of ordeal (the Apollonian type is never excessive),
  • The youths were initiated in a group setting.
  • Marriage was relatively casual.
  • Leadership among the Zuni was declined whenever possible, and was accepted only with great reluctance.
  • Priests were low-key individuals and special positions of power were delegated on a group basis, so that there was-a medicine society rather than a single powerful medicine man.
  • Among the Zuni death was an occasion for little focus of mourning.

The Kwakiutl Indians of the North-West coast

Ruth Benedict termed the basic cultural configuration of the Kwakiutl as Dionysian. They have pattern which have

  • a frenzied outlook,
  • ambitious and striving,
  • individuality emphasised in every aspect of their life.
  • a want for power
  • character of superiority

This basic personality type was reinforced in all other elements of  the Kwakiut culture, forming the overall cultural configuration. –

  • Child-training practices reinforced this pattern, emphasising the achievement of the individual over cooperation with the group.
  • In the initiation ceremonies, a boy was expected to go out by himself and experience a personal relationship with the supernatural.
  • Marriage entailed a tremendous celebration
  • Leadership among the Kwakiutl society was characterised by a constant struggle for power, which must be sought by any possible means.
  • Religious positions included that of the shaman, a priest who wielded enormous personal power.
  • A death was a major event, an occasion for much mourning and was not accepted calmly and peacefully as among the Zuni.


Numerous aspects of life in a culture reinforce the basic pattern of culture. Based upon the configuration of the culture, the personality is more likely to conform to one type than to other. Benedict shaped anthropology by viewing cultural systems as introverted or extroverted, paranoid and megalomanic.

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