The techniques described in this chapter are used to understand cultural domains (Lounsbury, 1964; Spradley 1979; Weller & Romney, 1988). There are several ways to define a cultural domain. A good starting point is: a set of items that are all of the same type. For example, "animals" is a cultural domain. The members of the domain of animals are all the animals that have been named, such as dogs, cats, horses, lions, tigers, etc. But there is more to the idea than just a set of items of the same type. Implicit in the notion is also the idea that membership in the cultural domain is determined by more than the individual respondent -- the domain exists "out there" either in the language, in the culture or in reality. Hence, the set of colors that a given respondent likes to wear is not what we mean by a cultural domain.
One rule of thumb for distinguishing cultural domains from other lists is that cultural domains are about perceptions rather than preferences. Hence, "my favorite foods" is not a cultural domain, but "things that are edible" is. Another way to put it is that cultural domains are about things "out there" in reality, so that, in principle, questions about the members of a domain have a right answer. Consider, for example, the cultural domain of animals. If asked whether a tiger is an animal, the respondent feels that she is discussing a fact about the world outside, not about herself. In contrast, if she is asked whether "vanilla" is one of her favorite ice cream flavors, the respondent feels that she is revealing something about herself rather than about vanilla ice cream. In this sense, cultural domains are experienced as outside the individual and shared across individuals.
This does not mean that all members of a given population are in complete agreement on which items belong to a given cultural domain. The extent to which a cultural domain is actually shared in any given population is an empirical question.(2) Conversely, simple agreement about a set of items does not imply that the set is a cultural domain. If we ask 1,000 randomly sampled informants in our own culture about their 10 favorite foods and every one of them happens to give the same list, it is still not a cultural domain because personal preferences are not the kind of thing which in principle could be a cultural domain.
Cultural Domains as Systems
Another aspect of cultural domains is that they have internal structure. That is, they are systems of items related by a web of relationships. For example, in the domain of animals, some animals are understood to eat other animals. The relation here is "eats", and every pair of animals can be evaluated to see if the first animal eats the second. Another relation, recognized by biologists at least, is "competes with". One relation of particular importance seems to be common to all cultural domains. This is the relation of similarity. It appears that, for all cultural domains, respondents can readily indicate which pairs of items they consider similar, and which they consider dissimilar. Another relation that seems to apply to most domains is co-occurrence, as in which foods "go with" which others, or which animals live in the same habitats with which others.
Relations among things are a fundamental aspect of how humans think about the world. Lists of "universal" relations have been made by many researchers, including Casagrande and Hale (1967) and Spradley (1979). Spradley's list includes cause-and-effect (X causes Y), inclusion (X is a kind of Y), rationale (X is a reason for doing Y), means-end (X is a way to accomplish Y), sequence (X follows Y) and many others. Most of these, however, are not relations among items in the same domain, but rather relate the items from one domain to the items in another domain. Consequently, we do not consider these kinds of relations here.
Other largely universal relations are semantic relations among the terms used to label items in a cultural domain. These are relations such as synonymy (same meaning) and antonymy (opposite meaning). For example, in the domain of illnesses, there is often more than one term for a given illness (such as a folk name and a medical term). While the line separating relations among terms from relations among the items themselves may be difficult to draw, in principle our interest here is in the relations among the items rather than among the words we use to describe them.
An important class of relations among items is the kind that can be reduced to a single attribute. For example, in the domain of illnesses, some illnesses are seen as "more contagious" than other illnesses. This relation is based on a single property of each illness in the domain, which is how contagious it is. This is different from similarity, which is indivisible. We cannot attach a similarity score to an individual item -- it is always to a pair. Another key attribute in the illness domain is "seriousness", and each pair of illnesses can be evaluated in terms of which is "more serious".
In general, an attribute that makes sense for some items in a cultural domain will make sense for all items. In other words, if "sweetness" is a sensible attribute of fruit, then it is meaningful to ask 'how sweet is ____?' of all fruit in the domain. If the attribute cannot be applied to all items, this is sometimes because not all the items are at the same level of contrast, which in turn means that there exist subdomains. For example, if the domain of "animals" contains the items "squirrel", "ant", and "mammal", informants will be confused if asked whether squirrels are faster than mammals. The real test for items of different levels of contrast, however, is to look at the semantic "is a kind of" relation (Casagrande and Hale, 1967; Spradley, 1979). If any item in a domain is a kind of any other item in the domain (e.g., squirrel is a kind of mammal) then you know that the latter item is actually a cover term (a gloss) for a subdomain.
Even if all the items are of the same level of contrast, however, the inability to apply an attribute to all items is sufficient to suggest that the domain has a hierarchical taxonomic structure and that the attribute belongs to items in one particular class. For example, the attribute "shape of wings" can be applied to some animals, but not to others. This means that the domain of animals contains at least two types -- animals with wings and animals without -- and within the set of those with wings, we can ask what shape the wings are (see Figure 1).
The techniques described in this chapter are used to (a) elicit the items in a cultural domain, (b) elicit the attributes and relations that structure the domain, and (c) measure the position of the items in the domain structure. The techniques, which include freelists, pilesorts and triads, have been incorporated into a commercially available computer program called Anthropac (Borgatti, 1992).
2. Some people use the term "cognitive domain" to refer to domains which are not necessarily shared. For example, a psychologist might make an in-depth study of one person's understanding of nature. Since no other respondents were studied, the psychologist might refer to the person's categories as cognitive domains rather than cultural domains. However, it is important to realize that whether they are shared or not, cognitive domains have all the same properties as cultural domains, including being experienced as outside the individual, as outlined above. In this sense, we can think of cognitive domains as the general category, and cultural domains as a member of that category.