Patterns, in Theory

imagesRuth Benedict was a wonderful Anthropologist and was profoundly influential on how we view cultural patterns. A term that she uses to explain the components of them are “configurations” which is a very digestible term seeing how our smartphones all have settings that are configurations as well. And similarly to how our phones operate with the configurations and algorithms in the background so does Benedict show culture has a tendency to do as well.

Humans are obsessed with patterns, we see them in realms of mathematics with the Fibonacci sequence, we see them in spirituality with sacred geometry, we see patterns in art, music, literature, and plays because that is how the human mind absorbs and expresses certain meanings, emotions and thoughts. There is something soothing about patterns, something perfect and unlike anything else. In this same sense, the way that humans interact and communicate with the world around them is in line with their configurations.

I know from personal experience in my own life that I see these configurations occur, I always nicknamed it the ‘chameleon’ whenever presented with a situation similar to one I have dealt with I will slip into a pre-set mindset and tackle the situation head-on. I am sure that many other people feel the same way, even if they don’t recognize that they do it right away the subconscious will set up people in the mindset that last benefited them in the situation they are currently dealing with. This type of understanding how people operate with pattern and form is a great way to also do a study on things like PTSD or other similar ailments that spawn after a specific traumatic or impactful event has changed the ‘configuration’ for certain situations.


One question that I had going into writing this blog post was about how Benedict perceived the flow of pattern, and its primary influences. In her writing and from what I can gather from Anthropological Theory, there is a certain understanding that “culture takes on the character of the member’s personality structure”. This in a way is the equivalence of the people influencing the pattern and the pattern influencing the people. So to ask this kind of question is to also equate it to the saying, which came first the chicken or the egg?

Dionysus and Apollo are two Greek gods, Dionysus the god of fertility and wine; and Apollo the god of poetry, the sun, and prophecy. The way that the ancient Greek’s celebrated each deity was vastly different. For Dionysus, there were rather festive and very wild displays of human indulgence. Apollo, however, was celebrations were orderly and more about self-control and thought. There are now houses of thought that were coined “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche, a person who Benedict gained some inspiration from while writing her book. The idea that there is a sort of unconscious selection that a culture will go through that exemplifies particular characteristics and configurations and ignore others is one of the primary meaning of “Patterns of Culture”. Benedict also goes into different ways that the choices and trends that are exemplified by the cultures are exactly what helps to weave that cultural configuration. Through this mode of explanation, I came to the conclusion that people are inherently the same but that they differ in expression of the same basic traits and patterns. Which, in its basic understanding is something that I wish more people would realize around the world.




Benedict, Ruth. Pattern of Culture. Mentor Book, 1948.

Moberg, Mark. Engaging Anthropological Theory a Social and Political History. Taylor & Francis, 2017.

5 thoughts on “Patterns, in Theory

  1. I really enjoyed your post, I find your conclusion a great point of recognition. Within our society today there are many “Patterns of Culture” that we see and live through. When I was reading you post all I could think about is they “golden rule” as they say “treat others how you want to be treated”. I find that many people don’t think like that anymore. We all have different points of view and experiences that make us unique but yet somehow our lives are all intertwined.

  2. I think this is a good topic to talk about patterns. I also think that our lives are governed around patterns. When we expect our spouses to be home after work and they don’t arrive on time we get worried. You wrote about the music it helps us by having patterns to learn the music. One way I use a pattern is for guiding my dog. That is the way they learn a route or destination. Patterns are essential in learning and mastering new things.

  3. I completely agree that patterns play such a huge role in almost any discipline and most other situations we go into. I believe that the mention of patterns may be the most important things to look at while studying theory of any kind especially in anthropology. Patterns are the building blocks to theory in general. We must look at a phenomena of some sort and trace or research it’s cause. In anthro theory in particular, the patterns of a culture will reveal the underlying functionalities of differences in cultures.

  4. Patterns are definitely pleasing to the human mind. This concept reminds me of heuristics in psychology. I think there is a familiarity in patterns that makes them comfortable. For ages, uncertainty and change represented danger and I think that aspect has really stuck with us as human beings. It’s interesting that you bring Nietzsche into the equation. I’m curious to know if with Benedict’s recognition of cultural patterns and Nietzsche’s nihilism, is free will a real thing for us in a cultural sense? True agency is a huge debate but when you factor in our love of patterns and repetition, can we act freely with that in mind?

    1. Good question, Ariana! I admit that I am perplexed by the role of Nietzsche in Benedict’s work, but then I don’t know Nietzsche’s work very well. Clearly there’s a lot in it that I’m missing – it’s a huge gap in my theory database. But I love this question of whether there can ever be free will when we love and live by patterns and recognition. How, then, can we explain change? Can change only come about when the conditions of life (the economy, for instance) have changed so much that patterns mean nothing any more? Or is it because pattern-based behavior always has variants and can bring about different results sometimes? It’s a great deep theory question.

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