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An Ethno-architecture Glossary
This is a document in progress. It intends to be a quick reference to important concepts in the discussion of traditional architectures. Some of the definitions here come from the own words of authors who have theorized or reflected on the concepts, and are properly quoted and referenced. The remaining definitions are crude notes, quickly written in order to make this first version of the glossary minimally useful. In most cases the definitions found in this document are not the conventional dictionary ones, but they are critical reinterpretations or re-definitions of common terms or conventional concepts. These re-definitions are very relevant today in the discourse of traditional architectures.
"[R]esisting derogatory descriptions of the people we study has long been an anthropological point of honor. The strange customs of 'the natives,' anthropologists insist, make perfectly good sense in terms of their own culture and circumstances. Our task is to understand the world as they understand it. When we succeed in this task, we find that 'the natives' do 'know what's good for them,' and they act as wisely (and as foolishly) on their knowledge as anyone else does.
Why should it be different in Central New York?"
Dimitra Doukas, Worked Over: The Corporate Sabotage of an American Community. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), p. 4.
"Despite its implicit nominal assertion of generalized human relevance, anthropology throughout most of its history has been primarily a discourse of the culturally or racially despised [and now of the socially despised]."
Stocking, George W. The Ethnographer's Magic. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992, p. 179.
"Anthropological theory is shaped not only by the Western world... but also by the ideologies presented by informants."
"Anthropology, of all disciplines, should not be hampered by schools of thought or by subdivisions."
Nader, Laura. Harmony Ideology: Resistance and Control in a Zapotec Mountain Village. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, p. 10 and xxiii.
"[A]nthropology is pretty much entirely on the side of 'literary' discourses rather than 'scientific' ones. Personal names are attached to books and articles... They are not, with very few exceptions, connected to findings... This does not make us into novelists any more than constructing hypotheses or writing formulas makes us, as some seem to think, into physicists."
Clifford Geertz. Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988, p. 8.
"'Architecture'... doesn't just mean the design of buildings. It refers to something broader and vaguer: a 'field' in which people compete for cultural and social capital. The architecture field includes everything to do with architecture: values, ideologies, specialized skills, jargon, codes of conduct, professional institutions, education, history, books, exhibitions, networks of patronage, prominent personalities, mythical heroes and canonical buildings."
Davies, Colin. The Prefabricated Home. London: Reaktion Books, 2005, p. 7.
The classification in continents we use is rather open, as it divides the globe in five, as opposed to seven or eight continents. It combines a geographic (or geologic) criterion with a geo-political (or cultural) one, continents being understood as those uninterrupted blocks of land as the Americas, Africa and Oceania (Australia and neighboring islands) are. But it divides the remaining block of land which is Eurasia using a more geo-political criterion. However, the limitations of this mixed division are highly compensated with how it simplifies for this particular project the classification of buildings.
Some say that borders in the world are just artificial, convened and this is very evident in how local building types cross frontiers and continue to be manifest in neighboring countries, or even manifest in distant countries (like features of Chinese or Indian or European architecture are present in the United States, for example). However, those "artificial," political borders end up re-shaping after a while local architecture.
A country-based division is the most straightforward way of introducing a database of world architecture. The home page of countries in Ethnoarch features an updated list (as of October 2006) of countries and territories of the world. The list links to descriptions of their local architecture and to a sub-list of the architecture of groups (language groups) belonging to each country.
"Cultural anthropologists study cultural diversity. It was our discovery, a century or so ago, that different peoples do not just act differently, they see the world differently."
Dimitra Doukas, Worked Over: The Corporate Sabotage of an American Community. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), p. 8.
"Human behavior is learned. It is not instinctive (this idea would be the opposite to "biological determinism").
"Cultures... are like the dishes on a table. You just pick up what you like."
The story of such a powerful phrase is told in Gordon Matthews' book, "Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket" (London and New York, Routledge, 2000). That was the response "when a reporter asked members of a motorcycle gang in China why they were obsessed by Harley Davidsons and the American dream of freedom" (p. 1).
"To speak of culture was always contrary to culture. Culture as a common denominator already contains in embryo that schematization and process of cataloging and classification which bring culture within the sphere of administration."
Theodor Adorno and Mark Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 131.
Determinist positions in general hold that nothing can change what has been given.
Ideas unavoidably spread from one culture to another. Franz Boas, as summarized by George Stocking Jr: "cultural 'achievement [is] not so much a function of cumulative reason, preserved in an ever-expanding braincase, as of historical processes of diffusion, borrowing, and reinterpretation" ("The Ethnographer's Magic," 1992, p. 120).
This has nothing to do with "race" but with "culture." Races, the American Anthropological Association says, don't exist. They were a creation of colonialism to justify itself. But cultures exist, and that is what the difference among peoples of the world is about.
Architecture seen from a cultural relativist perspective (a more extended definition is in the works).
"[Ethnography's tradition] makes the familiar strange, the exotic quotidian."
James Clifford in Clifford, James and George E. Marcus. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 2.
"If ethnographies are spatialized interventions in fields of power... then so are they negotiations, often clumsy, of space and place."
Roy, Ananya. City Requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. 189.
"[E]thnographies tend to look at least as much like romances as they do like lab reports."
Geertz, Clifford. Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988, p. 8.
"Ethnographic writings can properly be called fictions in the sense of 'something made or fashioned.'"
James Clifford in Clifford, James and George E. Marcus. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 6.
"Ethnographers are more and more like the Cree hunter who (the story goes) came to Montreal to testify in court concerning the fate of his hunting lands in the new James Bay hydroelectric scheme. He would describe his way of life. But when administered the oath he hesitated: "I'm not sure I can tell the truth... I can only tell what I know."
James Clifford in Clifford, James and George E. Marcus. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 8.
Human beings (have to) evolve, according to natural selection. This was a late nineteenth-century idea that equated human "development" to animal evolution. Today the term is used as an "academic pejorative."
Back in the nineteenth century it was a common norm to classify human "races" in five groups: Caucasian, Mongolian, American, Ethiopian, and Malayan. Anthropologists today state that such race-based worldview was an invention, and that differences between human groups are actually related to learned cultural behavior.
The much-necessary (for classification purposes) division on groups made here at Ethnoarch.com is based on one such cultural aspect, which is language. This web project, accordingly, presents a list of 7,300 or so existing language groups in the world, following the naming and coding classification by the Summer Institute of Linguistics' Ethnologue.
"Our deepest thinkers have concluded that there is no such thing as History—that is, a meaningful order to the broad sweep of human events."
Fukuyama, Francis. The end of history and the last man. New York: Avon Books, 1993, p. 3.
"Home—the very word can reduce my compatriots to tears."
John Steinbeck, "Fact and Fancy," San Francisco Examiner, March 30, 1967. Cited by Rapoport, Amos. House Form And Culture. Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin, 1969, p. 132.
"Next to mother, 'home' is the most sacred word in our language."
On the first report of the SFHA (San Francisco Housing Association), November 1911, p. 6. Cited by Eric Sandweiss in:
Sandweiss, Eric. "Building for Downtown Living: The Residential Architecture of San Francisco's Tenderloin." Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 3 (1989): 691.
"A house is a human fact, and even with the most severe physical constraints and limited technology man has built in ways so diverse that they can be attributed only to choice, which involves cultural values."
Rapoport, Amos. House Form And Culture. Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin, 1969, p. 48.
"Industrialization, we now know, is not a one-shot affair whereby countries are suddenly propelled into economic modernity, but rather a continuously evolving process without a clear end point, where today's modernity quickly becomes tomorrow's antiquity."
Fukuyama, Francis. The end of history and the last man. New York: The Free Press, 1992, p. 91.
The idea of "model" is related to that of "type." Type would be a building structure whose characteristics remain more or less constant, across different models. Model would be one out of many variations or interpretations of the type rules. As a way of example, there are different models of turreted houses, which belong to the same Victorian type.
"Le modèle, entendu dans l'exécution pratique de l'art, est un objet qu'on doit répéter tel qu'il est; le type est, au contraire, un objet d'áprès lequel chacun peut concevoir des ouvrages qui ne se ressembleroient pas entre eux. Tout est précis et donné dans le modèle; tout est plus ou moins vague dans le type."
("The model, as understood in the context of the practical execution of an art, is an object that one must repeat just as it is; the type is, in contrast, an object after which one can conceive works that do not look similar to each other. Everything is precise and complete in the model; everything is more or less vague in the type" [My raw translation. Italics in original text]).
Quatremère de Quincy. Dictionnaire Historique D'Architecture. Tome Second. Paris: Librairie D'Adrien Le Clere et Cie, 1832, p. 629.
"What we today see as 'nature'—whether a lake in the Angeles National Forest or an Adirondack trail—is in many respects as much a result of human artifice as the Empire State Building or the space shuttle."
Fukuyama, Francis. The end of history and the last man. New York: The Free Press, 1992, p. 356.
Ritual and Symbol (difference)
"By ritual I mean prescribed formal behavior for occasions not given over to technological routine, having reference to beliefs in mystical beings or powers. The symbol is the smallest unit of ritual which still retains the specific properties of ritual behavior; it is the ultimate unit of specific structure in a ritual context."
Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967, p. 19.
"A sign is an analogous or abbreviated expression of a known thing."
Carl Jung (1949, 601), cited by:
Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967, p. 26.
Saussure. It is not the use of language (parole), but its underlying system (langue): semiology. Levi-Strauss applies this idea to anthropology.
The term style will not be used as a form of classification here in the site. "Type" will be used instead. Why? Style is often associated to a more superficial aspect, that of the skin of the building or the decoration and other apparent aspects. The word type allows talking more freely about building systems, socio-historical, economic and other aspects. In other words, type sounds more "structural," and less related to just the visual aspect of a building.
"A symbol is an independent force which is itself a product of many opposed forces."
Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967, p. 45.
"A symbol is alive.'"
Carl Jung, quoted by Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967, p. 44.
"[T]he memory of a people."
Viollet-Le-Duc, Eugene. The Habitations of Man in All Ages. Translated by Benjamin Bucknall. London: Simpson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1876, p. vi.
"'[T]radition must not be interpreted simply as the static legacy of the past but rather as a model for the dynamic reinterpretation of the present.'"
AlSayyad, Nezar, ed., The End of Tradition?. London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p. 7.
Quoting N. AlSayyad and J. Bourdier (eds.), Dwellings, Settlements, and Tradition, Lanham, University Press of America, 1989, p. 3.
Different structures that follow a common pattern in one or several elements, including form, decoration, purpose, use of space, structural or building system, etcetera. Examples of three different types would be a Victorian house, a Samoan fale tele and a hip roof type of the Lao countryside.
The term "type," which elicits some discussion in the architectural theory world, is used in a very general context here, simply meaning "any form of architectural classification."
"Le mot type présente moins l'image d'une chose â copier ou à imiter complètement, que l'idée d'un élément qui doit lui-même servir de règle au modèle."
("The word type exhibitis less the image of one thing to be completely copied or imitated, than the idea of an element that must serve itself as the rule for the model" [My raw translation. Italics in original text]).
Quatremère de Quincy. Dictionnaire Historique D'Architecture. Tome Second. Paris: Librairie D'Adrien Le Clere et Cie, 1832, p. 629.
Following Quatremère de Quincy (one of the first theorists in defining type in architecture), "rule" would be the keyword to define the concept type. The type is the rule. Besides, the type is general ("more or less vague," Quatremère says), whereas the model is particular ("precise").
Classically, the name "vernacular" relates to language. "The vernacular was the unself-conscious language of the inner man," says Stephen Greenblatt. Historically speaking, vernacular was the name that Romans gave to the language of subjugated peoples who spoke local languages as opposed to Latin. Using the term's own root, vernacular architecture can be defined as architectural knowledge that is transmitted via oral tradition, rather than through plans or other form of tangible documentation. However, vernacular architecture can also be defined in relation to sustainability issues, and it is done here (short definition) and here (extended definition).
Published: December 3, 2006 . Category: General Info
For academic purposes, please cite this page as:
Arboleda, Gabriel. An Ethno-architecture Glossary [online]. Berkeley, CA: Ethnoarchitecture.com,
3 December 2006 [cited 24 September 2016].
Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.ethnoarchitecture.org/web/articles/article/8108>.