Storytelling, Cultural Transmission and Architecture

Storytelling has a great value among societies as a method of cultural transmission and social learning. I have recently reread an anthropology article entitled Cross-Cultural Comparison of Learning in Human Hunting. The goal of the article was to examine the role of learning on the evolution of human life history patterns including why humans have such a lengthy juvenile period. In particular, researchers studied several different cultures of hunter-gatherers and how young boys learned about hunting. In addition to learning through experience by accompanying adults into the forest to check traps or for simple hunts, the boys are exposed to hunting conversations at a very early age. Conversation expose children to hunting knowledge but stories in particular are valuable. From a very young age, boys will hear stories of past hunts that are laced with knowledge about different types of prey, animal behavior and human-prey interactions. Myths and folktales also add to the knowledge and ideas children gain access to through hearing stories.

Story Time in Bali

Image by paalia via Flickr

What is also interesting is cultural transmission through storytelling. Proverbs, fables and folklore pass on common cultural knowledge that will help people fit into and share in cultural identity. Each culture has a set of stories that nearly every child hears as they grow up. Many of them include lessons about acceptable behaviors and other social rules and constructs.

I also find it fascinating that works of fiction to capture cultural conditions or become indicators of future cultural changes. The Great Gatsby captured the promise and nostalgia of a fading American Dream that diminished at the end of the roaring 20s. Catch-22 outlined the schizophrenia of war and hinted at the looming military-industrial complex. 1984 imagined a level of surveillance and paranoia that is closer to a reality than it was when the book was penned. The military has also taken inspiration from science fiction in developing new technologies for communication and war.

So where does that leave architecture? Could any cultural stories explain architecture and urbanism as we see it today? Further, if a set of architectural folktales were developed and embraced by the culture, would architecture begin to change with the generations? I think that these are interesting question to consider and open many avenues for exploration and experimentation.

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