Roots of Culture in the Umwelt

Riin Magnus and Kalevi Kull

in The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195396430
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Roots of Culture in the Umwelt


This chapter begins by introducing the background, basic constituents and principles of the umwelt model and theory developed by the Baltic German biologist Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944) in the first decades of the twentieth century. This is followed by a discussion of the features of the umwelt concept that has provided the impetus for interpretations of human activities and cultural processes. The once biology-bound model has by now found its way into very diverse traditions of thought. We concentrate on four major trends in interpreting cultural phenomena with the help of umwelt theory: (1) the Uexküllian functional circle model of perception and action as a predecessor of models that couple human forms of impression and expression; (2) the mediated versus immediate character of human in contrast with animal worlds; (3) the bridging of natural and cultural phenomena via semiotic processes; (4) the integration of the cognitive and the social interpretations of (human) mind via two facets of umwelt. The chapter includes some hints on the aspects of the umwelt model that could be elaborated further in the analysis of culture.

Keywords: functional circle; impression and expression; modeling systems; semiosphere; uexküll; umwelt

Article.  9586 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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