We’ve been discussing various definitions or ways of thinking about culture, and by now I hope everyone has plugged into the idea that culture isn’t fixed, that it is something we do, something we make, something we negotiate with — that it is a process. Below I’ve provided several (very) different was of thinking about culture. For this mental exercise, you choose which one you like best, then elaborate with a paragraph or two on why you like that particular quote. Here are the nominees:
- “Culture — the lifeblood of a people, the flow of moral energy that holds society intact.” –Gottfried Herder, who coined the term, in German (kultur), in the mid-1700s.
- “Cultures are maps of meaning through which the world is made.” — Peter Jackson, film director
- “Culture is everything you don’t have to do. Cuisine is culture, but eating is not; fashion is culture, but clothing is not.” — Brian Eno, musician and artist
- “Culture is a process — fluid, interactive, communal, ongoing and always negotiated.” — Brian Carroll, Berry dude
- “Culture is what we do with the contradictions in our lives.” — Carol Greenhouse, anthropologist, professor
- ” ‘Culture’ names a rather amorphous entity. Human beings produce culture in the same sense that they produce carbon dioxide: they can’t help it, but the stuff has absolutely no value in itself. It’s just there. It is one thing to attribute a group’s characteristics to its culture; it is another thing to elevate that culture into a discrete set of traditions and practices in which the members of the group can take pride simply because they are, willy-nilly, theirs. Culture is only a response to the conditions of life; when those conditions change — and in modern societies they change continuously — culture changes as well.” — Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club
- “There are at least two ways of using the word ‘culture.’ The evaluative use has been more common when we are thinking about ‘the arts’ and ‘literature’: to be ‘cultured’ is to be the possessor of superior values and a refined sensibility, both of which are manifested through a positive and fulfilling engagement with ‘good’ literature, art, music and so on. The analytic one is used in the social sciences and especially anthropology: it seeks to describe the whole system of significations by which a society or a section of it understands itself and its relations with the world.” — Cairns & Richardson, Writing Ireland
What do you think? What is culture? What is it to you? What is it not? Post your response to these questions by 9 a.m. Friday (Jan. 22).