LAST 201

Posted by: | January 12, 2009 | Comments Off on LAST 201

What is Culture?

Throughout the readings, Williams and Keesing provide insight into the definition of culture and how scholars perceive its function in society. Williams’ title “Culture is Ordinary” reflects his viewpoint of culture as a universal and innate phenomenon. He describes culture as the arts and learning implemented to expresses the beliefs of every human society. Williams suggests that culture serves two distinct functions: 1) the “common purpose” of the society, and 2) the “deep personal meaning” of the individuals. He criticizes “teashop culture” as well as those who utilize esoteric argot in describing culture to illustrate his belief that all individuals create and share this structure, not merely the well-educated. Williams additionally examines Marxist cultural theory, which states “culture must be finally interpreted in relations to its underlying system of production.” He denounces the Marxist notion “we live in a dying culture and the masses are ignorant,” and likens this reference of the masses to cultural othering. However, Williams does find merit in three aspects of Marxist cultural theory: 1) the relationship between culture and production, 2) the observation of restricted education, and 3) a different system of production would serve as a cultural directive. He condones Leavis’ theory that industrialization has tainted, or cheapened, British culture, and suggests that education is the only method of retaining classic art and literature. Finally, Williams opposes the theory that the decline of culture in the industrial era resembles “a kind of Gresham’s law,” enumerating examples of how “bad culture” does not replace “good culture” in any definitive correlation.
In “Theories of Culture Revisited,” Keesing focuses on radical alterity, defined as “a culturally constructed Other radically different from Us.” He describes some classic binaries associated with othering, including “civilized verses primitive,” “rational verses irrational,” and “Occident verses Orient.” Keesing criticizes common anthropological approaches to culture, accusing them of essentialism and reification. He means scholars typically study and describe culture in a manner that portrays this elusive concept as concrete and tangible. Keesing elaborates on how the reification of culture results in its becoming a commodity with potential for appropriation, thus, further allowing for othering.


Comments are closed.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind

Spam prevention powered by Akismet