Is Culture Ordinary?

Posted by: | January 13, 2009 | Comments Off on Is Culture Ordinary?

It is interesting to see the connection between the Williams and Keesing articles in how they incorporate “culture” into broader, accessible processes of experience, understanding, learning, reciprocity and creativity. It seems that both are trying to communicate that no “culture” or society can operate isolated or outside of everything in the world. They do however display some differences in their approach to the concept of culture. Reading these articles it seems so obvious that cultural development and what is considered authentic culture would have to undergo various expressions of evolution, and can be involved in a reciprocal process of information exchange.
Williams, in his discussion clarifies that segments of a society or nation, despite their treatment by society’s members, can not be excluded from that culture or nation if they are present. His article was somewhat problematic to me in how he utilized somewhat general or blanket statements. Things like a “good common culture,” or “the product of a whole people” are phrases that seem to act in somewhat exclusive manners, isolating certain groups or essentialize others. What exactly is a “common culture?” And what are the products of a whole people?” He elaborates on ideas of culture only being thought of in certain ways and is effective in arguing that many different types of people and expressions of their cultural ideas comprise “common culture.”
Williams seems to be making some assumptions about what is desired in a society, and what are desired improvements. Doing so casts him into a somewhat colonial dichotomy of the primitive versus the civilized, for example. He seems to want to see social cohesion, and the acceptance of a common culture. It is problematic to me to see how he would engage and include differing religious beliefs, educational imperatives, marriage practices, and political values in the society the seems to be espousing.
I was encouraged to read his opinions on relevance in education because it seems to directly relate to university life now. The “old boys club” of traditional education relies on, what I think is, an outdated, sometimes irrelevant group of theories and perspectives. Requesting that current education reflect what is relevant seems an obvious choice, however the persistence of certain archaic ways of doing things persists.
Keesing’s article on theories of culture was interesting in how it appropriated post-structuralist/postmodern theories of culture as ideals. Also his discussion of how these theories are still informed by more modernist ideas of alterity and dichotomy fit well with Williams’ presentation of Marcus and Fischer’s idea of a cultural evolution. No group, idea or society can act outside or isolated from other with which it interacts. “Cultural situations are always in flux, and cultures are always in a state of resistance and accommodation to broader processes of influence” (Marcus and Fischer, 1986: 78).
The optimistic, unrealistic side of my psyche gravitates to Keesings request that academic disciplines can learn from each other, and reciprocally interact and influence each other positively. Being able to understand how commodities, power structures, and history affect our understanding of the cultural would mean a better academic world overall.


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