Making sense of ‘culture’

Posted by: | January 13, 2009 | Comments Off on Making sense of ‘culture’

I found both articles that we read this week both challenging and insightful. The first was confusing for me to follow, but nonetheless, offered an interesting outlook of culture that seemed very relevant to our discussion in class last week. I did find it slightly ironic that his main point was that culture is ordinary and accessible, and that education too should be accessible, however his style of writing was so complex that it seems like it could only be truly digested by a very specific, and well educated sector of society. The second article also made interesting points, but was so infused with jargon and theory that it too was hard to follow at times. It is interesting that while culture is something that is experienced by everyone and infused in both the identity of the individual and of a larger society, it remains a concept that is very difficult to define. These articles attempted to broaden our notions of what culture is. I think that both articles aimed to suggest that culture is not something that exists in a far away, out of reach, elite, or ‘tribal’ sector of society, but rather, as something experienced by everyone all the time. Culture is defined in everyday encounters. This brought me back to the discussion we had in class about the differences between ‘high culture’ and ‘popular culture.’ It made me reflect upon my own culture, American culture, and question: what is more telling of American culture? Fast-food, hip-hop and Hollywood, or fine literature, fine arts, and free jazz? Is it possible that both categories are definitive of culture only in different ways? I think that this relates to the Keesing article in the sense that when we look at different societies in an attempt to better understand their cultures, we have a tendency to ‘other’ them and create binaries and contained categories of what elements of culture we perceive as ‘valid,’ and what elements we overlook altogether. “…this pursuit of the exotic Other is still a persistent theme, and “culture” is a powerful device for its perpetuation” (6). We have a tendency to reduce cultures to a set of artifacts that we consider to be ‘authentic,’ often leaving out the more everyday and ‘ordinary’ elements that also define culture.


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