What is culture?

Posted by: | January 13, 2009 | Comments Off on What is culture?

Over the recent years, my initial perspective of culture has been altered gradually by the many views of it I’ve encountered. Now a days, I believe that culture is simply something so characteristic that you can safely pin point to a certain place (which can be as broad as a region or as specific as a city). Essentially, for me culture is identity.

Keesing’s statements of culture for me had more impact than that of Williams. Williams take on culture as “ordinary” was very interesting and I do agree with the notion that culture is everywhere, however it didn’t have as much as Keesing’s article. I guess mostly because he tackles the notions of the culture through the anthropologist lenses, which is something I’ve been familiarizing for the past year or so. There are two of Keesing’s arguments which I particularly liked; one was on radical alterity and the other one was the notion of culture as composed of small things which are not necessarily “theirs” or “ours”.

What I liked about this radical alterity notion is that I believe we do this a lot. I think that we distinguish ourselves from other cultures, in an attempt to find the uniqueness of our own culture. (Whether these distinctions are “radical” or not, depends on the cultures we are distinguishing). These distinctions of the “otherness” of different cultures can work like a process of elimination which in its final outcome will leave you with characteristics of your own. When in class we tried to highlight aspects of Canadian culture, I particularly named objects which to me were representative of Canadian cultures. My group did not agree with some of the things I named, but as a foreigner these things were characteristic of Canadian culture. Essentially, what Mounties, moose and maple syrup had in common, in my perspective, is that these objects are absent from where I come from and here there are more common. Hence, I related them as part of the Canadian culture.

I believe that it is definitively the small things that make one’s culture so characteristic, even though some of these distinctions were “taken” from a different culture and incorporated into one’s. If you really think about it, the things that identify a particular culture (for example, that of your own country) are small things like places, language and/or music. Whereas the States has McDonald’s, Canada has Tim Horton’s, Panama has Pio Pio. These places have been incorporated as elements that now represent a particular culture. Similarly, Panamanian culture also highlights an example of elements “taken” from a different culture and incorporated into one’s own. Reggae and its genres are characteristic of the Caribbean and during the construction of the canal many Caribbeans were hired and brought with them their culture, including their music. Over time Panamanians started to sing reggae (in Spanish) and essentially, we ended up borrowing this aspect of the Caribbean culture and incorporated it into our own. Today, Spanish reggae is very characteristic of Panama, especially that of the Atlantic provinces.


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