What is culture?

Culture is hard to define and pin point, it means different things to different people
Someone described New Zealand as lacking culture? What did they actually mean by that? Is their idea of culture different to mine? Do the New Zealanders think they lack culture?
The dictionary definition recognises 5 different results:
1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
2. that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.
3. a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.
4. development or improvement of the mind by education or training.
5. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
What is culture for one person is not for another, it varies over time and space.
Digital culture is not only to do with all things technology, but also brings together different perceptions and beliefs of what culture is.
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5 Responses to “What is culture?”

  1. sbayne January 17, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Nice attempt at a thorny question! I really like Hand’s definition of culture as ‘shared symbolic and material resources and relations’ – that seems to just about sum it up for me, though it doesn’t deal with your question about the notion of an entire nation having ‘no culture’. For this, I think it’s important to distinguish between culture as defined by Hand (the shared ‘understandings’ of a society) and culture as defined in the old-fashioned way, in terms of an opposition between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture.

    On this latter type, Matthew Arnold gave the most famous definition in the mid-19th century when he described culture as: ‘the best that has been said and thought in the world’. But this idea has been critiqued and worked over a lot by theorists of popular culture – if you want to investigate more, take a look at John Storey’s edited collection ‘Cultural Theory and Popular Culture’ – bits of it are available on googlebooks: http://tinyurl.com/bdmcobm

  2. cmeckenstock January 17, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    There was a 5 episode radio series on the value of culture on radio 4 just a few weeks ago. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01phm1j

    In the fifth episode, Sir Christopher Frayling, Former Rector of the Royal College of Art and Chair of Arts Council England talk about culture with a big C and that with a small. Culture with a small c is that which is not nature (not inherited). Culture is what my tribe does, hence it may not have a geographical location. Sir Christopher Frayling refers to the high culture as a citadel, the sense of having to protect it, like environmentalists! In fact according to him, culture is a evolving thing. Tiffany Jenkins, sociologist and cultural commentator, on the other hand, believes that the traditional arts or High Culture need to be promoted, as there is more space and funding given to popular culture.

    Each programme is 45 minutes long, worth trying to get to listen to all. Pertinent issues raised including whether culture is evolving or something which is fixed, and indeed if culture can make one to be a better person! So are New Zealanders lacking culture? It all depends if they refer to the High Culture or culture with a small c.

    • Anabel Drought January 23, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      It is a very good point, and who decides which is high culture and which is popular culture and why is one deemed superior to another. I think in terms of New Zealand, they were referring to arts and history the so called high culture. This would have been a rather ignorant assumption of what they considered culture as representing – British / European influenced i.e. their own culture. In New Zealand this is relatively speaking young since it has only influenced the country in the last 200 years and it has it’s own name “Pakeha”. The traditional culture was Maori which has a very distinct cultural references built upon their journey to the islands and this is represented by the crafts and arts of the Maori people.

  3. Anneachieng January 20, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Anabel your article is quite good and especially when New Zealanders are said not to be having a culture,I wonder what they will say about Africans who are believed to be uncultured.But culture we can agree depends on the people involved,people who are practicing it and people who are observing it.Everytime one travels to another country you tend to see something new.Some will be nice and you will compare with what is in your country or other places but the ones who donot like you will automatically say are bad and you twill ry and linked them with their culture.

    • Anabel Drought January 23, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

      I think culture has so many different meanings . I am going to Kenya to visit a school my school has links with – I am very much looking forward to experiencing the very rich African culture.

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