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Culture is….

….everything we are not that tells us what we are

{Well, it wasn’t Bob Dylan}

What is culture?

9 definitions but none as simple as that. Though Edward B. Taylor’s ( a separate 10th. one) :

“the complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”

is pretty satisfying as definitions go. I first saw it in the intro to a compilation of papers by amongst others, Mumford, Lynne White, Aldous Huxley, called Technology and Culture, ed. Melvin Kranzberg and William H. Davenport [Meridian/New American Library, 1972]

Which suddenly reminds me of something along the lines of “If you want to know yourself, examine other people; if you want to know other people….examine yourself” but why exactly I can’t quite say. But it is probably something about ‘reading’ a culture.

Might as well do some quick revision:


Which is a reminder: there are a couple of succinct pages on Braudel’s Civilisation vs. Civilisations in Taming the Tiger: The Struggle to Control Technology by Witold Rybczynski. Oh, alright then, I check: pp. 186-88.

June 6, 2008 Posted by | culture | , | Leave a comment

Si hoc adfixum in obice legere potes, et liberaliter educatus et nimis propinquus ades

The title of this post according to Fun Latin means:

If you can read this bumper sticker, you are both very well educated and much too close.

* Orationem pulchram non habens, scribo ista linea in lingua Latina.

Howard Jacobson in today’s Independent picks up on Children’s Secretary Ed Balls’, “All young people should have the chance to experience top quality culture.”, to wax about his sturdy grammar school education. His complaint being that culture is not an add-on:

Culture in the grammar school was not an appendage to what else was on offer. Culture was continuous with the curriculum. Culture – at least when we weren’t freezing in our shorts on furrowed fields of ice or clambering up wallbars like chimpanzees – was what the school exuded.

The mention of culture brought to mind a definition in the introduction to Technology and Culture: An Anthology, by Melvin Kranzberg and William H. Davenport. Attributed to Edward B. Taylor, and used “in the broad anthropological sense”, it goes:

Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

Since it is a book on technology as part of culture, the authors add:

Technology itself is one of the most distinctive and significant of man’s capabilities, and it is essential that we learn how it developed in order to analyze its relations with the other elements of culture.

Writing an earnest (Grammar School?) sixth form essay or examination question, What is Culture? (the questions tended to be very short in those days… ) would inevitably bring in The Two Cultures – exemplified by Jacobson only mentioning the arts in his encomium to the superior education he got. Closely behind this would be whether elitism was a Good Thing.

The Grammar schools were designed to put the brightest 5-10 percent in touch with the best teachers. Under those circumstances it was possible to give a version of the sort of education provided at the best private schools. One can only guess what went through the minds of the theorists and bureaucrats when landed with a comprehensive system of secondary education. It probably went along the lines of broadening the definition of culture (not unlike the one above) to try to get away from the problem of high-culture being necessarily elitist.

It is strange that though a typical religious education course in a British secondary school will essentially be a sociology of religions, you would be hard pressed to find an AS course in the the history of ideas or the history of science.

* Lacking anything witty to say, instead I offer this tagline in Latin

February 16, 2008 Posted by | culture | , , , | Leave a comment