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What Is Culture? Essay

1789 words - 7 pages

The first definition of ‘culture’ by Oxford’s Dictionary is ‘art, literature, music and other intellectual expressions of a particular society or time’ (“Culture,” Oxford’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English). Anthropologist of culture, Raymond Williams argued that the term ‘culture’ was first used in reference to the cultivation of crops which was later associated in relation to the cultivation of the human mind, hence the expression ‘cultured/cultivated person’. The noun of process thenceforth grew into a noun of configuration in the later 18th century where culture meant ‘the generalisation of the ‘spirit’ which informed the ‘whole way of life’ of a distinct people’ (Williams, 1981) implying a common ‘way of life’ shared between a group of people or community. The plural of culture was first used to clearly differentiate from ‘any singular and unilinear sense of civilization by Herder (1784-1991)’ (Williams, 1981). However, followed by the development of comparative anthropology in the nineteenth century resulted in the construction of the new meaning of culture – ‘to designate a whole at and distinctive way of life’ (Williams, 1981) based on a set and questions emphasized on the ‘lived culture’.
The materialist and the idealist are the two approaches in the study of culture. The materialist approach concerns itself with Marxist and the Frankfurt School’s literary criticisms on culture with an emphasis on class relations and social structure. Contrary to materialism, idealism governs itself in the creation of concepts to adequately explain the current world through ideas through the literary works of Matthew Arnold, F.R. Leavis and Q.D. Leavis, hence the Arnoldian and Leavisism criticisms of culture.
Marxism is a form of historical materialism where it focuses itself on the variable actors of social structure and the chronological order of human relationships based on the literary criticisms of Karl Marx. Marx, as cited in Chris Barker’s Cultural Studies – Theory and Practice, argued that human beings main concern is to produce their means of survival, i.e. food and clothes, through labour consequently creating themselves. He further argued that in the capitalist society, culture equals power as the bourgeoisies – those own the economic means and relations of production, controls the cultural production, the distribution mechanisms of cultural products and the cultural structure of a society – i.e. art, culture and politics. Economic determinism although is not autonomous, is essential to the understanding of culture where the structure and meaning of a specific cultural product is determined by the profit-driven motive and class relations where it examines the cultural trend in terms of their ‘own rules, logics, development and affectivity’ (Barker, 2009: 56). Marx predicted that with the arrival of capitalism, consequently comes the fall of it as the conflict of class will drive the proletariats, the labourers, to overthrow...

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