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More on Culture

Problem with Cultural approaches in definition of culture and in its causality. Culture is like geography, it hangs around for a very long time but has different effects in different periods of time. On the other hand culture changes much more quickly and in that sense it is not like geography. Culture seems to capture the intangible commonality held by a community that is passed on from one generation to another. but it is wrong I believe to think of culture in such a stagnant way. No one generation will have the same culture and no individual will have the same culture either. But then the utility of culture is lost if we take such a narrow view of it. Clearly the concept has some utility because it explains continuity in outcomes beyond changes in institutions and conditions. It also helps explain broad similarities among communities and differences between them that a rational actor approach cannot.

Culture in my view is not immaterial and not intangible, From Bourdieu, culture and all intangibles are based on experience and as long as shared experience exists then shared culture will exist. But what of individuals who experience the same events and react differently? Perhaps the inclusion of socialization and education into the use of the concept of culture could help us overcome this. In any case culture should be defined as ideas that animate action, at an individual and a collective level. Where do these ideas come from? Socialization is one source but if experience is dissonant with teaching then there will be a shift in the ideas. Culture is not thousands of years old maybe one or two generations, but if material conditions are the same can we expect the same culture to emerge. That is do people in similar situations come up with similar ideas with which to act? I would tend to think the answer is yes, particularly after the strong cohesion and similar life outlooks among those in similar socio-economic strata.

The word culture mystifies and its pretty confusing when it is used. At root is material experience, yes there is a puzzle of how it is passed on from one generation to the next but all cultural attributes are rooted in material conditions. I’m thinking particularly of catholic being anti-democracy or lazy or anti-development etc…

An example of ideas without experience can be found in hate of others passed on in society. Nationalism is socialized in families as well but the hatred of other nations is passed on through socialization but not through experience with the enemy. That is maybe 100 years ago the Ottomans conducted massacres in the Levant but why would contemporary inhabitants have anything against them given that they were not massacred themselves? This idea that drives action seems to be founded upon pure transmission and not experience. But transmission is included in the definition of experience we would be using.

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