The Culture Conundrum

Hello again, communication enthusiasts!

First things first I want to say that that whole hypothesis I had about how the word “Barbadian” turned into the word “Bajan” was actually sort of correct. Knowledge is such a wonderful thing.

Today though, I want to talk to you guys about something that comes out of our little identity discussion from the last post – culture. I’ve got a bunch of definitions from other people, but by the end of this post, I’ll give you my own viewpoint on this whole conundrum of defining culture.

What they say…

Image result for definition of cultureMatthew Arnold, back in the late 1800’s or so proposed that culture is “the best that is known and thought”. A little presumptuous if you ask me. Why does culture have to be made of the ‘best’ stuff? That sounds like a weird question, but think about it. Who determines what is ‘the best’, and why is it that person or group who specifically determines it? Isn’t culture made up of a lot of things, both bad and good?

Sorry Mr Arnold, this definition is too…exclusive.

In the 1950’s-60’s, Dwight McDonald came along and divided culture into this hierarchy of things – mass culture that’s produced commercially, folk culture that’s produced by the local laypeople, and high culture. To him mass culture falsifies images of what culture really is. He also had this idea that pop culture is a threat to high culture.

Image result for high culture
Photo Credit: Roz Chast at

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t it sound like he’s favouring high culture? It may be just me here guys, but the fact that he places high culture in the top tier and refers to any other culture influence as a “threat” makes me think that this view of culture, too, is exclusive – though at the very least it acknowledges different kinds.

Next, Richard Hoggart came along and practically scolded such myopic views of culture. His thoughts on the matter were that a culture should include the practices of all the people, not just a specific group.

Finally, we’re getting somewhere!

Now, the most comprehensive and all-encompassing definition of culture to my mind is this:

“…culture is a description of a particular way of life, which expresses certain meanings and values not only in art and learning but also in institutions and ordinary behaviour.”
– Raymond Williams, The Analysis of Culture

This definition acknowledges the fact that culture is about meanings generated by people from all walks and at all levels of a society. Sounds pretty much like what we do right?

What I say…

Image result for my opinionThe way of life of a people is their culture. That’s my succinct way of putting it. That includes morals, values, practices, religion, what we eat, how we interact. Everything.

Yep, my opinion of culture is the abridged version of Williams’ but that doesn’t mean it says less. It doesn’t single out anyone, it doesn’t stipulate which things can be called a part of culture and which ones can’t, it doesn’t make a big fuss over what applies to what culture, and it certainly doesn’t make any one sector of a culture more important than the others.

Because that is what culture is – the good, the bad and the potentially-upsetting.

Culture & Communication

Remember we talked about communication as a means of constructing our reality? When we looked at the phenomenological tradition of communication theory, we looked at how it deals with exploring the self and others through dialogue.

Why am I mentioning these things? Because they help me point out something special about the correlation between culture and communication. Culture is a system of meaning, language helps to generate meaning. Communication then is largely responsible for the creation and perpetuation of culture.

An African Griot     Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Cool, huh?

Ever heard of a Griot before? Well in West African tradition, the Griot is the elder in society. He/she is a poet, a spokesperson, and most importantly, a historian. The Griot essentially passes on the wisdom of past generations, and perpetuates culture through communication.

So recap: Culture is the way of life of a people, and is generated and perpetuated through communication. What do you think?

Cyndi, the Analyst





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s