"Culture": Definitions, Histories, and Discussions

I.     a.  About a quarter century ago, at the beginning of his The Invention of Culture, Roy Wagner wrote:

...the concept of culture has come to be so completely associated with anthropological thinking that if we should ever want to, we could define an anthropologist as someone who uses the word "culture" habitually. Or else, since the process of coming to depend on this concept is generally something of a "conversion experience", we might want to amend this somewhat and say that an anthropologist is someone who uses the word "culture" with hope -- or even with faith.

    Partly as a result of the work of symbolic anthropologists like Wagner, stimulated in turn by the challenges of Levi-Strauss, the last thirty years has been characterised by unremitting critique, defense, and reformulation of the culture concept. Although I suspect that the anthropology of 2003 is still held together by the concept of culture, the concept is, I think, less "habitually" used in the field. The idea's simply not as easy to use as it once was. The reasons for that are complex, but a few of them are referred to in later quotes below.

b.    Another quarter century before Wagner, the eminent American anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn collaborated on an extensive examination of the history and range of usages of anthropology's key term (1952 Culture: a Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions). The following quotations omit their footnotes.  Toward the end of their account, they give this judgment:

   Again avoiding a new formal definition, we may say... that this central idea is now formulated by most social scientists
approximately as follows:

            Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action.
    The main respects in which, we suspect, this formula will be modified and enlarged in the future are as regards (1) the
interrelations of cultural forms: and (2) variability and the individual.

c.    A couple of pages earlier, they had begun their conclusion with "A Final Review of the Conceptual Problem", thus:

    Anthropologists, like biologists somewhat earlier, were presented with a great array of structures and forms to describe.
As the concept of culture was explained, more and more things came to be described as their possible significance was grasped. The overwhelming bulk of published cultural anthropology consists in description. Slowly, this harvest of a rich diversity of examples has been conceptualized in a more refined manner. Starting with the premise that these descriptive materials were all relevant to a broad and previously neglected realm of phenomena, the concept of culture has been developed not so much through the introduction of strictly new ideas but through creating a new configuration of familiar notions: custom-tradition-organization-etc. In divorcing customs from the individuals who carried them out and in making customs the focus of their attention, anthropologists took an important step -- a step that is perhaps still underestimated. When a time backbone was added to the notion of group variability in ways of doing things, not only group differences, but the notion of
the historical derivation and development of these differences entered the picture. When the concept of "way" was made part of the configuration, this conceptualized the fact that not only discrete customs but also organized bodies of custom persisted and changed in time.

d.    In 1945, Kluckhohn and W.H. Kelly, based on an earlier review of usage,  had given this influential version:

By culture we mean all those historically created designs for living, explicit and implicit, rational, irrational, and nonrational, which exist at any given time as potential guides for the behavior of men.

II. This passage is from Roy Wagner's brilliant (& often difficult) book The Invention of Culture (1975). Later on, you'll be reading the chapter from which this comes. As you just saw, "culture" was already associated with "symbols" by the 1950's. Words are the most important examples of arbitrary "symbols", and the changes in usage and meaning which a word (or other symbol) undergoes over the generations usually occur by a process of metaphorical extension which expresses a certain logic, a particular culture's way of making sense of things by drawing connections among them. Thus, as in this example, a word used in farming may be extended to the very different domain of human behaviour. Notice that the ambiguity of a word's meaning may be a source of its vitality, its power for us,  rather than being a drawback. That's lucky for those who use "culture", since it's a mass of ambiguity.

    Our word "culture" derives in a very roundabout way from the past participle of the Latin verb colere, "to cultivate", and draws some of its meaning from this association with the tilling of the soil. This also seems to have been the major significance of the medieval French and English forms from which our present usage derives (for instance cultura meant "a plowed field" in Middle English). In later times "culture" took on a more specific sense, indicating a process of progressive refinement and breeding in the domestication of some particular crop, or even the result or increment of such a process. Thus we speak of agriculture, apiculture, the "culture of the vine", or of a bacterial culture.
    The contemporary "opera-house" sense of the word arises from an elaborate metaphor, which draws upon the terminology of crop breeding and improvement to create an image of man's control, refinement, and "domestication" of himself. So, in the drawing rooms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one spoke of a "cultivated" person as someone who "had culture",
who had developed his interests and accomplishments along approved lines, training and "breeding" the personality as a natural
strain might be "cultured."
    The anthropological usage of "culture" constitutes a further metaphorization, if not a democratization, of this essentially elitist
and aristocratic sense. It amounts to an abstract extension of the notion of human refinement and domestication from the individual to the collective, so that we can speak of culture as man's general control, refinement, and improvement of himself,
rather than one man's conspicuousness in this respect. Applied in this way, the word also carries strong connotations of  Locke's and Rousseau's conception of the "social contract", of the tempering of man's "natural" instincts and desires by an
arbitrary imposition of will. The nineteenth-century concept of "evolution" added a historical dimension to this notion of man's
breeding and tempering of himself, resulting in the optimistic concept of "progress."
    Regardless of its more specific associations, however, our modern term "culture" retains the several associations, and hence
the creative ambiguity, introduced by these metaphorizations. The confusion of "culture" in the "opera-house" sense with the
more general anthropological sense actually amounts to a continuous derivation of one significance from the other. It is in the
area of this ambiguity, with its contrasting implications, that we might expect to find a clue to what we most often intend in our
use of the term.
    When we speak of "cultural centers", or even the "culture" of the city of Chicago, we mean a certain kind of institution. We
do not mean steel mills, airports, grocery stores, or service stations, although these would be included in the more catholic
anthropological definition. The "cultural institutions" of a city are its museums, libraries, symphony orchestras, universities, and
perhaps its parks and zoos. It is in these specialized sanctuaries, set apart from everyday life by special regulations, endowed
by special funds, and guarded by highly qualified personnel, that the documents, records, relics, and embodiments of man's
greatest achievements are kept, and "art" or "culture" is kept alive....
    The connection between this "institutional" Culture and the more universal concept of the anthropologist is not immediately
apparent, though it is in fact only thinly disguised by the facades of libraries, museums, and opera houses. For the very core of
our own culture, in the accepted image, is its science, art, and technology, the sum total of achievements, inventions, and
discoveries that define our idea of "civilization". These achievements are preserved (in institutions), taught (in other institutions), and added to (in research institutions) in a cumulative process of refinement. We preserve a vast panoply of ideas, facts, relics, secrets, techniques, applications, formulas, and documents as our "culture", the sum of our ways of doing things, and the sum of "knowledge" as we know it....
    The productiveness or creativity of our culture is defined by the application, manipulation, reenactment, or extension of these
techniques and discoveries. Work of any kind, whether innovative or simply what we call "productive", achieves its meaning in
relation to this cultural sum, which forms its meaningful context....
    ...This productivity, the application and implementation of man's refinement of himself, provides the central focus of our
civilization. This explains the high valuation placed upon "Culture" in the narrow, marked, opera-house sense, for it represents
the creative increment, the productivity that creates work and knowledge by providing its ideas, techniques, and discoveries,
and that ultimately shapes cultural value itself. We experience the relation between the two senses of "culture" in the meanings
of our everyday life and work: "Culture" in the more restricted sense stands as a historical and normative precedent for
culture as a whole; it embodies an ideal of human refinement.
      {Notice that, as another artifact of our hierarchical society, there is an analogous distinction between an "opera-house" and a "democratised" sense of the word "society": "high society", which points to a distinction between those in it and those not in it, v.s. for example "Canadian society", which includes everyone regardless of status or life-style.}

III.  This is from the introduction to Raymond Williams' indispensible 1976 Keywords:A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. In that book, he refers to "culture" as "one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language." Here, I excerpt from his story about the way in which World War II's interruption of his university career led to a fascinaton with language change as a signal of larger changes in the sociocultural context. Initially, that work led to his publication of a consideration of modern English literature called Culture and Society, which itself became a classic, and one of the foundational works in what the 1980's would come to call "cultural studies."

    In 1945, after the ending of the wars with Germany and Japan, I was released from the Army to return to Cambridge. University. The term had already begun, and many relationships and groups had been formed. It was in any case strange to travel from an artillery regiment on the Kiel Canal to a Cambridge college. I had been away only four and a half years, but in the movements of war had lost touch with all my university friends. Then, after many strange days, I met a man I had worked with in the first year of the war, when the formations of the 1930's, though under pressure, were still active. He too had just come out of the Army. We talked eagerly, but not about the past. We were too much preoccupied with this new and strange world around us. Then we both said, in effect simultaneously: "the fact is, they just don't speak the same language."
    It is a common phrase. It is often used between parents and children. I had used it myself, just six years earlier, when I had come to Cambridge from a working class family in Wales. In many of the fields in which language is used it is of course not true. Within our common language, in a particular country, we can be conscious of social differences, or of differences of age, but in the main we use the same words for most everyday things and activities, though with obvious variations of rhythm and accent and tone. Some of the variable words, say lunch and supper and dinner, may be highlighted but the differences are not particularly important. When we come to say "we just don't speak the same language" we mean something more general: that we have different immediate values or different kinds of valuation, or that we are aware, often tangibly, of different formations and distributions of energy and interest.... What is really happening through these critical encounters, which may be very conscious or may be felt only as a certain strangeness and unease, is a process quite central in the development of a language when, in certain words, tones and rhythms, meanings are offered, felt for, tested, confirmed, asserted, qualified, changed. In some situations this is a very slow process indeed.... In other situations the process can be rapid, especially in certain key areas. In a large and active university, and in a period of change as important as a war, the process can seem unusually rapid and conscious.
    Yet it had been, we both said, only four or five years. Could it really have changed so much? Searching for examples we found that some general attitudes in politics and religion had altered, and agreed that these were important changes. But I found myself preoccupied by a single word, culture, which it seemed I was hearing very much more often: not only, obviously,  by comparison with the talk of an artillery regiment or of my own family, but by direct comparison within the university over just those few years. I had heard it previously in two senses: one at the fringes, in teashops and places like that, where it seemed the preferred word for a kind of social superiority, not in ideas or learning, and not only in money or position, but in a more intangible area, relating to behaviour; yet also, secondly, among my own friends, where it was an active word for writing poems and novels, making films and paintings, working in theatres. What I was now hearing were two different senses, which I could not really get clear: first, in the study of literature, a use of the word to indicate, powerfully but not explicitly, some central formation of values (and literature itself had the same kind of emphasis); secondly, a particular way of life - "American culture", "Japanese culture."
    [It is tempting to imagine that Kroeber and Kluckhohn were moved by similar shifts in North American usage to undertake the investigation they published in 1952.]

IV.  From Raymond Williams' Culture (1981, Fontana), pp. 10-12. This is, in a way, a statement of the background for "cultural studies", which tends to be involved in the study of all popular "signifying practices", from political speech to fashion and the movies.

    Both the problem and the interest of the sociology of culture can be seen at once in the difficulty of its apparently defining
term: "culture".... Beginning as a noun of process -- the culture (cultivation) of crops or (rearing and breeding) of animals, and by extension the culture (active cultivation) of the human mind -- it became in the late eighteenth century, especially in German and English, a noun of configuration or generalization of the "spirit" which informed the "whole way of life" of a distinct people. Herder (1784-91) first used the significant plural, "cultures", in deliberate distinction from any singular or, as we would now say, unilinear sense of "civilization". The broad pluralist term was then especially important in the nineteenth- century development of comparative anthropology, where it has continued to designate a whole and distinctive way of life.
    But there are then fundamental questions about the nature of the formative or determining elements which produce these
distinctive cultures. Alternative answers to these questions have produced a range of effective meanings, both within anthropology and in extension from it: from the older emphasis on an "informing spirit" -- ideal or religious or national -- to more modern emphasis on a "lived culture" which has been primarily determined by other and now differently designated social processes -- usually particular kinds of political or economic order. In the alternative and contending intellectual traditions which have flowed from this range of answers, "culture" itself then ranges from a significantly total to a confidently partial dimension of reference.
    Meanwhile, in more general usage, there was a strong development of the sense of "culture" as the active cultivation of the mind. We can distinguish a range of meanings from (i) a developed state of mind --as in "a person of culture", "a cultured
person" to (ii) the processes of this development -- as in "cultural interests", "cultural activities" to (iii) the means of these processes -- as in culture as "the arts" and "humane intellectual works". In our own time (iii) is the most common general meaning, though all are current. It coexists, often uneasily, with the anthropological and extended sociological use to indicate the "whole way of life" of a distinct people or other social group. The difficulty of the term is then obvious, but can be most usefully seen as the result of earlier kinds of convergence of interests. We can distinguish two main kinds: (a) an emphasis on the "informing spirit" of a whole way of life, which is manifest over the whole range of social activities but is most evident in
"specifically cultural" activities -- a language, styles of art, kinds of intellectual work; and (b) an emphasis on "a whole social
order" within which a specifiable culture, in styles of art and kinds of intellectual work, is seen as the direct or indirect
product of an order primarily constituted by other social activities.
    These positions are often classified as (a) idealist and (b) materialist, though it should be noted that in (b) materialist
explanation is commonly reserved to the other, "primary", activities, leaving "culture" to a version of the "informing spirit", of course now differently based and not primary but secondary. Yet the importance of each position, by contrast with other forms of thought, is that it leads, necessarily, to intensive study of the relations between "cultural" activities and other forms of social life. Each position implies a broad method: in (a) illustration and clarification of the "informing spirit", as in national histories of styles of art and kinds of intellectual work which manifest, in relation to other institutions and activities, the central interests and values of a "people"; in (b) exploration from the known or discoverable character of a general social order to the specific forms taken by its cultural manifestations.
    ...[I]n contemporary work, while each of [these] positions is still held and practiced, a new kind of convergence is becoming
    This has many elements in common with (b), in its emphasis on a whole social order, but it differs from it in its insistence that
"cultural practice" and "cultural production" ... are not simply derived from an otherwise constituted social order but are themselves major elements in its constitution. It then shares some elements with (a), in its emphasis on cultural practices as (though now among others) constitutive. But instead of the "informing spirit" which was held to constitute all other activities, it sees culture as the signifying system through which necessarily (though among other means) a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced and explored.
    Thus there is some practical convergence between (i) the anthropological and sociological senses of culture as a distinct
"whole way of life", within which, now, a distinctive "signifying system" is seen not only as essential but as essentially involved
in all forms of social activity, and (ii) the more specialized if also more common sense of culture as "artistic and intellectual
activities", though these, because of the emphasis on a general signifying system, are now much more broadly defined, to include not only the traditional arts and forms of intellectual production but also all the "signifying practices" -- from language through the arts and philosophy to journalism, fashion and advertising -- which now constitute this complex and necessarily extended field.

V.  This is a short excerpt from Clifford Geertz's 1966 paper "The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of  Man", which was reprinted in his influential collection The Interpretation of Cultures.  It neatly sets a mid-20th century view of culture in opposition to the typical Enlightenment view that the superficial diversity of culture masks an underlying - and readily discovered - universal uniformity: the homogeniety of humanity (based, for most enlightenment writers, on a universal rationality). It was, among other things, this view which was rejected by the early 19th century "romantic" movement.

   Whitehead once offered to the natural sciences the maxim "Seek simplicity and distrust it"; to the social sciences he might well have offered "Seek complexity and order it."
   Certainly the study of culture has developed as though this maxim were being followed. The rise of a scientific concept of culture amounted to, or at least was connected with, the overthrow of the view of human nature dominant in the Enlightenment -- a view that, whatever else may be said for or against it, was both clear and simple -- and its replacement by a view not only more complicated but enormously less clear.  The attempt to clarify it, to reconstruct an intelligible account of what man is, has underlain scientific thinking about culture ever since. Having sought complexity and, on a scale grander than they ever imagined, found it, anthropologists became entangled in a tortuous effort to order it. And the end is not yet in sight.
   The Enlightenment view of man was, of course, that he was wholly of a piece with nature and shared in the general uniformity of composition which natural science, under Bacon's urging and Newton's guidance, had discovered there. There is, in brief, a human nature as regularly organized, as thoroughly invariant, and as marvelously simple as Newton's universe. Perhaps some of its laws are different, but there are laws; perhaps some of its immutability is obscured by the trappings of local fashion, but it is immutable.
   A quotation that Lovejoy... gives from an Enlightenment historian, Mascou, presents the position with the useful bluntness one often finds in a minor writer:

The stage setting (in different times and places) is, indeed, altered, the actors change their garb and their appearance; but their inward motions arise from the same desires and passions of men, and produce their effects in the vicissitudes of kingdoms and peoples.
   Now, this view is hardly one to be despised; nor, despite my easy references a moment ago to "overthrow," can it be said to have disappeared from contemporary anthropological thought. The notion that men are men under whatever guise and against whatever backdrop has not been replaced by "other mores, other beasts."
   Yet, cast as it was, the Enlightenment concept of the nature of human nature had some much less acceptable implications, the main one being that, to quote Lovejoy himself this time, "anything of which the intelligibility, verifiability, or actual affirmation is limited to men of a special age, race, temperment, tradition or condition is (in and of itself) without truth or value, or at all events without importance to a reasonable man." The great, vast variety of differences among men, in beliefs and values, in customs and institutions, both over time and from place to place, is essentially without significance in defining his nature.  It consists of mere accretions, distortions even, overlaying and obscuring what is truly human -- the constant, the general, the universal -- in man.
   Thus, in a passage now notorious, Dr. Johnson saw Shakespeare's genius to lie in the fact that "his characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can operate upon but small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions."  And Racine regarded the success of his plays on classical themes as proof that "the taste of Paris...conforms to that of Athens: my spectators have been moved by the same things which, in other times, brought tears to the eyes of the most cultivated classes of Greece."
   The trouble with this kind of view, aside from the fact that it sounds comic coming from someone as profoundly English as Johnson or as French as Racine, is that the image of a constant human nature independent of time, place, and circumstances, of studies and professions, transient fashions and temporary opinions, may be an illusion, that what man is may be so entangled with where he is, who he is, and what he believes that it is inseparable from them.  It is precisely the consideration of such a possibility that led to the rise of the concept of culture and the decline of the uniformitarian view of man.  Whatever else modern anthropology asserts -- and it seems to have asserted almost everything at one time or another -- it is firm in the conviction that men unmodified by the customs of particular places do not in fact exist, have never existed, and most important, could not in the very nature of the case exist.  There is, there can be, no backstage were we can go to catch a glimpse of Mascou's actors as "real persons" lounging about in street clothes, disengaged from their profession, displaying with artless candor their spontaneous desires and unprompted passions. They may change their roles, their styles of acting, even the dramas in which they play; but -- as Shakespeare himself of course remarked -- they are always performing.
   This circumstance makes the drawing of a line between what is natural, universal, and constant in man and what is conventional, local, and variable extraordinarily difficult. In fact, it suggests that to draw such a line is to falsify the human situation, or at least to misrender it seriously.  ...[A]nthropology has attempted to find its way to a more viable concept of man, one in which culture, and the variability of culture, would be taken into account rather than written off as caprice and prejudice, and yet, at the same time, one in which the governing principle of the field, "the basic unity of mankind," would not be turned into an empty phrase.  To take the giant step away from a uniformitarian view of human nature is, so far as the study of man is concerned, to leave the Garden.  To entertain the idea that the diversity of custom across time and over space is not a mere matter of garb and appearance, of stage settings and comedic masques, is to entertain also the idea that humanity is as various in its essence as it is in its expression.  And with that reflection some well-fastened philosophical moorings are loosed and an uneasy drifting into perilous waters begins.

VI.  Without doubt, the work of Clifford Geertz influenced the anthropological concept of culture deeply -- most especially in North America -- and continues to do so. In a series of essays, both theoretical and ethnographic, published during the 1960's, he very greatly clarified the ideas that cultures are transmitted "symbolically" and that they are, in fact, "systems of symbols". His ethnographic work tried to show how a culture so conceived could be studied, and this was a very important move, because so many people were (and are) frightened by the idea of a "symbol", which they think of as vague and obscure, referring to phenomena in the minds of people, things which aren't observable, can't be studied scientifically, and are best left to art historians and suspect literary critics. At the same time that Geertz was mounting his argument for a symbolic approach, the works of Claude Levi-Strauss were being translated into English. His also was an analysis of a "system of symbols", but one which many North American anthropologists found most uncongenial: in fact, many readers of Levi-Strauss found his arguments slippery at best, unintelligible at worst, and almost mystical in their unexpected twists and turns. While Levi-Strauss's approach extended out of structural linguistics and qualitative mathematics, Geertz's take on culture comes directly out of the Americanist tradition of the Boasians, with its stress on the notions that culture is learned (not inherited) and shared, and that cultural differences can be observed in all the diverse kinds of things and actions which make up human lives. One of Geertz's most important contributions is to show that "symbols" are not just mental things, but are what you can see and hear people pass back and forth: they are observable (he credits this idea to Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind). Most of his important early papers are collected in The Interpretation of Cultures. The following passage is again from his "The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man", and we begin where he is seeking anthropology's side of an integration of "different types of theories and concepts" which might help in cross-disciplinary conversation. Geertz proposes two ideas:

    ...The first of these is that culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns -- customs, usages, traditions, habit clusters -- as has, by and large, been the case up to now, but as a set of control mechanisms -- plans, recipes, rules, instructions (what computer engineers call "programs") -- for the governing of behavior. The second idea is that man is precisely the animal most desperately dependent upon such extragenetic, outside-the-skin control mechanisms, such cultural programs, for ordering his behavior.
    Neither of these ideas is entirely new, but a number of recent developments, both within anthropology and in other sciences (cybernetics, information theory, neurology, molecular genetics) have made them susceptible of more precise statement as well as lending them a degree of empirical support they did not previously have. And out of such reformulations of the concept of culture and of the role of culture in human life comes, in turn, a definition of man stressing not so much the empirical commonalities in his behavior, from place to place and time to time, but rather the mechanisms by whose agency the breadth and indeterminateness of his inherent capacities are reduced to the narrowness and specificity of his actual accomplishments. One of the most significant facts about us may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived only one.
    The "control mechanism" view of culture begins with the assumption that human thought is basically both social and public -- that its natural habitat is the house yard, the marketplace, and the town square. Thinking consists not of "happenings in the head" (though happenings there and elsewhere are necessary for it to occur) but of a traffic in what have been called, by G.H. Mead and others, significant symbols -- words for the most part but also gestures, drawings, musical sounds, mechanical devices like clocks, or natural objects like jewels -- anything, in fact, that is disengaged from its mere actuality and used to impose meaning upon experience. From the point of view of any particular individual, such symbols are largely given. He finds them already current in the community when he is born,and they remain, with some additions, subtractions, and partial alterations he may or may not have had a hand in, in circulation after he dies. While he lives he uses them, or some of them., sometimes deliberately and with care, most often spontaneously and with ease, but always with the same end in view: to put a construction upon the events through which he lives, to orient himself within "the ongoing course of experienced things", to adopt a vivid phrase of John Dewey's.
    Man is so in need of such symbolic sources of illumination to find his bearings in the world because the nonsymbolic sort that are constitutionally ingrained in his body cast so diffused a light. The behavior patterns of lower animals are, at least to a much greater extent, given to them with their physical structure; genetic sources of information order their actions within much narrower ranges of variation, the narrower and more thoroughgoing the lower the animal. For man what are innately given are extremely general response capacities, which, although they make possible far greater plasticity, complexity, and, on the scattered occasions when everything works as it should, effectiveness of behavior, leave it much less precisely regulated. This, then, is the second face of  our argument: Undirected by culture patterns -- organized systems of significant symbols -- man's behavior would be virtually ungovernable, a mere chaos of pointless acts and exploding emotions, his experience virtually shapeless. Culture, the accumulated totality of such patterns, is not just an ornament of human existence but -- the principal basis of its specificity -- an essential condition for it.

VII.  Geertz's works -- and his idea of culture -- have also been the most widely-read and influential anthropological pieces outside of the discipline itself (since Levi-Strauss's impact, at least). During the 1980's and 90's, while Geertz was subjected to increasing criticism within his own field (recall Jonathan Spencer's fierce critique), his influence outside of it expanded very significantly: his works were more and more widely quoted and were reprinted in anthologies intended for use in courses in history, several of the arts, and critical theory. In some literary theory this effect is particularly clear, and here I quote from a paper by the eminent critic Stephen Greenblatt (author of 1980's Renaissance Self-fashioning: From More to Shakespeare). This is from "Culture", his contribution to Critical Terms for Literary Study (1990, ed. by Frank Lentricchia & Thos. McLaughlin). I've pulled passages from several different pages, leaving out far more than I've included: his own piece is not so choppy.

    The term "culture" has not always been used in literary studies, and indeed the very concept denoted by the term is fairly recent....
    How can we get the concept of culture to do more work for us? We might begin by reflecting on the fact that the concept gestures toward what appear to be opposite things: constraint and mobility. The ensemble of beliefs and practices that form a given culture function as a pervasive technology of control, a set of limits within which social behavior must be contained, a repertoire of models to which individuals must conform. The limits need not be narrow....
    Art is an important agent then in the transmission of culture. It is one of the ways in which the roles by which men and women are expected to pattern their lives are communicated and passed from generation to generation....
    ...We return to the paradox with which we started: if culture functions as a structure of limits, it also functions as the regulator and guarantor of movement. Indeed the limits are virtually meaningless without movement; it is only through improvisation, experiment, and exchange that cultural boundaries can be established....
    What is set up, under wildly varying circumstances and with radically divergent consequences, is a structure of improvisation, a set of patterns that have enough elasticity, enough scope for variation, to accomodate most of the participants in a given culture....
    ...[Novels, for example] do not merely passively reflect the prevailing ratio of mobility and constraint; they help to shape, articulate, and reproduce it through their own improvisatory intelligence. This means that, despite our own romantic cult of  originality, most artists are themselves gifted creators of variations upon received themes. Even those great writers whom we regard with special awe, and whom we celebrate for their refusal to parrot the cliches of their culture, tend to be particularly brilliant improvisors rather than absolute violators or pure inventors....
    ...[Cultural mobility] is not the expression of random motion but of exchange. A culture is a particular network of negotiations for the exchange of material goods, ideas, and -- through institutions like enslavement, adoption, or marriage -- people. Anthropologists are centrally concerned with a culture's kinship system -- its conception of family relationships, its prohibitions of certain couplings, its marriage rules -- and with its narratives -- its myths, folktales, and sacred stories. The two concerns are linked, for a culture's narratives, like its kinship arrangements, are crucial indices of the prevailing codes governing human mobility and constraint. Great writers are precisely masters of these codes, specialists in cultural exchange. The works they create are structures for the accumulation, transformation, representation, and communication of social energies and practices.

VIII.    An excerpt from the editors' "Introduction" to their 1994 reader Culture/Power/History (Nicholas B. Dirks, Goeff Eley, & Sherry B. Ortner, eds.), pp. 3-4. [references deleted]

    Culture. The notion of culture has recently been undergoing some of the most radical rethinking since the early 1960's. Within anthropology, where culture was in effect the key symbol of the field, the concept has come under challenge precisely because of new understandings regarding power and history. Thus, for example, one of the core dimensions of the concept of culture has been the notion that culture is "shared" by all members of a given society. But as anthropologists have begun to study more complex societies, in which divisions of class, race, and ethnicity are fundamentally constitutive, it has become clear that if we speak of culture as shared, we must now always ask "By whom"? and "In what ways?" and "Under what conditions?"
    This shift has been manifested in several very visible ways. At the level of theory, the concept of culture is being expanded by Foucaldian notions of discourse, and Gramscian notions of hegemony (on the latter point, the works of Raymond Williams have been particularly influential). Both concepts emphasize the degree to which culture is grounded in unequal relations and is differentially related to people and groups in different social positions. Connected to this point, at the level of empirical work,
there has been an explosion of studies, both contemporary and historical, on the cultural worlds of different classes, ethnic
groups, racial groups, and so on and the ways in which these cultural worlds interact.
    Another core aspect of the concept of culture has been the notion of culture's extraordinary durability. The cultures of
"traditional societies" were thought to have changed extraordinarily slowly, if at all. The virtual absence of historical investigation in anthropology, until recently, has meant that cultural systems have, indeed, appeared timeless, at least until ruptured by "culture contact." But as anthropologists have begun to adopt, at least partially, a historical perspective, the durability of culture has dissolved. In many cases, timeless traditions turn out to have been "invented", and not very long ago at that. In other cases, the long-term configurations have, indeed, been very stable, but we now realize that this is a peculiar state of affairs, requiring very sharp questioning and investigation.
    Finally, a central aspect of the concept of culture has been the claim of relative coherence and internal consistency -- a
"system of symbols", a "structure of relations." But an intriguing line of discussion in contemporary critical theory has now posed a major alternative view: culture as multiple discourses, occasionally coming together in large systemic configuration, but
more often coexisting within dynamic fields of interaction and conflict.
    Perhaps the main point about the current situation is that the anthropologists no longer "own" culture. At least some of the
critique and transformation of the culture concept derives from its use in creative, and not simply derivative, ways in other fields -- in history, philosophy, sociology, and literary criticism, to name only the most obvious cases. The field of "cultural studies", which established itself with astonishing effectiveness in the last decade, draws on literary criticism, social history, sociology, and anthropology to fashion what has become a distinct perspective on the culture of power, the culture of resistance, and the politics of cultural production and manipulation.

VIII.  This is from Sydel Silverman's "Forward" to a major new book on the culture concept: Anthropology Beyond Culture (2002, ed. by Richard G. Fox & Barbara J. King).

    We may note a number of lines of divergence in current uses of the culture concept. First, there are those who adopt an ideational definition (symbols, values, representation) as against those who take an inclusive approach, including ideas and symbols along with the material products, technology, social organization, and other dimensions of group life.... Second, there are differences in whether culture is seen to reside in the mind (with behavior and artifacts as outcomes of mental models) or in behavior (e.g., its common definition as learned, socially transmitted behavior). Third, there are differences with regard to the location of culture: in the individual(who exercises choice-making and manipulation) or in a social entity (a group that "has" a culture). Related to this is the issue of agency, some treating culture as if it is a thing in itself (and capable of doing things), others seeing it as an aspect of individuals. Fourth, there are differences in assumptions about integration, between those who regard culture as a "package", moving as a piece, and those who see the question of integration as one to be empirically determined. Those who take the latter position generally prefer to use "cultural" as an adjective rather than "culture" as a noun. Finally, the distinction between the singular "culture" (as a general attribute of humans and as an entity that evolves) and the plural "cultures" (which addresses the diversity of human groups in time and place) is still alive. Other distinctionscould be added to the list.
    The question, then, is, why the worry [about the culture concept]? One answer lies perhaps in the fact that culture condenses a number of tenets held by anthropologists...: the distinction between genetic and social inheritance, the connection among different domains of life, the patterning of cultural content (even when the degree of organization is left an open question), the historicity of such patterns, and their potential adaptedness to specific conditions. In much the same way that Michel-Rolph Trouillot, in this volume, endorses the "conceptual kernal" behind the culture concept even as he advocates abandoning the word, anthropologists agree on what the concept summarizes much more than they do on the term itself.
    Other answers are specific to American anthropology. For a discipline committed to the study of both human evolution and the time/space diversity of group life, the concept of culture (in both its singular and plural senses) provides a unifying thread. The American notion of culture did not give rise to the four-field organization, itself the product of specific historical conditions, but it afforded a means of discourse among the fields, a sense of shared problems and purpose. It is not an irony (as it might appear at first glance) that the move to abandon the culture concept is most prevalent among cultural anthropologists; for them, anthropology without culture is not only feasible but well established in British and continental traditions. For many biological anthropologists, primatologists, archaeologists, and linguistic anthropologists, however, it is "culture" that cements their placement within anthropology rather than in the sister disciplines that each of these specialists straddles.

IX.  A few of the introductory remarks in Michel-Rolph Trouillot's contribution to Anthropology Beyond Culture, entitled "Adieu, Culture: A New Duty Arises".

    The conceptual kernal behind the word "culture", as deployed in North American anthropology, provides a useful and fundamental lesson about humankind. Yet the word culture today is irretrievably tainted by both the politics of identity and the politics of blame -- including the racialization of behavior that it was meant to avoid. Contrary to many of the critics... I do not see the concept as inherently flawed on theoretical grounds. I agree with Richard Shweder that something akin to a culture concept remains necessary to anthropology as a discipline and to social science in general. The distinction between concept and word, however, is central to my argument. So is the related emphasis on the sites and processes in which the word and concept are deployed and on the modes of engagement that mediate between concepts and words. For if concepts are not just words, then the vitality of a conceptual program cannot hinge upon the sole use of a noun.
    Culture's popular success is its own theoretical demise. Its academic diffusion has generated new institutionl clusters on North American campuses: cultural -- and multicultural -- studies. Culture has also entered the lexicon of advertisers, politicians, businesspeople, and economic planners, up to the high echelons of the World Bank and the editorial pages of the New York Times. Culture now explains everything: from political instability in Haiti to ethnic war in the Balkans, from labor difficulties on the shop floors of Mexican maquiladoras to racial tensions in British schools and the difficulties of New York's welfare recipients in the job market. Culture explained both the Asian miracle of the 1980's and the Japanese economic downturn two decades later....
    The massive diffusion of the word "culture" in recent times awaits its own ethnographer, but even the trivia are revealing. One internet search engine found more than five million pages linked to the keyword "culture", after exclusion of most references to cultivation and agriculture. When culture was coupled with anthropology or ethnography, however, the total fell to 61,000 pages. Similarly, whereas the search engine of a major internet bookseller produced more than 20,000 titles containing the word culture, the list dropped to 1,350 titles when culture was coupled with anthropology or ethnography in the subject index. Culture is out there, and anthropologists have no control over its deployment....
    ...[T]he North American trajectory of the concept of culture seems to offer a contradiction. The kernal of the conceptualization teaches fundamental lessons about humanity that were not as clearly stated before its deployemnt and that cannot easily be unlearned. Yet the deployment of the word culture today, while evoking this conceptual kernal, carries an essentialist and often racialist agenda outside and especially within the United States.

X.  I'll give the last gasp to Raymond Williams, in his sketch of "culture" after three decades of research into the concept and the word, as it has been used in English and in related European languages over the last 200+ years (Keywords, 1976).

    Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.

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