Jun 8, 2020 in Analysis

The interrelations between such disciplines as history, political and social sciences allow identifying multiple aspects of culture. Due to the complexity of its definition, the approaches to defining the term became a controversial issue. In different situations, culture functions as a set of distinguishing national features, a tool of manipulations and enforcement of social stability.

Therefore, depending on the chosen approach of defining the term, it is used to describe the dominating material and spiritual values of a certain nation, the distinguishing patterns of traditional cultures and relations between the social groups.

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The meaning of the term largely depends on the dominating views of the experts in different areas of knowledge and representatives of the various epochs. By tracing its linguistic origin and the chronological development of its definition, Williams posits that culture refers to the general process of the intellectual and spiritual development, a particular way of life and products of the artistic activities. The suggested aspects of the term’s usage are overlapping as the general patterns of the human development have found their manifestation in the material items and symbolic systems. The assertion is especially relevant since both aspects became the matter of academic interest. Anthropology focuses on investigating and interpreting the cultural value of the material items while history and cultural studies aim at deciphering the cultural symbols. Moreover, the interconnection of the mentioned definitions is illustrated by their domination in the different periods. In the 18th century, culture became a synonym to civilization that had two main meanings including the process of filling the rows of the sophisticated individuals and the general trends in the social development of the world. Nowadays the term is a common reference to theater, music, literature and film. Willis essentially views culture as the sum of the dominating traits of the society in a given period as well as distinguishes the disciplinary differences between the definitions. The suggested idea of understanding culture allows tracing the shift of the attention from the material and spiritual values to the products of the artistic activity.

In a similarly compelling manner, Hebdige traces the notable changes in the development of the term in the course of history. The researcher acknowledges the controversial nature of culture and relation to society by providing such referential examples as the quality of life, technological progress, the emergence of mass society and division of labor. Hebdige appears to be the strong advocate of William’s point of view by admitting the ultimate connection between the material and spiritual aspects of the human life as the parts of the integrated society. The researcher particularly favors the idea of the universal value of studying the broader social trends as well as their causes for understanding the realities of the everyday life. Hebdige illustrates the mentioned assertion by explaining the origin of the conflicting points of view on culture. One of the debated issues is related to viewing the society as the conglomerate of the conservative and refined members of the strictly hierarchical community. In this case, culture is the synonym to the aesthetic excellence. By contrast, the academic minds of the 20th century condemn the notion of culture as the solely spiritual term. It appears that Hebdige considers culture a historically predetermined phenomenon. This approach allows viewing the world cultural heritage as the result of the causal relationships between the processes of the intellectual growth, social integration and cultivation of the aesthetic tastes.

The significance of admitting the interrelation between the seemingly opposite aspects of culture allows identifying the general and specific patterns of culture. Williams seems to reject the idea of the homogenous culture. Citing the German philosopher, the researcher argues that the aesthetic superiority of the European nations was not the supreme driving force of their imperialistic endeavors. The domination of the European culture is more likely to be the result of many factors including the military might and economic prosperity. Although the idea may not be innovative for the modern audience, the acknowledgment of the cultural diversity might have sounded peculiar in the 18th century. The new objective sparked the process of separating two terms of culture and civilization whereas the later notion was used to describe the purely materialistic character of the contemporary societies. As for the former term, the Romanist movement used it to describe the national cultures in different periods. Williams essentially pinpointed the moment of accepting the correlation of the two main components of culture. The mentioned process reveals the magnitude of the cultural diversity worldwide despite the absence of the further elaboration in William’s work.

The focus on the peculiarities of the traditional cultures allows determining the main patterns of culture by analyzing their similarities and distinguishing features. In her work, Benedict suggests a number of generalizations. Importantly, the researcher is convinced that culture refers to both material and spiritual aspects of life that produce a wide set of the social rules under the influence of the historical situation, environment and human factor. Since the mentioned determinants vary from region to region, the universal notions and practices may acquire the completely different traits as their meaning and ways of adherence are highly diverse. Puberty ceremonies in Australia, for instance, are predominantly a male cult whereas women are completely excluded from the participation in the sacred festivities. By contrast, the tribes of British Columbia do not focus on the gender distinctions and allow boys and girls to participate in the puberty rites even-handedly. These examples allow the audience to see the cultural traditions as the sum of traits that are unique to every nation. Moreover, the integration of the cultural trends is the regular occurrence. According to Benedict, these initially independent and unrelated features tend to clash and interpenetrate while providing the basis for the emergence of the new cultural phenomena. The researcher proves her point by providing the parallel comparison of culture with the development of Gothic art. The new trend quickly outgrew the status of the provincial art and became the most admirable architecture style in the 13th century. Thus, the illustrations show the universal importance of such common notions such as puberty, war, and homicide as well as illustrate the unique interpretations of their meaning by the representatives of various peoples. In that case, the integration of the traditions and customs is deeply interrelated with the formation of the cultural trends and behavioral patterns.

Meanwhile, the cultural studies make a clear distinction between the class culture, high and popular culture. It is worth exploring the cultural preferences of the different communities that form the nation. Williams explains that the debated term may also refer to the separate social groups, whereas classes, in particular, may constitute the reliable environment for the formation of the distinctive cultural concepts. According to him, the first class associations with culture appeared during and after the World War II in relation to the widespread anti-German attitudes. In the course of history, the notion acquired the negative connotation due to several reasons. The close association with the German philosophy evoked the 18th-century claims of the esthetical, intellectual and physiological superiority of the dominating class. Although Williams does not elaborate on the matter of the class domination further, one may presume that the ruling elite should be viewed as the main enforcer of the cultural beliefs. In his work, Hebdige argues that the enforcement of the philosophical views by the ruling class closely resembles the neatly concealed ideological propaganda. Therefore, culture appears to be an effective tool of manipulation for the social elites as well as the result of the imposed adherence to the certain system of beliefs and practices. This view on the interclass relations indicates the presence of competition and the concealed opposition between various social groups.

The two authors, however, agree that the emergence of the new cultural notions is closely associated with the social history of the nation. The term ‘civilization’, for instance, acquired the radical meaning during the times of the political turmoil. Moreover, Williams proves that the post-war fears paved the way for the rise of the different social groups. The rise of subcultures, i.e. smaller social units, became the social phenomenon. As the hostility declined, the new idea of social equilibrium emerged. Hebdige argues that the relationship between the mainstream culture and subcultures are not likely to reach the point of disruption as long as the dominating classes produce a set of concrete rules for the society to live by. The assertion suggests that the competing cultures remain in the delicate balance as the different outcome may undermine the social hierarchy. Therefore, class domination is the necessary condition for avoiding the social conflicts while compromise became the appropriate choice out of necessity.

On the other hand, the emergence of the social groups with different cultural preferences sparked the academic interest in studying the competing systems of beliefs. One of the possible directions research is the oppositional relations between the high and popular culture. According to Williams, the first notion usually refers to the high standards of the aesthetic taste while the second one is associated with the common forms of entertainment. Although the cultural tensions were largely bypassed during the last decades, the researcher argues that the popular entertainment remains the robust environment for the visible hostility between the mainstream culture and the subcultures. Although there are no doubts about the credibility of Williams’s assertion, his work lacks the vivid and concrete examples. Sarah Thornton, by contrast, exemplifies the principle distinctions among the club cultures including the hierarchical relations between such categories as the authentic and phoney, hip and mainstream, underground and media club cultures. The researcher effectively illustrates the aesthetic diversity of forms within one single category of dance culture.

Meanwhile, some academics choose to concentrate on one distinctive cultural phenomenon. Willis, in particular, exhibits the deep interest in portraying the aspects of the working class culture. The researcher views culture as the combination and result of merging experiences and relationships that tend to define and shape the different types of cultural behaviors in the socially active members of a community. These behavioral patterns become the institutionalized traits of the class cultures. Willis proves his assertion by examining the counter-school culture, the common features of which include the masculine chauvinism, hard working conditions, rough language and strong rejection of the school work. His work seems to focus on tracing the mechanisms of establishing and upholding the merging cultural traits of the certain class. In this case, culture is the reflection of beliefs and inclinations shared by the group members.

Overall, the term culture relates a wide set of life aspects and social notions. The spiritual and material attributes of culture appear to be historically predetermined as well as greatly influenced by the human imagination and natural environment. Moreover, the concept includes a great number of the seemingly opposing notions even within one cultural category. While the mentioned ideas and relevant illustrations provide the explanation for various aspects of culture and its relation to society, together they describe culture as a sum of certain national traits, the reflection of group behavior and the intergroup relations.


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