[Reader-list] Re: [Urbanstudy] Re: Problematizing Definitions

Toby Miller tobym at ucr.edu
Thu Dec 22 19:44:32 IST 2005

Just to add something to the genealogy of culture:

The term ‘culture’ derives from the Latin 
‘colare,’ which implied tending and developing 
agriculture as part of subsistence. With the 
emergence of capitalism’s division of labor, 
culture came both to embody instrumentalism and 
to abjure it, via the industrialization of 
farming, on the one hand, and the cultivation of 
individual taste, on the other. In keeping with 
this distinction, culture has usually been 
understood in two registers, via the social 
sciences and the humanities­-truth versus beauty. 
This was a heuristic distinction in the 16th 
century, but it became substantive over time. 
Eighteenth-century German, French, and Spanish 
dictionaries bear witness to a metaphorical shift 
into spiritual cultivation. As the spread of 
literacy and printing saw customs and laws passed 
on, governed, and adjudicated through the written 
word, cultural texts supplemented and supplanted 
physical force as guarantors of authority. With 
the Industrial Revolution, populations became 
urban dwellers. Food was imported, cultures 
developed textual forms that could be exchanged, 
and consumer society emerged through horse 
racing, opera, art exhibits, masquerades, and 
balls. The impact of this shift was indexed in 
cultural labor: poligrafi in 15th-century Venice, 
and hacks in 18th-century London, wrote popular 
and influential conduct books, works of 
instruction on everyday life that marked the 
textualization of custom, and the appearance of 
new occupational identities. Anxieties about 
cultural invasion also date from this period, via 
Islamic debates over Western domination.

Culture became a marker of differences and 
similarities in taste and status. In the 
humanities, it was judged by criteria of quality 
and meaning, as practiced critically and 
historically. In the social sciences, the focus 
fell on socio-political norms, as explored 
psychologically or statistically. So whereas the 
humanities articulated population differences 
through symbolic means (for example, which class 
has the cultural capital to appreciate high 
culture, and which does not) the social sciences 
articulated population differences through social 
ones (for example, which people are affected by 
TV messages, and which are not). Today, those 
distinctions are obviously called into question, 
if they ever amounted to more than 19th-century, 
imperial-era forms of disciplinary distinctiveness

Regards to all

Toby Miller

At 05:54 AM 12/21/2005, anant m wrote:
>hm. i hope i am not making an ass of myself in the
>presence of a whole bunch of cultural studies folks.
>i think it is better to think of a geneology of
>culture rather than define it. to my reckoning, the
>first loaded use of the word culture was made by
>mathew arnold.
>some time in the second half of the 19th century. this
>was just before the time colonial anthropologists were
>seriously beginning to wonder if they had it all
>worked out. for arnold, culture was high culture all
>that is 'beautiful and intelligent' and he was
>strongly opposed to the plebian and the ordinary. and
>you must read his dismissive references to the irish!
>education therefore had to be in the hands of the
>cultured and not democratized.
>later on a whole range of marxist critics led by
>raymond williams turned it on its head and argued that
>culture is really the ordinary. this was a way of
>challenging the ways in which high culture reproduces
>power relations.
>raymond williams and his work notwithstanding, culture
>remained largely the domain of anthropologists first
>the structuralists strauss and then bodley and geertz
>types whose primary means of getting at culture was
>via ethnography where one places oneself firmly in the
>lifeworlds of those whose culture is being studied and
>then withdraws to the library to reflect on the
>ensembles of meanings and practices that are not one's
>own. hence ideas like primitives, savages and noble
>savages and then the ultimate 'thick descriptionists
>and so on.
>Here is the cross that the scholar bears: she/he at
>the moment of the ethnographic encounter and actually
>coproduces meaning with an interlocutor but when she
>or he withdraws to write about it for a diffferent
>audience, she or he produces the culture of the
>'other' for the consumption of scholarly kin.
>thus in your interaction with the woman whose child
>you thought was being treated cruelly (at least at
>firsy anyway) she and you together coproduced
>meaning.but when you report it to us, the woman
>remains outside of this conversation and it is her
>culture versus our culture that we end up talking
>well, that was an attempt at a rough and ready
>geneology of culture. i have no idea what culturality
>means. others please add or delete.
>--- zainab at xtdnet.nl wrote:
> > I am still interested in understanding the 'general
> > meaning' of the term
> > culture? What constitutes culture? And what
> > constitutes acts of
> > culturality?
> > Cheers,
> > Zee
> >
> >
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