This section will look at the various meanings associated with the word ‘culture' and explore ways of understanding the relationship between culture and society. The lesson will take you through a discussion of the following topics:
i. meanings and usages commonly associated with the word 'culture'
ii. range of practices generally denoted by the word 'culture'
iii. history of its usage in English language
iv. new questions for the study of culture in our own context
What is Culture?
What do we understand by the word ‘culture’ today?
When does something become ‘cultural’?
What do we understand when someone talks of ‘cultural events’?
Let us look at the section ‘In the City’ in the Deccan Herald, where events are listed. These include dance programmes, announcements of exhibitions in art galleries, music concerts, religious programmes and book release functions. If we ask right-wing political activists who protested against the film Fire or the film Girlfriend what ‘culture’ might be, they would come up with a definition of ‘culture’ that links it to our ‘tradition’ and ‘nation’ (Please take a look at the CSCS Fire Dossier to know more about the controversy and debates around the film)
Let us look at this excerpt from the Lonely Planet description of 'Indian Culture':
Indian art is basically religious in its themes and developments, and its appreciation requires at least some background knowledge of the country's faiths. The highlights include classical Indian dance, Hindu temple architecture and sculpture (where one begins and the other ends is often hard to define), the military and urban architecture of the Mughals, miniature painting, and mesmeric Indian music. Of course, India's creativity continues to thrive, its most lively contemporary expression being filmi culture.
Religion, cultural diversity, food, classical Indian dance, music, temples, sculpture and architecture, all denote "Indian culture". If you read these lines carefully, you will also notice that these are the descriptions that make India an ancient cultural space. The only way India’s 'creativity continues to thrive’ is through its ‘filmi culture’.
These statements clearly reveal not only the presuppositions being made about India, its past heritage and its current ‘filmi culture’ but also the assumption that culture refers to cultural artefacts. From these statements we get an idea of the commonly held notions about culture.
Within the academic disciplines, however, the word ‘culture’ may be used in more specific ways than this.
For example, in anthropology, ‘culture’ has the specific connotation of ‘a way of life’, and refers to practices of specific groups of people. Let us now try to figure out what we mean by culture in our everyday conversations. Where do we see the word ‘culture’ being used?