Mapping culture

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This is a minor investigation into the workings of the world of culture. In this investigation we will find that culture as a keyword opens doors to a myriad of questions relating to the way the human mind imagines its surroundings. Culture sometimes can be viewed as a form of tool. Culture is the way people make sense of the world. There is no right way or wrong way to look at culture because inherently culture is a figment of our imagination (as a group or individually), though, these figments once practiced become real. In theorizing culture, the best that we can do is to try and open it up and look at the pieces or inner workings. These inner workings are of the human mind and one possible way to analyze them is by looking at the outcome. Since there are a myriad of ways culture can take form approaching the analysis with open-ended questions is fundamental.

Some of the questions relating to culture are anthropological, like: how do humans view themselves and others? Do humans worry about such things as "preventing harm to a person, or oneself; reciprocity and fairness; loyalty to one's group; respect for authority and hierarchy; and purity or sanctity" (Primum non nocere). Is is possible that different geographies create different ways of looking at these questions? Is it possible that these concerns might have different outcomes in different parts of the world? Are some groups genetically predisposed to certain hierarchical pyramids of importance or is this predisposition created by the relationship with our environment?

The other questions relating to culture are aesthetic. Where does culture become a status symbol, an ideology, or a tool for power and authority. The concerns of the aesthetic realm are similar to the concerns of the anthropological realm, but, the difference is that judgment is removed or at least it seems that way (Beyond 'Popular' and 'Elite' Culture). Is Aesthetics more than just elite culture or popular culture? Is Aesthetics the way we build on the notion that culture nowadays is a product and byproduct of mass culture? (Three kinds of culture). Can we draw a conclusion that culture could be defined as anthropological or aesthetic or does culture involve more than just those two areas. Can we divide culture into elite, mass, and vernacular? What then would we do with popular culture? (Mass Culture or Popular Culture).

The more important question, though, is why do we need to know? Going back to Vernacular culture we seem to define it as the realm where the need is and "the love is." "What this means is that people acquire the knowledge which they need. It is not that the lower orders were stupid in not knowing the world of literature etc, BUT… that they acquired that knowledge which was useful to them, and carried it in their heads [(Vernacular Culture)]." Why is it important for us to find the definition of culture? If we can say regarding vernacular culture that the knowledge was acquired out of love why would it matter? The love for what you do, how you do it, who you do it with. Why is it important? If, vernacular culture seems to be the things we spend time on without having to be told can it be used to perfect ourselves? An example would be the love of learning. Even though education is tied to elite culture the love of learning is not or at least it seems to be that way (Elite Culture). Is the love of learning used as a tool by institutions to educate us? Can the love of learning then become a symbol of power and authority?

The information about vernacular, elite, and mass culture you will find in almost all cultural paradigms. In some form or another. And, we can't talk about culture without addressing the different paradigms that are used by scholars. We depend on culture to justify our political regimes and also to justify forms of idealism. We also depend on culture as a means of distracting people from issues of oppression as well as using culture to point out the oppressors. Cultural paradigms then become a reflection of both conservative values and revolutionary views or vernacular, elite, and mass culture. Since cultural paradigms reflect both visionary views as well as status quo views it must be open-ended. To pick a cultural paradigm as a constant would be to embody the values of the dominant class. Once we shed the notion that there is only one paradigm to explain culture then we can embrace the liberating values of culture and work towards achieving social transformation.

Then the investigation into the world of culture has to be theoretical, philosophical, and action-driven. Theory and philosophy alone rarely inspire people to act. We need something to fight for as well as against. We need to seriously engage methods to create an environment amenable to resistance and struggle for change, founded on a belief that a better world is possible. The centrality of hope as a necessary complement to critique helps us move beyond consciousness raising and identity formation alone to foster the belief that change is possible because culture programs us into believing the unbelievable it "creates an illusion and acts as a drug." If Marx said religion is the opium of the masses than culture would be the pipe with which we smoke religion.


"In a world obsessed with economic growth, the free market, and technological speed and efficiency, what many groups within society need most today are not just material resources, but crucially, intellectual resources that enable them to grasp and interpret the world around them and their own place within it." Ien Ang