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The meaning of culture

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Gloria Gil

on 7 February 2013

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Transcript of The meaning of culture

culture as an a priori assumption THE MEANING OF CULTURE IN SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH The PARADOX of the meaning of culture The usage of ‘culture’ as more or less co-terminous with ‘nation’ and/or ‘ethnicity’ What is your culture? "Most people’s answers have in common the implicit assumption that they somehow have culture (to be of a culture) and that they somehow are culturally different or similar to others.
It is unsurprising that culture oftentimes gets equated with nation and/or ethnicity, because the discourses of national identity and national belonging are powerful ones that have been around for a considerable period and that are powerfully supported by a range of state, media and other institutional practices." (Piller, 2007) Whether culture is viewed as nation, as ethnicity, as faith, as gender, or
as sexuality, all these ‘cultures’ have one thing in common: they are
imagined communities (Anderson 1991). That means that members of
a culture imagine themselves and are imagined by others as group
members. These groups are too large to be ‘real’ groups (i.e. no group
member will ever know all the other group members). Therefore, they
are best considered as discursive constructions. That means that we do
not have culture but that we construct culture discursively. Yet,
‘culture’ is usually constructed as a static, internally homogeneous
entity different from other such entities (i.e. it is reified and
essentialized). Culture is discursively constructed [C]ulture is ubiquitous, multidimensional, complex, and pervasive. Because
culture is so broad, there is no single definition or central theory of what it is.
Definitions range from the all-encompassing (‘it is everything’) to the narrow
(‘it is opera, art, and ballet’). For our purposes we define culture as the
deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, social
hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relationships, concepts of
the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of
people in the course of generations through individual and group striving. (Samovar and Porter 2003: 8) complexity
FOR RESEARCH In contrast, anthropologists and sociologists insist that belonging to culture A, B or C can never be an a priori assumption:
Ethnographers’ uses of the word culture have established one essential point of consensus: culture is not a real thing, but an abstract and purely analytical notion. It does not cause behavior, but summarizes an abstraction from it, and is thus neither normative nor predictive. (Baumann 1996: 11) Piller, Ingrid. (2007). Linguistics and Intercultural Communication. Language and LinguisticCompass. 1/3: 208-226. Online version located at:
007/Article_5.pdf If researchers use predefined cultural categories that are salient to them as the basis for their investigations, they can only reproduce the discourses available to them (i.e. those circulating in society at large, rather than analysing those discourses critically). Researching culture
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