what is culture?

In Notes on 10 December, 2011 at 2:09 am

a home-made chalkboard in chereponi, ghana

there are over 162 definitions of “culture” floating around the world. anthropologists learn about it, question it, critique it, explore it. perhaps they over-analyse it.

once, at a dinner party, i tried to explain that “culture” is a bad word to use around me. whenever i hear it being thrown around in conversations, i cringe.

my mental alarm bells go off. because more often than not, people don’t think about how they are using the term. they use the concept of culture in very loose and sometimes dangerous (sexist, racist, other-ist) ways.

academic activists have produced a series of books called south african keywords. the use and abuse of terms such as culture, tribe, ethnicity, development, gender and tradition are explored. the editors write:

for south africans, this book offers an understanding of the ways in which we describe ourselves to ourselves in the process of becoming. for observers, it offers a detailed account of the articulation between language and society, in all the particularity of a complex and fascinating social context and historical moment. thinking allowed.

thinking allowed. i love that.

and yet, i digress. this post was inspired by a chalkboard i spotted in the courtyard of a family compound, where i was sitting with members of a women’s group and their children. i learnt that the women were not educated, but by growing and selling soya beans, they were making ends to meet to feed their children and send them to school.

i imagine that the chalkboard was made for the children. seeing the words “what is culture” on a home-made blackboard in chereponi both intrigued and delighted me.

  1. very nice.. in my opinion there is not a single definition of culture


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