Culture

Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.           ~Albert Camus

 

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Concrete Jungle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wrote this blog a few weeks ago but didn’t publish it for some reason I can’t even remember, the top of culture came up again as discussed the book “Radical Pedagogy” by Mark Bracher. Bracher skilfully explored identity in his text, but I realized that I had to also read the book within context, as some of his examples may only be applicable to the “western” school system.

I believe that many in our society recognizes, and sometimes would advocate for the preservation of ones’ “culture”, and from personal experience, these same folks would seldom feel comfortable sharing a brief history about their “culture”. It is argued that Culture is a defining feature of a person’s identity, contributing to how they see themselves and the groups with which they identify, yet it baffles me as to why people would be more apt to talk about their ethnicity rather than culture.

Quite often, Society – “groups of interacting organisms” and Ethnicity – “the identity of groups based on shared characteristics such as language, culture, history or geographic origin”, is used interchangeably for culture to address group/personality identity questions. There is no simple/defining answer to the question, “What is Culture?” in fact, I’m talking about culture from a “behavioral scientific perspective, which see culture has the full range of learned human behavior patterns.

What is quite common today in our society is a multi-ethnic culture that comprises varying numbers of subcultures; just take a look at the Canadian foreign affairs website, though its definition of culture is broad; it gives a great sense of being a part of something grander, what I consider to be the formation of culture/subculture.

Is culture important?

I sat in a presentation for the Support Group for students of African Descent at MSVU, last month, and realized that the classroom was indeed like a mini “UN meeting”, as it had representation from all around the world, yet we don’t see any evidence of these rich cultures on our campus, even during African Heritage Month. What was quite evident, to me, is a group of people who have given up their “ethnic culture” to either create a new culture or to adapt the identity of the dominant culture.

We discussed, in a previous class, that culture is a way of life and that it is important in that it ties people of a region or community together and it also acts as a system of social control, wherein people shape their standards and behaviour. It is also through cultural values that a community gets an identity of its own. So why does culture matter? It makes each of us unique yet on our own we can’t create culture. (Elder-vas, 2012, p.54) argued that culture is produced by norm circles, and that culture and normativity are one and the same.

Let’s put it into context

WHY? Because the dominant cultures are written about, researched, reported on, you got the idea, it is however important to note this is practice is common in most cultures. In identifying the importance of one’s culture I can hear the cries of many writers, like SARA, to be heard and not have to be put into context to accommodate the less dominant cultures/sub-cultures.

More often what happens is a “US vs. THEM” when it we have to put things into context, as it requires the other party to find a similar norm/s to gain a better perspective of the situation. Lewis, (p.19) argues that “our previous values and unshakeable core beliefs take a battering when we venture abroad”, Lewis, (p.22) and pointed out that “our perception of reality may be assisted if we can wear someone else’s shoes for a moment”.

Lewis, (p.53) points out that “The worldviews held by different cultures vary widely, as do a multiplicity of concepts that constitute and represent a variegated outlook of the nature of reality… he used as an e.g. Time, in the western Hemisphere, the US & Mexico employ time in such diametrically opposing manners that it causes intense friction between the two peoples”.

Cultures change?                                

“Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.”                                                                                                             — Confucius

 

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Maasai Warrior calls home on his cellphone

Most of us are aware that “times have changed,” especially when we compare our lives with those of our parents/children. Some changes I found to be most obvious, would be changes in women’s roles, globalization and changes in technology. But such culture change is not unusual.

An article by Pearson higher education pointed out that “When you examine the history of a society, it is obvious that its culture has changed over time. Some of the shared behaviors and ideas that were common at one time are modified or replaced at another time. That is why, in describing a culture, it is important to understand that a description pertains to a particular time period.

I believe that it is this change in culture, with its two-fold effect, has been effective in creating a new culture/subculture. On the positive side, as people move around the world they exchange/trade ideas, knowledge, customs, etc that should allow both parties to benefit, on the other hand the issues of Ethnocentrism, racism, etc develops.

Most researchers recognize the damaging effects that the issues of ethnocentrism, racism, etc can bring to a culture and would advocate for the preservation of that culture, for example, African Heritage Month. It was quite evident to me and many other MSVU Students of African Descent, that our understanding of African culture was not the same.

The article by Pearson higher education also pointed out that “Cognitive anthropologists are most likely to say that culture refers to rules and ideas behind behavior, and therefore that culture resides in people’s heads.” A statement I don’t entirely agree with and will explain why shortly, but instead would advocate somewhat for culture preservation.

I’ve had many personal conversations with international students, students of African descent and Native/First Nations here at MSVU and have heard this time and time again, and it matters not if the student was native to Nova Scotia or from a different country, they are expected to be ambassadors for their ethnic group and be ready and willing to answer when asked about things “Native” or “African”, you get the point.

My convection for the recognition of the changes in culture is personal, but I’m also reminded that no one culture is better than the other, but has the ability to, especially in education, transfer/share unique skills and knowledge that would benefit all.

Reference

Lewis, R. (2006). When Cultures Collide. LEADING ACROSS CULTURES , 18-54. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_change http://anthro.palomar.edu/change/change_2.htm http://www.micsem.org/pubs/counselor/frames/cult_lossfr.htm http://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/hip/us/hip_us_pearsonhighered/samplechapter/0205711200.pdf

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3 Responses to Culture

  1. cisshie says:

    Reply 21: Culture
    Thank you for your Blog. The concept of culture and cultural origins are indeed intriguing. There are a plethora of cultures, too many to remember, and many still unknown. Irons (2009), has put forward the argument which he articulates from Boyd and Richerson’s book Genes and Cultures: The intertwined roles of genes and culture in human evolution, “That different local human populations were associated with different local populations of cultural variants, and both the humans and the cultural population evolved over time” (pg.347). Based upon this assumption, localized cultural variants were constructed to ensure the survival of isolated human populations and these cultural variants were then transposed as cultural traits throughout generations. It is the contention under this model of a dual inheritance theory that “both biology and culture are inextricably intertwined, and neither can be understood without reference to the other” (pg.348). This theory accounts for the many religions, cultures and ethnic groups spread throughout the world today.
    If we are to believe Irons (2009), than culture was derived out of necessity for the survivor of isolated human populations. However, there is a school of thought that asserts that ones’ cultural makeup is genetically endowed. I think ones cultural is a learned activity transcending over many generations. This in no way diminishes a person’s ‘cultural identity. Cultural identity gives us a sense a belonging, a belief that we are a part of something much more than ourselves. Of course Bracher (2006) argues that identification with a cultural group is only a small although important aspect of our identity.
    According to Bracher (2006) our identity lies within us although external factors such as culture influences our identity formation. Culture, nationality, ethnicity, etc. becomes problematic when others whom has identity problems, or their identity is damaged, proactively transfer their own inequities onto the other who they vilify. We witnessed today as noted by Bracher (2006) the hatred perpetrated against others based upon culture, religious affiliations, etc. This is a result of the perpetrators own identity which is damaged or is in a state of chaotic turmoil.
    I believe cultural diversity is the pure beauty of humanity.

    References
    Bracher, M. (2006). Radical Pedagogy: Identity, generativity, and social transformation. New
    York, N.Y.: Palgrave MacMillan.
    Irons, W. (2009). Genes and cultures-Boyd and Richerson: The intertwined roles of genes and
    culture in human evolution. Journal of Religion & Science, 44(2), 347-354. doi: 10.1111/
    j:1467-9744.2009.01003x.

  2. Dear Randy,
    I enjoyed your blog post, and your ideas about culture and its various permutations.

    I read your comments about the Mount campus with some interest.
    I have often wondered, with such a diverse international student population, how we can have such a homogeneous campus?

    While I agree with you that cultures change over time, and that change can have some off-putting moments for members of the cultural group as well as for those on the outside, I wonder if the nature of our environment may be part of the problem?

    We find ourselves at a primarily undergraduate campus, filled with young people trying to find their way in the world. Or to attain identity-development according to Mr. Bracher. It is in their youth when they will begin to adopt the actions of their compatriots (homogenization), as well as pursuit of the “other” (numerous questions about what they don’t identify with).

    In many ways everyone on a university campus is some form of an ambassador, whether that be because of where you come from, the jobs you have had in the past, or how well you did on the previous semesters final. You will certainly find someone who has a question for the answer you may posses.
    Morgan

    • randyh20 says:

      I’m currently doing my practicum and this was exactly on of the questions I asked, “with such a diverse international student population, how we can have such a homogeneous campus?”, so thanks for that question and I wish we can make changes to this, in our own way.

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