Current General Studies Magazine: "Art & Culture Based Article" September 2014

Current General Studies Magazine (September 2014)

Art and Culture based Article

Culture as Civilization

Many people today have an idea of “culture” that developed in Europe during the 8th and early 19th centuries. This notion of culture reflected inequalities within European societies and between European powers and their colonies around the world. It identifies “culture” with “civilisation” and contrasts it with “nature.” According to this way of thinking, one can classify some countries as more civilised than others and some people as more cultured than others. Some cultural theorists have thus tried to eliminate popular or mass culture from the definition of culture. Theorists such as Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) or the Leavises regard culture as simply the result of “the best that has been thought and said in the world” Arnold contrasted culture with social chaos or anarchy. On this account, culture links closely with social cultivation: the progressive refinement of human behaviour. Arnold consistently uses the word this way: “... culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, oh all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world”.

In practice, culture referred to elite goods and activities such as Mute cuisine, high fashion or haute couture, museum-caliber art and classical music and the word cultured described people who knew about and took part in these activities. For example, someone who used ‘culture’ in the sense of ‘cultivation’ might argue that classical music is more refined than music produced by working-class people, such as punk rock or the indigenous music traditions of aboriginal peoples of Australia.

People who use the term “culture” in this way tend not to use it in the plural as “cultures”. They do not believe that distinct cultures exist, each with their own internal logic and values;, but rather that only a single standard of refinement suffices, against which one can measure all groups. Thus, according to this worldview, people with different customs from those who regard themselves as cultured do not usually count as “having a different culture,” but are classed as “uncultured.” People lacking “culture” often seemed more “natural,” and observers often defended (or criticised) elements of high culture for repressing “human nature”.

Culture as Worldview

During the Romantic era, scholars in Germany, especially those concerned with nationalist movements

  • such as the nationalist struggle to create a “Germany”out of diverse principalities and the nationalist struggles by ethnic minorities against the Austro-Hungarian Empire
  • developed a more inclusive notion of culture as “worldview.” In this mode of thought, a distinct and incommensurable worldview characterises each ethnic group. Although more inclusive than earlier views, this approach to culture still allowed for distinctions between “civilised’ and “primitive” or “tribal” cultures.

By the late 19th century, anthropologists had adopted and adapted the term culture to a broader definition that they could apply to a wider variety of societies. Attentive to the theory of evolution, they assumed that all human beings evolved equally and that the fact that all humans have cultures must in some way result from human evolution. They also showed some reluctance to use biological evolution to explain differences between specific cultures — an approach that either exemplified a form of or segment of society vis-a-vis other segments and the society as a whole, they often reveal processes of domination and resistance.

In the 1950s, subcultures — groups with distinctive characteristics within a larger culture— began to be the subject of study by sociologists. The 20th century also saw the popularisation of the idea of corporate culture — distinct and malleable within the context of an employing organisation or a workplace.


  1. Culture is simply the result of “the best that has been thought and said in the world”, define.

  2. What is corporate cuture, is it very relevant in today’s world?

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