by Neil Thomas
August 17th, 2011
One of the comments from David Cameron, British PM, about the causes behind England’s recent riots was that: “This is not about poverty, it’s about culture. A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities.”
The activities of the individuals and mobs involved in the frightening scenes of vandalism and looting that were shown on TV around the world and prominently headlined in media coverage in all countries might seem to be the very opposite of ‘culture’. The people and activities on display are not normally thought of as ‘cultural’.
But, that is taking too narrow a definition of ‘culture’ – Cameron’s use of the word is part of the wider meaning of ‘culture’.
Wikipedia has it that the word ‘culture’ is most commonly used in three basic senses:
1. “Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture.
2. An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning.
3. The set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterises an institution, organisation or group.”
And, in extension, there is gang culture, street culture, benefit-cheating culture, the getting-something-for-nothing culture and yob culture.
A different section on Wikipedia announces that:
“Culture is a word for people’s ‘way of life’, meaning the way they do things. Different groups of people may have different cultures. A culture is passed on to the next generation by learning, whereas genetics are passed on by heredity. Culture is seen in people’s writing, religion, music, clothes, cooking and in what they do.”
The books in Thorogood’s Speak the Culture series have covered all the stations of the cross of culture that each relevant country has to bear. After all, an understanding of the culture of a country and its people cannot be confined to the ‘high’ culture strand alone. It must also embrace identity, politics, beliefs and so on.
Part of the trouble for every country, particularly Britain, is that we have not reached the point where only the ‘good’ elements of what constitute culture are glorified. There are too many people for whom the bad elements have far too much appeal – less a case of speak the culture than speak da culture!
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