Talking Culture

Thu, 3 Feb 1994 10:40:07 CST

J. McCreery nicely handles the problems of social-group size and
generationality in defining "culture." (At least two people--Will you
settle for "organisms," John?--but within a single generation suffices.)
I also like his method: determine your definition such that it will not
keep you from calling "culture" anything that you are pretty sure you
want to include. Let's define "culture" in a way that allows us to talk
about it the way we want. I have been using this method for quite some
time, and used it for my definition. Here is the method, applied to
"our" context: Come up with a definition that allows "_____ is a feature
of our culture" to be comfortably said of anything allowed by your
definition, but of nothing excluded by your definition. This sounds
tautological, since the test uses uses the word we are trying to define;
but note that "culture" is being used not *in* the definition we end up
with, but only *in order to find*that definition! Here is my problem
with J. McCreery's post: Applying my test, I find that I want to be able
to say, "Automobiles are a feature of our culture." As I understand him,
though,McCreery's definition does not let me make that statement, since
automobiles are not information. Therefore I have to say "Information
about automobiles is part of our culture." I, however, want to be able
to make both statements, not the latter alone. Note how problematic
this information-idea becomes: Our English alphabet, or the calendar
we use, or our decimal system of mathematical notation: none of these
could be said to be features of our culture; we would always have to
stipulate that it was information about, or perhaps contained in,
them that was "really" "culture." Thus, defining "culture"
as information has something like the stultifying effect, noted by
McCreery and about which I complain every chance I get, of defining
"culture" in purely mental terms. "The socially acquired way of life
of a social group": that is a definition that allows us to talk about
culture the way nearly all of us do, except when we are consciously
trying to conform to an inconvenient definition! --Bob Graber