“Culture”: a user’s guide

David de Ugarte 57 ~ April 11th, 2013  http://english.lasindias.com/culture-a-users-guide

What is national culture, really, and how should it be understood when it’s time to travel and deal with people “from outside?”
puerosetvexiliosWhile the word “people” is in ever-greater danger of sliding, the word “culture” was born in a dangerous place, because, in spite of how it might appear, it’s very much a political term, a concept formed and created in the bosom of German romantic nationalism. It carries such amibiguity that Gustavo Bueno, a notable archaeologist of concepts, ended up exclaiming that

"No one understands what Culture is, as no one understood in the days of yesteryear what the Grace of God was. Culture is a myth, and an obscurantist myth, as was the myth of Grace in the Middle Ages or as was the “twentieth-century myth,” the myth of Race, in the first half of that century. In a certain way, it could be said that the myth of Culture incorporates, additionally, through the nationalisms of the end of the century, many of the functions that the myth of Race performed until the end of World War II."
What Bueno is telling us in his book on the topic is that culture, once it ceases to mean the “cultivation” of knowledge itself and begins to refer, as Herder says, to who-knows-what characteristic of “people,” it can’t be anything other than national culture, and as such, the product and central object of the “Culture State,” which is the nation-state.
And what does that mean when I deal with “outsiders?”

The State, the media, and education are creators of national culture. And although 
some people understand that it constitutes them, in reality, they are only the ones who 
choose to be constituted by it. As Foucault describes, from its origins, “biopolitics,”
 the conditioning that the State and large-scale organizations subject people to, works 
“statistically,” which is to say, it is a constraint, but not determinant, on each one
And it also varies over time as a function of different capacities and crises. This is 
something that is accentuated with decomposition.

So, “cultural studies” and trend reports are useless to me.  Statistical matters must 
be understood statistically, which often means that, concretely, they contribute little.
National culture operates as a context that delimits what’s acceptable, but it 
doesn’t tell us anything at all about the person or the real community in front 
of us… which is what matters to us. It doesn’t do me much good to know that 
roast beef is traditional and even part of national identity in Uruguay, and txuletón
 in Biscay, if I don’t know it the person I’m dealing with is a vegetarian. I can have
 good statistics on the most widespread values in China, but in reality, the family 
 business culture of a concrete businessperson probably has nothing to do with them.

What makes sense, then? Studying ideological frameworks, the evolution of 
consumption patterns, the evolution of social archetypes… and understand them 
as a framework, as a changing space, not as the result of “nature” or
 an “immanent spirit.”


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