18.518 what culture is

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2005 09:52:50 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 518.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2005 09:45:49 +0000
         From: Charles Ess <cmess_at_drury.edu>
         Subject: Re: 18.508 what is (digital) culture?


In addition to the excellent bibliographic suggestions offered by Alexandre
Enkerli, let me add the following comments and suggestions.

The last I saw any reference to it, the number of published definitions of
"culture" run into the 100's (at least 160+). Part of this diversity, as
Terry Eagleton helpfully explains in his _The Idea of Culture_, reflects the
history of the term, as matched only by "nature" with regards to the range
and variety of meanings attached to it.

It is almost always easier to point out the deficits of such definitions,
especially as they are taken up in CMC literature: these deficits at least
correct initial assumptions that we and/or our students may carry around.
These were helpfully summarized at CATaC'04 with regard to HCI literature as

Culture is taken for granted. BUT: There is no exhaustive definition for
culture, so we have to choose our definition.
Culture is not defined explicitly. THIS MEANS: We should always state
clearly our suppositions of culture (or the suppositions of the theories and
models we are using) and recognise their effects on our study.
Culture is limited to national cultures. BUT: It is good to remember that
culture does not exist at national level only. At least we should avoid
assuming that there is one national culture for every country.
Cultures are seen as coherent wholes. BUT: We should give up the idea that
cultures are isolated wholes or that we could draw strict borders between
Culture is seen in the role of maintenance (CE: what I call the "lump"
theory of culture - i.e., as something singular, coherent, unchanging, and
consistent: such notions, as postcolonial scholars remind us with particular
force, are not simply false, but also work to justify exploitation of others
whose "culture" is seen as fixed - and inferior). BUT: Culture is capable
of both resistance and transformation.
[From: Kampurri, Minna and Markku Tukainen. 2004. Culture in Human-Computer
Interaction Studies: A survey of ideas and definitions. In F. Sudweeks and
C. Ess (eds.), Proceedings: Cultural Attitudes Towards Communication and
Technology 2004, 43-57. Murdoch, Western Australia: Murdoch University.]

That said, Clifford Geertz is frequently cited (beginning with The
Interpretation of Cultures, 1973), as is the work of Hall, Hannerz, and
Hall, Edward. 1976. Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Books.
Hannerz, Ulf. 1992. Cultural Complexity: Studies in the Social Organization
of Meaning. New York: Columbia University Press.
Hofstede, Geert. 1980. Culture=B9s Consequences: International Differences=
Work-related Values. Beverly Hills: Sage.
______. 1983. National cultures in four dimensions. International Studies
of Management and Organization 13, 52-60.
______. 1984. The Cultural Relativity of the Quality of Life Concept.
Academy of Management Review 9, 389-98.
______. 1991. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. London:
Hofstede, G. and Bond, M.H. 1988. The Confucius Connection: From Cultural
Roots to Economic Growth. Organizational Dynamics 16 (4), 5-21.

It must be quickly added, however, that these latter frameworks have come
under increasingly criticism (Fay Sudweeks and I are co-editing a special
issue on this topic - stay tuned!).

(Fons Trompenaars and his colleagues have also been prolific, with a
specific focus on business culture and profitability.)

More broadly, Leah Macfadyen and her colleagues have recently published what
is by far the most complete bibliography on culture and CMC:

Macfadyen, L. P., Roche, J. and Doff, S. 2004. Communicating across Cultures
in Cyberspace: A Bibliographical Review of Online Intercultural
Communication. Hamburg: Lit-Verlag.

Last but by no means least: some basic postcolonialist literature:
Anzald=FAa, Gloria. 1987. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San
Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. London and New York:
Gajjala, Radhika. 2004. Cyberethnography: Reading South Asian Diasporas in
Kyra Marie Landzelius <http://publications.uu.se/journals/1402-229X/113.pdf>
(ed), Going Native on the Net: Indigenous Cyberactivism and Virtual
Diasporas over the World Wide Web. London: Routledge.
Singh, Amritjit and Peter Schmidt (eds.). 2000. Postcolonial Theory and the
United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature. Jackson: University Press
of Mississippi.
Magdaleno, Jana Sequoya. 2000. =B3How (!) Is an Indian? A Contest of=
Round 2,=B2 In Singh and Schmidt (eds), 279-299.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. Can the Subaltern Speak? In Cary Nelson
and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture,
pp. 271-313. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
______. 1999. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the
Vanishing Present. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

that's about all I know...

Cheers and all best wishes,

Charles Ess

Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave. Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO 65802 USA FAX: 417-873-7435

Home page: http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
Co-chair, CATaC: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23
Received on Sun Jan 23 2005 - 05:06:36 EST

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