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culture

MICHAEL PAYNE


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


Extract

A term of virtually limitless application, which initially may be understood to refer to everything that is produced by human beings as distinct from all that is a part of nature. However, it has often been observed that since nature is itself a human abstraction, it too has a history, which in turn means that it is part of culture. In his efforts to deal with the apparently universal occurrence of incest prohibitions in human societies, Claude L évi-Strauss candidly admits that the distinction between culture and nature is an instance of theoretical B ricolage , in the sense that the distinction is simultaneously inadequate and indispensable. Two extreme attempts to limit the meaning of the term can be found in its technical use by North American anthropologists to refer to the primary data of anthropology, and in its honorific use, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century (for example, by Matthew A rnold ) to refer to the finest products of civilization. In a bold effort to avoid these extremes, Clifford Geertz defines culture by way of S emiotics as the “webs of significance” spun by human beings (1973, p. 5). Yet even such an open definition as this presupposes an extraordinarily powerful (but perhaps justifiable) role for the semiotic in human life. Raymond W illiams begins his famous essay on “culture” by admitting that it is “one of the two or three most complicated ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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