Jan 25 2011

Study Skills WS2010_6

Published by Peter Schneck

measuring culture....

measuring culture....

Culture, anyone?

When Raymond Williams attempted to describe the particular way in which cultural practices and the meanings attached to them work, he sometimes spoke about the “structures of feeling” that pervade (and structure!) the daily experience of our own cultural environment as well as our participation in it.

There three things you are asked to do before you start reading the essay by Stuart Hall (in the reader – you may also download it from the documents page):

  • think about and formulate your own definition of culture – what does culture mean for you, what do you most associate with the term ‘culture’?
  • then think about terms like “Leitkultur” and “Parallelkulturen”  – what do these terms express and what are they used for?
  • if you would have to explain to someone what is characteristic for your own culture (be it your national or regional culture) what would you pick out and why?

You may enter your thoughts in the comment box below and discuss with other voices from the seminar – we will pick up some of the thoughts and observation in our class discussion of the Hall text and use both as a background for the discussion of some photographs, so be prepared.

Looking forward to your contributions!

12 responses so far

12 Responses to “Study Skills WS2010_6”

  1. wsanderon 27 Jan 2011 at 11:54

    For me, culture is very difficult to describe or explain. With culture I associate different nations, their habits, language, traditions, behaviour and their view on the world. Some cultures share certain elements with each other, for example the English language in the USA and Great Britain, although the way of spelling or pronounciation surely differ in some ways from each other. Culture is very important because it makes you feel part of a nation, community or group. You know the rules which are important to live together peacefully without even thinking of them because you grew up following them. Culture is very complex and some kind of identification. I think that if you did not belong to any culture, you would feel lonely and lost. But I cannot imagine people having no culture, because it seems to be anywhere, categorizing life into groups of specific languages, traditions or views. I consider history as part of culture, too, because it made us develop to what we are now.

    I do not know why but I find it quite difficult to talk about my own culture. Since I live in my culture for so many years, I do not recognize any specific habitat or whatsoever. I would describe German culture as very sports-loving and peaceful. Soccer events like the World Cup or even the Bundesliga are celebrated very often and there are many people very interested in this kind of sport. Furthermore I consider Germany as comparatively peaceful since we are able to organize events like “Public Viewing” without much violence. The historical culture of Germany seems quite tragical to me because of the National Socialism or the DDR. Another aspect of German culture I can think of is the importance of German literature and its authors like Goethe or Schiller. Those intellectuals had a huge influence on the development of literature, not only in Germany but in the entire world.
    In some ways, immigrants also become more and more part of German culture because it gets really hard to imagine Germany without any foreign people. They change the traditional German culture and put in some traditions of theirs, so both get mixed up and form a new sort of German culture.

  2. Julia Kochon 27 Jan 2011 at 22:46

    I would just like to add a view points to the comment of Wilma, because I mostly share the same opinion.
    For me the word culture is a general term for a huge field of different nations, people, religions, and many things Wilma already mentioned.
    On TV for example there are many reportages about foreign nations, people, landscapes and so on. I really like to watch them, because I think it is really interesting to see how people live in other countries and what sort of traditions or habits they have.
    Besides, I think it is also important for us to have a good overview of what is happening in our world.
    These days it is easy for us to get information about different nations. Besides, many young people today have the option to travel to a foreign nation to learn more about a culture. Possibilities like “work and travel”, “au pair” or being an exchange student open up many doors for us.
    I also associate tourism with the word culture. The German nation is the nation that travels the most. We fly to places and countries to learn more about holiday destination but also to rebound ourselves. Even though I don’t think that we really see the real culture of that nation (because the tourist centers mostly are different from the rest of a country,) I do believe though that we somehow arrive back home with more respect towards the foreign country.

    “Leitkultur” or “Parallelkultur” for me means, that there is one nation and culture, but also many little cultures and nations within that big one. Germany for example is a nation and also has its own culture. But in Germany are also other nations present like people from Turkey, Russia or for example Greek. These people already have their own culture, language and habits. The intention now is to combine these nations and make one out of it so that everyone feels save and home. Sometimes though the aim is not easy to achieve because some people don’t except other cultures. This is also why nations are often fighting against each other like down in the “Middle East”.

    I think it is not easy to describe our own nation.
    Mostly all the people think of Bavaria when they talk about Germany. The Germans wear leather trousers, drink a lot of beer and eat Bavarian veal sausage and sauerkraut. But I hate it when they do that. Germany is not just little Bavaria. It is far more than that. We have many habits and form our life in many ways. Many of the German people love to watch soccer. Besides they have status symbols. A car is the main matter for a German man or woman. We love our cars and would do anything for them. In Italy for example it is just an object to get from place to place. The Germans already cry if there is only one scratch on it.
    I think we are also a buzy nation. We never have time to do anything unstressed. We hate it to arrive tardy. As I already mentioned at the beginning, I think we are a nations that loves to travel a lot and enjoys holidays very much.
    In my opinion our culture has changed a lot during the last few years. We are a multi-cultural nation and this is why some habits have changed.

  3. Svenja Langkeiton 28 Jan 2011 at 13:11

    I was just thinking about different cultures meeting each other: As we all know, an intercultural meeting can lead to problems, conflicts and insecurity because of misunderstandings that are not intended but develop nevertheless.
    At this point, I would like to talk about the iceberg model of culture, which I came across during my course of study because I find it particularly interesting and helpful: The image of an iceberg lying in the water, only its tip being visible whereas its much larger part lies underwater, can be transferred to culture: There is this tiny little part of it, that we are able to see when we get in touch with a foreign culture, composed of e.g. clothing, the foreign language that we can hear as well as the music, the foreign literature that we can read and some exotic food that we might be able to test. But what about the whole part of the iceberg which lies underwater? It shouldn’t be forgotten as it presents all the things that are not visible at first sight: ideals and moral concepts, faith, philosophy as well as all sorts of attitudes e.g. towards conflict management, gender, manners or the significance of friendship, love and family. We mustn’t lose sight of this invisible part because it has a great influence on the tip of the iceberg and plays a decisive role when it comes to cross-cultural meetings. Everyone has to be aware of those features lying underwater and act as sensitive as possible in order to avoid misunderstandings or unintended offence.
    As a consequence of this definition, culture occurs to me as a very complex and complicated “thing” that will never be describable 100% with words, as it covers nearly every area of life and behavior. Nevertheless, without culture, life would be much more boring, as it normally enriches our daily routine: What would we eat if there wasn’t the china restaurant, the pizza service, the thai snack bar or the greek diner? These offers of a variety of goods make our lives more exciting and do certainly belong to the “visible” tip of the iceberg. To discover the part lying underwater would be even more exciting and little by little, we can enrich ourselves by revealing it someday.

  4. sbeckerson 30 Jan 2011 at 17:36

    I think Svenja gave a very good description of what culture is by using the iceberg model and I agree with her on the most important part being not visible. Of course learning a language would be a good start to understand a culture better but it is more important to know about unsaid codes of behaviour, (like Wilma said) the people’s view on the world and their attitude towards their own culture and country.
    Literature, films, music and theatre are also parts of a country’s culture but it would be wrong to reduce the meaning of the word to that.
    “Leitkultur” means, as far as I know, a desirable consensus of values in a society. The term is often used in political debates e.g. in Germany in debates about immigrants and their integration. The controversial subject is how immigrants influence the German “Leitkultur” and how they could converge with it. The word “Parallelkultur” could also be mentioned in this debates, and it means (like Julia said) that there are societies of immigrants in Germany which still live inside their own culture without much contact to the German culture. A common example for this would be a Turkish woman who has lived in Germany for twenty years without learning much of the language.
    The German culture has been strongly influenced by the nation’s history. As a result of the nazi crimes most Germans have a very complicated attitude towards their country. You would never hear a German say: “I’m proud of my country.” It would be frowned upon that sentence because many people would suspect the talker to be a right-wing extremist or something like this. What you can say without damage would be “I am proud of our national team.” because in the world of soccer pride is accepted, even in Germany. Germans unintentionally show their pride for their country by talking bad about other countries, e.g. the bread in England, the traffic in Italy or suing in the US, while the undertone says: “Thank God it’s not like this in our country!” (The habit of complaining constantly is well-known among Gemans but they do it anyway)
    Another result of WWII is the Germans’s aversion to war visible e. g. in anti-war demonstrations, never ending debates about military operations in Afghanistan and the possibility to refuse conscription.
    Oh, and by the way, I think it is very typical for Germans to mention “Goethe and Schiller” in a conversation about culture, it is so typical that it is almost annoying. What impact do those two have on today’s culture? None, that is my opinion. Even though students may read “Don Carlos” in school, it is not a part of their life. Are there no famous German writers today or in the recent past which have influenced others? What about Siegfried Lenz, Thomas Mann or Herta Müller? I do not say Goethe and Schiller were not important persons of their time (just remember their commitment to the enlightenment) but it is totally wrong to reduce German literature or even culture to those two people.

  5. Jan Christian Güntheron 31 Jan 2011 at 19:45

    When I think of culture, the first things that come to my mind are museums, art galleries, old buildings and theatre.
    Obviously, culture is not only limited to these few aspects, but it shows that culture is not an institution and is a huge variety of very different things.
    This could also include behaviour (for example in a restaurant – we would think of “Esskultur”), literature and traditions. In the European culture (if there is such thing) we sit at a table when we eat, whereas in parts of Asia people would traditionally sit on the floor.

    In my opinion, culture strongly influences our daily lives and maybe we can say that some of our daily routines are culture (e.g. the way we say “hello” to each other is different in Germany and France, even though they are fairly close).
    These conventions have a long tradition and we can identify ourselves with them and through them.
    I suppose that when we say that people from other countries are different, it is not the people we are talking about, but their way of behaving (which has a cultural aspect).
    To me, culture is something that allows us to compare different nationalities with each other and in many cases this might lead to stereotyping.
    I would argue that most people are able to identify themselves with their culture; it makes them feel part of a certain group of people, with whom they would usually interact.
    As mentioned by Wilma, if people do not recognise to be part of a culture they might easily feel isolated and they would “stand out of the crowd”.
    I am not saying that this is necessarily something negative but it could cause problems and disagreements with the other people of the community.
    I also think that it is remarkable that people are able to adapt to another culture fairly quickly.
    Most holidaymakers, for example, would respect the social norms of the people in their holiday destination and try to fit in with them as much as possible. We would want to get to know to their daily habits and sometimes we would adapt to them.
    The most obvious reason for integrating is not to offend people.

    Travelling is a fantastic way of getting to know many different traditions and ways of living (or “lifestyles”, as we could call it).
    Culture is a “phenomenon” that is not limited to a borderline of a country, but even varies significantly within a country itself.
    As pointed out by Julia, many foreigners associate Germany with beer (most important!), meaty sausages and traditional Bavarian clothes (ranging from leather trousers to the world famous dirndl).
    In a way it is strange that for foreigners often have this stereotypical view of Germany, especially because it reflects Bavaria and not the North of our country.

  6. npentrelon 31 Jan 2011 at 21:31

    Culture, from the Latin word cultura, is all that is created by human beings, as opposed to the unchanged nature. Furthermore culture defines arts, humanities, human knowledge and believes, social learning, human behavior, shared attitudes, values, goals, and traditions that are characterizing a group. In other words culture represents the history, philosophy, the media, the art, the cinema, the sport and the cuisine of a society.
    Germany is “the land of poets and thinkers”. Its culture has been shaped through important eras such as the Renaissance, Romanticism, and Surrealism. The history of a society is of great importance, if you want to define a societie’s culture. Since the German Empire was founded in 1871, German culture was greatly influenced by WWI, WWII, and other big historical events.
    But even before the German Empire was founded, German roots had an impact on German culture. One big part of German culture was shaped by a philosopher, who had also significant influence on philosophy in the world. The philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) established German idealism, a philosophical movement which had a great impact on the romanticism during the 18th century in Europe. An object of great cultural value is the collection of folk tales by the Brothers Grimm, which is a good example for German literature and has influenced German culture. Ludwig van Beethoven’s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Sebastian Bach’s, classical music is a good example for music that defined art in German culture.
    Another big part of German culture is food, which varies from region to region. Menus in Germany tent to be heavy and hearty meals. Along with food, sports are of big importance in German culture. Football is a big part of people’s lives in Germany, which becomes fairly obvious when you look at the soccer World Cup.
    I would interpret the meaning of the term “Leitkultur” as the prevailing culture that is sort of like a leader, and which “guides” other cultures, i.e. the other cultures follow the “Leitkultur’s” lead and adapt to that. The term “Parallelkultur” defines a culture that exists in another culture. Hence, people that live in a country but do not adapt to this country’s culture but create or keep their own culture.

  7. deromanoon 01 Feb 2011 at 01:27

    In addition to what has been said, I would like to share some thoughts and experiences of mine :) . When I was a child, I barely knew about foreign cultures. I knew and appreciated exclusively Bulgarian culture. Going abroad opened my perspectives, I learned a lot about people’s cultures from all over the world and how to treat them with respect.

    Regarding the term culture, I would say that it is hard to define without mentioning that the variety of culture depends on one’s habitation. In my opinion it is a manifestation of life itself. Having new ideas and trying them out is a part of putting culture into practice. There are so many domains of life that are accepted by the society as measuring sticks for culture, for example the standards of art function as one. Another example is the religious tradition as a try to pursue the higher truth, the perfection; it is also an important key to obtain a new culture or, respectively, to further and enrich the established one.

    Finally, I would like to give you a closer look to an interesting cultural event in my country. The Bulgarian fire dancing is a traditional and one of the most interesting attractions in Bulgaria; it is unique, existing from many centuries.
    It is distributed only in Strandja / Southeast Bulgaria /. According to the popular belief, the fire protects people from evil forces, nature, even the sun itself, and thus increases its divine power. Entry into the fire purifies and opens the glass door to another world. I have chosen to relate about the fire dancing because the lore of sagas, myths and legends is very important; without them would culture, ideals and intrinsic values hardly exist.

  8. Marcus Parschon 02 Feb 2011 at 19:57

    Think about and formulate your own definition of culture – what does culture mean for you, what do you most associate with the term ‘culture’?

    In my opinion culture is a very complicated framework of habits, which can not be described easily. One problem is that you do not think much about these habits, because you grow up with them and thereby you adopt them unconsciously without questioning them. Like we said in our discussion last time, it is often observed that the best way and sometimes the only way of becoming aware of your own culture is to stay in another region or country for a while. Because of us not thinking about our culture or the habits we adopted, we only recognize and understand the features of our own culture when we experience differences to our own. What I do associate most with the term “culture” is that it makes you feel part of a group, which makes you also feel secure.

    Think about terms like “Leitkultur” and “Parallelkulturen” – what do these terms express and what are they used for?

    In my opinion the term “Leitkultur” expresses the common basis of a regional or national culture. It expresses similarities among people from one group. So the term thereby always reduces culture to a minimum, because regional particularities can not come along with “Leitkultur”. The term is often used for political debates, where it is discussed in what ways immigrants should indentify with our German “Leitkultur” and to what extent they should participate and share our culture. Apart from that I also associate identity to this term. It gives a region and especially a nation a feeling of togetherness and thereby also, at least in some cases, a feeling of solidarity. So “Leitkultur” can be very important for a nation, region or group.
    “Paraellelkultur” expresses a culture that exists next to another culture without an exchange between these two. In these “Parallelkulturen” people do live together in one region without exchanging their experiences. They live next to each other instead of living together. This term is often heard when politicians talk about the experiment of a “Multi-Kulti” society and whether this experiment succeeded or not.

    If you would have to explain to someone what is characteristic for your own culture (be it your national or regional culture) what would you pick out and why?

    Like I said at the beginning it is very hard to describe characteristics of your own culture, but the way we celebrate soccer events and discuss what happened on the field after the matches have been played is certainly one big part of our German culture. Sport in general is very important in our culture, because we did not only celebrate the soccer world cup in an, until then, unknown manner, we also celebrated the handball world cup in 2007 in a very special way.
    I do not know if the “Frühschoppen” is a German particularity, but I know that many Germans do love it, as well as drinking beer in general and of course brewing beer with a lot of passion. Finally the way of commenting on this blog like I did – answering question by question – could also be a feature of the German culture ;)

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