Raymond Williams, the cultural linguist, views culture as perhaps one of the most complicated words in the English language (Williams, 2013). The word’s genealogy may be traced back to the 16th Century and the Latin word colere. In the Latin use, culture is applied to the agrarian context, in reference to cultivation and husbandry. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, this meaning was extended to human norms, as cultivation of manners.
However, the modernist understanding of the word is rooted in the 19th Century, and the view of culture as a “particular way of life” (Mezey, 2001). This understanding encompasses the social understanding of culture as the meanings and values of people not only in art and learning but also in their institutions. Another commonly accepted meaning is that of Ernest Gellner. In his semantic ‘Nationalism’, Gellner (1997) conceptualizes culture as “the socially transmitted and sometimes transformed bank of acquired traits.” Similarly, Mezey (2001) denotes culture as “any set of shared practices by which meaning is produced, performed, contested, or transformed”. From these theoretical conceptions, we may thus construct culture to be a set of people’s way of life, their guiding views and practices.
Gellner, E. (1998). Nationalism (1st ed.). London: Phoenix.
Mezey, Naomi, “Law As Culture” (2001). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 317.
Williams, R. (2013). Keywords (Routledge Revivals) (1st ed.). Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.