The difficulty of defining culture

The term “culture” can be tricky to define – as is evidenced in a story from the New York Times about culture and poverty. One writer tries to sum up the definition and the argument:

The important thing is, you can’t isolate culture as one element of a society and change it without changing anything else. You can’t ignore the roles racism, lack of fundamental necessities, and social isolation play in shaping culture, and you can’t use it as a convenient way to blame poverty on the individuals who suffer from it.

While I would agree that it is difficult to separate culture from other areas, sociologists of culture tend to stress that culture is “patterns of meaning-making.” All people do this: develop narratives and ways of understanding their surroundings.

What seems to be the new wave of research is looking at how culture and structures (such as unemployment, isolation, lack of opportunity) interact with and influence each other.

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