Sunday, March 9, 2008
culture and circulation
One definition of culture is the whole nexus of lived social practices of a particular group of people in a particular place and time.
If we accept that definition, then the constant force of change that’s present in culture might be defined as circulation: the movement of people across place and the exchanges of resources (both ideas and goods) that occur as they move.
This exchange always involves conditions of power. The most extreme use of power in the process of circulation involves the forced seizing of resources: an invasion.
Culture always remains most the same when it circulates least. But even when it remains most the same, culture also always involves conditions of power: how the culture is organized and who is in charge.
Even when it remains most the same, a culture also always contains within it pressures towards circulation, even if those pressures are nothing more than the shifting power relations within a family, clan, town, or region. All people can seek to circulate at any time, although others may succeed in restraining them.
Yet even when circulating is most frequent, the force of culture remains, even if it is nothing more than the distant memory of a person who long ago traveled permanently far from home.
The dynamic interaction between culture and circulation is inevitable. The key issue involves when to assert the value of culture and when to assert the value of circulation.
But it’s also not surprising that it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that one or the other is a fundamental source of good or its opposite. At the present time, for instance, some see the good of culture as being at war with the evil of globalization, while others insist on the good of exchange over the backwardness of culture.
How can we work to recognize that culture and circulation will always interact, and that conditions of power will always be at stake in them, without the always fundamentalist assertion that one or the other is an absolute good?