Culture as Second Fiddle

Is culture relevant today – is it not out-weighed by the contemporary blast of media – have we not risen above mere ethnic culturalism or is culture just found in the “arts” or historic ethnicity – this essay from ARCADE by Gregory Jusdanis examines some of these topics briefly

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That still sums up the way we view culture today. We undervalue its place in the world, always elevating the importance of the economy as a factor in social change. Culture, to change the metaphor, still plays second fiddle, following the lead of the economic conductor.

I thought the situation had changed until I sat in a seminar presentation recently in which the same arguments were hashed out: that the economy determines all social relations and that culture is derivative, responding to transformations but rarely generating changes itself. The discussion, in other words, zig-zagged between materialism and idealism. Is this conversation not tiresome?

What do I mean by culture? I have in mind both culture as the arts (popular and non-popular) and culture as identity (ethnic, racial, gender, national).

We underestimate the power of culture in social life. Beholden as we are to materialist explanations, we prefer the hardness of economic factors to what we consider soft ones such as gender, ethnicity, nation, love, art, and friendship. Continue reading