Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions

Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions

Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions

Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions

Excerpt

The history of the concept of culture as used today in science is the story of the emergence of an idea that was gradually strained out of the several connotations of an existing word. The word culture, in turn, goes back to classical or perhaps pre-classical Latin with the meaning of cultivation or nurture, as it still persists in terms like agriculture, horticulture, cult, cultus, and in recent formations like bee culture, oyster culture, pearl culture, bacillus cultures. The application of culture to human societies and history was late—apparently post-1750—and for some reason was characteristic of the German language and at first confined to it.

The Romance languages, and English in their wake, long used civilization instead of culture to denote social cultivation, improvement, refinement, or progress. This term goes back to Latin civis, civilis, civitas, civilitas, whose core of reference is political and urban: the citizen in an organized state as against the tribesman. The term civilization does not occur in classical Latin, but seems to be a Renaissance Romance formation, probably French and derived from the verb civiliser, meaning to achieve or impart refined manners, urbanization, and improvement. An Italian near-counterpart civiltà is as early as Dante; and Samuel Johnson still preferred civility to civilization.

Thus both terms, culture and civilization, began by definitely containing the idea of betterment, of improvement toward perfection. They still retain this meaning today, in many usages, both popular and intellectual. However, in science as of 1952, the word culture has acquired also a new and specific sense (sometimes shared with civilization), which can fairly be described as the one scientific denotation that it possesses. This meaning is...

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