Culture, 1922: The Emergence of a Concept

Culture, 1922: The Emergence of a Concept

Culture, 1922: The Emergence of a Concept

Culture, 1922: The Emergence of a Concept


Culture, 1922 traces the intellectual and institutional deployment of the culture concept in England and America in the first half of the twentieth century. With primary attention to how models of culture are created, elaborated upon, transformed, resisted, and ignored, Marc Manganaro works across disciplinary lines to embrace literary, literary critical, and anthropological writing. Tracing two traditions of thinking about culture, as elite products and pursuits and as common and shared systems of values, Manganaro argues that these modernist formulations are not mutually exclusive and have indeed intermingled in complex and interesting ways throughout the development of literary studies and anthropology.

Beginning with the important Victorian architects of culture--Matthew Arnold and Edward Tylor--the book follows a number of main figures, schools, and movements up to 1950 such as anthropologist Franz Boas, his disciples Edward Sapir, Ruth Benedict, and Zora Neale Hurston, literary modernists T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, functional anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, modernist literary critic I. A. Richards, the New Critics, and Kenneth Burke. The main focus here, however, is upon three works published in 1922, the watershed year of Modernism--Eliot's The Waste Land, Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific, and Joyce's Ulysses. Manganaro reads these masterworks and the history of their reception as efforts toward defining culture. This is a wide-ranging and ambitious study about an ambiguous and complex concept as it moves within and between disciplines.


In the 1987 volume Critical Terms for Literary Study Stephen Greenblatt opens his entry on culture with the Victorian anthropologist Edward Tylor’s famous founding definition (1871) of the anthropological concept of culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Greenblatt then follows with the question whether culture as a “concept” is “useful to students of literature.” “The answer,” Greenblatt quickly responds, “may be that it is not.”

The problem with culture, Greenblatt continues, is that “the term as Tylor uses it is almost impossibly vague and encompassing, and the few things that seem excluded from it are almost immediately reincorporated in the actual use of the word.” Culture as a term, Greenblatt asserts, “is repeatedly used without meaning much of anything at all”; hence the multiple possible meanings for the term “are scarcely the backbone of an innovative critical practice” (225). Greenblatt follows with the question “how we can get the concept of culture to do more work for us” and then introduces two opposing terms, constraint and mobility, that will constitute a more specific model for what culture is and how it works and will prove helpful in understanding the relation of literary study to the social processes ambiguously labeled “culture.”

The purpose of this volume is not to apply Greenblatt’s model, or in fact anyone’s, to come to terms with what culture as concept definitively is or ought to be. Rather, I hope, through selected readings from some seminal architects of the culture concept, to trace the intellectual and institutional development of the concept through the first half of the twentieth century in England and America, and more specifically to interpret the concept as it surfaces in the interrelated fields of anthropology and literary study. Greenblatt’s definition, or redefinition, of the concept is especially appropriate not because it is an especially useful model for culture (though he does generative work with it as he applies it to literary works) but because it effectively rehearses the very rhetorical position that has compelled writers since Tylor, including T. S. Eliot, Clifford Geertz, and Greenblatt himself, to continue to work with the term: that the term culture is too loose and large and needs “definition.”

Indeed, each of the abovementioned authors attempts to give definition or discipline to the term to make it disciplinarily useful and usable and in fact . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.