What Is Culture?
The concept of culture lies at the center of one of the major areas of concern in modern thought: how consciousness is shaped socially. One might expect that a word of such importance as "culture" would be used judiciously in everyday speech. However, many persons use "culture" as a code word to name a large area of reality but with such vagueness as to be unhelpful. In a daily newspaper, we may find the following: "the Cincinnati cultural scene," "our American culture of violence," "homosexual culture," "Hispanic culture," "youth culture," or "the Protestant culture of hard work." Without a clear understanding of what "culture" means, the word can be used in glib ways that hide instead of disclose its deepest issues. In this chapter I wish to survey the history of the word "culture." The survey is necessary to give culture the nuance necessary for the sort of cultural agency I wrote of in Chapter 1. Then I will set out Raymond Williams's most succinct description of culture and seek to apply it, first, to religious groups as one zone of cultural agency. From that foundation I will in Chapter 3 apply these ideas to schools, especially religious schools as a second zone of agency. At the outset, however, a word about Raymond Williams himself is appropriate, since I rely so much on his thought.
Raymond Williams ( 1921- 1988) was born in the Black Mountains of Wales, a region with distinctive traditions and proud to have been able to maintain its own language. He was the son of working-class parents: his mother was a homemaker and his father a railway signalman. At Cambridge University in the late 1930s his undergraduate studies in literature were influenced by F. R. Leavis and his conviction that literature could be used to critique industrial society. These studies were interrupted by five