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Lecture 4_Culture and European Integration

Update April 11, 2020

In this lecture, we will discuss the following questions:


1. What is culture? Different definitions, models of culture, etc.

2. The interrelationship between culture and internatinal organizations. Think about the questions and comment on the statement made by Huntington from his bestseller "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" (2003,p.28).

3. What are your comments on the following statement: "If I had the opportunity of starting again the integration process from scratch, perhaps it would be more efficient if it was started by cultural integration. The unification of Europe and the integration of culture together."


Reading material:

Culture and European Integration

In recent years, sociology of culture and cultural politics have developed more interest in the cultural dimension of European integration. Delanty (1998, 2000a) and Eder (2001) have argued that now we start adding to political, economic and social European integration, a cultural dimension. Delanty refers to the “culturally deficit project of integration” (Delanty, 1998: 3.2). In particular, “it is not surprising therefore that the concept of culture in European integration has remained extremely obscure and has frequently been seen as a spiritual idea, as it is suggested by works on the ‘spirit of Europe’, for instance, Jaspers (1947), Husserl (1965), Patoka (1973) and Kundera (1984)”.

If ‘integration’ is an unclear term, this is even more the case with culture. What is culture? This question becomes relevant as a result of the denial of the cultural factor in the mainstream integration theory and in the context of European integration. Culture, it has been suggested “is probably the broadest concept of all those used in the historical social sciences. It embraces a very large range of connotations, and thereby it is the cause perhaps of the most difficulty”. The concept of culture itself has made its way into EU documents since the 1980s as an important dimension to the process of European integration: “The cultural dimension is becoming an increasingly crucial means of giving effect to policies seeking to fasten a Union of the European peoples founded on the consciousness of sharing a common heritage of ideas and values”.

One problem with this statement is that common history and cultural traditions are often going to be exclusive and incompatible in a definition of culture because parts of identity and history evolve in complex terms with neighbours. The result is that we often have incommensurable national stories and traditions.

Recent debates among scholars of European integration (Rosamond, 2000; Friis, 1997; Haas, 2001; Hix and Goetz, 2000; Hooghe and Marks, 2001; Jachtenfuchs, 2001) suggest that culture and European integration might have little in common. The term ‘culture’ often refers to institutions that promote culture (museums, libraries, universities, theatres). Much analysis of the cultural dimension of integration has therefore focused on the EU cultural policies (i.e. cultural industries) and on their dynamics and mechanisms of cultural policy-making (Meinhof and Triandafyllidou, 2006; McGuigan, 2004; Flood and Kevin, 2005). Culture as contained in the notion of ‘cultural integration’ differs from cultural policy regulation, and especially from cultural inclusion. In all areas researchers have confronted each other in order to give a proper definition of culture. For a short review of different meanings of culture it is preferable to break up the analysis according to four meanings of culture: culture as a form of high culture and intellectual artefact; culture as a normative model; culture as medium of communication and culture as social construction.

1) Culture as a form of High Culture and Intellectual Artefact

The meaning of culture as a form of high culture is close to the etymology of the term ‘culture’. The term ‘culture’ derives from the Latin word cultura that was applied to mean ‘cultivation’. It also included the training and care of the body. “Instruction aimed at increasing virtue chastisement, chastening from the evils with which God visits men for their amendment”. Before 1750 human cultivation was expressed in French, English and German by the notion of ‘civilization’. Later in the Oxford English Dictionary (1805) it means ‘the training, development, and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners’. Today this definition comes to explain what we call ‘high culture’. This conception restricts culture to dissemination of fine art, opera, poetry, theatre and so forth. These are areas where one is supposed to need an education in order to be able to enjoy. In other words, high culture is culture associated with a learning process and a particular social class/status. A parallel can be made with the definition of culture as an intellectual artefact. This meaning describes culture as a process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development. It is noteworthy in this case to consider the link to civilisation. Close association to civilisation and aesthetic attainment adds a sense of elitism to the meaning of culture.

Matthew Arnold (1883) depicted culture as the study of perfection. In other words culture exists at a very abstract level and includes values such as beauty, intelligence, and perfection. His definition is confusing from two points of view: firstly, the definition does not say much about what kind of ‘perfection’; secondly, the author never questioned the social context. He is somehow prisoner of the initial definition of culture when he writes, “culture is to know the best that has been said and thought in the world” (Arnold 1883). The social anthropologist Edward Burnett Taylor defined culture ‘or civilisation’ back in 1871 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”. It is very likely that Taylor thought of culture in terms of social evolution. The focus on culture meant concern with symbolic representations (e.g. language) that make us human. In this respect Taylor’s definition does not differ from what Melville Herskowitz calls culture back in 1948: “a construct describing the total body of belief, behaviour, knowledge, sanctions, values, and goals that make up the way of life of a people”.

This shift of culture onto groups opens the door to the study of cultural integration because, since societies are by definition groups, the culture metaphor can also be applied to societies. Although, for some (especially postmodernist) theorists, culture preserves its association with the intellectual and artistic, most theorists have emphasised the meaning of culture as a particular way of life among people or community. Raymond Williams’ essay Culture Is Ordinary (1958) marked a turn in the way culture was conceived. He brought down the high culture concept to a more ordinary one, “in every society and in every mind”. Indeed he defines culture as a whole way of life, arts and learning, a process of discovery and creative effort.

Raymond Williams turns upon a more symbolic dimension of culture. In The Long Revolution (1961) he examines creativity in relation to our social and cultural thinking. The book is a reference when it comes to a theory of culture, where the culture considers education and press as cultural institutions and advances the idea of a strong relationship between literary forms and social history. Twentieth century is in his opinion just part of a long political, economic and cultural revolution.

2) Culture as a normative model

A second meaning of culture refers not to a national or supranational sphere but has to do with universal norms of democracy and rights, freedoms and universal human culture. This is a definition of culture as a normative model. “At the end of the twentieth century, human rights, democracy, progress, equality are everyone’s, every nation’s modernity --- even when they organize their modernity differently and even when they fail to exercise that modernity. (…) This Europe does not exist against others” (Soysal, 2002: 274). This is what makes it difficult to find this definition of culture ‘unique’ European. This definition of culture is somehow related to the notion of ‘civilization’.

Delanty (2000a) criticizes a definition of culture based on value consensus, arguing that culture is rather conflictual. Culture leads to fragmentation, understood as ‘the collapse of unifying ideologies of social order’. Delanty suggests an alternative model of culture that he calls cultural pluralization as opposed to cultural cohesion. That is a model contrasting to a pre-established set of norms and values and to a cultural consensus reflected earlier in many debates on integration.

Increasingly “culture is becoming the site for new conflicts over identity politics and European integration is not leading to greater cohesion but to increased opportunities for contentious action” (Delanty, 2000b: 221). In other words, a model which would be more sensitive to cultural innovation, more adjusted to social and cultural fragmentation, and more attentive to the conflictual dimension to culture.

3) Culture as a medium of communication

Culture can also be seen as a medium of communication (Eder, 2001; Brague, 2002; Delanty, 2003a, Bauman, 2004), as something uncertain, non-fixed, and that keeps questioning. Put another way, culture is what we communicate through language and symbols whose meanings are learned and inherited from one generation to another. But this transmission of culture is not always the same. Culture changes and has its own dynamics depending on the society’s dynamics. For Delanty and Rumford culture is not “fixed or rooted in immutable principles, and is not defined by reference to territory, the state, an elite, a church or a party” (Delanty and Rumford, 2005: 104). On the contrary, culture is a flexible medium of communication, “rather than a form of integration” (Delanty and Rumford, 2005: 104). This is true if one looks at the role of the internet and other sources of information. This medium of communication is what defines us as cultural human beings. A mode of communication is a mode of expressing culture. Communication is a precondition for all social interaction. Social links are reproduced through this medium of communication.

Rémi Brague uses the term ‘cultural secondarity’ trying to convince us that “Europe has indeed this special feature of having, one might say, immigrated to itself”. Culture influences the way people communicate. Yet even within the same culture people do not communicate in the same way. More fundamental differences are met within larger groups of people: communities, societies, nations, and civilisations. A parallel can be drawn with the concept of consensus. ‘Consensus transformed into dissensus’ as Eder (2001) noted, assumes a shared knowledge that can be contested. This is what Eder calls ‘culture’. This argument is justified. For “without dissensus we do not need to construct a shared world”. A study on social consensus does not need to go back to symbols, rituals and beliefs because such a cultural system is open to conflicts and inconsistencies.

4) Culture as social construction

The fourth meaning, culture as social construction is derived from Clifford Geertz’s definition of culture considered as the conceptual basis of a symbolic-interpretative approach: “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning”. These “webs of significance”, the essence of culture, define meanings that people bring to their experiences in the outside world and meanings we make from experience. Yet, his assumptions are not always clear. What comes first: meaning or experience? Geertz claims that culture is a social legacy where the individual learns from its own group. Culture is learning and a cultivation process common to this group or society. Clifford Geertz sees culture in a societal context where values, ideologies and the way people behave differ from individual to individual. Society is defined here as any community of people with common interests, values and aims. And because this learning process and the society are in continuous dynamic, culture is also dynamic. Culture is “an incessant activity of drawing the world, fragment by fragment, (…) making the world an object of critical inquiry and creative action”. Like Geertz, Bauman (1973, 2004) argues for culture as praxis, but also for another kind of culture, that he calls ‘a silent culture’. This is culture “unaware of being a culture, (…) a repair workshop servicing the current web of human interaction called ‘society’” (Bauman, 2004: 12).

This symbolic-interpretative approach starts from the assumption that cultures are socially constructed realities. In the words of Mary Jo Hatch “when speaking of culture as shared meaning, understanding, values, belief systems, or knowledge, keep in mind that a culture depends upon both community and diversity.

It allows for similarity, but also supports and relies upon difference”. This is close to Bourdieu’s (1972, 1988) concept of culture. According to Bourdieu, culture is constituted by what makes our symbolic universe: institutions, artefacts and practices are included. He also emphasizes the point that culture defined as both ‘way of life’ and ‘high culture’ is linked to politics without eliminating the role of human agents and the actions that shape their social world. Bourdieu (1972) refers to culture as a systemic social construction based on a competition between ideational, actionable, and material elements within society. Culture relates to the individual and is derived through social structures which are influenced by society’s overlapping sub-systems. The symbolic systems (arts, science, language, religion) that we are shaped of influence both our way of communication and the connecting process between groups or individuals and their institutions. In his book, Homo Academicus (1988), Bourdieu insists on how important hierarchies and academic authority are for cultural products’ reception in the academia. Even if Bourdieu did not particularly analyse cultural integration, he was concerned with how culture is structured between generations. His focus includes cultural consumption patterns and their meaning in contemporary societies. That is to say that social interaction and cultural integration can exclude or restrict individuals from cultural participation and from being cultural recipients of arts, education and ability to understand politics.

The point made in Bourdieu’s approach is that culture constructs strategies of action. On the basis of this hypothesis Bourdieu draws the thesis that culture as a mode of using symbols (moral, of taste) is associated with the notion of ‘strategy’. This includes implicitly the assumption that is the medium of class-specific strategies of connecting with each other. Bourdieu calls these strategies habitus. These habitus distinguish between different classes of people.

It might be enlightening to compare Bourdieu’s definition of culture with Shore’s concept of culture. According to Shore, culture is not only a disputed concept but a disputed space, central to which are issues of language and power, and ideology and consciousness”.




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