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Essay about High Culture

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The modern definition of ‘culture’ is the ‘art, literature, music and other intellectual expressions of a particular society or time’ (“Culture,” Oxford’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English). There are two principal concepts in the study of communication and culture – the materialist and the idealist view of culture. The materialist approach concerns itself with the literary criticisms of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, and the Frankfurt School where culture is constituted by class relations and social structure, whereas, the idealist approach concerns itself with literary criticisms of Matthew Arnold (Arnoldian), F.R. Leavis and Q.D. Leavis (Leavisite) where it discriminates between high culture and low culture. This essay seeks to examine how the concept of high culture is used and its alternative counterparts.
Idealism, by Oxford’s definition, is ‘the practice of forming, pursuing or believing in ideals’ (“Idealism,” Oxford’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English). The idealist approach in the anthropological study of culture lays its prominence on the ‘informing spirit’ which informs the interests and values of the people by the higher society, the educated minority through language, styles of art and kinds of intellectual work (Williams, 1981). This view was first developed by Arnold’s theory of high culture and later Leavis’ theory of mass society in the determining what integrates ‘culture’ hence discriminating between ‘the best and the worst of culture’ (Barker, 2009:41).
Arnold, as famously quoted, referred culture as ‘the best that has been thought and said in the world’ (Arnold, 1960:6) where moral perfection and social greatness can be achieved through ‘reading, observing and thinking’ (...


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...dvanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (p. 295, 5th edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Idealism. (1995). In J. Crowther (Ed.), Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (p. 635, 5th edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Marx, K. “The Materialist Conception of History”, in T.B. Bottomore & M. Rubels (eds), Karl Marx; Seleted Writings in Sociology & Social Philosophy, Penguin, Ringwood, 1973, pp. 67-80.
Materialism. (1995). In J. Crowther (Ed.), Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (p. 788, 5th edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schiach, M. “TV: Technology and Cultural Decline”, Discourse on Popular Culture, Polity Press, 4 pages.
Swingewood, A. “The Theory of Mass Society”, The Myth of Mass Culture, London, 1977, pp. 8-10.
Williams, R. “Towards A Sociology of Culture”, Culture, Fontana, Glasgow, 1981, pp. 9-14.


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