Culture and Values Terms

Culture and Values Terms

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High and Popular Culture

High culture is a term referring to the "best of breed" (from some elitist viewpoints) cultural products. What falls in this category is defined by the most powerful sections of society, i.e. its social, political, economic and intellectual elite. The opposite of high cultural art forms, such as the opera, historic art, classical music, traditional theatre or literature; popular culture includes many forms of cultural communication including newspapers, television, advertising, comics, pop music, radio, cheap novels, movies, jazz, etc. In the beginning of the 20th Century, "high art" was the realm of the wealthy and educated classes while popular culture or "low art" was considered commercial entertainment for the lower classes. In the 1950s and 60s the gap between high and low art closed with the rise of Pop Art.

Post colonialism

This term describes the situation in existence since a majority of countries have achieved their political independence from Britain and other Western European powers such as Spain, France, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and Germany. Post colonialism describes the cultural, intellectual, political, and literary movement of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries characterized by the representation and analysis of the historical experiences of the victims, individuals and nations, of colonial power. A recent site of postcolonial change in the English-speaking world is the formal overthrowing of the "apartheid" system in South Africa. Post colonialism has transformed our sense of what we are about; and such impressive changes will naturally have important implications on English studies.


Similar to Post colonialism, multiculturalism has transformed our sense of what society and culture is about. Multiculturalism describes the status of several different ethnic, racial, religious or cultural groups co-existing in harmony in the same society. The existence of multiculturalism in the Western World today has expanded the English literary world, displacing the narrow notions of literature and increasing recognition of non-Western-European genres of writing, oral performance and cultural production for example legends, histories, laws, fables, anecdotes, oratory, song, chant, and song and dance. Culture itself is a broad term, therefore there are various views on what multicultural can mean. It can describe the existence of a multiracial society, in which case emphasis is placed on people's physical attributes i.e. Hair texture and skin colour. It can also describe the existence of multiethnic society, where the emphasis is placed more on people's social organisation or culture rather than physical make-up. Cultural differences of all kinds that exist in society can also describe the term multiculturalism, including differences of class, rank, caste, sexuality, gender, occupation, region, age etc.

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Feminist Criticism

An approach to literature that seeks to correct what may be regarded as a predominantly male-dominated critical perspective with a feminist perception. Feminist criticism places literature in a social context and uses a broad range of disciplines, including history, sociology, psychology, and linguistics, to provide a perspective sensitive to feminist issues. Feminist criticism is especially concerned with the way gender assumptions, especially about women; operate in the reading and writing of literary texts. Feminist theories also attempt to understand representation from a woman’s point of view and to explain women’s writing strategies as specific to their social conditions. The feminist literary criticism of today is a direct product of the "women's movement" in the 1960s. This movement was, in important ways, literary from the start, in the sense that it realised the significance of the images of women spread by literature; and saw it vital to combat them.


Postmodernism has influenced theology, art, culture, architecture, society, film, technology, and economics. Traditional social, art and cultural constructs are discarded and have been reinterpreted in relativistic terms. An example of post-modern thought would be the validation of homosexuality as an equally legitimate sexual expression over and against the Judeo-Christian ethic of heterosexual monogamy. In other words, previously taboo practices and beliefs are given equal validity to traditional values and norms often to the point of displacing the latter.

Literary postmodernism has obvious stylistic characteristics. Features include a tendency to be non-traditional and anti-authoritarian, and to oppose the conventional process of meaning. Post-modern experimental techniques are displayed in such literary forms as the anti novel, concrete poetry, magic realism and Theatre of the Absurd (for example Ibsen's The Chairs). Post-modern stylistic techniques include the following: self reference, pastiche, intertextuality, eclectic approaches to matter and styles and parody.


Term referring to art, literature, and music of the late 19th and the 20th century, it was a form of protest against the industrialized, militaristic, business-oriented, mechanical and bureaucratic nature of the modern world. The period of high modernism literary modernism was the 20 years from 1910 to 1930 and some of the literary "high priests" of the movement were T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf, Wallace Stevens and Gertrude Stein. Literary modernism focused on breaking away from rules and conventions, searching for new perspectives and points of view and experimenting in form and style. Some modernists placed emphasis on art for its own sake. The overall results of these shifts were to produce a literature that did seem dedicated to experimentation and innovation. After its high point, modernism seemed to retreat considerably in the 1930s partly because of the tension generated in the decade of political and economical crisis (eg. the depression).

Marxist Criticism
The basic Marxist assumption is that those who control a social's economy also control, or at least influence heavily, its cultural and intellectual products. The Marxist theory of social history initially emerged in the nineteenth century. It was the product of a period of particularly turbulent social change fuelled by new sciences, new technologies and new political institutions. As Marxist theory has been applied to the understanding of literature, it has provided an often-potent means of assessing the social significance of the literary text. Marxist criticism interprets a literary work as both a reflection and a product of economic conflict between the social classes. Some particular Marxist assumptions about social relations include:
* Individuals do not have an existence independent of society. Individuals are creatures of social history.
* Society is dynamic, constantly in flux. Social change results from a dialectic of opposing forces out of which a new synthesis of society is constantly emerging--a new set of social relationships, standards and ideals. History is a record of this dialectic of social forces.
* The forces fuelling this social dialectic are essentially economic in nature, and they are dramatized in tensions within and between social classes. These forces set the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in opposition to one another.
* All literature is ideological. That is, all literature reflects the social dialectic of history and directly or indirectly declares an allegiance or hostility to these forces. All literature, then, is polemical.
* Good literature is consciously polemical. It is itself a force of change, fostering a dialectical consciousness in readers. The good writer is conscious of the dialectic of social forces reflected in the literary subject and seeks to make the reader aware of the dialectical predicament of society and its member-individuals.
Source Dr. Tom Fish with Jennifer Perkins at


Context refers to the multitude of factors, which shape the meanings of a text within the social framework of its reading. This framework may include particular ideas about the text's history, but is also powerfully shaped by competing beliefs and practices in the present. Like a yo-yo craze or a catchphrase, texts can last for a long time and then disappear from circulation, perhaps to reappear later in a different form. For any text to be recognisable and readable it must draw upon already established and shared sets of meanings. As, literate members of a culture, we employ our knowledge of other texts to make sense of what we are reading or hearing. Being aware of the context of a literary piece can help us do this.


This term describes a coherent piece of spoken and/or written language in a specific context. A discourse may be a whole text (for example, a personal letter or an entire conversation), or it may be part of a text that conveys related meanings (for example, several exchanges, within a dialogue, that relate to a single theme). Discourses do not offer neutral descriptions of the world. They actively shape the world in favour of certain viewpoints. They also compete with each other for control in certain aspects of life. Hence a discourse is a body of knowledge that regulates our understanding of a given aspect of the world. Discourses such as patriarchal, capitalist and colonial invite us to understand the world in a certain way.


Literally, ideology refers to the study of ideas, the collective knowledge, understandings, opinions, values, preconceptions, experiences and/or memories that informs a culture and its individual people. Ideology is often aligned with political beliefs, but is much broader than that, relating to any social or cultural beliefs, and these beliefs are revealed in literary or other texts. In a text, certain ideas or values will be dominant, while others will be necessarily marginalized. For instance, The Three Little Pigs reveals an ideology that values a strong home and good work ethic that lead to a stable existence.


Intertextuality refers to the idea that texts exist in cultural and visual contexts alongside other texts. They influence one another and often refer to one another overtly, this being a particular characteristic of postmodernist writing. In fact, all language is itself intertextual, since language always pre-exists the speaker, meaning that words and meanings are always second-hand in some sense. Individuals make sense of texts in reference to their relations with other texts, by circulating and exchanging meanings, not as small portions (eg. words) but as packages of meaning. A package of meaning could be a narrative, myth, moral or genre for example.

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