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There´s No Such a Thing as Culture

There´s No Such a Thing as Culture

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There's No Such Thing as Culture: Towards a Reconceptualization of the Idea of Culture inGeographyAuthor(s): Don MitchellSource:
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,
New Series, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1995),pp. 102-116Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with theInstitute of British Geographers)Stable URL:
Accessed: 04/09/2008 20:25
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=black .Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with thescholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform thatpromotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
 
102
There's no suchthingasculture:towardsareconceptualizationof theidea of cultureingeography
DonMitchell
Thereconceptualizationof'culture' n the 'new culturalgeography'has beenimportantforturningattention toprocesses, politicsandinterrelationshipswithother'spheres'of social life. But for all theimportanttheoretical andempiricaladvancesthisreconceptualizationhasinduced,culturalgeographystill reifies 'culture' andassignsitanontologicalandexplanatorystatus.InthispaperIarguethat suchareification isafallacyandthatculturalgeographywould be better servedbyfollowingthe'newculturalgeography'toitslogicalconclusion:arecognitionthat thereis nosuch(ontological) thingasculture.Iargueinsteadfor a focus on the materialdevelopmentof the idea(orideology)ofculture. Sucha furtherreconceptualizationof theobjectofstudyinculturalgeographymaybeundertaken inmany waysbut,by wayofexample,in thispaperIsuggestonlyone:how theidea of culturefunctionswithinsystemsofproductionandreproductionin thecontemporarycity.Throughthisexampleand the discussion thatprecedesit,Ishow that therecognitionthat thereisno suchthingasculture allows usbetterto theorize theworkingsofpowerinsystemsof socialreproduction.keywordsculture culturalgeographyideologyontologyabstractionreification
DepartmentofGeography,UniversityofColorado,CampusBox260, Boulder,CO80309-0260,USArevisedmanuscriptreceived 21June1994
Reconceptualizing'culture'in culturalgeography
MarvinMikesell(1978, 13)suggestedmore thanadecadeand a halfagothatit was timeforgeogra-phers'togivemore seriousthoughtto howtheywish to usetheconceptof culture'.Sincethen a newconceptualizationofculturewithingeographyhasindeedemerged.Thisconceptualization explicitlydeniessuperorganicism(Duncan1980)in favourofseeingcultureassociallyconstructed,activelymain-tainedbysocialactorsandsuppleinitsengagementwithother'spheres'of humanlife andactivity.Buildingontheoreticaldevelopmentsinsocialgeography,culturalstudies,literary theoryand'postmodem'anthropology,geographersnow
Trans InstBrGeogrNS 20 102-1161995ISSN:0020-2754
mostoftenconceptualizeculture,inthe wordsofCosgroveandJackson(1987, 99),as 'the mediumthroughwhichpeopletransformthemundanephenomenonof thematerial worldintoaworldofsignificantsymbolstowhichtheygivemeaningandattachvalue'.InRaymondWilliams'(1982,13)words,culture is'thesignifyingsystemthroughwhichnecessarily(thoughamongothermeans)asocial order iscommunicated,reproduced,experi-enced,andexplored' (quotedin Duncan1990, 15;see alsoDaniels1989).Somewhatmoreexpan-sively,PeterJackson(1989, 2)hassuggested,as a'workingdefinition'forculture,'thelevel at whichsocialgroups developdistinctpatternsoflife',calledcultureswhichthemselves'aremapsofmeaningthroughwhichthe worldismadeintelligible'.In all
Printedin GreatBritain
 
There'sno suchthingasculturecases 'culture' ssymbolic,active,constantlysubjecttochangeandriventhroughwithrelationsofpower.Andin all cases cultureis,perhaps,notathingbut rather an identifiableprocess,ananalyticcategory,amappablelevel orsphere.For culturalgeographersculture exists.Even afterJamesDuncan's(1980)critiqueofsuperorganicisminAmerican culturalgeography,few 'new culturalgeographers'lwoulddisagreewithCosgroveandJackson's(1987,95)claim that[c]ulturesnotaresidualategory,he surfaceariationleftunaccounted orbymorepowerfuleconomicanalyses;tis theverymediumhroughwhichchangeisexperienced,ontestedandconstituted.Culture, therefore,can bespecifiedassomethingwhich both differentiatesthe world andprovidesaconceptforunderstandingthat differentiation.Cul-tureitselfisasphereof human lifeeverybit asimportantas,yetsomehow differentfrom,politics,economyand socialrelations. Itis animportantontologicalcategorywhich must betheorizedandunderstood ifwehopetounderstandhumandiffer-entiation,behaviour,experienceandcontest. Cul-tureinthissense,ofcourse,is notconceptualizedasadeterminant of humanbehaviourandthoughtthat,whileperhapssociallyconstructed,existsbeyondhumaninteraction(seeZelinsky1973).Instead,geographersandothershaveresorted tometaphorsofspatialitytodefine theirobjectofstudy.Hence,'culture' isrepresentedinterms ofspheres, maps,levels ordomains.It becomes amediumofmeaningand action.Thisreconceptualizationof 'culture'as adomainor level hasallowedculturalgeographerstoretain abeliefin anontologicalculture thatmustbothbeexplainedand whichitself issociallycausative(evenifnotsuperorganic).Culture'itself',subtlytheorizedandunderstood tobedeeplyconnected toother'spheres'ofhumanactivity,isincreasinglyused incontemporarygeographyasexplanationforthematerialdifferencesthatmarktheworld.AsStephenDaniels(1989,199)putit:'Culturehas,asitwere,dissolvedthecategoriesofclassicalMarxism',andhenceshownthateconomisticexplanationsofeverydaylife are muchtoosimple.Infact,thereconceptualizationof culturehasbeenintimatelyconnectedwith what isincreasinglyidentifiedas the'culturalturn'(LeyandDuncan1993a;Gregory1993)in thesocialsciences,aturnawayfromeconomisticexplanationsinfavourofexploringother'spheres'oflife. Astatementbytheeditors of
103
aselection ofessaysexploringthegeographyofracismistypicalin thisregard:themyopicrefusalbypreviousanalystsorecogniseracialisationandindeedgenderisedelations)sevenmorepuzzling,sinceaspowerrelationsshiftfromzonesofproductiono those ofconsumptionotoodoesculturencreasinglyashionstrategiesofresist-ance.(Keithand Cross1993,27,emphasisadded)Culture,sociallyconstructed andhighlymediated,iscausativeand,inthissense,'culture'explainsaction,behaviour,resistance orsocial formationsinawaythat 'economics' or'politics'cannot.Whiletheturnawayfromsuperorganicismorotherinadequatethoeorizations of culturetowardmetaphorsofspatialityhashad theeffect offore-groundingprocessand ofshowingthatcultureissociallyconstructed andalwayscontested,ithasalso raisednewquestionsconcerningtheconceptofculture. Inwhat arethesespatial metaphorsgrounded?Dotheydenoteontologicallyspecifiableprocesses?2In thispaperIwould like tosuggestthattheshift fromdeterminant'thing'tonebulous'level'has had theeffect of furthermystifyingprocessesof socialpoweras well ascontinuingtoreifytheessentiallyempty,untetheredabstractionof'culture'.Toputthisanotherway,Ibelieve itispossibletoapplyDuncan's(1980)critiqueof reifi-cationin traditionalconceptsof 'culture' ngeogra-phytotheconceptsofculture thathave beendeployedinthe'new culturalgeography':thatculturalgeographersstill fall into the'fallacy bywhich mental[andIwouldaddsocial]constructionsorabstractions areseen ashavingsubstance,i.e.independentexistence orcausalefficacy'(Duncan1980,181,followingBergerandPullberg1964-5,196-211;seealso DuncanandLey1982).Beyond(andcertainlybuildingon)allthe fermentinculturalgeographyand culturalstudies ingeneral,Iwould liketosuggestthatthere isafurtherreconceptualizationof'culture'norder. Thisrecon-ceptualizationbeginsbyassertingthatthere isnosuch(ontological)thingasculture.Rather,thereisonlyaverypowerfulideaofculture,anideathathasdevelopedunderspecifichistoricalconditionsandwas laterbroadened asameans ofexplainingmaterialdifferences,social orderandrelations ofpower(cf.TMitchell1990).Buttheseexplanationsarenot of'cultureitself',whetherdefinedas alevel,medium orsignifyingsystem.Thesewaysofseeing'culture' do notavoidreification,rathertheyper-petuateitbysmuggling rightinto theheart of

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