In Defense of ‘Culture’

  • Wierzbicka A
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The concept of ‘culture’, as used in anthropology and related fields, has been under continual and mounting criticism for several decades. This paper argues that while this concept needs indeed to be scrutinized and problematized, we are nonetheless much better off with it than without it. By rejecting it, we would jeopardize, in particular, the vital interests of immigrants, refugees and other crossers of cultural boundaries, who need to learn about cultural differences to be able to flourish, or even survive (socially), in a new environment. Drawing on autobiographical cross-cultural literature, the paper shows how the experience of transcultural lives and transcultural ‘selves’ vindicates the ‘culture’ concept, despite its limitations, and how this experience points to a need for cross-cultural education, rather than for the abandonment of the concept of ‘culture(s)’. At the same time, the paper shows how the results of linguistic semantics and pragmatics, and especially those of the so-called ‘natural semanticmetalanguage’ (NSM) theory developed by the author and colleagues, allow us to better identify different cultural assumptions, values and understandings associated with different languages and to articulate different ‘cultural scripts’ in a way which would reflect the perspective of cultural insiders while being intelligible to outsiders. It also shows how the theory of ‘cultural scripts’, which is an offshoot of the NSM theory of language and thought, helps to refine the ‘culture’ concept and to make it more theoretically viable and more workable in practical applications.

Author-supplied keywords

  • cross-cultural communication
  • cross-cultural education
  • cross-cultural experience
  • cross-cultural literature
  • cultural scripts
  • natural semantic metalanguage (NSM)
  • universal human concepts

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  • Anna Wierzbicka

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