“Culture” is not an object to be described, neither is it a unified corpus of symbols and meanings that can be definitively interpreted. Culture is contested, temporal, and emergent. Representation and explanation—both by insiders and outsiders—is implicated in this emergence.
James Clifford, Writing Culture
Culture is one of the most influential and controversial subjects that have had an impact on contemporary thought, academia, society and politics. In Keywords, Raymond Williams admits that culture “is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.” The complexity of the concept results from “its intricate historical development” and its rootedness “in several distinct intellectual disciplines,” and often “incompatible” (Williams 87). The Oxford English Dictionary defines culture as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” Culture also refers to “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.” In eliciting the etymology of the word, the dictionary also states that “in late Middle English the sense was ‘cultivation of the soil’ and from this arose ‘cultivation (of the mind, faculties, or manners’),” thereby highlighting the fact that culture is not natural or innate.
In his essay, “On the Concept and the Tragedy of Culture” (1911), philosopher Georg Simmel provides a somewhat similar definition, arguing that “we speak of culture whenever life produces certain forms in which it expresses and realizes itself—works of art, religions, sciences, technologies, laws and innumerable others” (29-30). In literary criticism, culture has developed from the elitist undertaking of Matthew Arnold and later the writings of F.R. Leavis and T.S. Eliot. For Arnold, culture is the “best that has been thought and said.” It has “its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection” (Arnold 59). Arnold’s culture is “possessed by the scientific passion, as well as by the passion of doing good,” just as Leavis’s culture is “the discerning appreciation of art and literature,” an appreciation that only a small intellectual minority can possess, and upon whom depends the “fine living” and “distinction of spirit of the race” (Leavis 3-4). Similarly, Eliot’s cultural orthodoxy glances down at mass culture, identifies culture with religion, and totally ignores science.
Such elitism, which has often associated culture with knowledge, civilization, “sweetness, and light” was predicted and criticised centuries earlier by eighteenth-century German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder. In an avant-garde pluralist step towards cultural relativism, Herder asserts that the very thought of a superior European culture is “a blatant insult to the majesty of nature” (342), a concept from which it etymologically derives (Eagleton 1). In addition to destabilizing the duality of culture and knowledge, Herder attests to the elusiveness of any attempt to define culture, as he states that “nothing is more indeterminate than this word, and nothing more deceptive than its application to all nations and periods” (4). Herder’s cultural relativism advocates a view of culture thoroughly detached from civilization, nationality, and ethnicity, thereby heralding the cultural turn of the 1950s and 60s.
This “cultural turn” was announced with the publication of Richard Hoggart’s Uses of Literacy (1957) and Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society (1958). Hoggart’s celebration of working-class culture and Williams’s definition of culture as a “whole way of life” (4) paved the way for the emergence of cultural studies, an interdisciplinary field concerned with “practices, institutions, and systems of classification through which there are inculcated in a population particular values, beliefs, competencies, routines of life, and habitual forms of conduct” (Bennett 52). Most importantly, cultural studies requires the integration of a plurality of theories and approaches in order to establish “connections” between diverse “forms of power” such as “gender, race, class, colonialism” and “develop ways of thinking about culture and power” that can be used “in the pursuit of change” (Barker 7). It is therefore undeniable that the birth of this pluralist discipline, along with the creation of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1964, ushered in a new cultural sensibility that viewed culture as praxis and transcended its elitist poetics.
In fact, the decline of multiculturalism, the ever-shifting “semantics of culture” (Levin 1), and the gradual displacement of the multicultural by the transnational have made any attempt at defining or “studying” culture infelicitous, if not anachronistic. Any “traditional theory of culture,” however “well tested in case of stable, isolated, relatively small populations, economically simple and self-contained,” has become “hopeless in the face of cultures on the move. Cultures become inter-dependent, they penetrate each other, none is a world in its own right; each one has a hybrid and heterogeneous status, none is monolithic and all are intrinsically diversified;” hence the urgent need for an interdisciplinarity that confronts and explores the simultaneity and plurality of this new “cultural mélange”(Bauman xix).
Faced with today’s global, political and socio-economic challenges, this conference seeks to relocate culture and cultural studies within academia and analyze the epistemological relationship between culture and education. It also aims at revaluating the role of interdisciplinarity in academia. Being aware of “the crisis in humanities,” researchers, scholars and experts try to bridge the gap between different disciplines such as sociology, history, philosophy, languages, politics, anthropology, economics, architecture, and sciences. We invite contributors to address the following questions: What is the relevance of cultural studies in today’s higher education? Which culture(s) to teach? What are the didactics and pedagogies of teaching culture? What role do stakeholders in higher education play in the promotion of culture teaching and research across disciplines? How to combine the teaching of cultural aesthetics with cultural practices/politics? Is it possible to go beyond the “crisis in humanities” by valorizing culture in social and human sciences on the one hand and natural and exact sciences on the other, especially when we take into consideration the escalation of fundamentalist, extremist and xenophobic tendencies all over the globe? How can we approach the issue of ethics in teaching humanities and sciences?
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
- Culture, Politics and Academia
- Cultural Studies in Tunisian Academia: Teaching “Culture,” “Civilization” Or “History”?
- Culture and Inter-Disciplinarity
- Culture and Identity
- Digital Culture and Communication
- Culture, Soft Skills and Self-Development
- Culture and Language
- Research and Cultural Politics
-- Impact of Politics on Academic Culture
- Culture, Arts, and Literature
- Culture between Myth and Reality
- The Politics of Culture
- Performative Cultural Studies and the Learning and Teaching Process
- Popular Culture in Academia
- Culture and Anthropology
- Language Teaching and Culture
- Curriculum Design and Cultural Studies
- Culture and the Teaching of Sciences
- Interactions between the “Three Cultures:” The Human, Social and Natural Sciences
Please send a 300-word abstract, including your name, the title of your paper, and your university, for a 20-minute presentation no later than Friday 15 September 2017. English is the language of the conference, but papers in Arabic and French will also be accepted.
-Notification of acceptance: Monday 2 October 2017
-Registration fees: 80 EUR for overseas participants / 80 DT for Tunisian participants.
-Publication: Papers presented at the conference will be published in the conference proceedings, subject to their acceptance by the review committee.
Samira Mechri and Asma Hichri
Institut Supérieur des Sciences Humaines
Department of English
26, Avenue Dargouth Pacha,