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Always Further - Some personal thoughts on what culture is actually about

When my companions and I knew that we where going to the Forum d’Avignon, we sat down at a café asking ourselves the question: What is culture?

The first that popped up was art, theatres, music etc. Then the culture of a nation, to be Swedish, European. Then there’s the culture of your family and your friends. And at your work, at your meeting and at the lunch break. Then there’s the collective culture, the one of being human, with the boundaries of the earth. 

When I came home that night I started to think about what culture is actually about. It is so wide and such a huge part of our lives in many different ways. Where does culture come from and why does it exist?

My theory is that culture started out as something very practical. Where things where done in a certain way because it was simply the only way you knew, and by experience you’ve learned the easiest ways to do things. 

Knowledge was later spread from generation to generation through songs and stories, stuffed with the simplest information about what to eat and how to hunt, all the way to the great wisdom around what life is all about.

Somewhere on the way I believe that it split up in two directions. One going in the direction of practicalities, how things work. And the other one going in to the direction of simply enjoying and appreciating to live not just be alive.

Those are the two distinctions within culture I can see today. One is the holding art and music; lets call it the appreciative culture. And the other one the culture within our families, our work and our nations, let’s call that one the practical culture.

The practical culture is there to help us know how things are done and function. There are norms and frames of how things are and we use it to collaborate, work and live together. When you don’t know the practical culture, or have another practical culture (for example when you change work), there’s an amount of time that needs to be spent on adapting or change to the culture existing. “Common sense” are things that make perfects sense within the system of the culture, but is hard to learn at first time you enter. As a Swede I know that taking my shoes off while entering an apartment is showing respect towards the host. However in Denmark, you never take your shoes of, “the floor might be dirty and cold”. I still have a hard time not to think about the Danish people as rude and careless when they are entering my home with their shoes on, even though I am living in Denmark. The common sense you grew up with is hard to change, at a working place it might be easier to adapt, but it might take some time before you’re counted as one of the old once that you can ask about everything.

The appreciated culture is not for things to function, but simply to give meaning to life and express what you believe in, what you think is beautiful and what gives you the feeling of living. It is about expressing yourself, communicating and something to identify with. We do it either through taking part of what others have expressed or we express it in our own way. It is something about life and how it is to live. This connects people for a purpose of enjoying and understanding each other. It’s a way of communicating to like minded people as well as people who think different. If someone has a different taste, you simply don’t understand how it can be different. It is independent if you are good friends, working with each other or are strangers. How many times haven’t you been caught up in the discussion about a specific type of music with a stranger who loves all you favourite artists? Or for that sake been listening to the music of your kids or parents and been wondering what on earth they can appreciate in that weird noise they are happily humming along with.

So in short, I’d say that practical culture is about understanding the reality together, as only one existing reality of the specific situation. And the appreciated culture is about giving meaning to life, your life.

Underneath the meaning of both of them, is identity. It exists for us to have an identity, to identify with, to express ourselves and to communicate and collaborate.

We see art and identify with it. We do it and express who we are, our thoughts and feelings. We go in to a working space, to a school class or any kind of group and we reflect about if this is the right place for us. We identify with the culture, we try to change it to identify with it or we simply leave. Culture is something that represents us and it makes us identify with one another. 

Our cultures have for a long time been separated between nationality and class and it has made it hard for us to identify with people thinking different. With the globalization, not least the social media, the boarders of culture are disappearing. 

All different types of culture is spread and shared world wide in all different forms, however it might be music from Latin America or the strict time managing from the northern Europe. Also the cultures of the people, the nations, are spreading all over. A hipster from Bogota, New York and Stockholm has probably more in common then their neighbours living next doors. 

People start to identify with what is real to them and what gives them meaning, regardless of the borders of a nation. We get more and more used to navigate in all different kinds of culture, and we bring a long what we like. This does not mean that we within some years will not have different cultures, it just means that you as an individual can adapt to the culture you identify with, instead of having to adapt to one. It will open up for us to meet people we never understood before, we are opening up for diversity as a strength and we have opened up for letting each and every one has their on identity and the right to express themselves.

I believe that with the globalisation of today and the development of social media we’re heading towards a future full of different identities, connected by a culture full of everything that every one can identify with. 

With the expanding open culture, we create the opportunities for us to identify with each other and create a language we can all communicate within.


A contribution of Kaos Pilot/Johanna Valentin

Credits: Eoghan OLionnain