History

What is Cultural History

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What Is Cultural History? Author(s): Geoffrey Eley Source: New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring - Summer, 1995), pp. 19-36 Published by: New German Critique Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/488530 Accessed: 09/05/2010 12:24 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless yo
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  What Is Cultural History?Author(s): Geoffrey EleySource: New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring - Summer,1995), pp. 19-36Published by: New German CritiqueStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/488530 Accessed: 09/05/2010 12:24 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=ngc.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 service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.  New German Critique is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  New GermanCritique. http://www.jstor.org  What s CulturalHistory? GeoffreyEley First,somequotations:Culture sordinary:hisis thefirstact.Everyhumanocietyhasitsownshape,its ownpurposes,its ownmeanings.Everyhumansocietyexpresseshese,ininstitutions,ndnartsandearning.Themakingof asocietys thefindingofcommonmeaningsnddirections,ndtsgrowthisan active debateand amendment nder hepressuresfexperience,contact,anddiscovery,writinghemselves ntotheland.Thegrowingsocietyisthere,yetitis alsomadeandremade neveryndividualmind.Themakingof a minds,first,heslowlearningfshapes,purposes,ndmeanings,so thatwork, observations,ndcommunicationrepossible.Then,second,butequalnimportance,s thetestingoftheseinexperi-ence,themakingof newobservations,omparisons,ndmeanings.Acul-ture has twoaspects:the knownmeaningsanddirections,which itsmembersaretrainedo;the new observations ndmeanings,which areofferedand tested.These are theordinaryrocessesof humansocietiesandhumanminds,andweseethroughhem he naturefaculture:hat tisalwaysbothtraditionalndcreative;hattisboth the mostordinarycommonmeaningsandthe finest ndividualmeanings.We use the wordculturenthese two senses:omeana wholewayof life-the commonmeanings;o meanthe artsandearningthespecialprocessesof dis-coveryandcreative ffort.Somewriters eserve he word or one orotherof thesesenses;Iinsistonboth,andonthesignificanceftheirconjunc-tion.Thequestionsask aboutourculture requestionsboutourgeneralandcommonpurposes,etalsoquestionsboutdeeppersonalmeanings.Culturesordinary,neverysocietyand neverymind.-RaymondWilliamsl 1.RaymondWilliams, CulturesOrdinary, esourcesof Hope.Culture,Democ- racy,SocialismLondon:erso,989)4.19  20What is CulturalHistoryAfterall most of the workIwasdoingwas in an area whichpeoplecalled culture, veninthe narrowerense,so thatthetermhad acer-tainobviousness.Butyouknow the numberf times I'vewished thatIhad never heardof the damnedword.Ihavebecome moreawareofitsdifficulties,notless,asIhavegoneon.-RaymondWilliams2Theinstitutionallyorinformally organizedsocialproductionandreproductionfsense,meaning,andconsciousness.-TimO'Sullivanet al.3[ Popularculture ]may suggest,inoneanthropologicalnflexionwhichhas been influentialwithsocialhistorians,anover-consensualview of thisculture as asystemofsharedmeanings,attitudesandvalues,and thesymbolicformsperformances,rtifacts)nwhichtheyareembodied. But a cultures alsoapoolof diverseresources,inwhich trafficpassesbetween the literateand theoral,thesuperordi-nateandthesubordinate,hevillageand themetropolis;t is anarenaof conflictualelements,whichrequiresomecompellingpressureas,forexample,nationalism rprevalent eligiousorthodoxyor classconsciousness to take formas system. And, indeed,heveryterm culture, withitscozyinvocationofconsensus,mayserve to distractattention fromsocialandculturalcontradictions,romthe fracturesandoppositionswithinthe whole.-EdwardP.Thompson4Wearehinkingof theextraordinaryymboliccreativityfthe multitudeofwaysinwhichyoungpeopleuse,humanize,ecorate nd nvestwithmeaningsheircommonandimmediateifespacesand socialpractices-personalstylesand choices ofclothes;selectiveandactive use ofmusic, TV,magazines;decoration fbedrooms;heritualsofromanceandsubculturaltyles;thestyle,banternddrama ffriendship roups;music-makingnd dance.Norarethesepursuitsnd activitiesrivialorinconsequential.nconditions f latemodernizationndthewidespreadcrisisofculturalaluestheycanbe crucialocreationndsustenancefindividualndgroupdentities,ventocultural urvival fidentitytself.Thereswork,evendesperatework,n theirplay.-PaulWillis5 2.Williams,Politics and Letters.nterviewswithNew LeftReview(London:New Left,1979)154.3.TimO'Sullivan,ohnHartley,annySaunders,ndJohnFiske,KeyConcepts inCommunicationLondon:Routledge,1983)57.4.EdwardP.Thompson,Customs nCommon.tudies nTraditionalopularCul- tureNewYork:NewP,1993)6. 5. PaulWillis,CommonCulture.SymbolicWorktPlayin theEverydayCulturesoftheYoungBoulder:OpenUP,1990)2.  GeoffreyEley21Idon't treat hese culturalepresentationss the forciblempositionoffalse andlimitingstereotypes.nsteadexplorehe desirepresumedbytheserepresentations,he desirewhich oucheseministandnon-feministwomenalike. ButnordoItreat emale desireassomethinguniversal,unchangeable,risingfrom the female condition. see therepresenta-tionsoffemalepleasurenddesireasproducingandsustainingemininepositions.Thesepositionsareneitherdistantolesimposedon us fromoutsidewhichit wouldbeeasytokickoff,noraretheythe essentialattributes ffemininity.emininepositionsareproducedsresponsesothepleasuresfferedous;oursubjectivitynddentityreformedn thedefinitionsof desirewhichencircleus. Thesearetheexperienceswhichmakechangesuch a difficultanddauntingask,or femaledesire s con-stantlyuredbydiscourseswhichsustainmaleprivilege.-RosalindCoward6.. .[T]hereareagreedlimits to what is andisnotacceptable,andalthoughthese areconstantlyshifting, theymustalwaysbe seenasfixed,sincetheyformtheground-planf socialstability.Theshapesof an eraaremoreeasilyfoundnitsfashions,tsfurniture,ts build-ings-whose lines doseem to tracethe'moods'ofsocialchange-than in theequally significantoutlines of itsthoughtsandhabits,itsconceptualcategories,which are harder o see becausetheyarepre-ciselywhatwetakeforgranted.How then can we see them?Ifit isinshapesandformsthatpassionslive-aslightningivesina con-ductor-it islikelyto beinimages-infilms,photographs,elevi-sion-that such conduitsare mostclearlyvisible.Our emotionsarewound intotheseforms,onlytospringbackatuswithanapparentifeof their own. Moviesseem to containfeelings,two-dimensionalpho-tographsseem to containtruths.The worlditself seems filledwithobviousness,full of naturalmeaningswhichthese mediamerelyreflect. But weinvesttheworldwith itssignificance.It doesn'thave tobe thewayitis,orto mean whattdoes.-Judith Williamson7Theconscious,chosenmeaningin mostpeople'slives comes muchmorefromwhattheyconsumehanwhatthey produce.-JudithWilliamson8[Thisposition].. . seespopularcultureasa site ofstruggle,but,whileacceptingthepoweroftheforcesofdominance,it focuses 6.RosalindCoward,Female Desires.HowTheyAreSought,BoughtandPack- aged(NewYork:GroveWeidenfeld,985)16. 7. JudithWilliamson,ConsumingPassions:TheDynamicsof PopularCulture (London:M.Boyars,986)15.8. Williamson30.
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