Friday, January 04, 2013

'The Value of Culture' by Melvyn Bragg

4 January 2013

I've been hooked on Melvyn Bragg’s marvellous 5-part BBC Radio 4 series, ‘The Value of Culture’, which has been broadcast every day this week. Like an extended edition of ‘In Our Time’, Melvyn Bragg has been questioning a range of experts to get to grips with what we mean by ‘culture’, the origins of the word and its usage, and why culture is important. He has taken us on a journey, from Matthew Arnold (writing in ‘Culture and Anarchy’ in 1869) who thought that culture is “the best which has been thought and said", to the anthropologist E. B. Tylor who wrote (in 1871) that culture is " that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” to Raymond Williams (in ‘Moving from High Culture to Ordinary Culture’ in 1958) who said "Culture is ordinary: that is the first fact. Every human society has its own shape, its own purposes, its own meanings. Every human society expresses these, in institutions, and in arts and learning.” This tension between ‘high culture’, ‘culture’ as that which separates humans from other animals, ‘culture’ as creative expression and the notion of ‘mass culture’ is fascinating. It was refreshing to listen to a radio programme that genuinely made you think. If you missed ‘The Value of Culture’ all five episodes will be available for the next twelve months at Brilliant stuff: what a great way to start the new year.



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