Rethinking the Notion of Culture: The Role of Prefixes

Christian Giordano


The holistic concept of culture as defined by Edward B. Taylor and his successors, North Americans in particular, has proven insufficient to analyze societies in the globalization era. In fact, this concept tends to essentialize culture, thus to reduce it to a coherent and monolithic whole of cultural traits and models as if these were natural phenomena and not social constructions implemented by the actors themselves. Apparently, therefore, social sciences and cultural sciences would need to abandon the notion of culture, which would be tantamount to doing away with these disciplines. This article endeavors to show that the concept of culture can still be valid albeit through a change of paradigm, i.e., if, instead of focusing on the analysis of complex cultures, the focus shift s on the cultural complexity within a given society. Starting from this assumption, we need to affix the prefixes multi, inter and trans to the notion of culture in order to express three different forms of cultural complexity. The prefix multi underscores the stability and the deliberate separation among the various ethno-cultural communities that constitute a social body. The prefix inter, instead, calls to mind the relations among groups from different cultures. Finally, the prefix trans highlights the ability, especially of single individuals, to transcend one’s own belonging, thus to move from one cultural community to another or to construct hybrid identities through processes of creolization.

Słowa kluczowe

culture; cultural complexity; multiculturalism; intercultural communication; transnational identities

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