How to define yourself culturally

Cultural education

Ansgar Nünning

To person

Prof. Dr. Ansgar Nünning, since 1996 professor of English and American literary and cultural studies at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, including founding director of the "International Graduate Center for the Study of Culture".

"Culture" is a very frequently used term, in everyday life as well as in the humanities and social sciences. It is difficult to grasp and extremely ambiguous. How do you bring order to these different approaches?

The concept of culture is difficult to grasp. (& copy Photocase / bright green)


The word "culture"

The word 'culture' is one of the most widely used terms in society and in the humanities and social sciences. Nevertheless, in everyday language it usually remains without a fixed definition. In the course of the further development of the humanities to the cultural sciences, a boom and "downright triumphant return of the concept of culture" [1] can be observed, but the different definitions of this term in various disciplines have made its use increasingly confusing.


In everyday life, the word '' culture '' is used in such different meanings and contexts that it has expanded its meaning to the point of emptying its meaning. The latter is already evident from the fact that `` culture '' has become an idiomatic component of countless compounds - such as everyday culture, discussion culture, food culture, fan culture, company culture, football culture, popular culture, subculture and many other compositions (e.g. cultural landscape, cultural techniques, political culture) .

In view of the multitude of different ways in which the word "culture" is used and the multitude of competing scientific definitions, it makes sense to speak better of cultural terms in the plural instead of a cultural term. On the one hand, different disciplines (e.g. anthropology, ethnology, history, psychology, sociology, religious studies or education) each understand something different under the term "culture". [3] On the other hand, the understanding of "culture" differs both within individual disciplines and cultural studies [4] and in different societies and social groups. In the meantime, the variety of meanings of the term culture is correspondingly large, which is increased by the respective cultural understanding of the actors in political education (e.g. cultural foundation of the federal / state governments, federal association for cultural youth education).

Development of the modern concept of culture

Already the origin of the word "culture", which is derived from the Latin "colere" (to maintain, arable land) or "cultura" and "cultus" (farming, cultivation, cultivation, care and refinement of arable land), ie from agriculture originates, refers to a central aspect of all cultural terms: They denote what is "made by man" or "creatively produced" - in contrast to what is not created by man but is naturally present. The development of the modern concept of culture is characterized by an expansion of the field of meaning from agricultural activities of arable farming to "the educational, scientific and artistic 'care' of the individual and social conditions of human life itself" [5]. The original, narrower meaning, which related to the practices and techniques of agriculture, has, through metaphorical expansion and transfer to other areas, become a model for other mental and social forms of cultivation in a society: "Culture is art (" ars "," téchne "), through which societies secure their survival and development in an overpowering nature." [6].