What is the dynamic nature of culture


“The word 'culture' is probably one of the most complex in our language” - this is how Terry Eagleton (2001: 7) begins his introduction to cultural theory. What is true of English is all the more true of the German language: the term culture is on everyone's lips. There is a “cultural turn” almost everywhere in the sciences (Bachmann-Medick 2006). The current boom of the concept of culture indicates that something is being captured with it that previous concepts and terms have apparently overlooked. Its versatile use in diverse practical and scientific contexts also suggests that one is dealing with a plurality of different definitions. A variety of cultures - whatever is understood by them - corresponds to a variety of cultural concepts and theories. However, it can also be a question of paradigm shifts in the sciences, which have their cause in the unsuitability of previously used concepts or which are simply fashions (Fuchs 2008b).

In any case, “culture” is a concept of plurality, a concept that has relevance in theory and practice, a concept to which certain professions are attached. It has to do with development. Its diversity and dynamism also indicate that you cannot be sure about your subject area. Dirk Baecker's (2000: 33) suggestion to understand “culture” as a search term for all of the reasons mentioned therefore makes sense. So which problem areas do you react to when using the term culture? How does its attractiveness come about? But which problem area is possibly concealed by the concept of culture?

As a first orientation, two cultural terms should be given. “Cultural philosophy”, says Ralf Konersmann (2003: 26), “is the understanding confrontation with the finite, man-made world - and that is culture.” It is about man intervening in the world in order to help it to make his world and also to shape himself in this process. The preoccupation with culture (as the work of man) thus becomes a complementary addition to anthropology (as a doctrine of man himself): cultural theory and anthropology are two sides of the same coin. The active engagement with the world, this process of shaping oneself and the world, wants to be understood - this, too, is obviously a dowry of anthropogenesis: the need for interpretation. “Culture” can therefore refer to things and processes, but also to the spiritual. The concept of culture represents a bridge between the base and the superstructure (cf. Eagleton 2001).

In contrast to this philosophical approach, there is a definition of the that is influential for political and educational practice UNESCOWorld Conference on Cultural Policy in Mexico 1982 (German Commission for UNESCO 1983). The definition of “culture” laid down here is the basis for a number of conventions and pacts that are relevant under international law. In addition to the everyday, scientific, philosophical and professional dimension mentioned above, “culture” also has a political and legal dimension. According to the UNESCO“Be viewed in its broadest sense as the totality of the unique spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional aspects that draw a society or social group. This includes not only art and literature, but also ways of life, basic human rights, value systems, traditions and beliefs ”(ibid .: 121).

This definition is informative in several respects: The concept of “culture” does not refer to the individual, but is a category of the social, “culture” is a concept of totality. “Culture” is based on differences which, in turn, can only be determined through comparison. Anyone who speaks of "culture" immediately speaks of otherness. “Culture” is a way of life (i.e. everyday life), but also includes the arts. It also records values, sciences and religions. In view of this wide range of meanings, the question immediately arises of how useful a term can be - especially when it comes to limited fields of work and professions - that wants to cover everything. This is where the glossary of Pro Helvetia (2005: 31) therefore a limit "This definition [...] clearly goes beyond the field of activity of cultural policy [...]".

On the historical development of the concept of culture

Only a few, albeit relevant, stages in the cultural discourse should be mentioned here (cf. for a comprehensive overview Fisch 1992). The Tusculan writings of Cicero are at the beginning of the cultural discourse. Its comparison of the culturaanimiwith the culturaagriis revealing: the verb colere, to which cultura goes back, means to cherish, care for, preserve and protect. A piece of land becomes a fertile field through work, through which the safeguarding of life in the future is ensured through care and maintenance: Agriculture already connects the past, present and future. The parallelization of the culturaanimi, so the philosophy, with this activity relevant to survival is significant: The spiritual must also be cherished, cared for and protected. There is also a development (dynamic aspect). The concept of culture then disappears for centuries, until it is taken up again in the “Sattelzeit” (ie between 1770 and 1830) and becomes a key concept in the debates. Johann Gottlieb Herder plays a decisive role in this. “Culture” has now lost its genitive (care of the field, care of the spirit). With Herder, culture becomes the way of life of peoples, whereby not only the plurality of peoples and their ways of life (i.e. cultures), but also (almost) their equivalence is asserted (Fisch 1992: 710f.). Herder is considered a pioneer in ethnology, although today one criticizes the fact that he overlooked the dynamic and the intercultural aspect: the “spherical model” of culture (cultures as closed systems) goes back to him. Now, among others, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller and Wilhelm von Humboldt are increasingly using the concept of culture. The economy runs parallel to the growing role of the concept of education. In fact, both are often used synonymously, with the process of self-education being thought of as self-cultivation, i.e. as refinement. The concept of culture, like the concept of education, is normatively charged. The term civilization is also adopted from French, with the first differentiations: “But while the French word“ civilization ”mainly covered political, economic and technical life, the German word“ culture ”had a narrower, predominantly religious, artistic one and spiritual reference ”(Eagleton 2001: 17).

The fateful development of the 19th century is looming, in which the (apparently superficial) western civilization is opposed to the (profound) German culture (cf. Bollenbeck 1994).

The discourse on the arts and the cultural discourse are initially conducted separately from one another. Remember that in the middle of the 18th century, Alexander Baumgarten achieved two things in his “Aesthetica”: On the one hand, he advocates the rehabilitation of sensual knowledge. Second, he introduces a uniform concept of art that encompasses all arts such as literature, visual arts, music, etc. The arts that are reflected in this way have become part and even a central engine of a cultural development since Kant's “Critique of Judgment” from 1790 and above all through its influential reception by Schiller in his “Letters on Aesthetic Education” from 1795 thus part of a political vision of freedom (cf. Fuchs 2011a).

Another line of development emerged in the 19th century with the emergence of sociology. The classics like Emile Durkheim, Ferdinand Tönnies, Max Weber and Georg Simmel operate this new systematic self-reflection of society essentially as a cultural sociology. Because they deal with religion and social values ​​as the basis for a social cohesion threatened by disintegration. In the sciences, in popular journalism, in philosophy and in the arts, “culture” becomes a key concept in social analysis with a strong critical tendency. It can be stated that the cultural analysis of modern society has been cultural criticism since the price writings by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Bollenbeck 2007). “Culture” becomes the most important concept to bring all the pathologies of modernity, which are formulated more and more clearly, to the term. This has not stopped to this day: With regard to culture, people speak of discomfort, of tragedy, of crisis. One sees the effects on people with concern: nervousness and neurasthenia as the basic findings around the turn of the century 1900, the one-dimensional person, the externally directed person, today depression: the subject is under strong, mostly deforming pressure from the culture of the society in which it is lives.

So one can distinguish:

>> an anthropological concept of culture: man as the designer of his world and of himself. Culture as what is made. This term encompasses the totality of the human species.

>> an ethnological concept of culture: culture as a way of life. This term captures the totality of the way of life of certain groups.

>> a normative concept of culture: This concept covers the development and “refinement” of human beings.

>> a sociological concept of culture: This concept covers the subsystem culture with the cultural powers art, religion, language, science and has the task of self-observation and self-interpretation of society under the aspect of meaning.

>> a narrow concept of culture that restricts “culture” to the arts. This term is used, for example, where a “high culture” is differentiated from an everyday or popular culture.

An alternative typology comes from Andreas Reckwitz (2000). He differentiates:

>> a normative concept of culture (from Cicero to Alfred Weber);

>> a totality-oriented concept of culture (from Herder to current ethnology);

>> a difference-theoretical concept of culture that locates culture in a distinguishable subsystem (from Friedrich Schiller to Talcott Parsons);

>> a meaning, symbol and knowledge-oriented concept of culture (from Ernst Cassirer to American pragmatism to the present day). Reckwitz only considers the latter to be relevant today.

The current debates

Today, the cultural debates are differentiated and are conducted in the various disciplines (cf. Fuchs 2008b, 2011a). None of these disciplines has a priority right of interpretation. For cultural education and cultural policy, this results in the difficulty that very different discourse traditions suddenly collide. Claims of relevance such as Reckwitz's are therefore of little importance for practical work. Rather, one must assume that approaches that have been declared dead in the practical disciplines will continue to exist and have meaning. The normative concept of culture continues to be important in education because of the formulation and justification of goals and values. The idea of ​​refinement is also alive. From the perspective of cultural education, it must therefore be clarified in detail which theoretical approaches are important for which purposes. In this way, philosophical cultural theories remain relevant for practicing general (self-) reflection on individual and social developments. Sociological cultural theories, some of which are presented in Moebius / Quadflieg (2006: 44), are helpful in analyzing specific social trends. There is no genuinely educational theory of culture. Existing cultural discourses are often based on a conglomerate of ethnological, philosophical or sociological set pieces or continue the tradition of humanities education (example: Helmer 2004). Corresponding reflections are more productive for cultural education, for example in social education (e.g. Treptow 2001).

The multi-dimensionality of the concept of culture with its political, theoretical, practical, ideological etc. accents must be obtained by cultural education. When talking about “cultural education” in particular, it should be noted which dimension is lost if this term is replaced by alternative terms such as “artistic” or “aesthetic education” (Fuchs 2008a). The concept of culture in its ideological dimension can lead to economic, political or social processes being interpreted as “cultural processes”, that is, merely as processes of the symbolic and the level of meaning. This is a form of culturalism. At least as a heuristic means, it is still useful to keep an eye on the "classic" opposing terms of "culture": culture as the antithesis of nature, technology, civilization, politics, science, etc.


Cultural change

Studies on cultural change preferably deal with changes in values. It seems that change is accelerating. The cultural historian Richard Sennett (e.g. 1998) presented important studies on this. Modernity is an antithesis to tradition. This calls for a constant change in people. “Flexibility” is the current key term, whereby studies that approach Michel Foucault see above all new strategies of submission (“governmentalism”, “subjectivization”) (cf. Bröckling et al. 2004). Against this background, cultural pedagogy seems to be a suitable field of work which, with its emphasis on creativity, appears well suited to produce the subject form of the neoliberally organized economy and society. A task for the future will therefore be to preserve spaces of emancipation within the framework of increasingly subtle power relations.

New forms of subjectivity

These considerations can be extended to the question of the overall way in which the social formation of the subject - especially in educational institutions - takes place. Historical studies show (Reckwitz 2006; Fuchs 2012a) how serious the change in socially desirable subject forms has been over the past 200 years. Another challenge for scientific research in cultural education is to receive these studies and to relate them to one's own educational achievements. The focus shifts to the need to reduce the research desideratum with regard to a theory of (cultural) educational institutions in which such a subject constitution essentially takes place.


Culture works in the intercultural mode. Cultural encounters can even be seen as the engine of cultural development. This is not just true of the recent past. But it is still difficult to accept the dialectic of the self and the foreign, the interaction with others as necessary and inevitable. Politically, this helplessness is shown in the lively debate about the dominant culture and the often populist debate on integration. In this context, cultural pedagogy has special opportunities to organize cultural encounters in the protected space of cultural pedagogical projects. But precisely because of their particular suitability for intercultural practice, there is a risk that political problems (such as the prevention of integration by politics and administration) should be solved through pedagogical means. It is therefore important to distinguish which problems are to be solved politically, economically or pedagogically.


"Culture" was already needed by Herder for the purpose of differentiation. The plurality of cultures and cultural concepts relativizes the uniqueness of one's own culture. Pierre Bourdieu (1987) adds the political significance of cultural differences to this general insight:

“Culture” is not a harmless concept of a harmonious coexistence, but an occasional conflict-laden encounter of different milieus and lifestyles. These, in turn, are socially recognized and evaluated in very different ways. They are also “served” differently by public funding. This poses the problem of participation, the fair opportunity to participate (see Larissa von Schwanenflügel / Andreas Walther “Participation and Participation”). Cultural education, which with its aesthetic-artistic forms of work has a central medium of differentiation in society, therefore needs a special sensitivity for the social effectiveness of its forms of work, if it does not - unintentionally - want to increase or at least stabilize exclusion.