The statement in the given title can be interpreted in different ways but all in all I feel that there are three points of contention; the first being whether or not cultural values are indeed based on the building blocks of thoughts known as ‘concepts’ whilst the other two are based on the understanding of ‘fixed in time and space.’
On one hand, the phrase could be suggesting that cultural values are unchanging while one the other, it could mean that these values are fixed to an certain point in a culture’s history. The aim of this essay is to discuss these three ideas with the aid of two ethnographies.
The world culture is derived from the Latin ‘cultus’; cultivation. This linguistic derivation goes well with the idea that culture is based on abstract ideas that are used to ‘cultivate’ or create a society with certain values to help it grow. To foster an idea, humans have been known to look at the environment which surrounds them. It is from their environment that man learns what man must do to survive and flourish.
In his 2002 ethnography, Hodges describes the economic activity of the inhabitants of Monadière in Languedoc, Southern France. Such was based on fishing and viniculture due to the fact that they had access to both a Lake and grape vines. These activities had previously been shared and passed down from generation to generation and thus integrated into their culture.
In a different ethnography by Roussou (2011), we are presented with the way the changing concepts of religion in Greece is affecting the Greek identity and thus their values as a culture. These examples do indeed showcase the idea that the concepts of a society affect their cultural values.
Cultural values are given importance and are part of a society’s way of life out of that society’s prerogative. Is it possible, therefore, that these values shall remain static and everlasting? For this to occur, a society would have to be cut off from others and not experience any conflict or environmental changes. This, for the most part, is not possible. Cultures and their values have certainly changed throughout history as have people’s way of life, beliefs and access to information.
In recent years, the major factor driving social, and therefore culture change, is globalization. This is clearly illustrated in Hodges’ (2002) ethnography. He presents us with a changing France resulting from immigration from Northern Europe and the need for ‘modernization’ due to a growing tourist industry.
Monadière had remained relatively undisturbed for a number of years until the 1980s and 1990s when the inhabitants decided to seize the opportunity of increasing their income by capitalising on tourism which had been on the rise. This was accompanied by a substantial rate of change in the area. Their previous economic activities, which Hodges accounts for, were no longer enough to make ends meet. Thus, they had to adapt and this, consequently, had an effect on their way of life and thus their cultural values.
The effect of globalization in Roussou (2011) is illustrated in the way that the introduction of eastern spiritualism and New Age practices caused a rift between Greek identity and the Orthodox religion which once seemed intertwined. In this case, the Greeks seemed to have found a deeper connection with these new practices and started to view their traditional Orthodox religion in a different way. Whilst some of Roussou’s informants tended to combine the two, others, usually of a younger generation, began to reject the traditional religion deeming it as oppressive and imposing.
Moving on to my third point, I will now examine the notion that some concepts and the cultural values they inspire are convenient only for a certain period of time and cannot remain as significant. As argued in the paragraph above, culture change was definitely occurring in Crete and northern Greece.
On that note, I would now like to propose what I believe presents the true shift in culture. Eastern Spirituality and New Age practices go against the Church’s teachings which deems these practices as coming from the devil. The Christian tradition is certainly still part of the Greek identity but it seems that its authority, and with it the idea of ‘fearing God’, is slowly slipping away.
This may be conveying that there are some Greeks who feel that they no longer need their religion to answer all their questions and who may feel safe enough to abandon Christian doctrine. In this case, the concept of God and thus, the accompanying cultural values, would have been placed in a certain time and space and left there.
There is also this notion in Roussou’s ethnography (2011) that some concepts never truly seem to leave an area. One of the key aspects in her ethnography is the belief of the evil eye. This belief is found not only in Greece but also in the surrounding Mediterranean area.
Though its popularity may have waned, it has long been a significant cultural symbol integrated into Mediterranean culture. While Roussou gives us this account of maintained tradition in the Mediterranean, Hodges (2002) discusses the idea of modernity in the area. The Mediterranean is going through a process of modernization to strengthen its economy which largely relies on tourism growth. To achieve this, Hodges (2002) propounds the area had to reinforce its heritage and highlight its history to draw people in. Did this, as a result, cement the idea of certain cultural values in order to showcase ‘tradition’, without the original concept still at play?
The remark in the title is certainly enigmatic. However, the fact of the matter is that cultural values and their significance are based on human thought and thus it is us humans who create culture. Since humans are alive, it follows that culture is alive and thus, going through an never-ending process of adaptation. One should also not that through history, concepts have been integrated gradually into society, causing certain cultural values to be temporarily fixed as cultural change is often slow.
Hodges, M. (2002) ‘Time and Modernity in the Mediterranean: A Case Study from Languedoc’, Journal of Mediterranean Studies, 12 (1), pp.191-221.
Roussou, E. (2011) ‘Orthodoxy at the Crossroads: Popular Religion and Greek Identity in the Practice of the Evil Eye’, Journal of Mediterranean studies, 20(1), pp.85–105.