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Specific gravity: A brief outline of an alternative specification of culture

McHoul, A. (2004) Specific gravity: A brief outline of an alternative specification of culture. Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture, 18 (3). pp. 423-442.

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This paper is called ‘Specific gravity’ because it wants to suggest that there is a deep import, a weight, a gravitas to the specific details of ordinary cultural practices. It is in four sections.

The first opens up the perennial question ‘What is culture?’. It considers this question in terms of how it may or may not be answered, drawing on Wittgenstein’s remarks against essentialism, and on (as with Wittgenstein) anecdotes from everyday experiences and their logical consequences. Some comparisons between this outline and two recent contributions to cultural history are then made to set the scene for the promised alternative.

The second section deals with sheer ordinariness as an analytically complex phenomenon. It draws on the work of Alfred Schütz and Harvey Sacks to show how the often-missed ordinariness of everyday affairs may be the key topic for understanding and analysing culture.

The next section goes a little further into this same — routinely overlooked, perhaps because so obvious — territory by rehearsing an example from one of Sacks’s lectures on the everyday cultural practice of ‘tearing down’. It attempts to draw a distinction between lay and professional analysis that could give cultural analysis a disciplinary footing without resorting to ‘positivism’ and/or the view that lay reasoning is inferior to its scientific counterparts.

Finally, in the fourth section, I deal with a collection of textual materials, all of which mobilise the term ‘culture’ and the concept of culture for specific moral purposes. The paper concludes with some hypotheses about ordinary, everyday uses of the idea of culture and how they might be worked with (or on) to form the basis of an alternative specification of culture.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
Publisher: Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
Copyright: 2004 Taylor & Francis
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