||A complex and increasingly important concept within the humanities and social sciences, it is widely recognized that culture is best understood contextually and historically. It is broadly accepted that the idea of a \'superorganic\' culture as an active force, working through people and possessing existence or agency beyond its specific and contingent historical and geographical expressions, is untenable. However, to restrict cultural expressions to discourse and textuality alone or narrowing their scope to the exercise and contestation of power, as Mitchell (1995) has suggested, seems unduly to confine the purchase of the concept.
The British literary critic Raymond Williams (1976), whose writing strongly influenced critical cultural geography, attributed the contemporary meaning of \'culture\' in popular usage to the social context of eighteenth-century Enlightenment, pointing out that its meaning has evolved over historic time, and in close connection with processes of modernization. Initially, culture referred to skilled human activities through which non-human nature is encompassed and transformed. Thus agri-culture, horti-culture, viti-culture and api-culture, for example, refer to domestication and productive human use of fields, gardens, grape vines and bees respectively. Contact between Europeans and \'other\' peoples whose technological skills and modes of life displayed differences from their own, allowed the term culture to be applied to human groups themselves as in \'Carib culture\' or \'primitive culture\', thus making culture a term of human difference and differentiation. Enlightenment belief in human progress prompted attribution of such culture to the human mind itself. Thus \'natural\' human conduct could be cultivated, as it were, through \'civilizing\' acts, so that the childish or uncouth mind was believed to progress from an aboriginal, \'wild\' state of nature and become progressively cultured. Finally \'culture\' came to be applied to the activities themselves deemed necessary or helpful in producing this cultivation of human sensibility and conduct, thus to fine art, music, poetry, literature and dance, for example (cf. performance). Culture therefore became attached to \'the human spirit\' and appropriated as a mark of refinement: \'cultural capital\', available for exploitation in struggles for status. This is the idea of culture that famously impelled the fascist Hermann Goering to reach for his revolver. This semantic history helps clarify many of the debates that have circulated around culture within Human Geography.
A primary and consistent dimension of culture\'s conceptual history is its opposition to nature. Indeed, it is arguable that these two concepts can meaningfully exist only within a dialectical relationship; neither can denote without the other\'s opposition. feminist writers have been to the fore in pointing out that this opposition has strong gender correlates in the western intellectual tradition, in that Nature is conventionally feminized and rendered passive to an active, male-gendered Culture, and each term thereby is differently evaluated according to patriarchal assumptions which privilege the latter over the former (Merchant, 1980; Haraway, 1991; Nesmith and Radcliffe, 1993; cf. ecofeminism; phallocentrism). Recent thinkers both within geography and beyond have sought to challenge such an opposition, on theoretical, political and substantive grounds. Theoretically, boundaries between nature and culture cannot be sustained when physical human activities are the materialized outcomes of mental acts which are themselves increasingly explicable neurologically and biologically (undermining any remaining belief in the idea of an immaterial human \'spirit\' which underpinned the nineteenth-century meaning of culture), and when nature can become known to us only within and through discourse, and thus is always cultural (Demeritt, 1994; Castree, 1995; Willems-Braun, 1997). Politically, the power and authority implications of such conventional gendering of nature and culture are increasingly unacceptable, while substantively many have pointed out that late twentieth-century technologies such as robotics, virtual reality, genetic engineering and organ transplantation have materially disrupted any boundaries between nature and culture â€” even within the human body itself (Light, 1997; cf. body, geography and). In response to this recognition, a number of writers have reached for concepts which acknowledge the collapse of a nature/culture dialectic, for example hybridity and \'natures-cultures\' (Haraway, 1991; Latour, 1993), and studied spaces and places where neat divisions of nature and culture are problematized, for example the zoo (Anderson, 1995), natural parks (Neumann, 1995) and computer-simulated wilderness areas (cf. animals, geography of).
A second important dimension of culture\'s conceptual evolution is its association with ethnographic interest in \'other\' peoples. Closely connected with the nature and gender discourses discussed above has been the consistent colonialist use of culture as a strategy of differentiation wherein non-European peoples whose modes of life diverge from those familiar to westerners have been characterized as having different and implicitly inferior (because more \'natural\') cultures. The cultural sciences of Ethnography and Anthropology, and through their influence much of cultural geography, were founded on such assumptions which were widely popularized by such publications as National Geographic Magazine (Lutz and Collins, 1993). Peoples were regarded as having distinct \'cultures\' which could be described morphologically, explained functionally or structurally, and represented disinterestedly in texts and images. Geography\'s task was to relate these cultures to the physical environments in which they had evolved. By the same reasoning, the lifeways of spatially or socially marginalized groups within western societies could be described as \'sub\'-cultures, within an implicit (and often explicit) hierarchy which reflected the mobilization of cultural capital within social negotiation for status, esteem and material resources. Such considerations lie behind geographical studies of elite and popular, dominant and subaltern, establishment and marginal cultures. These have often operated within a formulation of culture as a field of political contestation between defined human groups, coming to consciousness through their experience of shared productive activity, a formulation which draws upon Hegelian and Marxian notions of collective consciousness, rooted in the same Enlightenment thinking as the culture/nature dialectic itself.
The ultimate historical refinement of the concept of culture which attached it to artistic and associated intellectual activities, initially restricted to a canon of \'official\' culture such as opera, oil painting, sculpture, epic poetry and Classical literature, also finds expression within geographical usage. Interpreting geographical meaning and expression in cultural products is a well-established procedure within Human Geography, characteristically using iconography and other hermeneutic methods. In humanistic geography there is often an implicit assumption that such studies allow access to some essential features of the human attachment to place or landscape and these have characteristically concentrated in the fields of \'high culture\' (Cosgrove and Daniels, 1988), whereas a more explicitly critical approach to interpreting cultural productions and activities has tended to concentrate on more popular expressions such as television soap operas, advertising, graffiti, popular music and community arts, adopting the terminology of cultural politics: power, resistance, conflict (Miller, 1991; Leyshon, Matless and Revill, 1995; Thornton, 1995).
Cultural geography traditionally paid attention primarily to material culture, as opposed to the social heritage of collective mental and spiritual products and expressive forms of human conduct. Explicit theorizing of culture was rare in geography as elsewhere during a time when the western, patriarchal norm of culture seemed secure. Thus geographers in the traditions of cultural study developed by Carl Sauer, Paul Vidal de la Blache, H.J. Fleure and Estyn Evans concentrated on relations between apparently static folkways and the physical environments in which they were to be observed, placing emphasis on their visible expressions in landscape (see cultural landscape). In the post-war years geographical concentration on economy as foundational in social explanation rendered culture a weak and epiphenomenal concept in studies of human occupance, although Sauer, the most influential English-language geographer writing on culture until the 1970s, recognized that even market economies are culturally encompassed (Sauer, 1941). Collapse of faith in economistic explanation as part of a general dissolution of modernity has yielded a concentration on how power and authority are negotiated between human individuals and groups. Within this framework, all human activities may be regarded as mobilized within a constant struggle for differentiation, recognition and status between individuals and groups, and thus cultural. Activities and productions falling within the traditional domain of culture come to be seen as active within social reproduction, the negotiated process and product of the discourses through which humans signify themselves, their experiences, their desires and projects. Thus the realm of culture is extended well beyond the conventional canons of cultural concern and threatens to encompass all human geography, in the opinion of some, dulling the conceptual edge of culture as a useful analytic concept.
The breadth and penetration of culture and cultural questions within human geography today is exemplified by their appearance in specialized sub-fields formerly dominated by economic, social and political theory, such as urban studies and economic geography. Themes such as \'selling the city\', urban \'aura\' and urban-architectural aesthetics or the role of cultural production and cultures of production in urban economic life and regional regeneration, vie with analyses of land rent distributions or household formation in research journals (Harvey, 1989; Imrie, 1996). In development geography, attention to local needs and sustainability has placed emphasis on cultural reception of modernity and outside interventions or plans. These examples reflect significant features of culture within contemporary life. One is the dominance of consumption in post-industrial economies whose flexible production modes and labour demands have reduced the need for large, locally based and stable workforces whose association in and with production promoted a degree of solidarity which found expression in shared lifeworlds (cultures), while simultaneously promoting among employees who may move through many different activities over the course of a working life, a more self-conscious and individualized choice of self-representation through customized acts of consumption. The phenomenon is intimately connected to globalization, the complex processes whereby production and consumption and the modes of existence and experience they generate serve to undermine some aspects of local cultural distinctiveness, while reinforcing others. Global culture finds its most immediate expression in forms of commercialized consumption, such as Coca Cola, Disney, MacDonald\'s, popular music, dress fashions and cosmetics (Morley and Robins, 1995). The phenomenon has generated a renewed interest in questions of material culture, stimulated by the enormously expanded role in advanced economies of what the Frankfurt school of cultural criticism called the \'cultural\' industries: those commercial activities catering to the leisure and recreational demands formerly associated with culture as the \'cultivation\' of mind and body. Thus, employment in such activities as television, media, music, sports and the \'arts\' expands to occupy ever greater numbers of people in advanced economies, while activities such as agriculture or manufacturing industry, in which humans undertake the oldest cultural activities of transforming the natural world, contract. In less developed regions and economies, in the aftermath of the Cold War and in the context of globalization, increased attention is widely given (even if only rhetorically) to the rights and responsibilities of local groups and communities to formulate their own ways of shaping their environments and futures, both on moral and on practical grounds. This means increased attention to local customs and traditions, and thus again to the realm of culture. Culture\'s dominance in contemporary geographical study is thus a response to actual changes in material life. But the apparent emphasis on voluntaristic human agency which the turn to culture within geography has produced has led some to challenge its apparent theoretical reification as an active agent in social processes (Mitchell, 1995), and others to call for a refocus upon structural constraints upon human activity which would make culture more a product rather than a process within geographical explanation.Â (DEC)
References Anderson, K. 1995: Culture and nature at the Adelaide Zoo: at the frontiers of \'human\' geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 20: 275-94.Â Castree, N. 1995: The nature of produced natures: materiality and knowledge construction in Marxism. Antipode 27: 12-48.Â Cosgrove, D. and Daniels, S., eds, 1988: The iconography of landscape: essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Â Demeritt, D. 1994: The nature of metaphors in cultural geography and environmental history. Progress in Human Geography 18: 163-85.Â Haraway, D. 1991: Simians, cyborgs and women: the reinvention of nature. London: Free Association.Â Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford: Blackwell.Â Imrie, R. 1996: Ableist geographers, disabled spaces. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 21: 397-403.Â Latour, B. 1993: We have never been modern. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Â Leyshon, A., Matless D. and Revill, G. 1995: The place of music. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 20: 423-33.Â Light, J. 1997: The changing nature of nature. Ecumene 4: 181-95.Â Lutz, C. and Collins J. 1993: Reading National Geographic. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.Â Merchant, C. 1980: The death of nature: women, ecology and the scientific revolution. New York: Harper and Row.Â Miller, R. 1991: Selling Mrs. Consumer: advertising and the creation of suburban socio-spatial relations 1910-1930. Antipode 23: 263-301.Â Mitchell, D. 1995: There\'s no such thing as culture: towards a reconceptualization of the idea of culture in geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 20: 102-16.Â Morley, D. and Robins, K. 1995: Spaces of identity: global media, electronic landscapes and cultural boundaries. London and New York: Routledge.Â Nesmith, C. and Radcliffe, S. 1993: (Re)mapping Mother Earth: a geographical perspective on environmental feminisms. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 11: 379-94.Â Neumann, R. 1995: Ways of seeing Africa: colonial recasting of African society and landscape in the Serengeti National Park. Ecumene 2: 149-69.Â Sauer, C.O. 1941: Foreword to historical geography. Reprinted in J. Leighley, ed., Land and life: selections from the writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Berkeley and Los Angeles: California University Press, 351-79.Â Thornton, S. 1995: Club cultures. London: Routledge.Â Willems-Braun, B. 1997: Buried epistemologies: the politics of nature in (post)colonial British Columbia. Annals, Association of American Geographers 87: 3-31.Â Williams, R. 1976: Keywords: a vocabulary of culture and society. London: Croom Helm.
Suggested Reading Williams (1976).Â Mitchell (1995).Â Morley and Robins (1995).