Essay Culture And Civilization Tradition

Culture Vs Civilization

Firstly, civilization in theory is bigger than culture in which an entire civilization can encompass one single unit of culture. Civilization is a bigger unit than culture because it is a complex aggregate of the society that dwells within a certain area, along with its forms of government, norms, and even culture. Thus, culture is just a spec or a portion of an entire civilization. For example, the Egyptian civilization has an Egyptian culture in the same way as the Greek civilization has their Greek culture.

A culture ordinarily exists within a civilization. In this regard, each civilization can contain not only one but several cultures. Comparing culture and civilization is like showing the difference between language and the country to which it is being used.

Culture can exist in itself whereas civilization cannot be called a civilization if it does not possess a certain culture. It’s just like asking how a nation can exist on its own without the use of a medium of communication. Hence, a civilization will become empty if it does not have its culture, no matter how little it is.

Culture can be something that is tangible and it can also be something that isn’t. Culture can become a physical material if it is a product of the beliefs, customs and practices of a certain people with a definite culture. But a civilization is something that can be seen as a whole and it is more or less tangible although its basic components, like culture, can be immaterial.

Culture can be learned and in the same manner it can also be transmitted from one generation to the next. Using a medium of speech and communication, it is possible for a certain type of culture to evolve and even be inherited by another group of people. On the other hand, civilization cannot be transferred by mere language alone. Because of its complexity and magnitude, you need to transfer all of the raw aggregates of a civilization for it to be entirely passed on. It just grows, degrades and may eventually end if all its subunits will fail.
Summary :

1.Culture is by definition smaller than a civilization.
2.Culture can grow and exist without residing in a formal civilization whereas a civilization will never grow and exist without the element of culture.
3.Culture can be tangible or intangible whereas civilization is something that is more tangible because it is what you see as a whole
4.Culture can be transmitted through symbols in the form of language whereas an entire civilization cannot be transmitted by mere language alone.

Julita. "Difference Between Culture and Civilization." February 20, 2011 < >.

Preliminary questions

Chapter 1 raised at least two important points:

  • What makes culture and popular culture is as much about the texts and practices of everyday life as it is about the context in which popular culture is produced and consumed. 
  • The definition of ‘popular culture’ is complex and multiple.

Chapter 2 starts to set the scene as far as theories are concerned and discusses attempts by some key theorists to fix what is meant by culture.  It begins by tracing the history of the terms ‘culture’ and ‘civilization’, starting with the nineteenth century. As with Chapter 1, you may find it useful to make notes and headings as you read. Some questions have been provided below to help you draw out the significant issues.

  • To what extent do those with political power supervise the culture of those without political power?
  • Why was industrialization and the rise of cities and towns in Britain such a threat to civilization?
  • Is your own town or city segregated in ways which mark cultural differences? For instance, do different social groups occupy different parts of the town or city where you live? Are city centres or suburban areas organized, culturally, in different ways? Are leisure zones gendered? Are there spaces in which teenagers hang out and older adults do not?
  • Does it make sense to link culture and civilization? 
  • Why are some groups labelled ‘uncivilized’? What does this mean?
  • Is it possible, or even desirable, to fix popular culture?

Reader reference: pp. 1–19.

Matthew Arnold

As Chapter 2 suggests, Matthew Arnold's work inaugurates a tradition or a way of seeing popular culture that focuses on it being seen in the context of what he refers to as ‘civilization’.  The key text in this part of Chapter 2 is Arnold's Culture and Anarchy. You can read excerpts from this work in the Reader pp. 6–11.

So, if you were a follower of Matthew Arnold, would you be more likely (answer True) or less likely (answer False) to endorse the following claims?  Remember, you are playing the role of a committed Arnoldian scholar.

Arnold’s division of society was split between the Barbarians, the Philistines and the Populace. Check your understanding of these terms by answering the multiple choice questions below. For each question, provide one answer.

Let’s have a closer look at what else Arnold thought.

Chapter 2 notes how he bases some of his ideas on the earlier Romantic critique of industrialization. In doing so, Arnold is probably the first to document and theorize the emergence of popular culture in the mid-nineteenth century and, in a quite specific sense then, his work is significant.

Arnold’s work charts the changes that took place about this time: industrialization; urbanization; the rise of towns, cities and factories, and attendant concerns about poverty, poor public housing and social welfare systems. Although Arnold’s theorization of culture expresses what proved to be mainly unfounded fears about the effects of industrialization and urbanization, his legacy is, nevertheless, figured in different ways today.

For example, glancing through newspapers or listening to news bulletins, or noting party-political speeches, consider the denotation and connotation of the following terms:

hooligan; layabout; scrounger; civilized; cultured; illiterate; well-read; intelligent; anarchist; militant; uneducated; graduate; working class; yob; football fan; chav.

Are the connotations of some of these terms indebted to a view that Arnold seems to have had? Do the terms assume binary opposites that point to ‘civilized-uncivilized’ or ‘cultured-uncultured’? Consider the representation of different social classes in televisual culture (for example in soap operas, docusoaps and reality TV shows).

You may like to think, as well, of how ‘the past’ is reconstructed by your local art gallery or museum. Does it represent a past that is cultured, violent, anarchic, divided, romanticized? In what ways do they specifically do this? Are some cultures represented in ways that suggest that Britain, Europe or North America are more civilized than others? Are indigenous cultures portrayed positively or negatively? Again, try and be specific about your observations. Who decides how to represent the past and from where do they draw their information?

Continue to check your understanding and knowledge of Matthew Arnold’s work below by choosing one answer for each question.


You have moved on a little now from your Arnoldian phase and have decided to embrace Leavisism.  Accordingly, complete each sentence below as a committed Leavisite.

Of course, that was then (the 1930s and 1940s). Surely, these days, we don't think the masses should receive their ‘amusement’ from above? We wouldn’t subscribe to the belief that the masses should be told what’s best for them – by their ‘betters’, would we? But wait! Let’s just think about this for a moment. Just as Arnold's influence is still in evidence, perhaps Leavisism continues to inflect the ways in which so-called ‘popular culture’ is configured and represented in our everyday lives too?

Identify the key bookstores in your local town or city. What is the availability of the following texts?

  • Plays by Shakespeare
  • The complete works of Catherine Cookson
  • Mills & Boon (or any popular romantic novels)
  • The lyrics of songs by Dusty Springfield
  • The rise and fall of the Roman Empire
  • A history of the shipyard industry
  • Hello magazine
  • Graphic novels
  • The Communist Manifesto

Do you think studying culture is as much about what you read as why we read something and what we do with reading? In other words, what is the function of reading? What does it mean to you?

Consider whether the plays of Shakespeare were written to be read or performed. Discuss who engaged with these plays in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. What does this tell you about how culture is defined and evaluated across different periods of time?

Clearly, Leavisism is more than about what's available in your local bookstore. The significance that the Leavisites attached to literature and reading is highlighted in Chapter 2. Perhaps what we mean by ‘literature’ is as contentious as what we mean by ‘culture’. Both terms compel and excite certain debates and controversies.

For the following quiz on claims and counter-claims, highlight the item which most fits your continuing adherence to Leavisite principles.

Some further considerations

Although the Leavisite tradition has been questioned, Chapter 2 notes how their analytical tools (closer reading, textual scrutiny, attention to form) was taken up and subsequently applied to popular culture texts across a number of disciplines.  One significant effect then of the Leaviste tradition was that popular culture was given space and as such, became a part of the study of culture, even though Leavis himself might well have been horrified by this.

Chapter 2 of Cultural Theory and Popular Culture gives an example of how a Leavisite approach was adopted (both implicitly and explicitly) in school curricula in the past. Perhaps it is worth recalling your English lessons/lectures and examinations at school or college.

Think about:

  • What literary texts were you encouraged to value?
  • What literary texts were the set texts and why were they set? What texts weren’t set?
  • Did you feel you ought to take pleasure from some kinds of texts and not others? Can the pleasure a text gives you be circumscribed by someone else?
  • What sorts of questions were asked about the literary texts?  For example, was plot more important than form, or content, or style, genre and audience/readership?  Did you gain pleasure by analyzing it in this way? Or did it detract from your enjoyment?
  • Did the author's name make all the difference? Who decided some names were included as the important texts to read?
  • Should the text remind you of a better, more golden past?  Should the text reflect society or question society? 

If you are now, as an adult, a member of a book group, what texts are selected to be read? On what basis? How does discussion of these ensue? Next time you meet, analyze the discussion in relation to what you critically now know about Leavism.

Mass culture in America

The final section of Chapter 2 makes important links between debates about America and debates about mass culture. Read the final section of Chapter 2 closely to get a sense of the intricacies of the differing perspectives, particularly in relation to popular culture and the United States. 

Perhaps America is an example of a culture and society whose consumption of texts and practices is much more plural than mass culture critics seem to suggest. Consider the views expressed within the statements below and highlight one answer for each question.

The culture of other people

As John Storey suggests in the conclusion to Chapter 2, it is easy to be critical of the culture and civilization tradition but its significance in laying key foundations for the study of popular culture within British Cultural Studies cannot be ignored. Moreover, its legacy continues in some form today – within certain areas of both academic and non-academic life. Ultimately, for us, it raises some interesting questions about the part popular culture plays in the inclusion and exclusion of members of society. Inevitably, this links to issues around power.

This website chapter will now conclude by posing some final questions which, hopefully, will provoke further debate and discussion. Answer True or False to the following statements.

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