The Cultic Roots of Culture

In Neil Smelser and Richard Münch (ed.), Theory of Culture. Oakland, CA, USA: pp. 29-63 (1992)
Download Edit this record How to cite View on PhilPapers
Current conceptions of meaning and culture tend toward extreme forms of disembodied abstraction, indicating an alienation from the original, earthy meaning of the word culture. I turn to the earlier meanings of the word and why the “cultic,” the living impulse to meaning, was and remains essential to a conception of culture as semeiosis or sign-action. Culture and biology are often treated by social scientists as though they were oil and water, not to be mixed. I am fully aware of the assumed nature-culture dichotomy, but I reject it, not because I am a sociobiologist, quite the contrary, but rather because I am a semiotician, and my studies of signs have led me toward a critical reconstruction of the concepts of nature and culture. In my perspective, culture is a living, social metaboly of signs, not limited to a convention but in transaction with the inmost recesses of the person, and with the qualitative, physical, and significant environment. The question is not whether culture is a “system” or not, but whether we shall continue to conceive of culture as an inert, mechanical system or code, incapable of self-critical cultivation, or as a “living system”--a way of living--fully open to contingency, spontaneity, purposive growth and decay. Putting the “cult” back into culture requires a reconception of the relations between human biology and meaning, and between non-discursive, non-rational reason and modern rationality. Such a reconception involves considering how the technics of the biosocial human body itself form the primary source of culture.
(categorize this paper)
PhilPapers/Archive ID
Upload history
Archival date: 2021-09-28
View other versions
Added to PP index

Total views
12 ( #66,228 of 65,580 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
12 ( #50,104 of 65,580 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks on external links on PhilPapers.