The Indian-American sociologist, Arjun Appadurai, argues that we should consider ‘the human preoccupations that shape the future as a cultural fact’. By conceiving the future as specific cultural form, ‘we will be better able to place within this scheme more particular ideas about prophecy, well-being, emergency, crisis, and regulations’. This begs the question: what is culture?
Do not trust anyone who speaks of culture without first defining it. Pronouncements on culture seldom if ever survive the test of this golden rule. The reason is apparent. Any attempt to define culture at once founders on the reefs of eclectic plurality. Culture is not reserved only for ethnographic designation. There is a pop culture, another of high culture, a New Age culture, a culinary culture, a culture of violence, a culture of rogue bankers, and so forth into endless particularist multitude. It demonstrates taxonomy chiefly by the rival incompatible differences within itself. The word culture attaches itself promiscuously to every sort of manifestation. We might pointlessly object to many of these usages of culture as being superficial, misapplied or invalid. It might indeed be true but fruitless to say that culture has entirely succumbed to nominalism. We will yet have to satisfy the golden rule of trustworthy definition. Where in all this termitary of cultures is the culture which can bear universal sense? Is there some unacknowledged template of culture which answers universally to all its unruly factions?