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Monday, February 07, 2011

Understanding Culture- Mrinalini Sebastian

the following write up on Understanding Culture is by Foram Jakhria


Mrinalini Sebastian in her essay Understanding Culture focuses on various ways in which “Culture” has been defined and understood. She also agrees to Raymond Williams’ idea of ‘Culture’ as a synonym of ‘Civilization’. But through this essay, She tries to highlight ‘Culture’ and its meaning within the context of India – which is needed to be redefined.

Raymond Williams’ notion of Culture cannot be applied to Indian audience because his ideas are meant for his countrymen. In this essay, Sebastian cites Raymond Williams, but places her own view of Culture with relation to India specifically. She attempts to point out that Indian Culture or our understanding of ancient Indian Culture came from the descriptions, views, perspectives, photographs, etc of India collected by the colonizers or the western travelers.

Indian Culture which is known for its Religion, Temples, Classical Music, Dance, Mysticism, etc was recognized by the colonial powers. Colonizers considered Indian Culture as the one that is in opposition to their Western Culture and therefore, thought there is a need to revive Indian Culture to a large extent. For them, Indian Culture was the Culture of the ‘Other’. And what Sebastian points out by tracing this historical past that today India’s Culture has great amount of Colonial influence and impact.

Not only colonial past alone, but also Globalization and Liberalization have changed the image of our Indian Culture. Sebastian points out that our legal structures, policies, systems of Governance and Education, etc are heavily shaped by mimicking our colonial masters. Then, What is really “Indian” in it? Is what she addresses the readers to question. She throws light upon the missing ‘Indianness’ in our current Indian Culture.

In Sebastian’s view, ‘Culture’ needs to be redefined and re-understood by placing it in our own context. For this, we have to come-up with our own theories and frameworks about Culture by taking into consideration our colonial legacies and also, exploring new ways of understanding Culture by our own experiences of everyday life. The central idea of writing this essay is Understanding our own Culture by our own perspectives rather than relying on others to understand our Culture from their view points about India.

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