By Aneeqa Tariq
Our thoughts are precious. We spend countless seconds every day, consumed by one thought or another, all of which shape our perception and experience of the world. To us, these thoughts are unique. But we do fail to realise, at times, that these thoughts are not entirely our own. Though they may be private ponderings or personal sentiments and considerations, they are connected to the world around us. Our thinking is influenced by the language we speak, the images we see, and the thoughts of others which we did not invent. Languages, images, and people all exist in our society, and it is the collective influence of all these things that shape our private thoughts. When we transform our thoughts into actions, we become a part of this collective society. This collective nature of thoughts, actions, language and products forms a culture. A culture that unites people.
“Culture is the name for what people are interested in, their thoughts, their models, the books they read and the speeches they hear” - Walter Lippmann
Then, what exactly is culture?
Culture, in simple terms, is an all-encompassing term for social behaviour, beliefs, customs, and norms located in society. These beliefs include religious, political, or basic knowledge of our universe. While customs can be extended to include laws and habits that are commonly practised by the members of society. Culture is acquired or adopted by humans by undergoing a process of learning or socialisation. Since different communities, regions, and religions champion their own individual cultures, humans are divided by a diverse range of differences known more commonly as cultural diversity.
What does a culture do for us?
Participation affects our mental and physical living experience in society. By participating socially within a culture, we can find delight and emotional and intellectual growth. This growth may be creative, with the help of social interaction among social beings or social interaction with social products of society, like music, paintings, architecture, and so on.
Perhaps the most important role culture plays in the life of an individual is developing and grounding a sense of identity. The individual becomes informed of his past and is instructed about how to live in the future. He is introduced to the beliefs that will guide him in life, the language that will help him communicate, and the ways of living he must practice. Not only is culture a moderator, but it is also a home. Our culture becomes a community, exuding a sense of belonging and refuge for the individual. In a more material sense, the existence of theatres, studios, art galleries, and libraries are a storehouse of culture. When we interact with these spaces, we become infused with the culture they carry, and we turn to it for comfort and pleasure.
Coco: Representing the Mexican Culture
Coco hit the cinemas in October of 2017 and became an instant hit. The movie revolves around the story of a young boy, Miguel, who is transported to the land of the Dead. There, he seeks guidance and aid from his great-great-grandfather to return to the land of the living and remove the family’s ban on music. A thing that is interesting about this Pixar animation is not just the heart-wrenching songs, but the Mexican cultural references. For instance, Día de Muertos is a Mexican holiday that is dedicated to remembering lost loved ones. The Land of the Dead is also a concept that ties in well with Mexican cultural beliefs.
Día de Muertos celebrations include special altars known as ofrendas that represent a link or connection between the living and the dead. In Coco as in Mexican culture, these altars are visited by the living people to honour the dead as a form of tribute. Their visits ensure that the memory of the dead is never forgotten. Honouring the Mexican origins further, Coco introduces the fantastical creatures known as alebrijes which are spirit animals made out of paper or carved in wood. In this way, Coco, an animated movie, depicts the importance of representation and understanding of culture. Our basic practices and productions, like our lives, are informed by our culture.
Why should we study culture?
Generally, the study of culture allows us to understand how different cultures and, in turn, different societies came about. We come to understand people's behaviours, and how and why they differ from one another. Also, they impact our worldview and the way we live. They provide a certain standard of moral or ethical values which is followed by everyone belonging to it. So, we need to study culture to navigate our way within societies, especially when we have to travel to diverse lands. We should study culture to read and understand different works of literature. Or we may need it to understand the laws and limitations of migration and the target land. Thus, studying cultures keeps us in touch with all fields of academic and social life within one community or with the world.
How can we study culture?
There are many detailed guides that inform us about various cultures and how to approach them. In many of these guides, we find the importance awarded to understanding culture with regards to relativity and diversity. Over the years, this understanding of culture has become such a fundamental aspect of our studies that cultural studies have emerged as a genre in the discipline of humanities. Though, for a curious mind which wishes to indulge in the basics of a particular culture as an avocation, books are always the recommended medium of learning. Also, documentaries, pamphlets, and films strive to portray an accurate and insightful representation of culture. In the modern world, online courses have occupied our attention because of their flexibility and accessibility. One such reliable platform that informs us about cultures is Fatima Al-Fihri Open University (FAOU).
FAOU has always shared a deep bond with cultural studies. As an institution, it houses students, managers, and interns from all parts of the world, each individual bringing a fragment of their culture to our diverse group. For this reason, FAOU values the harmony that the study of cultures brings to our globalised society. We introduce a detailed analysis of cultures in our modules relating to the issues of migration and international relations. In fact, our Intercultural Cities module is dedicated solely to the study of the diverse cultures that constitute the urban city centres. Thus, learning culture becomes much more than a focalised subject of study. For FAOU, it takes the central role of a narrator or that of a spirit which guides us on our journey through life.