Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Culture cannot be a caricature

In reading the final chapter of Communicating Health: A Culture-Centered Approach, I found it very helpful to have a complete overview of the entire culture-centered process in research, understanding, and necessary structural shifts. What was also reinforced for me was that this approach is both challenging and critical, especially when one is willing to recognize that erasure has taken place within a marginalized community.

However, something also struck me as I read and was reminded that culture is dynamic and that the “values, beliefs, and practices that constitute the culture become meaningful when articulated in the context within which they are realized” (p. 256). Of course, this definition has been a common statement made in our weekly discussions. But, how it was substantiated for me this week as I read it again comparing it to a notion I recently read in Charles Tilly’s book Durable Inequality. In the opening pages, Tilly describes James Gillray, who was Britain’s first professional cartoonist. His work is in the form of caricatures, portraying unforgettable images of British life under George III. Tilly goes on to describe later in the book how theoretical models can, in many ways, portray a social phenomenon in the form of a caricature… where certain characteristics are exaggerated, and others are understated. Of course, this ultimately does the theoretical framework, and the social phenomenon that it is trying to describe, a tremendous disservice.

So, as I read the definition (again) on page 256, I contemplated the Culture-Centered Approach and considered the possibility of a caricature portrayal. No. This approach, if done right, has the ability to create a rather definitive portrait of the people, the life, and the culture.

What I also found encouraging, as I continued to read and compare this chapter to Tilly’s book, was how (in Tilly’s terms), those who are being exploited by the dominant structure, actually have the ability develop new community norms, based on existing local meanings. Tilly actually suggested that this was not possible and that those who were being exploited would eventually just adapt or be more accommodating to the dominant structure. While this may be the norm, CCA actually allows for (in Dutta’s terms) culture to intersect with structure and agency.

Okay, so while reading loads may be in abundance, I’m always thankful when readings begin to intermingle in context, providing a sharper and more critical understanding of important concepts.

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