Princeton anthropologist Clifford Geertz writes that “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun. He pictures culture as those webs. In order to travel across the strands toward the center of the web, an outsider must discover the common interpretations that hold the web together. Culture is shared meanings, shared understanding, shared sensemaking.

Em Griffin, A First Look at Communication Theory (2000); McGraw Hill: Boston; emphasis mine

You learn a lot of unimportant stuff in higher education, but a few things really stand out and stick with you. I encountered Geertz’s definition of culture as being a system of shared meanings in 2002, when I was a first year, and it has stuck with me since. I derived from this a definition of society, too: a society is the people who share the meanings that produce a culture. I don’t know if anyone else has made this connection, but it seems intuitive to me, so I don’t flatter myself as being super original in observing it. Since I’ve been talking about culture in terms of understanding genre, I thought a definition might be useful.

This is what I think of when I think of culture. Australian culture is the interlocking set of things us Australians understand; the ideas we use to organize the world. Those ideas aren’t consistent among all of us, and they aren’t exclusive to us — to use a couple of obvious examples, we don’t all know that three o’clock on the first Tuesday of November is a momentous occasion, nor is it just us who holds April 25 sacred — but taken in total, these interlocking and related ideas form our culture. That these ideas can also form other cultures explains why I can be Australian, and hip-hop, and a Sydneysider, and a Tumblr-er all at once.

I think, on an initial read, this may partly be what Frank Kogan was getting at here. I’ll have more to say about his thoughts later in the week.