Blog 3 by Anneli – Conceptualization of culture

What a tricky title! It is so nice and safe to organize things/concepts into boxes or folders. What if a thing or a concept belongs to several different boxes or folders? If you want to find them you take copies and put one copy to every box it belongs or as Ted Nelson, the inventor of hypertext and hypermedia did, you build links between these things. Culture seems now for me a context sensitive concept – changing like an ameba from situation to another. One of my favorite definitions of culture is: “Culture is embodied in how people interact with other individuals and with their environment; it is a way of life formed under specific historical, natural and social conditions” (Special Issue: AI and Cultural Heritage, IEEE Intelligent System, 2009, Vol. 24, No.2).

A letter from the Editor was also very interesting for me during those days (Wang, F-Y., 2009. Is Culture Computable? A Letter from the Editors, Special Issue: AI and Cultural Heritage, IEEE Intelligent System, Vol. 24, No.2, pp. 2-3).

Cultural computing has been my entrance to cultural research world some 20 years ago when I stated collaboration with my Japanese colleagues. We have developed computational methods (image processing) for comparing Japanese and Finnish color worlds in art, cross-cultural virtual museums and icon languages for clearly defined applications. The more I worked with my Japanese colleagues the more I started to read literature related to Japan and culture. At the beginning Hofstede’s, Lewis’s and Hall’s research helped me to start. Their models are like frameworks – not to be taken literally. I think that it is good to be aware of these when you do business abroad and also in multi-cultural team working in international software industry. It is not putting people into boxes but realizing that our societies, backgrounds and every day manners are different.

For example gift giving is very important and it has a lot of semantics in Japan. (Please do not give beautiful Finnish hand-made candles as Christmas presents for your Japanese friend, as I did before I started to study some cultural basics. Candles are related to dead persons in Japan.) My experiences have brought me up year by year. My Japanese colleagues have been my best teachers. Nowadays when we are working together and when we are very excited we forget where we come from – as if we are creating a neutral joint space. However after joint working sessions we have to have our feet on ground and face the cultural context where we are.

I like very much “culture” as a verb. Thank you for Margarethe for introducing this. Culturing has exactly been the key point in our Japan-Finland joint research – we just called it cross-cultural. In the future I will vote for “both – and” approach to cultural research in other words integrating traditional cultural views and modern cultural views. Before this will happen, perhaps you find something interesting from the following article.

Parrish and J.A. Linder-VanBerschot, “Cultural dimensions of learning: Addressing the challenges of multicultural instruction,” The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, vol. 11, pp. 1-19, 2010.