The trouble with culture
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In this chapter my focus is specifically on the way in which ‘culture’ is used in research and health and social policy in relation to racial minorities. In the discourses on ethnicity and culture, there is an interplay between the two broad interpretations of culture as resources for life and as civilisation. My argument is not that in considering health, illness and health care of minority ethnic groups culture is not important. It is that stripped of its dynamic social, economic, gender and historical context, culture becomes a rigid and constraining concept which is seen somehow to mechanistically determine peoples’ behaviours and actions rather than providing a flexible resource for living, for according meaning to what one feels, experiences and acts to change. Cultural norms provide guidelines for understanding and action, guidelines which are flexible and changing, open to different interpretations across people and across time, structured by gender, class, caste and other contexts, and which are modulated by previous experiences, relationships, resources and priorities. The rigid conception of culture, which all too often is apparent in health research serves a different function, however, it provides a description of people which emphasises their ‘cultural’ difference and helps to obscure the similarities between broadly defined cultural groups and the diversity within a cultural group.