Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “A Cultural Approach”

Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze, Ph.D. and Jeria Quesenberry, Ph.D.

Excerpt from Chapter 1 – “A Cultural Approach”:

So, what do we mean by culture and what does it mean to take a cultural
approach? Our working definition of culture is derived from British cultural
theorist and historian Raymond Williams (1958) who tells us “Culture
is ordinary, in every society and in every mind” (p. 6). Williams
brought a new way of thinking about culture that did not confine it to
“high art” or the prerogative of the privileged requiring specialized
knowledge and understanding. Williams showed that culture belonged
to everyone. It is part of our everyday experiences and being “made and
remade” by us on both the personal and the societal levels: “a culture is
a whole way of life.”

This definition allows us to see culture as dynamic; shaping and being shaped
by those who occupy it, in a synergistic diffusive process.

When Williams refers to the “ordinariness” of culture he was claiming it
for us all, as part of the lived experiences of ordinary as well as extra-ordinary
people. But it is also the potential “ordinariness” of culture, rife
with what Virginia Valian (1999) calls “gender schemas” that can jeopardize
our gender perceptions. Gender-difference assumptions easily
become entrenched in our thinking and mistaken for deep-rooted characteristics
appearing to be completely natural while actually being
socially constructed in specific cultures.

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