Cultural Normativity

Between Philosophical Apriority and Social Practices

by Maria Gołębiewska (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 234 Pages


This book refers to the question of cultural normativity. The texts of the book present the diverse profiles of cultural normativity: from philosophical assumptions and indications relating to the sources of axiology and normativity in general to analyses of selected examples of social practices and the reconstruction of declared or presupposed kinds of cultural normativity. The authors evaluate the distinction between normativity and normativeness as a state of norms, they describe the relationships between cultural normativity and ethics. This issue is particularly important with regard to the 20th-century criticism of essentialism, the primacy of the culturalist position in humanities and the importance of the concept of difference in social sciences.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction, or the Cultural Conditioning of Normativity (Maria Gołębiewska)
  • Cultural Normativity – Theses and Methodology
  • Axiological Sensitivity (Zofia Rosińska)
  • Cultural Relativism – an Attempt at Conceptual Analysis (Adrian Kuźniar)
  • Cultural Normativity and Normativity in Culture (Maria Gołębiewska)
  • Cultural Normativity – Cultural Origin of Norms
  • Normativity as the Reason for Action (Anna Drabarek)
  • Truth and Lie – Normative Levels of Culture (Marta Szabat)
  • Myth and Cultural Norm (Marzena Karwowska)
  • “Just remember, obey!” On Cultural Norms and Their Meaning in “Fireflies” by Jan Karafiát (Katarzyna Szkaradnik)
  • Cultural Normativity – Tradition and Prospective Creativity
  • Conditions for Normative Criticism – the Case of Ethical Art Criticism (Joanna Winnicka-Gburek)
  • Artist’s Gesture, Work Standards and Rules of Creativity, according to Jean-François Lyotard (Ewa Janina Zgolińska)
  • Linearity and Linear Objects (United Territories of Normativity or Tools for Paradoxical Delimitation of Culture and Art) (Magdalena Brodziak)
  • Cultural Normativity – Cultural Normalisation of Nature
  • Repetition in Law and Exclusion of Non-Human Animals from Norm-Application (Przemysław Tacik)
  • “Dogtooth”: Norms Raised in the State of Nature (Olga Szmidt)
  • Whether and how to Talk about Cannibalism? (Dorota Halina Kutyła)
  • Cultural Normativity – Constructivism and Contextualism
  • Values and Norms Put to the Test – Childhood Heroes and their Attitude to Suffering (Agnieszka Doda-Wyszyńska & Monika Obrębska)
  • Gender Norm and City (between Body and Concept of Fair City) (Sylwia Chutnik)
  • Normative Aspect of the Gender Studies Discourse: Analysis of Selected Examples (Katarzyna Lisowska)
  • “The Tiny Self”: Normativity, Subjectivity, and Radicalised Language in the Work of Leslie Scalapino (Małgorzata Myk)
  • About the Authors
  • Series Index

← 6 | 7 →

Maria Gołębiewska

Introduction, or the Cultural Conditioning of Normativity

Abstract: The text presents all the main theses of the book with the qualification of the methodological positions concerning cultural normativity. The particular considerations characterise a context of contemporary reflection on cultural normativity, especially the presuppositions on the cultural authorisation and legitimisation of the individual and social actions.

Keywords: cultural conditioning, essentialism, cultural relativism, authorisation, legitimisation.

A book with texts that differ on the position of research and methodology, although thematically consistent, requires a certain guide – an introduction should be such a guide, indicating the consistency of content of the texts in the volume. Therefore, I suggest an introduction concerning the contents of the articles found herein – all the texts concern the problems of rules, regulations and laws that constitute “cultural normativity”. These texts refer to current research findings in the humanities at the beginning of the 21st century, in which, however, numerous assumptions of various philosophical and methodological traditions are present. It may be said that the book is a meeting of various modern research approaches that concern cultural normativity:

1) from references to variously-defined essentialism (natural law as the law of reason, a permanent species endowment of humans as specific beings – mental and physical, culture as a product specific to human beings, speaking to their specific “essence” or to the innate characteristics of the species),

2) through cultural relativism (which serves to explain the similarities and differences in the normativities of various cultural circles),

3) to methodologically diverse, modern research on cultural anthropology (semiotic and semantic studies, corporal and gender studies, as well as research on the city and social space).

The texts have been divided thematically into subsequent sections, which introduce the reader to increasingly detailed findings regarding cultural normativity.

The first section contains texts, through which their authors question philosophi­cal assumptions and theses regarding cultural normativity, but also normativity ← 7 | 8 → in general. In this part, “Cultural Normativity – Theses and Methodology”, there are texts about axiological sensitivity, cultural relativism as such, and an attempt to differentiate between cultural normativity and normativity in culture.

The authors of the texts from the second part, “Cultural Normativity – Cultural Origin of Norms”, consider cultural normativity as the reason for action, exa­mine the issue of truth in the context of logic and – primarily – in the context of everyday thinking, connected with cultural normativity. They analyse the various connections of myth and mythical thinking with cultural norms – the mythical legitimisation of cultural norms; and also attempt to define the conditions of religious legitimisation of cultural norms, not only in traditional societies, but also in contemporary secular and post-secular societies.

In the next section, “Cultural Normativity – Tradition and Prospective Creativity”, the authors of the texts ask the question: when and how much cultural normativity can be identified with tradition, and when it is considered an area of social life, as well as communal and individual practices, subject to collective and individual creation? This issue is, of course, connected with the issues of mo­dernisation, emancipation and individualisation, but it goes beyond the findings related only to Western societies and their cultures.

The texts of the next part, “Cultural Normativity – Cultural Normalisation of Nature”, concern the naturalistic legitimisation of cultural normativity – the relations of humans – as a specific norm-creating being – with nature and their own, human physiological and corporeal determinants (human rights and animal rights, the semantics of corporeality, the supra-cultural prohibition of cannibalism).

The last section, “Cultural Normativity – Constructivism and Contextualism”, contains detailed analyses and reports from the studies of specific social and cultural practices – it should be added: contemporary practices, the participants of which are convinced of cultural relativism, and believe that culture (with the entire sphere of meanings and norms) is a kind of communal construction (variable in time and space), which constitutes a certain context – a binding, motivating and determining factor in individual actions. These texts are a certain reconstruction of the normativity found ex post in these practices of contemporary culture (personal standards, including generational, gender, ideological and political in media and literary communications, but also in the social sciences – sociology and cultural anthropology).

In the suggested texts, the term “cultural normativity” is defined and redefined in reference to the extensive literature on the matter, covering the status of the norms, values and significances. Of the three types of relations – those between ← 8 | 9 → individual types of norms (social, moral and legal vs. cultural norms), between norms and values (perceived as ideal or subject to idealisation), and between norms, values and significances (values and norms as particular significances within culture as a man-made concept) – the definition of the third type of relations has dominated the semiotic and semantic studies of cultural normati­vity. These are culturalism-oriented studies, which represented the main trend of research in 20th century humanities and social sciences in its many varieties (functionalism, diffusionism, interactionism, phenomenology, and above all, structuralism and post-structuralism). Cultural normativity in the texts is considered as a set of certain cultural norms, implicit in cultural practices, with the actors of the social life and participants of the culture not always aware of them. In such cases, cultural normativity is subject to scholarly reconstruction. However, the relations of cultural normativity with other types of norms refer to a broader and more general concept of normativity as such and specify the objective of the research – the clarification of the ontological, axiological and semantic status of the norm as such that is normativity in general.

Cultural normativity is defined here as a certain manifestation of this normativity as such. Relations between various types of norms also enable the perception of the fact that cultural norms are a kind of cultural conditioning of many practices, as well as other types of norms. Attention is called to the semantic proximity of cultural and social norms – analogies regarding their unwritten status, their presence beyond codes and legal regulations, customary sanctions imposed for breaking these norms, the ease of introducing changes (individual usage), but also the durability resulting from a lack of discussion about them. It is the paradox of the changeable and at the same time permanent nature of cultural norms that makes them stand out especially from among other normativities. The indicated conditioning of social and individual practices by cultural normativity is sometimes recognised as a certain authorisation for the implementation of these actions ante rem (connected with a certain obligation) or as their legitimisation post rem (which can be a justification). The legal terminology used above appears in these studies intentionally, since the relations of cultural and legal norms have been previously described by such scholars as Georg Simmel, John L. Austin, Charles Taylor and Jean-François Lyotard. However, the volume is dominated by texts that consider cultural norms in relation to moral norms, as well as in their mutual entanglements. Let us briefly recall the findings of Taylor and Lyotard. ← 9 | 10 →

Cultural authorisation and legitimisation

Charles Taylor also connects the issue of modern legitimisation with the legitimacy of individual choices and the issue of individual authorisations. According to him, culture gains the power to legitimise because it is the embodiment of the articulation of Good due to human actions and statements (linguistic practices, while also helping in the acquisition of the knowledge of individual identities – an indication of the role of language and narration).1

It may be said that according to Lyotard and Taylor, the role of the philosophy of culture is the reflection on culture as the area of the legitimisation of human actions and cognition. In this context, both mentioned concepts see the appearance of: 1) the basic question of the relation between legitimisation and authorisation, as well as 2) the resulting need to characterise cultural legitimisations and 3) the need to characterise the authorisations granted with reference to the culture.

Taylor connects the problem of legitimisation with ethical and moral issues, with a reference to values, as well as three kinds of norms highlighted in the literature: social, moral and legal. In turn, Taylor connects the issue of authorisations strictly with the concept of legal norms – i.e. codified rights “of”.2 It is worth noting that authorisations, here designated as “cultural”, are frequently the result of social and moral arrangements, which are not codified but remain in the sphere of cultural practices, common convictions, as well as customs and traditions studied by cultural anthropologists, and much less frequently described by philosophers. Taylor considers such types of non-codified authorisations, varying depending on the culture, in the light of the primary – according to him – context of codified law, ascribing a particular role to civic rights.3

Such a broad scope of cultural legitimisations and authorisations is assumed when considering the question of culturally different argumentations and the culturally-relativised legitimising authority of reason.4 Jean-François Lyotard indicated two Grand Narratives as methods of legitimising argumentation: the ← 10 | 11 → Narrative of the Mythos, characteristic of the ancient times and the Middle Ages, and the Narrative of Science, characteristic of the modern era, particularly for the post-Enlightenment modernity, with an emphasis of the regulative role of the law, including human rights. It may be said that Taylor’s position would fit into such a type of legitimising argumentation, characterised by Lyotard – in the Narrative of Science with an emphasis on the particular role of the codified laws. At the same time, Lyotard noted that modern (from the end of the 20th century) critique of the Grand Narratives may diminish the cultural role of the Science Narrative, while also leading to the renewal of the Myth Narrative, perceived in various ways – as mythologised history, where necessity and circumstance intertwine, where a postmodern game of repetition and difference, identity and otherness takes place; as mythologised collective history (cases of 20th century ideologies, particularly Nazism, where references to Myth were combined with references to Science, to arguments and both rational and empirical learning); as mythologised individual history of the hero of a given collective.

At the same time, Lyotard called attention to the redefinitions of both historical and mythological narrative in modern Western culture. Thus, referring to the mythological assumptions of ethnology, he asked “is the myth the source, or is the source mythical?”5, considering whether the procedure of searching for legitimisation does not cause one to try and find something mythical in the answer received, in the legitimising argumentation.

It is worth asking whether in the case of such legitimisation of actions, a de facto legitimising argument is not the cultural fact itself (“a cultural event” according to Claude Lévi-Strauss), a practice seen as a manifestation of culture – of a specifically human world. It should be noted that accepting that which is cultural as a legitimising argument is an argument that is implicit, but often glossed over, in culturalist research concepts, for example in structuralism or symbolic interactionism, but also in functionalism (e.g. the ascribing of certain functions to social conflicts or acts of aggression). Such an argument may also be accepted in concepts of naturalistic assumptions, considering nature as a starting point for cultural products – for example in the philosophy of life, in its non-vitalistic trends.

Lyotard attempts to answer the above question. In his consequently culturalist concept of human beings and their universe, he combines the questions of legitimisation with epistemological concepts, with the possibility of recognition of cultural differences, which themselves then serve as a starting point for the ← 11 | 12 → indication of authorisations. The difference and its recognition are intended to affirm the individual identities and are here a kind of legitimisation. As Lyotard shows, the existing cultural fact is a starting point for the determination of the authorisation of the people (parties) participating in a given cultural practice – e.g. social authorisations, ultimately subject to legal codification. Lyotard indicates that although such a type of legitimisation – though an existing cultural fact – does not build authorisations based on stereotypes (the recognition of differences is intended to destroy stereotypes), it is at the same time the granting of authorisations based on historical knowledge, the renewed influence of newly re-defined tradition and heritage.6 In other words, Lyotard shows how history from the sphere of Myth – the Grand Narrative, identity and identification – transitions to the sphere of “small tales” (les petits récits) and differences. This is because “small tales” are the basis of mutually exclusive assessments of historical facts (such as opinions concerning Nazism)7. What is more, they allow a multiplicity of norms, as well as legal differences, such as mutually exclusive codes of conduct of various national or social groups.8 These codes – as the object of legal interpretation – may be mutually conflicting. It should be noted that this is not, as in the case of Grand Narratives, a conflict of legitimisations, because diverse “small tales” (les petits récits) assume a diversity of legitimisations (arguments or authorities, to which they refer). This would be a confrontation of authorisations written in the codes, and subsequently resulting from their claims – i.e. social, moral, and ultimately codified legal claims. The issue of the claims is closely connected with the issue of authorisations, from which the individual or group of claims originate, of which they are a consequence. A return to the question of the claims shall be necessary.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (October)
Values Tradition Modernisation Human rights Differentiation Minorities
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 234 pp., 1 table

Biographical notes

Maria Gołębiewska (Volume editor)

Maria Gołębiewska is Associate Professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The fields of her research are contemporary philosophy (phenomenology, philosophy of existence, structuralism and post-structuralism) and the modern sources of contemporary philosophy (epistemology, philosophy of language).


Title: Cultural Normativity
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237 pages