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What is Culture and Health?

What is culture? Culture is the garden you are laying out, the film I am watching, the choir in which we are singing. But culture does not only mean experiences and activities that someone is carrying out on their own or is sharing with others. Culture is also habits, apprehensions of morality, values, in short, the ”sphere of life” and the meanings we share with others as members of a social community and that express what is meaningful. If we speak of a certain Irish culture, for example, we are probably not merely referring to the songs we are singing but also to the typical aspect of ways of living and relating to reality that we find in Ireland. In an even wider sense we can speak of culture in the same way that we speak of civilisation. In that case, not only cultural experiences and a certain atmosphere are included but also the institutions of society.

What is health? In a sense, ”health” can simply be described as not being ill. But there is also something true about the old Swedish proverb ”hälsan tiger still” (meaning ”health is silent”). Health leads an anonymous existence as long as we are healthy, it is not until we lack health that we are reminded of its existence. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) ventures towards a much broader definition than this: health is ”a state of complete physical, psychological and social well-being”. In other words, health cannot be solely defined in negative terms, as absence of illness, but should also be positively defined, as well-being. This well-being has several dimensions, physical, social as well as existential ones. In much of today's discussion on health, such a broader view of health has been expressed. But how health shall be understood also depends on where in the world we are or what social group we belong to. Even our scientific models for medicine, health care and health are based on a certain sense of reality and perception of the human being.

What is culture plus health? This compilation has gained public acceptance and is used in many ways. At the University of Gothenburg it is at the centre of a number of research projects that in various ways investigate the connections between culture and health. Such connections may be of many kinds. One might for example ask oneself which of the effects are achieved by sensory stimulation through various cultural activities and what these mean for the human brain's plasticity and ability to heal. One can investigate whether a certain society's political culture, or its cultural conceptions of normality and illness, influence the well-being of people, but also how fictive or real stories contain conceptions of health that help us understand how we are feeling. Moreover, one may in an artistic project critically challenge society's view of what is healthy and what is not.

The connections between culture and health may vary, depending on how we view them. In the combination of many varying points of view, we learn something more about being human, both as a cultural being and as a being of health. The Centre for Culture och Health therefore strives to stimulate the multi- and interdisciplinary exchange between various disciplines and vantage points.

Contact Information

Centre for Culture and Health

Box 200, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Page Manager: Lovisa Aijmer|Last update: 4/26/2013

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