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Philosophical Thought

The problem of the relationship between applied and theoretical culturology

Beskov Andrey

ORCID: 0000-0003-4080-1614

PhD in Philosophy

Head of the research laboratory "Transformation of Spiritual Culture in the Modern World", Nizhny Novgorod State Pedagogical University. Kozma Minina"

603005, Russia, Nizhegorodskaya oblast', g. Nizhnii Novgorod, ul. Ul'yanova, 1, kab. 227
Other publications by this author








Abstract: The purpose of the study is to determine how the relationship between theoretical (fundamental) and applied (practical) culturology is understood in the Russian scientific literature. Based on the analysis of the works of Russian cultural scientists, the article raises the issues of the relevance of cultural knowledge, the necessity and possibility of cultural theory, the prognostic possibilities of the science of culture. Increased attention is paid to the consideration of such an aspect of the topic as the insufficient saturation of cultural concepts with empirical data and the blurring of the conceptual apparatus of culturology. The author attempts to substantiate the opinion that excessive theory, isolation from the living realities of culture harms culturology as a scientific discipline. The novelty of the research lies in the criticism of the position insufficiently reflected by the scientific community, according to which applied culturology is based on some fundamental knowledge about culture. The vulnerability of ideas about the existence of such knowledge is shown, which, however, does not detract from the importance of culturology. It is concluded that culturology can be a science in demand by society only by being primarily an applied discipline. Time will tell whether it will be able to acquire a theoretical superstructure that works in practice. But the theory should grow on the basis of specific empirical research, and not be invented speculatively.


theory of culture, theoretical culturology, applied culturology, practical culturology, empirical culturology, fundamental culturology, Russian culturology, the science of culture, history of culturology, scientific status of culturology

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

If you search the RSCI for publications with the keywords "applied cultural studies", we will find more than a hundred different publications. It may seem that this area of knowledge (or practice – depending on the interpretation of the concept of "applied cultural studies") actively developing. However, if you delve into the study of publications on this topic, you soon have to draw less optimistic conclusions. There is still no single approach to the question of what applied cultural studies is, nor an answer to whom and why it is needed. More precisely, you can find the answer to the last question right away – those who are engaged in it need it, write articles and textbooks about what it is. But this, let's face it, is too narrow a group of people. I am interested in another question – can applied cultural studies be a discipline in demand from the Russian and world scientific community and human society as a whole?

In order to start from some starting point in my considerations, I will consider some publications on the topic of applied cultural studies, but first I will explain what I don't like about the array of such publications in general. This is a common trait for most of them – to talk about culture in a very abstract way. If you squeeze the "water" out of these texts, then the dry residue will be the following: culture is good, lack of culture is bad, because cultural studies, as a science about culture, is good and doing it (teaching it, studying it) is also good. This position is very clearly presented in the recent publication of the candidate of Cultural Studies G. V. Tsareva, whose title ("The role of cultural studies in the training of aviation specialists") speaks for itself. Answering the obvious (and, according to the author, really often asked) question about why an aviation university cadet needs to study cultural studies, the author refers to a ready-made phrase from a textbook on cultural studies: "Culture, both accumulated and becoming, helps society to survive" [1, p. 13]. And further: "Recently, the practical layer of cultural knowledge – Applied cultural studies - has been updated. Indeed, is it possible to successfully fly to different countries and cities without knowing the national characteristics and specific features of their cultures?" [1, p. 14]. (Here and further, the text selection in citations belongs to the author of the cited publication.) Without denying the benefits of aesthetic and moral development for each person, I am still not ready to believe that without a cultural component in their education, aviators will not be able to "successfully fly to different countries and cities." In addition, the question arises of the need to study cultural studies for the cultural formation of a person. One may ask the question – what, there were no cultured people in Russia until the appearance of cultural studies in the nomenclature of scientific specialties? And isn't it possible to introduce people to culture without studying this discipline, by engaging directly in various types of cultural leisure? And is it possible that the essence of applied cultural studies is precisely to apply cultural studies to various fields of activity that are far from it in such a voluntary, administrative and commanding way?

Such a solid-looking phrase does not give us anything to understand the specifics of applied cultural studies: "Applied cultural studies is based on the classification of cultural functions based on fundamental cultural studies (B. Malinovsky, G. Spencer, E. Durkheim, T. Parsons, E.V. Sokolov) and the directions of socio-cultural activity arising from them: on the idea of diversity and ensuring dialogue and the mutual influence of cultures (S.N. Artanovsky, M.M. Bakhtin, V.S. Bybler, S.N. Ikonnikova, E.A. Orlova, V.A. Yadov), on the concept of evolutionism (E. Tylor, L. Morgan, L. White), diffusionism (F. Ratzel, T. Heyerdahl, etc.), on the principles of sociodynamics of culture (M. Weber, P. Sorokin), on the theory of cultural and historical types and local civilizations (N.Y. Danilevsky, O. Spengler, A. Toynbee) as a methodological basis for differentiation and integration of modern technologies for involving different groups of the population in the world of culture" [2, p. 59]. Even if we do not take into account that the listed authors did not classify themselves as culturologists (this practice of retroactively enrolling representatives of different scientific disciplines in the category of culturologists was previously criticized by V. M. Mezhuyev [3, p. 1]) and hardly thought that they were engaged in fundamental culturology, the meaning of the quoted words seems all the more blurred than you think about it more. How does the creative heritage of these very different authors help to involve "different groups of the population in the world of culture" in real life? And most importantly, what does "involvement in the world of culture" mean, why should anyone be involved in this world, and how can some groups of the population not be involved in the world of culture anyway? What objective reasons do we have to prefer one culture to another? But this preference is directly assumed – we must select some culture as a model in order to involve someone in it. The words about "modern technologies of involvement" even sound somehow ominous, reminding of "totalitarian sects" and terrorist recruitment techniques.

(Even more depressing is the finding in the article of the cited author – Doctor of Cultural Studies – large-scale unspoken borrowings from the works of other cultural scientists, for example, I. M. Bykhovskaya [4]. The quote itself is entirely borrowed from the abstract of the doctoral dissertation on cultural studies by M. A. Ariarsky "Applied cultural studies as a field of scientific knowledge and social practice" ( , p. 5). As a result, considerations about the high role of culture in the life of society with non-compliance with elementary scientific culture look extremely unconvincing.)

But other publications also raise questions. A. Ya. Flier wrote back in 1997 that applied cultural studies "studies, plans and develops a methodology for purposeful forecasting and management of socio-cultural processes within the framework of state social and cultural policy, within the framework of the activities of specialized cultural institutions and public organizations" [5, p. 128]. A recent publication by K. G. Antonyan reflects a similar position, although such a category as practical cultural studies is also mentioned: "It is necessary to distinguish practical cultural studies from the concept of applied cultural studies, which has its own declared fundamental differences, despite the seemingly similar meaning of these concepts. Practical culturology is not a research activity, but a concrete application of the culturological approach in professional and life practice ... [6, p. 176]. Further, this difference stands for: "in 2011, two collective monographs with a similar title were published: "Philosophy and Cultural studies in modern expert activity" and "Cultural expertise: theoretical models and practical experience". The publications contain both sections where the authors reflect on the possibilities of practical application of philosophical and cultural tools in expert activities, analyze the regulatory and legal security of this kind of activity (that is, in fact, what can be called "applied cultural studies"), and sections in which the experience of conducting various kinds of examinations is presented, as well as examples of specific expert opinions (that is, "practical cultural studies")" [6, p. 177]. As a result, both applied and practical cultural studies are directly related to expertise, which in our country is in demand only by the state apparatus. So A. Y. Flier mentions applied cultural studies in the context of state policy. It turns out that applied cultural studies does not exist outside the sphere of state interests? So this is not science at all, but another "servant of ideology"? (However, another oft–quoted cultural critic, Professor I. M. Bykhovskaya, has already written about this: "The purely functional definition of applied cultural studies, identifying it only with the process of using knowledge, in fact, takes it beyond the scope of the actual scientific space, and in this case there is no reason to consider applied cultural studies as an integral part of the science of cultural studies" [4, p. 29]).

In addition, as a reader of such articles, I chronically lack concrete examples illustrating the thoughts of the authors. For example, what does K. G. Antonyan mean when he writes: "In the context of applied cultural studies ... there are those pain points where it is the cultural approach that can give the most voluminous result" [6, p. 177]. What is the approach? What are the pain points? What is the result? The questions multiply, but there are still no answers. Next, I will formulate my understanding of what applied cultural studies is (or, more precisely, what it can be) and try to illustrate my thoughts with some examples, which, perhaps, will contribute to reviving the sluggish discussion about the nature and significance of this discipline.

So, like other authors, I will try to start from the name, from the very phrase "applied cultural studies". If we talk about applied sciences, then applied physics, applied mathematics, applied sociology immediately come to mind. They all exist because there is an objective need for them – either from the side of related sciences, or from the side of business, maybe even from individual clients who need certain consultations, calculations, working models. Moreover, one can imagine applied historical research (even if this phrase sounds unusual) – of a microhistoric, local history, genealogical nature. It is more difficult to imagine applied philosophical research, although one or another type of philosophizing can have quite distinct applied (practical) significance, directly influence public consciousness and socio-economic practice, guide the course of scientific research (for example, Marxism). But it is extremely difficult to imagine cultural studies clearly influencing society. Why?

In my opinion, the reason is that Russian cultural studies was created from above, and did not mature by itself. I must say that this plot is the emergence of Russian cultural studies, in itself worthy of a thoughtful scientific analysis, which has not yet been conducted by anyone. A. Ya. Flier briefly describes the circumstances of its institutionalization in the early 1990s and the rejection of this process in the scientific community, reproaches of pseudoscience [5, p. 124]. The scientific community has confirmed the opinion that cultural studies was elevated to the rank of a separate science in order to employ teachers of Marxism-Leninism who were out of work [7. p. 5]. As a result, the scientific process turned upside down – a certain theory (theoretical culturology) was hastily created, under which some facts had to be adjusted further (although Russian culturologists have rather strained relations with the facts, since empirical research in the field of culture is conducted mainly by anthropologists). As K. G. Antonyan writes: "Cultural studies ... is engaged not so much in the field study of the world of culture (in this regard, anthropology in all its variations – cultural, physical, social and even philosophical is closer to a specific description and analysis of the cultural world as a human world), but rather in the interpretation and interpretation of processes and phenomena, that is, it is in to a greater extent problematizes the material, rather than describes it" [6, p. 175].

This thesis is also confirmed by my personal observations made as a reviewer of philosophical and cultural journals. The main stream of publications is reasoning and interpretation, retelling someone's theoretical concepts and trying to construct a science–like text based on them. The authors are not looking for any factual confirmation (or refutation) of these concepts, as a result, all "theoretical cultural studies" in our country is likened to medieval scholasticism, but by no means modern science, which increasingly insistently requires the authors to disclose the relevance of the topic, describe its study, substantiate the chosen research methodology and some specific conclusions.

And here we should remember how the theoretical part of natural science knowledge is formed. At first (for hundreds of years) various facts accumulated, and this often happened in close connection with the urgent needs of society – for example, the development of astronomy was vital for improving navigation. The facts obtained through observations and experiments required their own understanding, theories generalizing these facts were born, they were refuted by new facts and as a result more perfect theories appeared. But in cultural studies we observe the opposite picture – theory precedes empirical data, moreover, the latter does not seem to interest researchers at all. Isn't this the essence of the notorious "cultural approach"?

The question is natural – how much can one trust such a theory that is not supported by facts? I will quote the article by I. M. Bykhovskaya again: "... the presence of a rich theoretical and conceptual palette is a kind of barrier that a researcher must overcome every time he moves from thinking about the diversity of cultural interpretations to the formation of a strategy and tactics of a specific applied research. From all this rich, generalizing cultural knowledge, it is important to choose the paradigm within which specific research tasks can be most effectively solved" [4, p. 32].

It is not entirely clear what criterion should be followed when choosing this very paradigm. Personal taste? By some instinct? Fashion? The current scientific and ideological conjuncture? And most importantly, is it necessary to choose some kind of theoretical paradigm for studying a particular cultural phenomenon? What if it can be studied quite successfully without referring to someone's theoretical heritage?

The idea that rigorous, rationally organized empirical research does not need a methodological theory has been making its way in the West for quite a long time [8]. We have not yet expressed such bold thoughts (or I have not yet come across them), although it is already proposed to abandon hopes for the creation of a methodologically unified cultural studies [9, p. 52], which, it seems to me, is a step in the same direction. Nevertheless, the approach remains traditional for Russian cultural studies, which we find, for example, in the article of Doctor of Philosophy A. S. Balakshin, where it is said: "The applied level of cultural studies should be focused on the use of fundamental knowledge about culture ..." [10, p. 278].

But what is this fundamental knowledge about culture? What are they like? In the natural sciences, everything is clear – matter consists of atoms, those of elementary particles. The speed of light in a vacuum is the limiting speed of particle motion in the universe. E=mc?. This is what can be called fundamental scientific knowledge. All of them are experimentally or mathematically verifiable, that is, they are true. And this knowledge can be used in practice one way or another, including making predictions for the future. But are there (and is it possible to think of) any fundamental, immutable laws of culture on the basis of which we can make more or less accurate predictions about its further development?

What theoretical developments in the field of cultural studies could have predicted the emergence of the Internet half a century ago and the results of its influence on various spheres of human life, and hence culture? And can any theoretical refinements help predict which TV formats will be in demand by the viewer? (If culturologists were capable of this, it would be a very popular and well-paid profession.) But changes in culture, as well as the future of humanity as a whole, are largely (if not absolutely) unpredictable. This thesis is clearly confirmed by the events related to the fighting in Ukraine and unprecedented sanctions against Russia, which also affected the cultural sphere. It is obvious that culture is strongly influenced by the internal politics of various states and geopolitics, which, in turn, depends on the internal politics in different countries – on which political forces or leaders come to power. Our life, consciousness, and, as a result, culture are influenced by many factors, many of which are also hidden from the eyes of the public, including the scientific one. So, it is increasingly difficult to understand when we are dealing with some natural changes in people's minds, and when they are the consequences of information manipulation or even sabotage. Under these conditions, it seems quite obvious that knowledge about the past of culture is unlikely to be able to help us in understanding what culture will be in the future. Therefore, I have strong doubts about the significance and value of theoretical models of culture.

In order to be able to talk about some general patterns in the development of culture and society, you need to be sure that they are universal and will manifest themselves in any human society, if not in the same way, then, in any case, very similar. That is, each society must go through the general stages of socio-political, economic, and cultural development. However, it is quite obvious that this is not the case – hence, in fact, the civilizational approach (N. Y. Danilevsky, O. Spengler, A. Toynbee) arose, emphasizing the unique features of different types of human society. The generalizing approach, in its completed form, leading to the idea of the "end of history" (F. Fukuyama), which was at one time extremely popular, apparently again (following Marxism), turned out to be compromised by the very course of history. But if culture, like history, is unique and unpredictable (who can now scientifically predict what awaits us tomorrow, the heyday of a multipolar world or a nuclear war and the death of civilization?), then how is it possible to build its theoretical model?

Not everything is clear with the terminology used in cultural studies. The lexicon of natural sciences is much more unambiguous. When we move into the field of knowledge about culture, then the discrepancies immediately begin. The very concept of culture is believed to have hundreds of definitions [11]. Derivative concepts are no less problematic, for example, "subculture", which appeared as a scientific term a century ago [12]. The meaning of the term "mythology", which is extremely popular in the socio-humanitarian sciences, is extremely blurred [13]. The more we pile terms with unclear content on top of each other, the more blurry and uncertain what we are talking about becomes. But in this case, isn't it naive to think that these inherently fuzzy, shaky theoretical constructions (and even developed in other historical and cultural circumstances) will help us in analyzing specific phenomena and processes observed in modern culture, and even more so will help predict what changes will occur in the culture of tomorrow? These doubts are growing stronger with the further development of technologies that make the world of the near future more and more unlike the world of even the recent past. E. N. Yarkova is absolutely right when she writes: "The digitalization of culture has caught Russian cultural scientists, as they say, by surprise. For a certain time, this process itself was considered as a private one, not related to fundamental cultural topics. But today it is becoming increasingly obvious that the digitalization of culture is the number one topic that requires close attention and thoughtful study just because it turns many, if not all, ideas about culture" [14, p. 123].

It seems logical to me that theoretical cultural studies can be formed only as a superstructure over empirical data, which is the value that cultural researchers can bestow on science and society. But it is the facts that are the weak point of Russian cultural studies. The emphasis on abstract theorizing initially made cultural studies a weak link among other socio-humanitarian sciences. Candidate of Cultural Studies A. S. Dvurechenskaya quite sensibly admits the possibility that "cultural studies as a professional direction will cease to exist in the near future and will remain as an interdisciplinary field of humanitarian research ..." [15, p. 111].

Of course, this is a rather depressing prospect for those who are now aware of themselves as cultural scientists. But this is also an incentive for some progress in the field of cultural studies. Now cultural studies lacks a constant influx of fresh empirical data. However, these data are needed not only (and probably not so much) for the construction of theories, but for the current understanding of the processes taking place in society. If culturologists can effectively identify and analyze them, revealing the causes and consequences of changes taking place in culture, then the expediency of the existence of this discipline will not have to be laboriously proved.

What kind of processes can (and, in my opinion, should) cultural scientists analyze?

For example, there is a problem that society is concerned about – the increase in cases of aggressive behavior of people. On the one hand, of course, psychologists should deal with this, at least in those aspects of this problem that are related to the direct mechanisms of the emergence of destructive behavioral impulses and behavioral patterns in the human psyche. It is reasonable to entrust sociologists to assess the true scale of the problem within a particular population. Perhaps historians and ethnologists will be able to find the origins of this situation or, in any case, some parallels and analogies in the past, as well as among other societies. It is possible to predict in advance a high probability that all these specialists will come to the conclusion about the existence of some cultural mechanisms underlying the problem they are studying. But a detailed description and study of this mechanism (the influence of cinema, literature, mass media, computer games, adult and children's role-playing games, other types of socio-cultural practices) will be a manifestation of practical / applied cultural studies (in general, I do not see the point of talking about practical cultural studies, as well as, for example, practical physics, so both the results of the implementation of scientific knowledge in practice and the process of accumulation of this knowledge, obviously, lie in different planes). I must say that such a study hardly requires any specific knowledge that only culturologists have. If desired, it can be conducted by a historian, an ethnologist, and, quite possibly, representatives of some other areas of socio-humanitarian knowledge. However, in this case, they risk going beyond their subject field, becoming "their own among strangers, strangers among their own." It can be expected that they will have some difficulties with publishing their works, since it will not be so easy to find a magazine suitable for the subject. Cultural journals, in turn, already by the name of the discipline hint that such research is their profile. But in reality they are too theoretical and, as a result, disconnected from real life. And since magazines set a certain format for authors, this situation leads to a progressive desynchronization of cultural studies and modern culture.

What cultural studies chronically lacks is relevance. Relevance is not just the study of something modern (for example, the artistic features of a recently released TV series), it is a reflection of the needs of society. In the example of the series, the study that shows a certain public resonance of its demonstration, the causes and consequences of such a resonance will be relevant. If the series went unnoticed by anyone (except the author of the study), then why was it investigated? Isn't this a senseless waste of taxpayers' time and money?

The following conclusion follows from the above arguments: cultural studies, like any science, has a meaning and justification for its existence only if it brings some benefit to society. This benefit is expressed primarily in the existence of some kind of applied aspect of scientific research. Thus, although at first glance it may seem paradoxical, in order to consolidate its scientific status, cultural studies should be applied or, in other words, empirical science. A similar evolution seems to be carried out by Russian religious studies, which, like cultural studies, was originally (and remains) closely related to philosophy, but is gradually saturated with empirical data [16, pp. 24, 27]. It can be assumed that the shift of emphasis from theory to practice, from philosophical abstractions to measurable data in religious studies and cultural studies is a matter of time and a change of generations of scientists.

Probably, the rejection of culturology from claims to possess some fundamental knowledge about culture will seem to some of the culturologists to belittle the discipline, relegating it to a less significant level. But it can hardly be regarded that way. Here it would be appropriate to recall such a field of knowledge as medicine. The fundamental knowledge she uses for human treatment, the development of drugs, vaccines, diagnostic tools and treatment methods, she draws from various sections of biology, physics, chemistry, but at the same time is an independent field of scientific practice, and extremely popular and well-funded. Something similar is quite possible to imagine in relation to cultural studies, if it turns to the analysis of the pressing problems of society. I agree with I. M. Bykhovskaya, who wrote "that the 'sphere of competence' of applied cultural studies is ... any type or area of activity in which a problematic situation has arisen /is being formed, the way out of which involves analyzing cultural factors and components significant for it, and on this basis – developing an appropriate action program using cultural mechanisms ..." [4, p. 35]. My correction is only that this thesis should not be attributed separately to applied cultural studies, but to cultural studies as a whole. Time will tell whether it will eventually acquire a useful, that is, a theoretical superstructure that works in practice. But you need to realize that this is not an end in itself.


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The reviewed article is devoted to a very relevant problem of the status of theoretical cultural studies in modern cultural knowledge. Overall, the article makes a very good impression. The author has a well–defined (although not fully shared by the reviewer) position on the issue under discussion, the article is written interestingly, "vividly", it is impossible to doubt that it will elicit responses - both sympathetic and, possibly, critical. I think in the modern situation this is the most important advantage of publications on social and humanitarian issues, unfortunately, many of them today do not want to comment precisely because the author does not seek to express any position of his own, the texts are produced only for the very fact of "scientific publication". First of all, I would like to join the criticism of modern works on cultural studies that the author is developing. He is undoubtedly right, pointing out their abstractness, uncertainty, and "meaningful emptiness." The situation with the main theoretical premise of the article is more complicated. Actually, the author argues that no theoretical prerequisites are required for "experimental", "applied" research in the field of cultural studies, theoretical cultural studies may be formed when a "layer" of "empirical" research develops as an independent scientific field. It is difficult to agree with both the position itself and the arguments presented in its defense. Thus, the author starts from an analogy with the development of natural sciences, in which, allegedly, "facts" were accumulated first, and only then theoretical concepts were "built up" over them. Firstly, in the history of natural science, everything happened "exactly the opposite": there has never been "unsubstantiated" empirical knowledge, facts have always "fit" into one theory or another, and even today experts in the field of methodology of science agree that "theoretically unloaded" facts simply do not exist Moreover, they are, as a rule, both "not noticed" and not fixed by researchers, they simply "have nothing to tie to". Of course, no theory explains all the facts in its field, but in general, the "factual base" always correlates with the theoretical structures within which it was formed; of course, accumulating, these facts that were not taken into account before create a foundation for another "scientific revolution", but also at this crisis stage of development They correlate with some new trends in the development of theoretical and methodological foundations of science. Secondly, how many times will we return to substantiating the originality of socio-humanitarian knowledge and its irreducibility to "natural science samples"? Pascal and Vico, F. Schlegel, Hegel and Dilthey worked in this field – a whole string of thinkers, and it seems difficult to offer any new arguments to complement what has been said, and is it necessary? And today, natural sciences are by no means a methodological model for the social sciences and humanities, in particular, for cultural studies. Further, how correct is the comparison of cultural studies with religious studies? (Even if the latter is characterized by the tendencies that the author speaks about.) It seems that in cultural studies, in fact, the opposite situation takes place: here, not a single object (religion) is studied using the methods of many sciences or methodological approaches (psychology, sociology, phenomenology, etc. of religion), but, on the contrary, different types of research (historical, philosophical, sociological, etc.) are only trying to isolate that single object – culture, which (so far, we agree, presumably!) It is possible to study on top of these separate approaches. And is it possible to do without theoretical prerequisites here? And just wait for them to "build up" themselves over the area of "reliably established facts" of culture? While criticizing the approach expressed in the article, at the same time, I have no doubt that the author has the right to address both a professional audience and anyone interested in this issue with his article. The only wish that needs to be taken into account before publication is to correct numerous punctuation errors and, as far as possible, adjust the style of the text. It resembles an abstract of an oral presentation, and it would be nice to systematize it, add a share of "academicity" to it. However, this remark can hardly serve as a basis for sending the text for revision, the necessary corrections can be promptly made before publication in a working order. I recommend accepting the article for publication in a scientific journal.