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The term high culture comprehends the cultural products of æsthetic value, which a society collectively esteem as art. In popular usage, the term high culture identifies the culture of an upper class (an ) or of a status class (the intelligentsia); and also identifies a society’s common repository of broad-range knowledge and tradition (e.g. folk culture) that transcends the social-class system of the society. Sociologically, the term high culture is contrasted with the term low culture, the forms of popular culture characteristic of the less-educated social classes, such as the barbarians, the Philistines, and hoi polloi (the masses).
In European history, high culture was understood as a cultural concept common to the humanities, until the mid-19th century, when Matthew Arnold introduced the term high culture in the book Culture and Anarchy (1869). The Preface defines culture as “the disinterested endeavour after man’s perfection” pursued, obtained, and achieved by effort to “know the best that has been said and thought in the world.” Such a literary definition of high culture also comprehends Philosophy. Moreover, the philosophy of aesthetics proposed in high culture is a force for moral and political good. Critically, the term “high culture” is contrasted with the terms “popular culture” and “mass culture”.
In Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948), T. S. Eliot said that high culture and popular culture are necessary and complementary parts of the culture of a society. In The Uses of Literacy (1957), Richard Hoggart presents the sociologic experience of the working-class man and woman in acquiring the cultural literacy, at university, which facilitates social upward mobility. In the U.S., Harold Bloom and F. R. Leavis pursued the definition of high culture, by way of the Western canon of literature.
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