open encyclopedia * Article Search: * *


From - the free encyclopedia.

The word culture comes from the Latin root colere (to inhabit, to cultivate, or to honor). In general, it refers to human activity; different definitions of culture reflect different theories for understanding, or criteria for valuing, human activity. In 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of more than 200 different definitions of culture in their book, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. [Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952]

A 2002 document from the United Nations agency UNESCO states that culture is the "set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs". [UNESCO, 2002]

Popular use of the word culture in many Western societies can reflect the stratified character of those societies. Many follow usage of the 18th and early 19th centuries, using the word culture to refer only to elite goods and activities such as haute cuisine, high fashion or haute couture, museum-caliber art and classical music, and the word cultured to refer to people who know about, and take part in, these activities. Some label this "high" culture, to distinguish it from "popular" or pop culture, meaning goods and activities produced for, and consumed by, non-elite people or the masses. Both high and low cultures can be viewed as subcultures.


Historical definitions

Scholars of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and many people today, often identify culture with "civilization" and contrast both with "nature". For example, this is the way the word is consistently used by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888); e.g. "... culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world." [Arnold, 1882] Thus people lacking elements of "high culture" often seemed more "natural," and observers often criticize (or defend) elements of high culture for repressing "human nature".

During the Romantic era, scholars in Germany, especially thosed concerned with nationalism -- such as the nationalist struggle to create a "Germany" out of diverse principalities, and the nationalist struggles by ethnic minorities against the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- developed a more inclusive notion of culture as "worldview." That is, each ethnic group is characterized by a distinct and incommensurable world view. Although more inclusive, this approach to culture still allowed for distinctions between "civilized" and "primitive" or "tribal" cultures."

By the late 19th century, anthropologists had adopted and adapted this term to a broader definition of culture that they could apply to a wider variety of societies. Attentive to the theory of evolution, they assumed that all human beings are equally evolved, and that the fact that all humans have cultures must in some way be a result of human evolution. They were also wary of using biological evolution to explain differences between specific cultures -- an approach that either was a form of, or legitimized forms of, racism. They believed biological evolution would produce a most inclusive notion of culture, a concept that anthropologists could apply equally to non-literate and literate societies, or to nomadic and to sedentary societies. They argued that through the course of their evolution, human beings evolved a universal human capacity to classify experiences, and encode and communicate them symbolically. Since these symbolic systems were learned and taught, they began to develop independently of biological evolution (in other words, one human being can learn a belief, value, or way of doing something from another, even if they are not biologically related). That this capacity for symbolic thinking and social learning is a product of human evolution confounds older arguments about nature versus nurture. Thus, Clifford Geertz (1973: 33 ff.) has argued that human physiology and neurology developed in conjunction with the first cultural activities, and Middleton (1990: 17 n.27) concluded that human "'instincts' were culturally formed."

People living apart from one another develop unique cultures, but elements of different cultures can easily spread from one group of people to another. Culture is dynamic and can be taught and learned, making it a potentially rapid form of adaptation to change in physical conditions. Anthropologists view culture as not only a product of biological evolution but is a supplement to it, as the main means of human adaptation to the world.

This view of culture as a symbolic system with adaptive functions, which varies from place to place, led anthropologists to conceive of different cultures as defined by distinct patterns (or structures) of enduring, arbitrary, conventional sets of meaning, which took concrete form in a variety of artifacts such as myths and rituals, tools, the design of housing, and the planning of villages. Anthropologists thus distinguish between material culture and symbolic culture, not only because each reflects different kinds of human activity, but because they constitute different kinds of data that require different methodologies.

This view of culture, which came to dominate between World War I and World War II, implied that each culture was bounded and had to be understood as a whole, on its own terms. The result was a belief in cultural relativism; the belief that an individual's actions had to be understood in terms of his or her culture; that a specific cultural artifact (e.g. a ritual) had to be undertood in terms of the larger symbolic system of which it is a part.

Nevertheless, the belief that culture is symbolically coded and can thus be taught from one person to another meant that cultures, although bounded, would change. Cultural change could be the result of invention and innovation, but it could also result from contact between two cultures. Under peaceful conditions, contact between two cultures can lead to people "borrowing" (really, learning) from one another (diffusion or transculturation). Under conditions of violence or political inequality, however, people of one society can steal cultural artifacts from another, or impose cultural artifacts on another (acculturation).

All human societies have been involved in these processes of diffusion, transcultural, and acculturation, and few anthropologists today see cultures as bounded. Such anthropologists argue that instead of understanding a cultural artifact in terms of its own culture, it must be understood in terms of a broader history involving contact and relations with other cultures.

In addition to the aforementioned processes, since Columbus the world has been characterized by migration on a major scale, including colonial expansion and forced migration through slavery. The result is that many societies are culturally heterogeneous. Some anthropologists have argued that heterogeneous societies are nevertheless bound by some unifying cultural system, and that heterogenous elements are better understood as subcultures. Others have argued that there is no unifying or coordinating cultural system, and that heterogenous elements must be understood together to form a multicultural society. Multiculturalism has coincided with a resurgence of identity politics, which involves demands for recognition of a social subgroup's cultural uniqueness.

Sociobiologists argue that many aspects of culture can best be understood through the concept of the meme, first introduced by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book 'The_Selfish_Gene" title ="The Selfish Gene">The Selfish Gene. The idea is that there are units of culture, memes, roughly analogous to genes in evolutionary biology. Although this view has gained some popular currency, it is generally rejected by anthropoligists.

Values, norms and artifacts

Another common way of understanding culture is to see it as consisting of three elements: values, norms , and artifacts [Dictionary of Modern Sociology, 1969, 93, cited at [1]] Values are ideas about what in life is important. They guide the rest of the culture. Norms are expectations of how people will behave in different situations. Each culture has different methods, called sanctions, of enforcing its norms. Sanctions vary with the importance of the norm; norms that a society enforces formally are called laws. Artifacts — things, or material culture — derive from the culture's values and norms.

Julian Huxley gives a slightly different division, to inter-related "mentifacts", "socifacts" and "artifacts", for ideological, sociological, and technological subsystems. Socialization is based on the belief subsystem. The sociological subsystem governs interaction between people. Material objects and their use make up the technological subsystem. [2]

As a rule, archeologists focus on material culture, and cultural anthropologists focus on symbolic culture, although ultimately both groups maintain interests in the relationship between these two dimensions. Moreover, anthropologists understand "culture" to refer not only to consumption goods, but to the general processes which produce such goods and give them meaning, and to the social relationships and practices in which such objects and processes become embedded.

Patterns of products and activities

In the early 20th century, anthropologists understood culture to refer not to a set of discrete products or activities (whether material or symbolic) but rather to underlying patterns of products and activities. Moreover, they assumed that such patterns had clear bounds (thus, some people confuse "culture" for the society that has a particular culture).

In smaller societies, in which people merely fell into categories of age, gender, household, and descent group, anthropologists believed that people more or less shared the same set of values and conventions. In larger societies, in which people undergo further categorization by region, race, ethnicity, and class, they believed that members of the same society often had highly contrasting values and conventions. They thus used the term subculture to identify the cultures of parts of larger societies. Since subcultures reflect the position of a segment of society vis a vis other segments and the society as a whole, they often reveal processes of domination and resistance.

Related topics

Cultural studies developed in the late 20th century in part through the reintroduction of Marxist thought into sociology, and in part through the articulation of sociology and other academic disciplines such as literary criticism. This was in order to focus on the analysis of subcultures in capitalist societies. Following the nonanthropological tradition, cultural studies generally focus on the study of consumption goods (such as fashion, art, and literature). Because the 18th- and 19th-century distinction between "high" and "low" culture seems inappropriate to apply to the mass-produced and mass-marketed consumption goods which cultural studies analyses, these scholars refer instead to "popular culture".

Today, some anthropologists have joined the project of cultural studies. Most, however, reject the identification of culture with consumption goods. Furthermore, many now reject the notion of culture as bounded, and consequently reject the notion of subculture. Instead, they see culture as a complex web of shifting patterns that link people in different locales, and link social formations of different scales. According to this view, any group can construct its own cultural identity.

A culture system (also known as a "cultural system" or just "culture") can be considered a part of the social system and hierarchically equal to economic system, political system, and legal system.

See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Culture.

Cultures of contemporary countries

Main article List of national culture articles.

Contemporary local cultures

Other contemporary cultures

Historic cultures

Other related articles


  • Arnold, Matthew, Culture and Anarchy, 1882. Macmillan and Co., New York. Online at [3].
  • Hoult, Thomas Ford, ed. (1969). Dictionary of Modern Sociology. Totowa, New Jersey, United States: Littlefield, Adams & Co.
  • Kroeber, A. L. and C. Kluckhohn, 1952. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Peabody Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.
  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0335152759.
    • Geertz (1973).
  • UNESCO, "UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity", issued on International Mother Language Day, February 21, 2002.

External links

ar:ثقافة ast:Cultura be:Культура ca:Cultura da:Kultur de:Kultur es:Cultura eo:Kulturo fr:Culture fy:Kultuer hi:संस्कृति ia:Cultura it:Cultura he:תרבות ku:Çand lt:Kultūra minnan:Bûn-hoà nah:Cultura nl:Cultuur ja:文化 pl:Kultura pt:Cultura ro:Cultură ru:Культура simple:Culture fi:Kulttuuri sv:Kultur tl:Kultura tt:Mädäniät zh:文化

Contribute Found an omission? You can freely contribute to this Wikipedia article. Edit Article
Copyright © 2003-2004 Zeeshan Muhammad. All rights reserved. Legal notices. Part of the New Frontier Information Network.