Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Culture: Definition and Scope



Culture, in anthropology, the patterns of behavior and thinking that people living in social groups learn, create, and share. Culture distinguishes one human group from others. It also distinguishes humans from other animals. A people's culture includes their beliefs, rules of behavior, language, rituals, art, technology, styles of dress, ways of producing and cooking food, religion, and political and economic systems.


Culture is the most important concept in anthropology (the study of all aspects of human life, past and present). Anthropologists commonly use the term culture to refer to a society or group in which many or all people live and think in the same ways. Likewise, any group of people who share a common culture—and in particular, common rules of behavior and a basic form of social organization—constitutes a society. Thus, the terms culture and society are somewhat interchangeable. However, while many animals live in societies, such as herds of elk or packs of wild dogs, only humans have culture.


Culture developed together with the evolution of the human species, Homo sapiens, and is closely related to human biology. The term was first used in this way by the pioneer English Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor in his book, Primitive Culture, published in 1871. Tylor said that culture is "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."


Useem -"Culture has been defined in a number of ways ,but most simply ,as the learned and shared behaviour of a community of interacting human beings ".


Lederach - "culture is the shared knowledge and schemes created by a set of people for perceiving ,interpreting ;expressing ,and responding to the social realities around them . "


Hofstede –"culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of   one category of people from another ".


Margaret Mead (1901 -1978) -"culture is the learned behaviour of a society or subgroup "


Clifford Geertz -"culture is simply the ensemble of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves ".



The Characteristics of Culture


Culture is shared

Culture is social, it is a group product. It's a man's natural tendency to socialize. People living together in a society share culture. For example, almost all people living in the United States share the English language, dress in similar styles, eat many of the same foods, and celebrate many of the same holidays. All the people of a society collectively create and maintain culture. Societies preserve culture for much longer than the life of any person. They preserve it in the form of knowledge, such as scientific discoveries; objects, such as works of art; and traditions, such as the observance of holidays.


Culture Is Learned

People are not born with culture; they have to learn it. For instance, people must learn to speak and understand a language and to abide by the rules of a society. In all human societies, children learn culture from adults. Anthropologists call this process enculturation, or cultural transmission.


Culture Is Symbolic

People have culture primarily because they can communicate with and understand symbols. Symbols allow people to develop complex thoughts and to exchange those thoughts with others. Language and other forms of symbolic communication, such as art, enable people to create, explain, and record new ideas and information.


To convey new ideas, people constantly invent new symbols, such as for mathematical formulas. In addition, people may use one symbol, such as a single word, to represent many different ideas, feelings, or values. Thus, symbols provide a flexible way for people to communicate even very complex thoughts with each other. For example, only through symbols can architects, engineers, and construction workers communicate the information necessary to construct a skyscraper or bridge.

People have the capacity at birth to construct, understand, and communicate through symbols, primarily by using language.


Culture is integrated

Cultures are not haphazard collection of customs and beliefs. Cultures are integrated and patterned systems. If one part of the system changes, others parts change as well. For example, during the 1950s, most American women planned domestic careers as homemakers and mothers. Cultures are integrated not simply by their dominant economic activities and related social patterns but also by sets of values, ideas, symbols, and judgments. Cultures train their individual members to share certain personality traits.


Culture is adaptive

Culture helps human societies survive in changing natural environments. For example, the end of the last Ice Age, beginning about 15,000 years ago, posed an enormous challenge to which humans had to adapt. Before this time, large portions of the northern hemisphere were covered in ice that contained much of the water of the earth. When the earth warmed, many land areas were submerged by rising sea levels from melting sea ice. People developed new technologies and learned how to subsist on new plant and animal species. Eventually some people settled into villages of permanent, durable houses and farms.


Culture is complex

Culture is a complex whole that social scientists can break down into simple units called 'cultural trait '. A trait may be a custom, such as burial of the dead; a device, such as a slow; a gesture, such as a handshake; or and idea.


Culture is all encompassing

For anthropologists, culture includes much more than refinement, taste, sophistication, education, and appreciation of the find arts. Not only college graduates but all people are" cultured ". The most interesting and significant cultural forces are those that affect people everyday of their lives, particularly those that influence children during enculturation. Culture, as defined anthropologically, encompasses features that are sometimes regarded as trivial or unworthy of serious study, such as popular culture.


People use culture actively

Although cultural rules tell us which to do and how to do it, people don't always do what the rules say should be done. People use their culture actively and creatively, rather than following its dictates. People can learn, interpret, and manipulate the rule in different ways. Also, culture is contested. That is, different groups in society often struggle with one another over whose ideas, values, and beliefs will prevail.


Culture is cumulative

All cultural knowledge does not perpetually accumulate.  At the same time that new cultural traits are added, some old ones are lost because they are no longer useful.  For example, most city dwellers today do not have or need the skills required for survival in a wilderness. What are more important in modern urban life are such things as the ability to drive a car, use a computer, and understand how to obtain food in a supermarket or restaurant.


Change can occur as a result of both inventions within a society as well as the diffusion of cultural traits from one society to another. 


Culture no longer exist in isolation

It is highly unlikely that there are any societies still existing in total isolation from the outside world.  Even small, out of the way tribal societies are now being integrated to some extent into the global economy.  That was not the case a few short generations ago.  Some of the societies in the Highlands of New Guinea were unaware of anyone beyond their homeland until the arrival of European Australian miners in the 1930's.

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