The Concept of Culture
Culture is a collection of human behaviour, beliefs, values and traditions that distinguishes one group from another. It includes a society’s customs, laws, dress, language, architectural style and social standards, according to UNESCO. The concept of culture has become a focus of study for researchers in anthropology and sociology. It is also a significant factor in the development of the arts, including music, painting and literature.
Cultural elements vary widely from person to person and from place to place. In general, a culture may be defined as any distinct way of living that lasts more than one generation and is passed along through communication and imitation. It may include a family’s values, language and traditions. It can also include a community’s social norms, laws and symbols. It is sometimes used to refer to a specific ethnic group, such as a Chinese or Spanish cultural group.
Sociologist Georg Simmel viewed culture as the collective programming of a society that shapes its habits and tendencies. He believed that a society’s culture, like its laws, is an essential aspect of the life of a people. Anthropologist Edward Tylor characterized it as the sum of all learned behaviour, including both the overt and subconscious aspects of a people’s activity.
A defining feature of culture is that it is transmitted to children through the medium of parents and other adults. It is also transmitted by peers and by the media, including television, movies, magazines and the internet. It is a powerful force in the development of humans, as it influences their overt motor activity and even their thought patterns. It is the force that holds a man’s sex drive in check and causes him to take vows of premarital chastity or to starve himself to death rather than lose face for dishonour.
The most fundamental elements of a culture are its values. These are the broad tendencies of a population toward certain states of affairs over others (good-evil, right-wrong, natural-unnatural). Most values remain unconscious to those who hold them and are revealed only by studying their behaviour under different conditions.
It is possible for people to adopt a new culture, although this usually happens over the course of generations and involves replacing one set of values with another. It is also common for a culture to be divided into a number of smaller communities, each with its own set of beliefs, values and practices. This process is called acculturation and it can lead to the formation of different cultures within the same nation.
People also have a culture associated with their nationality, which is usually influenced by the political beliefs and system of government in a country. This can be reflected in the types of cultural events held in that region, such as festivals, theater and musical performances. It can also be seen in the types of food and clothing eaten, as well as the manner in which people behave with other members of their community.