Culture (/ˈkʌltʃər/) is the social behavior and norms found in
Culture is considered a central concept in
anthropology, encompassing the range of phenomena that are transmitted
through social learning in human societies. Some aspects of human
behavior, social practices such as culture, expressive forms such as
art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies such as tool
usage, cooking, shelter, and clothing are said to be cultural
universals, found in all human societies. The concept of material
culture covers the physical expressions of culture, such as
technology, architecture and art, whereas the immaterial aspects of
culture such as principles of social organization (including practices
of political organization and social institutions), mythology,
philosophy, literature (both written and oral), and science comprise
the intangible cultural heritage of a society.
In the humanities, one sense of culture as an attribute of the
individual has been the degree to which they have cultivated a
particular level of sophistication in the arts, sciences, education,
or manners. The level of cultural sophistication has also sometimes
been seen to distinguish civilizations from less complex societies.
Such hierarchical perspectives on culture are also found in
class-based distinctions between a high culture of the social elite
and a low culture, popular culture, or folk culture of the lower
classes, distinguished by the stratified access to cultural capital.
In common parlance, culture is often used to refer specifically to the
symbolic markers used by ethnic groups to distinguish themselves
visibly from each other such as body modification, clothing or
Mass culture refers to the mass-produced and mass mediated
forms of consumer culture that emerged in the 20th century. Some
schools of philosophy, such as
Marxism and critical theory, have
argued that culture is often used politically as a tool of the elites
to manipulate the lower classes and create a false consciousness, and
such perspectives are common in the discipline of cultural studies. In
the wider social sciences, the theoretical perspective of cultural
materialism holds that human symbolic culture arises from the material
conditions of human life, as humans create the conditions for physical
survival, and that the basis of culture is found in evolved biological
When used as a count noun, a "culture" is the set of customs,
traditions, and values of a society or community, such as an ethnic
group or nation.
Culture is the set of knowledge acquired over time.
In this sense, multiculturalism values the peaceful coexistence and
mutual respect between different cultures inhabiting the same planet.
Sometimes "culture" is also used to describe specific practices within
a subgroup of a society, a subculture (e.g. "bro culture"), or a
counterculture. Within cultural anthropology, the ideology and
analytical stance of cultural relativism holds that cultures cannot
easily be objectively ranked or evaluated because any evaluation is
necessarily situated within the value system of a given culture. Yet
within philosophy, this stance of cultural relativism is undermined
and made inapplicable since such value judgement is itself a product
of a given culture.
3 Early modern discourses
3.1 German Romanticism
3.2 English Romanticism
5.1 Early researchers and development of cultural sociology
6 Cultural studies
7 See also
9 Additional sources
10 External links
The modern term "culture" is based on a term used by the Ancient Roman
Cicero in his Tusculanae Disputationes, where he wrote of a
cultivation of the soul or "cultura animi," using an agricultural
metaphor for the development of a philosophical soul, understood
teleologically as the highest possible ideal for human development.
Samuel Pufendorf took over this metaphor in a modern context, meaning
something similar, but no longer assuming that philosophy was man's
natural perfection. His use, and that of many writers after him,
"refers to all the ways in which human beings overcome their original
barbarism, and through artifice, become fully human."
In 1986, philosopher
Edward S. Casey wrote, "The very word culture
meant 'place tilled' in Middle English, and the same word goes back to
Latin colere, 'to inhabit, care for, till, worship' and cultus, 'A
cult, especially a religious one.' To be cultural, to have a culture,
is to inhabit a place sufficiently intensive to cultivate it—to be
responsible for it, to respond to it, to attend to it caringly."
Culture described by Richard Velkley:
... originally meant the cultivation of the soul or mind, acquires
most of its later modern meaning in the writings of the 18th-century
German thinkers, who were on various levels developing Rousseau's
criticism of "modern liberalism and Enlightenment". Thus a contrast
between "culture" and "civilization" is usually implied in these
authors, even when not expressed as such.
In the words of anthropologist E.B. Tylor, it is "that complex whole
which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any
other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of
society." Alternatively, in a contemporary variant, "
defined as a social domain that emphasizes the practices, discourses
and material expressions, which, over time, express the continuities
and discontinuities of social meaning of a life held in common.
The Cambridge English Dictionary states that culture is "the way of
life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular
group of people at a particular time." Terror management theory
posits that culture is a series of activities and worldviews that
provide humans with the basis for perceiving themselves as "person[s]
of worth within the world of meaning"—raising themselves above the
merely physical aspects of existence, in order to deny the animal
insignificance and death that Homo sapiens became aware of when they
acquired a larger brain.
The word is used in a general sense as the evolved ability to
categorize and represent experiences with symbols and to act
imaginatively and creatively. This ability arose with the evolution of
behavioral modernity in humans around 50,000 years ago, and is often
thought to be unique to humans, although some other species have
demonstrated similar, though much less complex, abilities for social
learning. It is also used to denote the complex networks of practices
and accumulated knowledge and ideas that is transmitted through social
interaction and exist in specific human groups, or cultures, using the
The Beatles exemplified changing cultural dynamics, not only in music,
but fashion and lifestyle. Over a half century after their emergence
they continue to have a worldwide cultural impact.
Raimon Panikkar identified 29 ways in which cultural change can be
brought about, including growth, development, evolution, involution,
renovation, reconception, reform, innovation, revivalism, revolution,
mutation, progress, diffusion, osmosis, borrowing, eclecticism,
syncretism, modernization, indigenization, and transformation. In
this context, modernization could be viewed as adoption of
Enlightenment era beliefs and practices, such as science, rationalism,
industry, commerce, democracy, and the notion of progress. Rein Raud,
building on the work of Umberto Eco,
Pierre Bourdieu and Jeffrey C.
Alexander, has proposed a model of cultural change based on claims and
bids, which are judged by their cognitive adequacy and endorsed or not
endorsed by the symbolic authority of the cultural community in
A 19th-century engraving showing Australian natives opposing the
Captain James Cook
Captain James Cook in 1770
An Assyrian child wearing traditional clothing.
Cultural invention has come to mean any innovation that is new and
found to be useful to a group of people and expressed in their
behavior but which does not exist as a physical object. Humanity is in
a global "accelerating culture change period," driven by the expansion
of international commerce, the mass media, and above all, the human
population explosion, among other factors.
Culture repositioning means
the reconstruction of the cultural concept of a society.
Full-length profile portrait of Turkman woman, standing on a carpet at
the entrance to a yurt, dressed in traditional clothing and jewelry
Cultures are internally affected by both forces encouraging change and
forces resisting change. These forces are related to both social
structures and natural events, and are involved in the perpetuation of
cultural ideas and practices within current structures, which
themselves are subject to change. (See structuration.)
Social conflict and the development of technologies can produce
changes within a society by altering social dynamics and promoting new
cultural models, and spurring or enabling generative action. These
social shifts may accompany ideological shifts and other types of
cultural change. For example, the U.S. feminist movement involved new
practices that produced a shift in gender relations, altering both
gender and economic structures. Environmental conditions may also
enter as factors. For example, after tropical forests returned at the
end of the last ice age, plants suitable for domestication were
available, leading to the invention of agriculture, which in turn
brought about many cultural innovations and shifts in social
Cultures are externally affected via contact between societies, which
may also produce—or inhibit—social shifts and changes in cultural
practices. War or competition over resources may impact technological
development or social dynamics. Additionally, cultural ideas may
transfer from one society to another, through diffusion or
acculturation. In diffusion, the form of something (though not
necessarily its meaning) moves from one culture to another. For
example, hamburgers, fast food in the United States, seemed exotic
when introduced into China. "Stimulus diffusion" (the
sharing of ideas) refers to an element of one culture leading to an
invention or propagation in another. "Direct borrowing," on the other
hand, tends to refer to technological or tangible diffusion from one
culture to another.
Diffusion of innovations theory presents a
research-based model of why and when individuals and cultures adopt
new ideas, practices, and products.
Acculturation has different meanings, but in this context it refers to
replacement of the traits of one culture with those of another, such
as what happened to certain Native American tribes and to many
indigenous peoples across the globe during the process of
colonization. Related processes on an individual level include
assimilation (adoption of a different culture by an individual) and
transculturation. The transnational flow of culture has played a major
role in merging different culture and sharing thoughts, ideas, and
Early modern discourses
Johann Herder called attention to national cultures.
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) formulated an individualist definition of
"enlightenment" similar to the concept of bildung: "Enlightenment is
man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity." He argued that
this immaturity comes not from a lack of understanding, but from a
lack of courage to think independently. Against this intellectual
cowardice, Kant urged: Sapere aude, "Dare to be wise!" In reaction to
Kant, German scholars such as
Johann Gottfried Herder
Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803)
argued that human creativity, which necessarily takes unpredictable
and highly diverse forms, is as important as human rationality.
Moreover, Herder proposed a collective form of bildung: "For Herder,
Bildung was the totality of experiences that provide a coherent
identity, and sense of common destiny, to a people."
Adolf Bastian developed a universal model of culture.
In 1795, the Prussian linguist and philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt
(1767–1835) called for an anthropology that would synthesize Kant's
and Herder's interests. During the Romantic era, scholars in Germany,
especially those concerned with nationalist movements—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" (Weltanschauung). According to
this school of thought, each ethnic group has a distinct worldview
that is incommensurable with the worldviews of other groups. Although
more inclusive than earlier views, this approach to culture still
allowed for distinctions between "civilized" and "primitive" or
Adolf Bastian (1826–1905) argued for "the psychic unity of
mankind." He proposed that a scientific comparison of all human
societies would reveal that distinct worldviews consisted of the same
basic elements. According to Bastian, all human societies share a set
of "elementary ideas" (Elementargedanken); different cultures, or
different "folk ideas" (Völkergedanken), are local modifications of
the elementary ideas. This view paved the way for the modern
understanding of culture.
Franz Boas (1858–1942) was trained in this
tradition, and he brought it with him when he left
Germany for the
British poet and critic
Matthew Arnold viewed "culture" as the
cultivation of the humanist ideal.
In the 19th century, humanists such as English poet and essayist
Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) used the word "culture" to refer to an
ideal of individual human refinement, of "the best that has been
thought and said in the world." This concept of culture is also
comparable to the German concept of bildung: "...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."
In practice, culture referred to an elite ideal and was associated
with such activities as art, classical music, and haute cuisine.
As these forms were associated with urban life, "culture" was
identified with "civilization" (from lat. civitas, city). Another
facet of the Romantic movement was an interest in folklore, which led
to identifying a "culture" among non-elites. This distinction is often
characterized as that between high culture, namely that of the ruling
social group, and low culture. In other words, the idea of "culture"
that developed in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries
reflected inequalities within European societies.
British anthropologist Edward Tylor was one of the first
English-speaking scholars to use the term culture in an inclusive and
Matthew Arnold contrasted "culture" with anarchy; other Europeans,
Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
contrasted "culture" with "the state of nature." According to Hobbes
and Rousseau, the Native Americans who were being conquered by
Europeans from the 16th centuries on were living in a state of
nature; this opposition was expressed through the
contrast between "civilized" and "uncivilized." According to this way
of thinking, one could classify some countries and nations as more
civilized than others and some people as more cultured than others.
This contrast led to Herbert Spencer's theory of
Social Darwinism and
Lewis Henry Morgan's theory of cultural evolution. Just as some
critics have argued that the distinction between high and low cultures
is really an expression of the conflict between European elites and
non-elites, other critics have argued that the distinction between
civilized and uncivilized people is really an expression of the
conflict between European colonial powers and their colonial subjects.
Other 19th-century critics, following Rousseau, have accepted this
differentiation between higher and lower culture, but have seen the
refinement and sophistication of high culture as corrupting and
unnatural developments that obscure and distort people's essential
nature. These critics considered folk music (as produced by "the
folk," i.e., rural, illiterate, peasants) to honestly express a
natural way of life, while classical music seemed superficial and
decadent. Equally, this view often portrayed indigenous peoples as
"noble savages" living authentic and unblemished lives, uncomplicated
and uncorrupted by the highly stratified capitalist systems of the
In 1870 the anthropologist Edward Tylor (1832–1917) applied these
ideas of higher versus lower culture to propose a theory of the
evolution of religion. According to this theory, religion evolves from
more polytheistic to more monotheistic forms. In the process, he
redefined culture as a diverse set of activities characteristic of all
human societies. This view paved the way for the modern understanding
Petroglyphs in modern-day Gobustan, Azerbaijan, dating back to 10,000
BCE and indicating a thriving culture
Main article: American anthropology
Emic and etic
Kinship and descent
Colonialism / Postcolonialism
Anthropologists by nationality
Anthropology by year
List of indigenous peoples
Although anthropologists worldwide refer to Tylor's definition of
culture, in the 20th century "culture" emerged as the central and
unifying concept of American anthropology, where it most commonly
refers to the universal human capacity to classify and encode human
experiences symbolically, and to communicate symbolically encoded
experiences socially.
American anthropology is
organized into four fields, each of which plays an important role in
research on culture: biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology,
cultural anthropology, and in the United States,
archaeology. The term Kulturbrille, or "culture
glasses," coined by German American anthropologist Franz Boas, refers
to the "lenses" through which we see our own countries. Martin
Lindstrom asserts that Kulturbrille, which allow us to make sense of
the culture we inhabit, also "can blind us to things outsiders pick up
Sociology of culture
The sociology of culture concerns culture as manifested in society.
Georg Simmel (1858–1918), culture referred to "the
cultivation of individuals through the agency of external forms which
have been objectified in the course of history." As such, culture
in the sociological field can be defined as the ways of thinking, the
ways of acting, and the material objects that together shape a
people's way of life.
Culture can be any of two types, non-material
culture or material culture.
Non-material culture refers to the
non-physical ideas that individuals have about their culture,
including values, belief systems, rules, norms, morals, language,
organizations, and institutions, while material culture is the
physical evidence of a culture in the objects and architecture they
make or have made. The term tends to be relevant only in archeological
and anthropological studies, but it specifically means all material
evidence which can be attributed to culture, past or present.
Cultural sociology first emerged in Weimar
where sociologists such as
Alfred Weber used the term Kultursoziologie
(cultural sociology). Cultural sociology was then "reinvented" in the
English-speaking world as a product of the "cultural turn" of the
1960s, which ushered in structuralist and postmodern approaches to
social science. This type of cultural sociology may be loosely
regarded as an approach incorporating cultural analysis and critical
theory. Cultural sociologists tend to reject scientific methods,
instead hermeneutically focusing on words, artifacts and symbols.
"Culture" has since become an important concept across many branches
of sociology, including resolutely scientific fields like social
stratification and social network analysis. As a result, there has
been a recent influx of quantitative sociologists to the field. Thus,
there is now a growing group of sociologists of culture who are,
confusingly, not cultural sociologists. These scholars reject the
abstracted postmodern aspects of cultural sociology, and instead look
for a theoretical backing in the more scientific vein of social
psychology and cognitive science.
Early researchers and development of cultural sociology
The sociology of culture grew from the intersection between sociology
(as shaped by early theorists like Marx, Durkheim, and Weber) with
the growing discipline of anthropology, wherein researchers pioneered
ethnographic strategies for describing and analyzing a variety of
cultures around the world. Part of the legacy of the early development
of the field lingers in the methods (much of cultural sociological
research is qualitative), in the theories (a variety of critical
approaches to sociology are central to current research communities),
and in the substantive focus of the field. For instance, relationships
between popular culture, political control, and social class were
early and lasting concerns in the field.
In the United Kingdom, sociologists and other scholars influenced by
Marxism such as Stuart Hall (1932–2014) and Raymond Williams
(1921–1988) developed cultural studies. Following nineteenth-century
Romantics, they identified "culture" with consumption goods and
leisure activities (such as art, music, film, food, sports, and
clothing). They saw patterns of consumption and leisure as determined
by relations of production, which led them to focus on class relations
and the organization of production.
In the United States, cultural studies focuses largely on the study of
popular culture; that is, on the social meanings of mass-produced
consumer and leisure goods.
Richard Hoggart coined the term in 1964
when he founded the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural
Studies or CCCS. It has since become strongly associated with
Stuart Hall, who succeeded Hoggart as Director. Cultural
studies in this sense, then, can be viewed as a limited concentration
scoped on the intricacies of consumerism, which belongs to a wider
culture sometimes referred to as "Western civilization" or
From the 1970s onward, Stuart Hall's pioneering work, along with that
of his colleagues Paul Willis, Dick Hebdige, Tony Jefferson, and
Angela McRobbie, created an international intellectual movement. As
the field developed, it began to combine political economy,
communication, sociology, social theory, literary theory, media
theory, film/video studies, cultural anthropology, philosophy, museum
studies, and art history to study cultural phenomena or cultural
texts. In this field researchers often concentrate on how particular
phenomena relate to matters of ideology, nationality, ethnicity,
social class, and/or gender.
Cultural studies is concerned with
the meaning and practices of everyday life. These practices comprise
the ways people do particular things (such as watching television, or
eating out) in a given culture. It also studies the meanings and uses
people attribute to various objects and practices. Specifically,
culture involves those meanings and practices held independently of
reason. Watching television in order to view a public perspective on a
historical event should not be thought of as culture, unless referring
to the medium of television itself, which may have been selected
culturally; however, schoolchildren watching television after school
with their friends in order to "fit in" certainly qualifies, since
there is no grounded reason for one's participation in this practice.
In the context of cultural studies, the idea of a text includes not
only written language, but also films, photographs, fashion or
hairstyles: the texts of cultural studies comprise all the meaningful
artifacts of culture. Similarly, the discipline widens the concept
of "culture." "Culture" for a cultural-studies researcher not only
includes traditional high culture (the culture of ruling social
groups) and popular culture, but also everyday meanings and
practices. The last two, in fact, have become the main focus of
cultural studies. A further and recent approach is comparative
cultural studies, based on the disciplines of comparative literature
and cultural studies.
Scholars in the
United Kingdom and the
United States developed
somewhat different versions of cultural studies after the late 1970s.
The British version of cultural studies had originated in the 1950s
and 1960s, mainly under the influence of Richard Hoggart, E. P.
Thompson, and Raymond Williams, and later that of Stuart Hall and
others at the
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies
Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the
University of Birmingham. This included overtly political, left-wing
views, and criticisms of popular culture as "capitalist" mass culture;
it absorbed some of the ideas of the
Frankfurt School critique of the
"culture industry" (i.e. mass culture). This emerges in the writings
of early British cultural-studies scholars and their influences: see
the work of (for example) Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Paul Willis,
and Paul Gilroy.
In the United States, Lindlof and Taylor write, "Cultural studies
[were] grounded in a pragmatic, liberal-pluralist tradition." The
American version of cultural studies initially concerned itself more
with understanding the subjective and appropriative side of audience
reactions to, and uses of, mass culture; for example, American
cultural-studies advocates wrote about the liberatory aspects of
fandom. The distinction between American and British
strands, however, has faded. Some researchers,
especially in early British cultural studies, apply a
Marxist model to
the field. This strain of thinking has some influence from the
Frankfurt School, but especially from the structuralist
Louis Althusser and others. The main focus of an orthodox Marxist
approach concentrates on the production of meaning. This model assumes
a mass production of culture and identifies power as residing with
those producing cultural artifacts. In a
Marxist view, those who
control the means of production (the economic base) essentially
control a culture. Other approaches to cultural
studies, such as feminist cultural studies and later American
developments of the field, distance themselves from this view. They
Marxist assumption of a single, dominant meaning, shared
by all, for any cultural product. The non-
Marxist approaches suggest
that different ways of consuming cultural artifacts affect the meaning
of the product. This view comes through in the book Doing Cultural
Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman (by Paul du Gay et al.),
which seeks to challenge the notion that those who produce commodities
control the meanings that people attribute to them.
analyst, theorist, and art historian
Griselda Pollock contributed to
cultural studies from viewpoints of art history and psychoanalysis.
Julia Kristeva is among influential voices at the turn of
the century, contributing to cultural studies from the field of art
and psychoanalytical French feminism.
Petrakis and Kostis (2013) divide cultural background variables into
two main groups:
The first group covers the variables that represent the "efficiency
orientation" of the societies: performance orientation, future
orientation, assertiveness, power distance and uncertainty avoidance.
The second covers the variables that represent the "social
orientation" of societies, i.e., the attitudes and lifestyles of their
members. These variables include gender egalitarianism, institutional
collectivism, in-group collectivism and human orientation.
A new and promising approach to culture has recently been suggested by
Rein Raud, who defines culture as the sum of resources available
to human beings for making sense of their world and proposes a
two-tiered approach, combining the study of texts (all reified
meanings in circulation) and cultural practices (all repeatable
actions that involve the production, dissemination or transmission of
meanings), thus making it possible to re-link anthropological and
sociological study of culture with the tradition of textual theory.
Honour § Cultures of honour and cultures of law
Outline of culture
Semiotics of culture
Culture – book
Culture 21 – United Nations plan of action
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Culture – Reflections and Assessment: An Interview with
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