What is Culture? And How does it Affect You??

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Learning is the foundation of any successful endeavour in life, whether learning the alphabet so you can verbally communicate what you are thinking or practicing fishing so you can catch more fish and feed your family. Humans have developed complex systems of behaviour and beliefs to help them manage and streamline their lives in the most efficient manner, resulting, over time, in the rise of culture. Culture can be broadly defined as a system of knowledge, beliefs, patterns of behaviours, artifacts, and institutions that are created, learned, maintained, and shared by a group of people.

While our ancestors relied more on biological adaptation, culture now shapes humanity to a much larger extent. Culture is useful in that it provides its adherents with a systemic approach that attempts to make sense of the world and its experiences.

Basically, all cultures are the result of accumulated learning experiences that have provided for the physical, emotional, and social needs of their members, whether by setting a precedence for resolving conflict between two members of the same culture or promoting the survival of its members. Because of the diversity this world enjoys, peoples around the world have come up with different solutions to their problems, giving rise to the multitude of differing and colourful cultures around the world.

Sociologists and anthropologists have identified different types of cultures within any one society:

  • Dominant culture: The culture that, through its political and economic power, is able to impose its values, language, interpretation of events, and ways of behaving on a given society.
  • High culture: Culture within a society that is deemed to be sophisticated, civilized, and possessing great taste. Sometimes referred to as “elite culture” for the fact that is produced and enjoyed by the elites
  • Popular culture: Culture of the majority, particularly those who don’t have power, the workers.
  • Mass culture: Culture of the majority when it is produced by big corporations,
    businesses and governments
  • Subcultures: Groups that are loosely distinct from the dominant culture but retain
    most of its values and beliefs. Most pluralistic nations boast a wide range of
    subcultures. Ex Hippies
  • Countercultures: Groups that reject selected elements of the dominant culture. Ex Punks and Goths

Culture has five basic characteristics: It is learned, shared, based on symbols, integrated, and dynamic. All cultures share these basic features.

● Culture is learned. It is not biological; we do not inherit it. Much of learning culture is unconscious. We learn culture from families, peers, institutions, and media. The process of learning culture is known as enculturation. While all humans have basic biological needs such as food, sleep, and sex, the way we fulfill those needs varies cross-culturally.

● Culture is shared. Because we share culture with other members of our group, we are able to act in socially appropriate ways as well as predict how others will act. Despite the shared nature of culture, that doesn’t mean that culture is homogenous (the same). The multiple cultural worlds that exist in any society are discussed in detail below.

● Culture is based on symbols. A symbol is something that stands for something else. Symbols vary cross-culturally and are arbitrary. They only have meaning when people in a culture agree on their use. Language, money and art are all symbols. Language is the most important symbolic component of culture.

● Culture is integrated. This is known as holism, or the various parts of a culture being interconnected. All aspects of a culture are related to one another and to truly understand a culture, one must learn about all of its parts, not only a few.

● Culture is dynamic. This simply means that cultures interact and change. Because
most cultures are in contact with other cultures, they exchange ideas and symbols. All cultures change, otherwise, they would have problems adapting to changing environments. And because cultures are integrated, if one component in the system changes, it is likely that the entire system must adjust.

In our modern information age, you are constantly being bombarded with subconscious symbols that aim to socialize you into a certain culture and ‘win you over.” Sociologists have coined the term socialization to define the ways in which humans begin to learn methods of behaviour in accordance with what society deems “normal.” Sociologists also distinguish between primary and secondary socialization; the former being the earliest form of socialization that a child receives (dominated by family, educational system, and close friends); the latter being process by which we start to process and internalize the beliefs, norms, values and behavioural conduct of society. Secondary socialization is also marked by a profound sense of “independent’ navigation of new norms and values and the formation of new social relationships that further enhance our understanding of society and our role within it. It ushers in a multitude of complex and challenging situations that require a greater understanding of cultural and societal norms and values.

The Cultural Triumvirate
● Culture is important
● Culture is created
● Culture is enforced

These three facts work together to form a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of how culture works as a system with mechanisms that allow for its maintenance and evolution. Culture is important because it creates a system through which people can give themselves an identity while also circumscribing behaviour. Culture is a transformative concept which changes according to how society creates its values and beliefs. We actively partake in the sustenance of culture and propagate the efforts, conscious or unconscious, of cultural entrepreneurs. Culture is enforced through mechanisms such as the establishment of norms that create standards of behaviour and sanctions which enforce these norms. These three facts pave a new understanding of how culture operates within society and its effect on our lives.

We unconsciously and consciously create and support the system of beliefs that dictate the direction of our lives. That is Culture.

Thanks for reading!

Kareem Abdurazag


Writer | Culture & Humanities Blogger


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