Culture: Characteristics, Theories and Attribute


Culture is something which is relative because it cannot usually be strictly compared as well as contrasted with other cultures, but even there is every scope for anyone to say that one culture is better than other.

Culture has its own characteristic. Some of these include:

1.      It is not that innate and cultural traits can be acquired through socialisation and habits. In other words, culture is learnt, it does not come of its own.

2.      When we talk of culture we do not talk of culture of any individual. It is something collection. It includes the expectations of the group as a whole. It is a social product. In the words of Walter Paul, culture is the totality of group ways, thought and action duly accepted and followed by a group of people”.

3.      It is rightly said that what is included in culture is not all attainable. It is always idealised and efforts are made to achieve these ideals. It reflects ideal norm, behaviour of a group.

4.      Then another characteristic of culture is that it has always links with the past. It is past which is given to the future in the form of customs, traditions etc.

5.      Each group has certain common ends which are met by the culture. It thus meets ethical and social needs of the group as a whole.

6.      Various parts of the culture are closely linked and integrated with each other. Culture is thus not a disintegrated whole. Not only this but any element which gets introduced and accepted by the culture also gets integrated.

7.      Culture is usually passed on with the help of language.


There are basically two theories of culture which are the theory of culture patterns and the theory of social structure.

1.      Pattern Theory: significant contributions have been made by Kroedber and Kluckhom who believed that “culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts: The essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning elements of further action”. The totality of human culture also contains an element of patterning that provides the general framework for individual cultures.

Pattern theory assumes that culture is created by individuals and groups and interacts with them as well as with the environment. According to Kroeber, culture is an intervening variable between human ‘organism’ and ‘environment’.

2.      Social Structure as a Theory of Culture: The theory of social culture was first developed by Radcliffe- Brown who defined social structure “as a network or systems of social relations. It is assumed that each structural system is a functional unity in which all the components contribute in a harmonious way to its existence and continuity. Radcliffe-Brown’s theory of social structure is universal.

There is a striking formal parallelism between the theory of culture patterns and the theory of social structure. Both are holistic theories in the sense that they try to cover all aspects of society and culture and each intends to apply that framework to societies and cultures of any kind from small primitive societies to complex civilization.

The difference between the two theories is to be found in the different ways “they connect culture and social structure within explanatory system”. According to pattern analysis, kinship system is terminological system which expresses a system of classification. The relation of a kinship system, so-defined, to social institutions and other aspects of culture is the relation of one kind of culture pattern to others and varies with the history and mutual association of the patterns.

In the structural analysis, a kinship system is a social system which includes a network of social relations as expressed in customary modes of behaviour, feelings and thoughts. The interrelation within the system is one of functional interdependence among the parts.

Neither theory attempts to explain the nature of cultural or structural systems in terms of linear causality.

Conclusion: we can summarize the major conclusions of the analysis in a series of brief propositions:

(1)   Tylor’s omnibus conception of culture is still the basis of most modern anthropological theories of culture.

(2)   Two theories of culture which dominated from 1900 to 1950 are the process-pattern theory derived from Boas and best represented by Kroeber and structural functional theory derived from Malinowski and Radcliff-Brown.

(3)   While the process-pattern theory takes the concept of culture pattern as basic and the structural theory takes social structure as basic, both theories cover the full range of Tylor’s culture concept.

(4)   Each theory is holistic and universal, each seeks to explain all aspects of culture within a single theoretical framework and each intends to apply that frame work to societies and cultures of any kind, from small primitive societies to complex civilizations.

(5)   The difference between the two basic theories cannot be derived from the complementary character of the two basic concepts—culture pattern and social structure since each theory accepts this as complementary but deals with it in a different way.

(6)   The difference between the two theories is to be found in the different ways they cannot culture and social structure within explanatory systems.

(7)   The precise nature of these explanatory systems may be inferred from the paradigmatic model of the analysis of kinship system which expresses a system of classification and an underlying unconscious logic.

(8)   In the structural analysis, a kinship system is a social system with a network of social relations, as expressed in customary modes of behaviours. The interrelation within the system is one of the functional interdependence among the parts.

These different analysis of kinship systems are both example for cultural and structural analysis of all kinds and, hence, for two general theories of culture.

     Neither theory attempts to explain the nature of cultural or structural systems in terms of linear causality. Each regards such systems as a outcome of the multiple influence of biology, psychology and natural environment, as well as of historic processes and of the creative human response to these ‘given’.


Sociologists and anthropologists tried by comparative study to arrive at some generalizations as regards some attributes of culture.


Kroebar talked about two aspects of culture, which he calls eidos and ethos. Eidos is the formal appearance of a culture derived from its constituents, whereas Ethos is the core value of culture.

Contrasted with the aggregate of constituents is ethos, the disposition of a culture which determines its quality, its main themes and interests.

A well-known Athropologist Baleson also says that each culture can be said to have two aspects-

·         Consisting of the total emotional emphasis of a culture, called Ethos.

·         Consisting of the emphasis resulting from the cognitive processes operative within a culture, called Eidos.


Klukhon talked about two aspects of culture, explicit and implicit. He says that not everything in a people’s life may be yielded to us and added to our knowledge merely through sensory observation. Such regularities as may be perceived with the aid of the eye and the ear are explicit items of a culture. There may be other items which would be perceived by us only after being specially trained for looking for all that is not obvious, the motivations and impulse underlying human action of which the actors themselves may not be conscious. These would be the implicit items of a culture. A total and representative study of a people’s way of life must include both explicit as well as implicit items.


According to culture determinists society itself is the product of culture. From the viewpoint of Taylor culture was acquired by man as a member of society, but the cultural determinists do not believe in such a social matrix of culture. According to them, culture is the matrix of everything else, and is itself governed by its own laws of growth and operation.

Leslie White in the main spokes man for culture determinism, a viewpoint which, it may be said, suffers from the culturalistic fallacy, of regarding culture as the essence and the self-moved of human life. Human beings are equally the creators of culture as they are its creatures and carriers.


According to Linton “The majority of people, who are of the conforming type, culture plays the role of guide”. It lays down norms of behaviour and provides the mechanisms which secure for an individual his personal and social survival. Without culture man would have never survived. It frees him from biological determinism.

Culture is man’s guide, it liberates as well as enslaves him as all guide do. But for the nonconforming few, called mystics by Bergson and ‘the creative minority’ by Toynbee.’ Culture is the framework within which to try their new ideas. They do not seek to destroy; their non-conformity is not negative but constructive; they seek to change culture.


Gilter has talked about two aspects of culture-overt and covert. The external characteristics of culture is called overt aspect of culture whereas the internal characteristics of culture is called covert aspect of culture.


·         Cultural lag- Ogburn

·         Cultural trait- Wisler

·         Cultural area- Wisler

·         Cultural focus- Herskowitze

·         Marginal cultural- Krober, Boas

·         Cultural pattern- Ruth Bendict

·         Cultural ecology- Julian Steward

·         Cultural of poverty- O. Lewis

·         Cultural ambivalence- Maclver and Page

·         Technological restraint- Maclver and Page

·         Cultural materialism- Marvin Harris

·         Cultural Complex- Wisler

·         Marginal area- Wisler

·         Cultural Relativism- Herskowitze

·         Marginal man- Stewoquist

·         Cultural Themes- Morris Opler

·         Cultural Reproduction- P. Bourdieu

·         Cultural Conflict- Maclver and Page

·         Technological Lag- Maclver and Page

·         Ethnocentrism- Sumner.



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