Culture: Concept and Definition


Sociologists and anthropologists use ‘culture’ as a collective noun for the symbolic and learned aspects of human society, including language, custom and convetion, by which human behaviour can be distinguished from that of other primates. Cultural anthropology (as distinct from physical anthropology) takes as its special province the analysis of the culture of human societies. Anthropology recognizes that human behaviour is largely culturally and not genetically determined. This has given rise to debates about cultural diffusion and the uniqueness of cultures and cultural relativity.
Sociologists do not use the term ‘culture’, as it often is used in ordinary speech. Culture, as we conceive of it, does not refer to just the cultivated prestigious patterns of upper-class groups in a society culture viewed been passed down through the generations and which, increasingly, has differentiated the human way of life from that of other human species.
Culture consists of the thoughts and behaviour patterns that members of a society learn through language and other forms of symbolic interaction-then customs, habits, beliefs and values. The common view point’s which bind them together as a social entity.
Culture is an explanatory concept in two senses: (1) It has the potential for explaining why specific institutions occur when and where they do. For example, it has been suggested that certain types of religious patterns are associated with specific types of social structure. In other words, certain features of the cultural system explain other features of the system. (2) Culture contains principles for interpreting behaviour and institutions. To interpret is not to explain why an institution occurs when and where it does, but to make sense of it.
Most social scientists today employ some variation of the modern culture concept in their research and while they agree about the essential features of culture, they still disagree fundamentally about how culture works the factors governing it, and the full extent of its influence on behaviour, thought and perception.
What has been termed the classic definition of culture was provided by the 19th century English anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor in the first paragraph of his primitive culture (1987):
“Culture... 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”.
In anthropology (1881) Tylor made it clear that culture so defined, is possessed by man alone. This conception of culture served anthropologist well for some 50 years. With the increasing maturity of anthropological science, further reflections upon the nature of their subject matter and concepts led to a multiplication and diversification of definitions of culture. In culture: a critical review of concepts and definitions (1952), U.S anthropologists A.L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn cited 164 definitions of culture ranging from “learned behaviour” to ‘ideas in the mind, “a logical construct, “statistical fiction,” “a psychic defence mechanism,” and so on. The definition or the conception of culture that is referred by Kroeber and Kluckhohn and also by a great many other anthropologists in recent years is that culture is an abstraction or, more specifically, “an abstraction from behaviour”.
When things and events are considered in the context of their relation to the human organism, they constitute behaviour; when they are considered not in terms of their relation to the human organism but in their relationship to one another, they become culture by definition.
According to Spencer: Culture is “the superorganic environment as distinguished from the inorganic or physical and from the organic---the world of plants and animals. He called culture superorganic as it is a system of knowledge that exists apart from and above (“super”) man’s biological nature (“Organic”). Culture does not come from instincts or biology; it comes from knowledge, system created in man’s social life. Since culture is knowledge, it is expressed in symbols.  
According to Redfield: Culture is an organised body of conventional understanding manifest in arte-fact which, persisting through tradition, characterises a human group.
The meaning of culture becomes clear when we take into account these four dimensions of the concept that is (i) learned behaviour (ii) social heritage, (iii) super organic, (iv) a design for living. It is an explanatory concept in two senses:
(1)   It has the potential for explaining why specific institutions occur when and were they do. (2) Culture contains principles for interpreting behaviour and institutions.
Culture can be used to convey various meanings. Thus there is the common, literacy use to the term when we use culture to convey social charm and intellectual excellence. There are some sociologists also who use the term culture elite for the intellectual leaders of a society. Then there are philosophers like Cassirer and sociologists like Sorokin and Maclver to whom culture stands for the moral, spiritual and intellectual attainments of man David Bidney, philosopher-Anthropoligist, defames it as the self-cultivation of human nature as also the cultivation of natural, geographical environment.
According to E.B. Taylor: Culture stands for the beliefs, ideas, customs, laws, morals, arts and other capabilities and skill acquired by man as a member of society.
According to Malinowski: Culture is the handwork of man and the medium through which he achieves his ends.
According to Arnold Green: Culture is “the socially transmitted system of idealized way in knowledge, practice and beliefs, along with the artifacts that knowledge, and produce and maintain as they change in time.
According to Maclver: Culture is the expression of our nature in our modes of living and our thinking intercourse, in our literature, in religion, in recreation and enjoyment.
According to E.A. Hoebal: Culture is the sum total of integrated learned behaviour patterns which are characteristics of the members of a society and which are, therefore, not the result of biological inheritance.
According to Lundbery: Culture refers to the social mechanisms of behaviour and to the physical and symbolic products of these behaviours.
According to Brersteid: Culture is the complex whole that consists of everything that we think and do and have as members of society.
According to Bidney: Culture is the product of agrofacts (product of civilization), artifacts (products of industry), sociofacts (social organisation) and menifacts (language, religion) art and so on.
According to R. Firth: Culture refers to the component of accumulated resources, material as well as non material, which the people inherit, employ, transmute, add to and transmit.
According Ralph Linton: The culture of a society is the way of life of its members; the collection of ideas and habit which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation.
According to C. Klukhon: Culture is a ‘design for living’ held by members of a particular society.
According to Ralph Pidington: The culture of a people may be defined as the sum total of the material and intellectual equipment whereby they satisfy their biological and social needs and adapt themselves to their environment.
According to Anderson and parker:  Culture is the total content of the physio-social, bio-social products to man has produces and the socially created mechanisms through which these social products operate.
According to Sapir: Culture includes those general attitudes, view of life, and specific manifestations of civilization that give a particular people its distinctive place in the world.
According to Cooley: Culture is the entire accumulation of artificial objects, conditions, tools, techniques, ideas, symbols and behaviour palter patterns to a group of people possessing a certain consistency of its own and capable of transmission from one generation to another.
According to Mazumdar: Culture is the sum total of human achievements material as well as non-material, capable of transmission, sociologically, i.e, by tradition and communication, vertically as well as horizontally.
In brief we can present these things as follows:
Culture has two essential qualities:
·       It is learned
·         It is shared
To a large culture determines how members of a society think and feel, it directs their actions and defines their outlook on life. Members of society usually take their culture for granted. It has become so much a part of them that they are often unaware of its existence. Hence “culture defines accepted way of behaving for members of a particular society.


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