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I. 2.1.1 The concept and characteristics of culture


  • Culture is a unique quality and possession of man.
  • It is one of the distinguishing traits of human society.
  • Culture does not exist at the sub-human level.
  • Only man is born and brought up in a cultural environment.
  • Every man is born into a society is the same as saying that every man is born into a culture. The dictum ‘man is a social being’ can thus be redefined as ‘man is a cultural being’.
  • Every man can be regarded as a representative of his culture.

Culture is very broad term that includes in itself all our walks of life, modes of behavior, philosophies and ethics, morals and manners, customs and traditions, religious, political, economic and other types of activities. Culture includes all that man has acquired in his individual and social life.

In the words of MacIver and Page, culture is “the realm of styles, of values, of emotional attachments, of intellectual adventures”. It is the entire ‘social heritage’ which the individual receives from the group.

Definition of culture

  1. B. Malinowski has defined culture as the ‘cumulative creation of man’. He also regards culture as the handiwork of man and the medium through which he achieves his ends.
  1. Edward B. Tylor,  has defined culture as ‘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’.
  1. Robert Bierstedt is of the opinion that ‘culture is the complex whole that consists of all the ways we think and do and everything we have as members of society’.

Characteristics of culture

  1. Culture is learnt: culture is not inherited biologically, but learnt socially by man. It is not an inborn tendency. There is no cultural instinct as such. Culture is often called ‘learned ways of behaviour’.
  2. Culture is social: culture does not exist in isolation. Neither is it an individual phenomenon. It is a product of society. It originates and develops through social interactions. 3. Culture is shared: culture is the sociological sense, is something shared. It is not something that an individual alone can possess. It is shared by the members of society.
  3. Culture is transmissive: culture is capable of being transmitted from one generation to the next. Parents pass on culture traits to their children and they in turn to their children, and so on. Culture is transmitted not through genes but by means of language.
  4. Culture is continuous and cumulative: culture exists as a continuous process. In its historical growth it tends to become cumulative. Culture is s ‘growing whole’ which includes in itself, the achievements of the past and the present and makes provision for the future achievements of mankind.
  5. Culture is consistent and integrated: culture, in its development has revealed a tendency to be consistent. At the same time different parts of culture are interconnected.
  6. Culture is dynamic and adaptive: through culture is relatively stable it is not altogether static. It is subject to slow but constant changes. Change and growth and latent in culture.

George Peter Murdock have given seven attributes of culture:

1. Culture Is Learned. Culture is not instinctive, or innate, or transmitted biologically, but is composed of habits.
2. Culture Is Inculcated. All animals are capable of learning, but man alone seems able, in any considerable measure, to pass on his acquired habits to his offspring.
3. Culture Is Social.
4. Culture Is Ideational. To a considerable extent, the group habits of which culture consists are conceptualized (or verbalized) as ideal norms.
5. Culture Is Gratifying. Culture always, and necessarily, satisfies basic biological needs.
6. Culture Is Adaptive.
7. Culture Is Integrative.

Elements of Culture

  1. Cognitive elements: Cultures of all societies whether pre- literate or literate include a vast amount of knowledge about the physical and social world. The possession of this knowledge is referred to as the cognitive element.
  1. Beliefs: Beliefs constitute another element of culture. Beliefs in empirical terms are neither true nor false.
  1. Values and Norms: I t is very difficult to enlist values and norms for they are so numerous and diverse. They are inseparable from attitudes, except perhaps, analytically. Values may be defined as measures of goodness of desirability. They are the group conceptions of relative desirability of things. One way of understanding the values and their interconnections is to approach them through the four functional subsystems are: government, family, economy and religion.
  1. Signs: Signs include signals and symbols. “A signal (also means signs) indicates existence- past present and future- of a thing event or conditions.
  1. Non-normative ways of behaving. Certain ways of behaving are not compulsory and are often unconscious. Such patterns do exist. Non normative behavior shades over into normative behavior and symbolic behavior.

Material and Non-material Culture

Material culture

Material culture consist of man-made objects such as tools, implements, furniture, automobiles, buildings, dams, roads, bridges, and in fact, the physical substance which has been changed and used by man. It is concerned with the external, mechanical and utilitarian bjects. It includes technical and material equipments. It is referred to as civilization.

Non – Material culture

The term ‘culture’ when used in the ordinary sense, means ‘non-material culture’. It is something internal and intrinsically valuable, reflects the inward nature of man. Non-material culture consists of the words, the language,  the beliefs, values and virtues, habits, rituals and practices , ceremonies. It also includes our customs and tastes, attitudes and outlook, in brief, our ways of acting, feeling and thinking.

Functions of culture

  • Culture is the treasury of knowledge
  • Culture defines situations
  • Culture defines attitudes, values and goals
  • Culture decides our career
  • Culture provides behavior pattern
  • Culture moulds personality


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