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I.2 Culture

Culture: There is no single definitive construal of culture .

  • Boas: Franz Boas viewed culture as a set of customs, social institutions and beliefs that characterize any specific society. He argued that cultural differences were not due to race, but rather to differing environmental conditions and other ‘accidents of history’. Further, cultures had to be viewed as fusions of differing culture traits that developed in different space and time
  • Kroeber: Kroeber’s view of culture is best described by the term superorganic, that is, culture is sui generis and as such can only be explained in terms of itself. Culture is an entity that exists separate from the psychology and biology of the individual and obeys its own set of laws (Winthrop 1991:280-281).

Kroeber & Kluckholn

“Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts.”

  • Wissler: Wissler defined culture in his writings as a learned behavior or a complex of ideas. He argued that individual elements of culture are expressed as many culture traits that may be grouped into culture complexes. The whole of culture complexes was the expression of culture.
  • E.B. Tylor -Primitive Culture (1871)

“Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, customs, and any other capability acquired by man as a member of society.”

  • E.A. Hoebel

“Culture is the integrated system of learned behaviour patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not the result of biological inheritance.’’

  • Herskovits

“Culture is the man-made part of the environment.”’

  • Linton

“Culture is the sum total of knowledge, attitudes and habitual behaviour patterns shared and transmitted by the members of a particular society”.

  • Clifford Geertz

“an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes toward life”

Attributes of Culture

  1. Overtness and Covertness: Overt means easily detectable qualities of a culture. These include artifacts, actions, utterances, which can be perceived directly. Artifacts include houses, clothes, books, tools etc. Actions imply postures in various situations, curing practices, sports, externally manifested signs of respect etc. Utterances include speech, songs, proverbs etc. An observer can easily detect these qualities because he has plenty of opportunities to see them, experience them and record them.

Covert implies those qualities of a culture which are not easily detected by an outsider. Sentiments, beliefs, fears and values are some of the cultural items which cannot be easily detectable i.e., they are covert. They are not amenable to direct observation and moreover people cannot always explain what they feel. It is generally difficult to express these abstract ideas.

2. Explicit and Implicit: Explicit means the people’s awareness of existence of the cultural items. Implicit implies the people’s dim awareness or unawareness of certain cultural items. Explicitness and implicitness concern the experience of people possessing the culture, while overtness and covertness refer To the views of the observer . Explicit cultural items can be verbalized or criticized readily by the persons who possess them. But there are certain items of culture about which people are only dimly aware of or unaware of. Hence they cannot give any clear accounts on such cultural items. These are implicit items of the culture.

  1. Ideality and Reality: Ideality of culture refers to how people say they should behave, or the way they would like to live. Reality is the actual way people behave. There is always a discrepancy between ideality and reality.
  1. Ethos and Eidos: Ethos refers to the affective or emotional quality of a culture expressed in series of beliefs, thoughts and behavior. It acts as a central force, interest theme or pattern and colors every item of culture. As it determines what people should have, do, think and feel it, prepares ,’all the people in a culture to express the same emotional tone in all acts, thoughts and feelings. According to its nature, ethos may be classified into two types: the Apollonian ethos and the Dionysian ethos. “

Apollo was poised, serene, restrained and well balanced but Dionysus was violent, impulsive, exotic and imbalanced. Cultures whose emotional qualities resemble those of Apollo and Dionysus are identified as having Apollonian ethos and Dionysian ethos respectively. The behavior of the people possessing Apollonian ethos will be calm, moderate, well-balanced and appreciative of aesthetics, but the behavior of those possessing the culture with Dionysian ethos will be exuberant, aggressive, imbalanced and savage.

Eidos is the formal appearance of a culture derived from its constituents. Through cognitive processes operating within, a culture acquires its formal appearance or eidos. Eidos is the totality of  items of culture. “Ethos is affective but eidos is cognitive.

  • Organic and Superorganic:’ Culture is organic in the sense that it is ultimately rooted in the biological nature of human”organism. Culture is organic Culture is super organic while it is organic. Culture is superorganic to the extent that it outlines the particular generation of people who carry it and so persists from one generation to other. Culture is created by humans and it is dependent on Human choice for its continuity. Culture can be altered through the decisions of human beings. But this does not mean it is easy to change culture.
  1. Universal and Unique: Culture is universal in the sense that every man experiences it and uniqueness of culture implies its regional variations.

Functions of Culture

  1. Culture makes man a human being: It is the culture which prepares man for group life. It provides him a complete design for living. For man to survive he should live within the frame work of culture.
  2. Culture provides solutions for complicated situations, in the absence of culture, trial and error would have been the only alternative to take care of the situations.
  3. Culture provides traditional interpretations to certain situations man justifies the behavior of humans in a society.
  4. Culture keeps social relationships intact: Culture is the design and prescription, the composite of guiding values and ideals. By regulating the behavior of people and satisfying their primary drives, it has been able to maintain group life.
  5. It also contributes to social cohesion by presenting a sense of likeliness or commonality; in the way of life among people in a society. In short, group solidarity rests on the foundation of culture.
  6. Culture broadens the vision of individual: It gives a new vision to the individual and compels him to think not only in terms of his own self but the society as a whole. This leads to co-operation among members in a society and the perpetuation of the society itself. It creates in him “espirit de corps’.
  7. Culture creates and satisfies new needs: Culture creates new needs and drives and these in turn are satisfied by it.

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