The concept, characteristics and components of culture

The Culture – meaning

‘Culture’ is one of the most important concept in social science. It is commonly used in Psychology, Political Science and Economics. It is the main concept in Anthropology and a fundamental one in Sociology. The study of human society immediately and necessarily leads us to the study of its culture. The study of society or any aspect of it becomes incomplete without a proper understanding of the culture of that society. Culture and society go together. They are inseparable.

The meaning of culture is so vital to the understanding of the nature of society that it must be considered in a separate chapter. So in the present chapter we shall devote our attention to culture and civilization, the two important agencies of social change. Culture has been defined in a number of ways, some thinkers include in culture all the major social components that bind men together in a society.

Characteristics of Culture

 The definitions cited above reveal some of the characteristics of culture. For a clear understanding of the concept of culture, it is necessary for us to know its main features.

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’. Unlearned behavior, such as closing the eyes while sleeping, the eye blinking reflex and so on, are purely physiological and not cultural. Shaking hands or saying ‘namaskar’ or ‘thanks’ and shaving and dressing, on the other hand, are cultural. Similarly, wearing clothes, combing the hair, wearing ornaments, cooking the food, drinking from a glass, eating from a plate or a leaf, reading a newspaper, driving a car, enacting a role in a drama, singing, worshipping, etc., are all ways of behaviour learnt by man culturally.

Culture is Social

Culture does not exist in isolation. Neither is it an individual phenomenon. It is a product of society it originates and develop through social interactions. It is shared by the members of society. No man can acquire culture without association with other human beings. Man becomes man only among men. It is the culture which helps man to develop human qualities in a human environment. Deprivation of company or association of other individuals to an individual is nothing but deprivation of human qualities.

Culture is Shared

Culture in the sociological sense, is something shared. It is not something that at individual along can opposes. For example, customs, traditions, beliefs, ideas values, morals, etc., are all shared by people of a group or society. The inventions of Arya Bhatta or Albert Einstein, ‘Charaka’ or Charles Darwin; the literacy works of Kalidasa or Keats, Dandi or Dante; the philosophical works of Confucius or Lao Tse, Shankarachaya or Swami Vivekananda; the artistic works of Ravi Verma or Raphael, etc., are all shared by a large number of people. ‘culture is something adopted, used, believed, practiced, or possessed by more than one person. It depends upon group life for its existence’.

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. Language is the main vehicle of culture. Language in its different forms like reading, writing and speaking makes it possible for the present generation to understand the achievements of earlier generations. But language itself is a part of culture. Once language is acquired, it unfolds to the individual its wide field. Transmission of culture may take place by imitation as well as by instruction.

Culture is Continuous and Cumulative

Culture exists as a continuous process. In its historical growth it tends to become cumulative. Culture is a ‘growing whole’ which includes in itself, the achievements of the past and the present and makes provision for the future achievements of mankind. “Culture may thus be conceived of as a kind of stream flowing down through the centuries from one generation to another”.

Culture is Consistent and Integrated

A culture, in its development has revealed a tendency to be consistent. At the same time different parts of culture are interconnects. For example, the value system of a society is closely connected with its other aspects such as morality, religion, customs, traditions, beliefs, and so on.

Culture is Dynamic and Adaptive

Though culture is relatively stable it is not altogether static. It is subject to slow but constant changes. Change and growth are latent in culture. We find amazing growth in the present Indian culture when we compare it with the culture of the Vedic times. Culture hence dynamic.

Culture is responsive to the changing conditions of the physical world. It is adaptive. It also intervenes in the natural environment and helps man in his process of adjustment. Just as our houses shelter us from the storm, so also does our culture help us from natural dangers and assist us to survive. Few of us, indeed, could survive without culture.

Culture is Gratifying

Culture provides proper opportunities and prescribes means for the satisfaction of our needs and desires. These needs may be biological or social in nature. Our need for food, shelter, and clothing on the one hand, and our desire for status, name, fame, money, mates, etc., are all, for example, fulfilled according to the cultural ways. Culture determines and guides the varied activities of man. In fact, culture is defined as the process through which human beings satisfy their wants.

Components of Culture

Every society has a culture of its own. Thus people in different societies all over the world have different cultures. These cultures are not only diverse but also unequal. Along with cultural diversities and disparities that are found in societies throughout the world, we observe certain cultural similarities.

People may worship different gods in different ways, but they all have a religion. They may pursue various occupations, but they all earn a living. Details of their rituals, ceremonies, customs, etc., may differ, but they all nevertheless have some ritual, ceremonies, customs, etc. Every culture consists of such non-material things. Similarly, people of every society possess material things of different kinds. These material things may be primitive or modern and simple or complex in nature. These material and non-material components of culture are often referred to as “the content of culture”.

A number of sociologists have classified the content of culture into large components ‘material culture’ and ‘non-material culture’. Ogburn has even used this distinction as the basis for a theory of cultural change. As Robert Bierstedt has pointed out, the concept of ‘material culture’ is relatively more precise and less ambiguous. But the concept of non-material culture is more ambiguous and less clear. It may be used as a ‘residual category’ that is to mean ‘Everything that is not material’.

Material and Non-Material Culture

Material Culture

Material culture consists of man-made objects such as tolls, 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 objects. It includes technical and material equipments like a printing press, a locomotive, a telephone, a television, a tractor, a machine gun, etc. it includes our banks, parliaments, insurance schemes, currency systems, etc. 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 people use or the language they speak, the beliefs they hold, values and virtues they cherish, habits they follow, rituals and practice that they do and the ceremonies they observe. It also includes our customs and tastes, attitudes and outlook, in brief, our ways of acting, feeling and thinking.

Functions of Culture

Man is not only a social animal but also a culture being. Man’s social life has been made possible because of culture. Culture is something that has elevated him from the level of animal to the heights of man. Man cannot survive as man without culture. It represents the entire achievements of mankind. Culture has been fulfilling a number of function among which the following may be noted.

Culture is the Treasury of Knowledge

Culture provides knowledge which is essential for the physical, social and intellectual existence of man. Birds and animals behave instinctively. With the help of instincts they try to adapt themselves with the environment. But man has greater intelligence and learning capacity. With the help of these he has been able to adapt himself with the environment or modify it to suit his convenience. Culture has made such an adaptation and modification possible and easier by providing man the necessary skills and knowledge. Culture preserves knowledge and helps its transmission from generation to generation through its elements, that is, language. Language helps not only the transmission of knowledge but also its preservation, accumulating and diffusion. On the contrary, animals do not have this advantage. Because culture does not exist at sub-human level.

Culture Defines situations

Culture defines social situations for us. It not only defines but also conditions and determines – what we eat and drink, what we wear, when to laugh, weep, sleep, love, to make friends with, what work we do, what God we worship, what knowledge we rely upon, what poetry we recite and so on.

Culture Defines Attitudes, Values and Goals

Attitudes refer to the tendency to feel and act in certain way. Values are the measure of goodness or desirability. Goals refer to the attainments which our values define as worthy. It is the culture which conditions our attitude towards various issues such as religion, morality, marriage, science, family planning, prostitution and so on. Our values concerning private property, fundamental rights, representative government, romantic love, etc., are influenced by our culture. Our goals of winning the race, understanding others, attaining salvation, being obedient to elders and teachers, being loyal to husband, being patriotic, etc., are all set forth by our culture. We are being socialized on these models.

Culture Decides our Career

Whether we should become a politician, a social worker, a doctor, an engineer, a soldier, a farmer, a professor, an industrialist, a religious leader, and so on is decided by our culture. What career we are likely to pursue is largely decided by our culture. Culture sets limitations on our choice to select different careers. Individuals may develop modify or oppose the trends of their culture but they always live within its framework. Only a few can find outlet in the culture.

Culture Provides Behaviour Pattern

Culture directs and confines the behaviour of an individual. Culture assigns goals and provides means for achieving them. It rewards his noble work and punishes the ignoble ones. It assigns him statuses and roles. We see, dream, aspire, work, strive, marry, enjoy according to the cultural expectation. Culture not only controls