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culture

Definition of Culture

(noun) The ideas and self-concepts of a group or society (e.g., artifacts, attitudes, beliefs, customs, norms, symbols, and values).

Types of Culture

Culture Pronunciation

Usage Notes

  • Plural: cultures
  • Culture is both nonmaterial (e.g., language) and material (e.g., pottery).
  • A highly diverse culture is called a mosaic culture.
  • Accumulated cultural knowledge is passed to the next generation through enculturation.
  • Sociologists study (adjective) cultural aspects of society to make (adjective) culturally relevant observations and conclusions.

Related Quotations

  • “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 (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached valuesculture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action” (Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952:181).
  • “[C]ulture is a kind of knowledge, not behavior: It is in people’s heads. It reflects the mental categories they learn from others as they grow up. It helps them generate behavior and interpret what they experience. At the moment of birth, we lack a culture. We don’t yet have a system of beliefs, knowledge, and patterns of customary behavior. But from that moment until we die, each of us participates in a kind of universal schooling that teaches us our native culture. Laughing and smiling are genetic responses, but as infants we soon learn when to smile, when to laugh, and even how to laugh. We also inherit the potential to cry, but we must learn our cultural rules for when crying is appropriate” (Spradley and McCurdy 2008:2).
  • “Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This is so partly because of its intricate historical development, in several European languages, but mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct and incompatible systems of thought” (Williams 1985:87).
  • “Ethnographers seek out the insider’s viewpoint. Because culture is the knowledge people use to generate behavior and interpret experience, the ethnographer seeks to understand group members’ behavior from the inside, or cultural, perspective. Instead of looking for a subject to observeethnographers look for an informant to teach them the culture” (Spradley and McCurdy 2008:4).
  • “Such a society is small, isolated, non-literate and homogeneous, with a strong sense of group solidarity. The ways of living are conventionalized into the coherent system which we call ‘a culture’. Behavior is traditional, spontaneous, uncritical and personal: there is no legislation or habit of experiment and reflection for intellectual ends. Kinship, its relations and institutions, are the type categories of experience and the familial group is the unit of action. The sacred prevails over the secular; the economy is one of status rather than the market” (Redfield 1947:293).
  • “Whereas a society is composed of people,culture is composed of ideas, behavior, and material possessions. Society and culture are interdependent; neither could exist without the other” (Kendall 2006:42).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


References

Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Kroeber, Alfred L., and Clyde Kluckhohn. 1952. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of American Archæology and Ethnology.

Redfield, Robert. 1947. “The Folk Society.” American Journal of Sociology 52(4):293–308. doi:10.1086/220015.

Spradley, James P., and David W. McCurdy. 2008. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. 13th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

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Cite the Definition of Culture

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “culture.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved August 21, 2019 (https://sociologydictionary.org/culture/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

culture. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/culture/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “culture.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed August 21, 2019. https://sociologydictionary.org/culture/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“culture.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 21 Aug. 2019. <https://sociologydictionary.org/culture/>.