Culture is the way of life for a given group of people, or a broad term for a group of people known for thinking or living in a certain way. These traits form part of an individual's or group's identity.
A culture can be observed or assigned to potentially any group of people in a society, irrespective of the group's or size or location. It can be used as an identifying marker of a group in order to separate its classification from other groups.
Cultures can be unique, similar, or different to other cultures. The same cultural trait can be limited or found in many different cultures. In this context, culture is a qualitative phenomenon where the lines can be blurred and the groupings may be arbitrary. The formal study of culture can take part through cultural studies or social science.
Among typically smaller groups, culture can be observed or applied to a:
- group of friends ("we hang out at the mall all the time")
- families ("in our family, we eat dinner at the dinner table, not in front of the TV")
- workplaces ("at my last workplace, people avoided risk")
- schools ("students are expected to abide by the dress code")
- churches ("we're an inclusive church")
- private associations ("members agree to be bound by the association's constitution")
Culture can also be observed among typically larger groups such as:
- towns ("we don't take kindly to your kind around here")
- political groups ("that party has a culture of entitlement")
- ethnic groups ("this festival is an annual celebration of Greek culture")
- nations ("it's a very Canadian thing to do")
- virtual communities ("in true internet fashion, it was leaked online a week before it was in stores").
Forms of cultural expression are vast. Widespread examples include:
- religion (theistic or humanistic)
- behaviour (traditions, etiquette, formality, or politeness in a given situation)
- food (in the use of ingredients, different cooking techniques, or table manners)
- music (through the selection of instruments and singing style)
- language (choice of vocabulary, spelling, slang, and accents)
- communication (letter writing, and forms of addressing others)
- customs (such as chivalry, or tipping at restaurants)
- morals (abstinence, cohabitation, or promiscuity)
- law (what's legal and what's not, censorship)
- arts (styles of painting, or performing arts)
- war (or pacifism)
- holidays (public and religious)
- politics (political participation, apathy, identity politics, and nationalism)
- fashion and hairstyles
- social norms
Transmission of culture
Culture is transmitted between people in a range of forms. In antiquity, cultures were predominantly oral; culture was often transmitted through speech, as literacy rates were generally low. However, increased literacy since the 19th century saw a transition from a predominantly oral culture to a more literary culture. This was associated with the wide circulation of books, newspapers, and magazines.
Literary culture, by nature of its transmission, is easier to preserve. Aspects of oral culture (like language) were not always preserved, but in modern times they can be recorded as part of oral history projects. Literary and oral culture can also be preserved through libraries, national archives and the like.
Cultural expression may be static or dynamic over time, but broadly speaking, culture (or at least aspects of it) tend to change. The rate of change may be fast (as in the case of fashion) or slow. A sudden or wide-reaching change in a culture is sometimes forms part of a revolution, particularly when it is long-lived or significant. (A short-lived, insignificant change is known as a fad). Some aspects of a culture may nonetheless express little or no change over an extended period of time. Certain taboos (such as child molestation or bestiality) are two examples.
The causes of cultural change are complex and varied, but widespread influences can be driven by the media. Notwithstanding the advent of literary cultures, the invention of devices such as the radio and television have been effective non-literary harbingers of cultural change. The popularization of the internet (a combination of literary and non-literary content) occurs as a relatively new reflection and shaper of culture.
The United Nations, through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has tried to influence and change cultures across the world in line with its charters and ideology. An early attempt was made to study "human personality…and social patterns which tend to create tensions" in the onset of war. UNESCO has however been criticised by federal administrations, with Ronald Reagan withdrawing the United States from UNESCO in 1985.
Cultural perceptions by insiders
Members of a given culture may be self-conscious, unaware, or indifferent towards it. Self-conscious people can be proud of their culture and announce this fact to other people. Conversely, one may announce they are ashamed of it; in the context of international politics, liberals may say they are ashamed to call themselves Amercan.
An example of cultural indifference can occur in phrases such as "not better or worse, just different".
Cultural perceptions by outsiders
Outsiders may view cultural expression in a negative way, or with surprise. Surprise can occur through descriptions of cultural practices as "curious". Negative responses can occur through stereotyping, or accusations of cultural bias. People may accuse other groups (such as workplaces or governments) of having a culture of fear, secrecy, or intimidation.
While there is an element of opposition to cultural practices, the opposite occurs continually. A practice originating in one culture can influence and be incorporated by another, a practice known as syncretism. The growing use of the English language is a worldwide example. A national example is the adoption of American sports (such as baseball) by the Japanese; it is now one of the most popular sports in the nation. To this effect, Japan won the silver medal for baseball in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (with the United States winning bronze).
When a cultural practice is widespread, it can be referred to as affecting "people from all walks of life".
Influence of the Bible and Christianity on Western culture
The positive influence of the Bible is well-recognized by cultural observers.
|“||Anyone who explores art, literature, history or music in any depth swiftly recognises the Bible as a vital key to understanding and interpreting much of Western culture and history. For hundreds of years, human creativity was inspired and shaped by a Christian world view and a system of reference and allusion which has not only moulded our past but continues to affect our present. Phrases such as 'being a Good Samaritan', 'turning the other cheek,' and 'going the extra mile' still pervade the English language||”|
In 2007, Robert W. WIlson, an atheist, donated $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York. In doing so, he stated, "let's face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilisation."
|“||The truth is the Super Bowl long ago became more than just a football game. It's part of our culture, like turkey at Thanksgiving and lights at Christmas, and like those holidays - beyond their meaning - a factor in our economy…even people who don't like football tune in to watch the commercials. You can't say that about many things.||”|
- UNSECO—Its first Year in The Rotarian, Vol. 71, No. 5 ; p. 15; (November 1947)
- McKinney, G. "U.S. "Severs UNESCO Ties" in Black Enterprise Vol. 15, No. 8; p. 18; (March 1985)
- I'm ashamed to call myself an "American." Grasscity.com: the best counter-culture community
- Kiku, K. "The Japanese baseball spirit and professional ideology" in Maguire, J.A. and Nakayama, M. (eds) Japan, sport and society: tradition and change in a globalising world; Routledge, New York; p. 35 (2006)
- Roth, M. Ship Modeling from Stem to Stern; TAB Books; p. 4 (1988)
- Dyas, D. and Hughes, E. The Bible in Western culture: the student's guide; Routledge, Abingdon; p. 1 (2005)
- Cole, P. Atheist Wilson Gives $22.5 Million for Catholic Fund (Update2)]. Bloomberg; May 23, 2007.
- Schieffer, B. Schieffer: More Than Just a Game Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer, CBSNews.com; February 7, 2010