Wednesday, January 18, 2023

What is culture?

Culture is a way of living. It reduces our biological limitations and extends our capabilities. According to E.B. Tylor, "Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." 

Culture encompasses the shared customs, traditions, practices, and social norms of a specific group of people, which shape their way of life and influence their beliefs and values. It includes aspects such as language, religion, art, architecture, food, and many other elements that make up a society's unique identity. It is learned and passed down through generations and can be both shared within a group and between different groups. 

Some important characteristics of culture are:- 

i. Culture is symbolic. 

ii. Culture is learnt/shared. 

iii. Culture is integrated.

iv. Culture is adaptive and maladaptive 

v. Culture and individual (structure and agency) 

vi. Culture is universal and specific

fig: Cultural dance

Culture can be material and non-material. Material culture is an important aspect of culture as it reflects the values, beliefs, and customs of a society, and can provide insight into the way of life of a particular group of people. The material culture is a product of the customary behaviour of people, reflecting the way of life, the needs, the beliefs, and the technology of the people.

Non-material culture refers to the non-physical aspects of culture such as customs, values, beliefs, traditions, and social norms. It is the intangible aspects of culture that shape the way people think and behave within society. Examples of non-material culture include religious practices, language, and moral beliefs. 

Anthropologists use various methods such as ethnography, participant observation, and cultural analysis to study and understand the social, economic, political, and religious systems of different societies.


Society and culture are not synonymous, although they are closely related. Society refers to a group of people who live together in a defined geographical area. It encompasses the social relationships, institutions, and structures that shape the lives of the people within it. Society is the context where culture is produced, passed, and transformed. 

Not everyone in society shares the same beliefs, values, or practices. People within a society may hold different perspectives and have unique experiences that shape their understanding of culture. To be culture, it must be shared by most members of the group. 

Culture is not a fixed entity, but rather it is constantly changing and evolving over time. Different sub-groups within a society may have their own distinct cultural characteristics. 

People can have multiple cultural identities and can belong to different cultures at the same time. For example, a person may identify with the culture of their ethnic group, the culture of their country of origin, and the culture of the country where they currently live.


Therefore, anthropologists always keep in mind that culture is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that varies across individuals and groups within a society. They strive to understand cultural variation and its causes, which are often related to factors such as class, gender, race, and ethnicity. 

Some cognitive anthropologists believe that culture resides primarily in people's minds, in the form of mental representations or schemas. These mental representations are shaped by cultural learning, and they allow individuals to navigate the social and physical world around them. 

This perspective emphasizes that culture is not only in observable behaviours but also in the underlying beliefs, ideas and knowledge that people have, and it is constantly shaped by the cognitive processes of the individuals. Therefore, cognitive anthropologists focus on understanding the internal mental processes that shape culture and its transmission.


Delivered by FeedBurner