Society & Culture
Jose J. Garcia
Bryant and Stratton
July 28, 2012.
Society is made up of individuals who have agreed to work together for mutual benefit. It can be a very broad term, as we can make generalizations about what the whole of western society believes, or it can be a very narrow definition, describing only a small group of people within a given community. But no matter the size, and no matter the link that binds a society together, be it religious, geographic, professional or economic, society is shaped by the relationships between individuals. Culture and society are not the same thing. Societies are groups of people who directly or indirectly interact with each other. While cultures are complexes of learned behavior patterns and perceptions, societies are groups of interacting organisms. The word culture has many different meanings. For some it refers to an appreciation of good literature, music, art, and food. For a biologist, it is likely to be a colony of bacteria or other microorganisms growing in a nutrient medium in a laboratory dish. However, for anthropologists and other behavior scientists, culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns (Dean, 2010, p. 688). 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 is a powerful human tool for survival, but it is a fragile phenomenon. It is constantly changing and easily lost because it exists only in our minds. Our written languages, government, buildings, and other man made things are merely the products of culture. They are not culture in themselves, for this reason, archaeologists cannot dig up culture directly in their excavations.
There are very likely three layers or levels of culture that are part of your learned behavior patterns and perceptions. Most obviously is the body of cultural traditions that distinguish your specific society. When people speak of Italian, Samoan, or Japanese culture, they are referring to the shared language, traditions, and beliefs that set each of these people apart from others. In most cases, those who share your culture do so because they acquired it as they were raised by parents and other family members who have it.
The second layer of culture that may be part of your identity is a subculture. In complex and diverse societies in which people have come from many different parts of the world, they often retain much of their original tradition. As a result, they are likely to be part of an identifiable subculture in their new society. The shared cultural traits of subcultures set them apart from the rest of their society. Examples of easily identifiable subcultures in the United States include ethnic groups such as Vietnamese Americans, African American, and Mexican Americans. Members of each of these subcultures share a common identity, food tradition, dialect or language, and other cultural trait that come from their common ancestral background and experience. As the cultural differences between members of a subculture and the dominant national culture fade and eventually disappear, the subculture ceases to exist except as a group of people who claim a common ancestry. That is generally the case with German American and Irish Americans in the United States today. Most of them identify themselves as Americans first. They also see themselves as being part of the cultural mainstream of the nation.
The third layer of culture consists of cultural universals. These are learned behavior patterns that are shared by all of humanity collectively. No matter where people live in the world, they share these universal traits. Examples of such “human cultural” traits include communicating with a verbal language consisting of a limited set of sounds and grammatical rules for...
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