What is culture?
Culture is a shared system of symbols, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations and norms of behaviour. The definition of culture therefore assumes a coherent group of people, that they share common basic values. People of shared culture are seen as having common understandings among members.
Culture shapes experience and communication. It determines how people perceive the world and how they communicate and relate with others
It is important to note that even within cultures, complexities in individual behaviour will be observed based on religion, personality, age, gender, class, ethnicity and so on. These divides may also create sub-cultures within a culture. Direct and indirect interactions within the group ensure that culture is passed on from person to person and from one generation to the next.
Culture comprises the shared values and assumptions of a particular group of people. Because these values and assumptions are shared, it is easy for people to take them for granted and assume that they are the ‘normal way’. This makes people believe that the way they do things and behave, and the things they value, are right and true for everyone. .
It can be difficult to see our own culture, because it too familiar, too ubiquitous to recognise. Cultural assumptions are usually hidden and become more apparent when one encounters contrast. When individuals encounter foreigners, or visit other cultures, cultural differences become more apparent. Many have stated that, if it were not for the existence of more than one culture, we would not think of about culture at all! The apparent differences of how human think, feel and act are what make us aware of culture.
To facilitate communication between cultures, it is important to understand that different groups have different values, different ways of communicating, different customs and assumptions. So, while these may conflict with our own understandings and assumptions, it does not mean that they are inferior, wrong or offensive.
Essential features of culture
Culture is the human part of environment. It is social and not innate/biological Culture reflects widely shared assumptions about life
Culture becomes evident when one encounters someone from another group such as country or even ethnic identity, who deviates from their own cultural norms. Culture is transmitted from one generation to another.
Cultural values endure for long, and changes in culture take place over a number of generations.
Understanding culture: The iceberg model of culture
This way of looking at culture, focuses on the elements that make up culture, and on the fact, that some of the elements are very visible, whereas others are hand to discover.
The idea behind this model is that culture can be pictured as an iceberg: only a very small portion of the iceberg, can be seen above the waterline. The top of the iceberg is supported by the much larger part of the iceberg, underneath the water line and therefore invisible. Nonetheless, this lower part of the iceberg is the powerful foundation.
Also in culture there are some visible parts: architecture, art music, cooking, and language, etc. But the powerful foundations of culture are more difficult to spot: the history of the group of people that hold the culture, their norms , values , basic assumptions about space, nature , time etc.
The iceberg model of culture implies that the visible parts of culture are just expressions of its invisible parts. It also points out that, how difficult it is at times to understand people with different cultural backgrounds because we may spot the visible parts of their iceberg, but we cannot immediately see what are the foundations that these parts rest upon. Often this problem leads to stereotypes.
The study of intercultural issues is not entirely a new phenomenon. In the...
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