The Meaning of Culture

Topics: Culture, Anthropology, Sociology Pages: 4 (1395 words) Published: November 21, 2006
Culture is a term which is brandished with little regard to its actual meaning, likely due to the fact that there are hundreds of definitions trying to capture the essence of culture. One such definition, provided in a social psychology textbook, states that culture is ‘the enduring behaviours, ideas, attitudes, and traditions shared by a large group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next' (Myers & Spencer, 12). While this is a workable explanation of culture, in that it captures the fact that culture is enduring (rather than transitory), shared by a large group and passed down through enculturation, all it states regarding the makeup of culture is that it consists of behaviours, idea, attitudes and traditions. This may seem like an all-encompassing collection of traits, but some (such as technology) are markedly absent, while others (like language and arts) are poorly encompassed by those listed. There is also some controversy regarding whether culture exists solely in humans; a less exclusive definition would include what cultural anthropologists insist on calling "behavioural variation" in primates (Stanford, 111), but this may just be a semantic defense of the anthropologist's traditional territory.

A second definition, provided by British anthropologist Sir Edward Bunnet Tylor, claims that 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' (qtd from Haviland, Fedorak, Crawford & Lee, 36). Sir Edward was clearly attempting to generate a definition that would be workable in as many applications as possible, but in doing so he erred. While he has listed a whole string a descriptive nouns, his definition lacks mention of the cohesiveness of culture (even when the incredible variations are accounted for), being interpretable as applicable to only one man. It also suffers from ambiguity – does one man's belief in aliens...

References: Haviland, W., Fedorak, S., Crawford, G., & Lee, R. (2005). Cultural Anthropology (2nd Can. ed.). United States:Thomson.
Myers, D. & Spencer, S. (2006). Social Psychology (3rd Can. ed.). United States:McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
Stanford, C. Significant Others: The Ape-Human Continuum and Quest for Human Nature. New York:Basic Books.
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