The concept of culture developed in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the early anthropological studies. However there has never been a satisfactory answer on the question what is culture?
Culture is defined as a learned behavior which is shared by a group of people and is passed on by members of an older generation or any one particular member(s) of a community to a member of another group ( Hammond P. B). Culture is also thought as a way thinking, feeling or believing. It is the knowledge stored up for future use. Generally culture can be defined in many ways this is just to mention a few.
Culture is one facets of human life. It is that part of human life which is learned as a result of interacting with other members of community. Every man is in, some aspects like all other men and in some aspects like no other men. There are some behaviors which can be attributed to an individual rather than a group. For instance the way one laughs, smiles or walks. This aspect of human behavior is referred to as idiosyncratic. No single individual can control these traits. They are mainly hereditary or as result of prolonged interaction with a particular environment. However culture is instilled right from tender age. You grow up knowing how to or not to carry yourself in this particular society.
Culture can be transmitted, borrowed and modified without changing a man’s physical attributes. Members of one group can emulate the culture of another group without acquiring physical characteristics of that group ( Appadurai, A 1990). For example most African communities which were polygamous are now monogamous as a result of Western influence.
Cultural practices among a particular community that no longer conform to those of the society at large can be abolished without threatening an entire population. For instance female circumcision among some African communities is slowly being done away with. Instead girls are grouped and educated on ways of handling oneself as an adult. This is now considered as the modern rite of passage after which girls are considered to be adults.
There are some aspects of human life which are natural for example biological functions. You do not to belong to a particular culture in order for you to eat. However it is your culture that dictates what you eat. For example the Maasai community in Kenya takes milk mixed with blood. This is one of their cultures. It might be strange to another community but to them it is part of life. In other cultures you might find that people consult traditional doctors when they are sick or name children according to seasons. Therefore culture boils down even to basic human functions.
Culture therefore varies from society to society. There are some cultural practices in a particular society which might be taboos in another society ( Kluckhohn C 1962). Nevertheless cultural practices may also be similar in different societies. Communities may also adapt another community’s cultural practices if they deem them fit for the community. For instance male circumcision among the Bantu community in Africa is borrowed from the Cushiest.
To a lay man culture constitutes of a simple way of life mainly in the rural context. However according to cultural anthropologists we learn that even civilization is a culture. It is a culture of people living in relatively more developed areas where they have their own way of survival which is distinct from all other areas. Therefore culture constitutes of human ends.
Most cultural systems are open to people outside a particular cultural group. This can be seen in the case of rural to urban migration in third world countries where cities have to constantly absorb people from rural areas. Within a short span of time you get people from rural areas coping with the urban lifestyle. People who migrate into foreign lands are forced to adapt to the culture they find in their new found homes. They might be hit by culture shock at first but as mentioned earlier culture is a collection of human ends. Therefore you cannot afford to stick to a particular cultural lifestyle if it does not serve your needs. To survive in any given society you must adapt to their culture. An example can be given of the Puerto Ricans who migrated to mainland America in the post war period. They lived in colonias around New York but still held on their cultural practices. Eventually this did not work out as it worked against their economic development as a community. Their instance on cultural development worked against their economic development.
Sociology and the science of culture is the central core of anthropology. A society refers to a group of people who have learned to work together. Culture refers to the distinctive ways of life of such a group of people. Culture is abstract; you cannot see culture directly but you can the people who make up a society. The only way you can learn about a particular community’s culture is through observation. Therefore a culture cannot exist without a society.
Social anthropologists look at a whole set of activities and do not only pay attention to one aspect of a community (Lewis I. M 1985). They argue that words and activities cannot define a community. You must also take into consideration the social structures that that have been put into place to ensure that there is some form of order in a community rather than let the rule of the jungle carry the day.
Social anthropologists study the different cultures and communities that make up a particular society with an emphasis on social relations and cultures as a tool of social interaction. Social anthropologists therefore look at social relations as opposed to cultural practices (Hammond P. B 96).
Political anthologists define culture as a system of subjective but socially shared symbols and meanings including language, myths, rituals and political concepts of legitimization (Aronoff 1983). For example when the British colonialists used the system of indirect rule in Nigeria they understood messing up with the systems of administration put in place would interfere with their cultural set up. Some communities revere their leaders so much. In ancient Egypt Pharaohs were buried in special tombs together with some of their valuable items. Leaders were looked upon as demi gods and they had to make sure they were comfortable in their after life.
Archeological anthropologists look at how early man survived and related to his environment. They take into account technological development in the human race. Culture here plays a big role because they look at the systems the early man developed in order to survive. Their findings are mainly from archeological artifacts (Hammond P. B 96). These include the tools they used for hunting, rock paintings and bones which may be reconstructed to show how early man looked like. From these they can tell what can of lifestyle they lived and how the survived through the times to the current age.
Ethnological anthropologists tend to emphasize on the importance of ethnicity on human interaction. Naturally man tends to reject which he/she does not belong to. People from the same tribe may feel at home with each other regardless of whether they are strangers or not than with members of other tribes. However other factors may also influence ethnicity. For instance, unequal distribution of resources. Members of a particular ethnic group may develop hate for another group if they feel that they are better of than they are. This is exemplified by the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
In conclusion man cannot survive on his own. He needs his/her fellow man to survive and therefore there must be social networks that will enable him to learn the cultural aspects of his surroundings in order to survive. Without culture it is impossible to pass on what has been practiced from generation to generation. Every community is defined by its culture.
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