Definition of culture:

Culture is the language, norms, values, beliefs, knowledge and symbol that make up a way of life. It is the understanding of how to act that people share with one another in any stable, self-reproducing group. The concept of culture is used to describe the distinctive way of life of a nation or people.

There are two main aspects of culture according to sociologists:

  1. Material culture:- this consists of all the physical objects or artifacts that people make and attach the meaning to such; books, clothing, furniture etc.
  2. Non-material culture:- this consists of human creations that are not embodied in physical objects such as values, norms, knowledge, language etc.



The particular content of culture varies from place to place, but all human cultures have the same basic elements, which include:

  • Knowledge
  • Language
  • Symbols
  • Values
  • Norms
  • Artifacts



This refers to objects, sounds, gestures or images that represent something other than themselves. Symbols do not necessarily look alike. In most cases they are contextual.


A language is system of verbal and written symbols with rules about how these symbols can be strung together to convey more complex meanings. Language enables people to store meaning and experiences and to pass this heritage to new generations.


A value is a general idea that people share about what is good and what is bad, desirable or undesirable. Values can also be said to be the internalized standards against which we evaluate behaviour and therefore used to provide the framework within which people in a society develop norms of behaviour.

A value system therefore differentiates right feelings, thought and behaviour from wrong feelings, thought and behaviour. Value systems can and very often do grow out of belief systems, eg one could argue that the value system behind good Samaritan Law is a direct descendant of the Christian belief systems. Values vary from place to place and even within cultures, there are subcultures.


Belief systems involve stories, or myths whose interpretation can give people insights in to how they should feel, think and or behave. The most prominent systems of beliefs tend to be those associated with formal religions; however, any system of belief in which the interpretation of stories affects peoples behaviours —–a system of superstition for example —–can be a living contribution component of a given societys culture


A norm is a specific guideline for action. It defines how people should behave in particular situations. Sometimes norms are made explicit, as in written laws, but more often they are unspoken customs that people implicitly know and follow.

Norms can also be said to be the rules that govern behaviour in particular contexts and they also vary from group to group.

Norms vary in the importance that people assign to them and in the way they react to violations.

There are two main types of norms:

  • Folkways:- these are norms that are simply everyday habit. People therefore obey them without giving much thought to them, and even those who violet them are just tolerated, eg covering the mouth when yawning is an example of a folkway.
  •  Mores:– these are the norms which people consider vital to their well being and to their most cherished values. Those who violet the mores are considered unfit for society and may be subjected to punishment of some kind depending on their society. Prohibition against incest is an example of a more.


This refers to the body of facts, beliefs and practical skills that people accumulate over time. Not all knowledge takes the form of information that can be explained in words or formulas or that can be written down and stored. Much practical knowledge is largely non-verbal. (Craig etal 1994)



Social change is the alterations over time, in behaviour pattern, culture and structure of a society. Social change includes the enduring and fundamental transformations of human societies. Social change occurs in all aspects of life and it affects both the every day patterns of social interaction (Craig etal 1994)



Acculturation has different meanings, but in this context, it refers to replacement of the traits of one culture with those of another, such as happened in certain Native American tribes and to many indigenous people across the globe during the process of colonization. Related processes on an individual level include assimilation (adoption of a different culture by an individual)

Trans-culturation on the other hand is the two-way exchange of cultural traits between societies in close contact, eg the current cultural landscape of Mexico is the result of a mixing of the earlier Amerindian cultures and the Spanish culture of the Europe colonists. The result is an entire new culture.



It is generally accepted that human beings are a uniquely cultural species, since they are the only species that has developed the capacity for complex symbolic communication about the world, as well as the capacity to create tools and institutions based on that complex symbolic understanding. According to Clifford Geertz (1973), the culminating phase of human biological evolution was intimately intertwined with the development of language and other basic forms of culture.

Culture as a symbolic media of communication is neither static nor homogeneous, but it is shared (ORTEGA Y GASSET, 1957). From an anthropological perspective, culture is the sum total of societys symbolic operating systems and the basis for its ecological adaptation to the environment.

According to Arthur (2001), the evolution of a post-modern multicultural society places a premium on increased understanding of issues surrounding culture and ethnic identity. Anthropology has traditionally defined culture as the sum total of artifacts (language, customs, tools/technology, institutions etc), that make up a human society.

From the psychological perspective, it is useful to focus on the process of symbolic communication that sanction the coherence of human societies and enable them to evolve such as variety of artifacts

Looked at from the perspective of the psychology of knowledge (cognitive psychology ), culture is the shared ability of specific human groups to communicate, organize and develop useful information about the world and its inhabitants, including information about individuals and collective selfs.

Culture is the collective embodiment and expression of human intelligence. It is the actualization of the ability of human groups to use signs and symbols to effectively communicate and use information about the world.

The sharing of particular world view is what enables groups of people to function collectively as a society that adapts to the natural world and create social reality. In other words, it is culture that fundamental enabler and expression of distinctly human life.

The cultural world wide of any particular society must be learned by its members. In order to become a functioning member of a particular society, a child must learn something about all or most of the dimensions of this richness and complexity within a remarkably short period of time. At the earliest level, the individual learn a spoken language, but he/she also learn non-verbal languages that include at least body image, emotional and attitudinal pattern.

The development challenge of the individual is to learn to participate in and master a reasonable repertoire of these forms.

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