What is Culture: Origins & Defining Features (2022)

What is Culture?

  • Culture is generally regarded as a complex collection of values, beliefs, behaviours, and material objects shared by a group and passed on from one generation to the next
  • There is nothing good or bad about culture – it just is what it is

Origins of Culture and Its Defining Features

(Video) Culture and Society Defined

  • No one can really determine when culture began, for two primary reasons. First, very little material evidence survives from thousands of years ago. Second, much of culture is nonmaterial and so cannot be preserved for future consideration
  • Sociologists suggest that culture has five defining features:
  • Culture is learned
  • Culture is shared
  • Culture is transmitted
  • Culture is cumulative
  • Culture is human
  • These five defining features of culture are important in understanding both the complexity of culture and how groups maintain their uniqueness over time
  • Culture can be divided into two major segments: material culture, which includes tangible artifacts, physical objects, and items found in society; and non-material culture, which includes a society’s intangible and abstract components, such as values and norms

Values, Norms, Folkways, Mores, Laws, and Sanctions

  • Values are beliefs about ideal goals and behaviours that serve as standards for social life
    EX: Canadians viewed government-sponsored health care as on of the most important defining features of their society
  • Norms are culturally defined rules that outline appropriate behaviours
    EX: A Canadian norm is our belief that it is rude to speak while your mouth is full
  • Folkways are informal norms that suggest customary ways of behaving
    EX: walking on the left side of a busy sidewalk
  • Mores are norms that carry a strong sense of social importance and necessity
    EX: extramarital affairs
  • Laws are a type of norm that is formally defined and enacted in legislation
    EX: In Canada, it is illegal to steal your neighbour’s lawnmower or to cheat on your taxes
  • The sanction is a penalty for norm violation or a reward for norm adherence
    EX: Getting an A on a test is a reward because you studied and answered all the questions, getting an F on a test is a penalty because you never studied and only answered 5 of the 25 questions

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

  • Ethnocentrism – a tendency to view one’s own culture as superior to all others
  • Cultural relativism – an appreciation that all cultures have intrinsic worth and should be evaluated and understood on their own terms
  • Cultural shock – a feeling of disorientation, alienation, depression, and loneliness experienced when entering a culture very different from one’s own
  • Oberg listed a four-stage model to understand a person’s progression through feelings culture shock:
    • Honeymoon
    • Crisis
    • Recovery
    • Adjustment
  • Oberg’s research demonstrates that although people need time to adjust to new cultural standards, they will adjust
READ: Psychology: The Science of Behaviour

Language and Culture

  • All human beings communicate through symbols – a symbol is something that stands for or represents something else
  • A language is a shared symbol system of rules and meanings that governs the production and interpretation of speech

Language Extinction

(Video) CULTURE - Meaning, Definition, nature , Characteristics , Evolution, Types, Functions

  • When language is lost, the culture to which it belonged loses one of its most important survival mechanisms
  • Languages die out when dominant language groups are adopted by young people whose parents speak a traditional language
  • In central Siberia, the language of the Tofa people is spoken by only 30 individuals, and all of them are elderly
  • According to K. David Harrison approximately 7000 languages exist in the world today and fully half of these are in danger of extinction within the next 100 years
  • Harrison suggests that there are at least three reasons why we should be concerned about losing languages
  • As a human collective, each time we lose a language we lose knowledge, because each language serves as a vast source of information about the past and about how we adapted to our environments
  • When a language dies, so do its related cultural myths, folk songs, legends, poetry, and belief systems
  • The demise of the world’s languages hinders our exploration of the mysteries of the human mind

Does Language Define Thought?

  • Two early researchers who investigated the potential for language to influence how we interpret our world were Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf
  • Their approach, commonly known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, suggests that language does in fact determine thought – a position referred to as linguistic determinism

Non-Verbal Communication

  • Body language
  • Proximity
  • Haptics – uses personal contact (touching) to convey meaning
  • Oculesics – uses eye contact to convey meaning
  • Chronemics – uses the time to convey meaning
  • Olfactics – uses smell to convey meaning
  • Vocalists – uses voice to convey meaning
  • Sound systems – (mmm, er, ah)
  • Adornment – uses accessories (types of clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, tattoos) to convey meaning
  • Locomotion – using movement (walking, running, staggering, limping) to convey meaning

Cultural Diversity

Subcultures: Maintaining Uniqueness

  • Subculture – a group within a population whose values, norms, folkways, or mores set them apart from the mainstream culture

Countercultures: Challenging Conformity

  • Counterculture – a type of subculture that strongly opposed the widely held cultural patterns of the larger population
  • Hippies from the 1960s challenged the dominant definitions

Defining Features of Canadian Culture

(Video) Origins: Incredible Features part 1

Canadian Values

  • Seven core Canadian values
  • Belief in equality and fairness in a democratic society
  • Belief in consultation and dialogue
  • Importance of accommodation and tolerance
  • Support for diversity
  • Compassion and generosity
  • Attachment to Canada’s natural beauty
  • Our world image: Commitment to freedom, peace, and non-violent change

Global Value Changes, 1981 to 2006

  • Christian Welzel – variance can be summarized in two dimensions: secular-rational and self-expression
  • Secular-rational values vary along a continuum from strong to weak; low-importance on religion, low levels of national pride, low levels of respect for authority figures, promote personal independence and be accepting of divorce
  • Self-expression values also vary along a continuum; support individual autonomy and political participation, be accepting of homosexuality, and promote a strong sense of self-direction and the expression of trust in others

Cultural Change

  • Cultures are always changing to address new social and technological challenges
  • Discovery occurs when something previously unrecognized or understood is found to have social or cultural applications
  • Invention/innovation occurs when existing cultural items are manipulation or modified
  • Diffusion occurs when cultural items or practices are transmitted from one group to another

Sociological Approaches to Culture and Culture Change


(Video) Culture l Meaning, definition and Characteristics of Culture l Sociology for UPSC CSE/ IAS, Ugc Net.

  • Functionalism approaches the value of culture from the premise that, since every society must meet basic needs, culture can best be understood as playing a role in helping to meet those needs
  • Yet within this diversity are common features that all known societies are believed to share, referred to as cultural universals
  • Functionalists argue that unique cultural traditions and customs develop and persist because they are adaptive and improve a people’s chance of survival
  • Cultural adaptation is the process by which environmental pressures are addressed through changes in practices, traditions, and behaviors as a way of maintaining stability and equilibrium

Conflict Theory

  • Conflict theories assert that those who hold power define and perpetuate a culture’s ideology, and create a value system that defines social inequality as just and proper
  • Conflict theorists would certainly approach the slavery example we used above from a very different perspective: Slavery was allowed to exist because it benefited rich white people
  • Conflict theories view the link between money and success as an expression of the ruling elite’s power and influence
  • According to Karl Marx, the dominant culture eventually becomes part of the value system of an oppressed group

Symbolic Interactionism

  • One of the most famous symbolic interactionists, Herbert Blumer, suggested that people do not respond directly to the world around them, but instead to the meanings they collectively apply to it
  • Investigates how culture is actively created and recreated through social- interaction
  • Thus as people go about their everyday lives, they create and modify culture as they engage in the negotiation of reality based on shared meaning grounded in cultural symbols

What is Culture: Origins & Defining Features (1)

Author:William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)


(Video) cultural geography - what is cultural geography - definition and Its short History

Tutor and Freelance Writer. Science Teacher and Lover of Essays. Article last reviewed: 2020 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2022 | Creative Commons 4.0


What is culture and its origin? ›

Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society." As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, art.

What 5 things define culture? ›

The major elements of culture are symbols, language, norms, values, and artifacts.

What are the 4 types of culture? ›

There are four types of corporate culture, consisting of clan culture, hierarchical culture, market culture, and adhocracy culture.

Why is it important to know the origins of our culture? ›

Knowing our history and culture helps us construct our identity and build a sense of pride around being part of the Roma nation. It gives us an opportunity to speak in one language and to have one vision about our future.

What is culture and examples? ›

Cultures are groups of people who share a common set of values and beliefs. They may also share cultural elements like languages, festivals, rituals and ceremonies, pastimes, food, and architecture. Examples of cultures include western culture, youth culture, counterculture, and high culture.

Who gave the concept of cultural origin? ›

British anthropologist Edward Tylor was one of the first English-speaking scholars to use the term culture in an inclusive and universal sense.

What are the 7 features of culture? ›

  • Social Organization.
  • Language.
  • Customs and Traditions.
  • Religion.
  • Arts and Literature.
  • Forms of Government.
  • Economic Systems.

What are the 7 types of culture? ›

There are seven elements, or parts, of a single culture. They are social organization, customs, religion, language, government, economy, and arts.

What are the 10 characteristics of culture? ›

Characteristics of Culture:
  • Learned Behaviour: ...
  • Culture is Abstract: ...
  • Culture is a Pattern of Learned Behaviour: ...
  • Culture is the Products of Behaviour: ...
  • Culture includes Attitudes, Values Knowledge: ...
  • Culture also includes Material Objects: ...
  • Culture is shared by the Members of Society: ...
  • Culture is Super-organic:

What is importance of culture? ›

In addition to its intrinsic value, culture provides important social and economic benefits. With improved learning and health, increased tolerance, and opportunities to come together with others, culture enhances our quality of life and increases overall well-being for both individuals and communities.

What are 3 examples of culture? ›

Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards and traditions are all examples of cultural elements.

What is a type of culture? ›

Definition of type culture

: a viable culture of an organism that is directly descended from the strain or isolation on which the original description of the organism is based.

What are the 6 features of culture? ›

There are several characteristics of culture. Culture is learned, shared, symbolic, integrated, adaptive, and dynamic.

What are the 7 elements of culture? ›

  • Social Organization.
  • Language.
  • Customs and Traditions.
  • Religion.
  • Arts and Literature.
  • Forms of Government.
  • Economic Systems.

What are the 10 characteristics of culture? ›

Characteristics of Culture:
  • Learned Behaviour: ...
  • Culture is Abstract: ...
  • Culture is a Pattern of Learned Behaviour: ...
  • Culture is the Products of Behaviour: ...
  • Culture includes Attitudes, Values Knowledge: ...
  • Culture also includes Material Objects: ...
  • Culture is shared by the Members of Society: ...
  • Culture is Super-organic:

What are the 8 characteristics of culture? ›

Some of the important characteristics of culture has been cited below.
  • Culture is learned. Culture is not inherited biologically but it is leant socially by man in a society. ...
  • Culture is social. ...
  • Culture is shared. ...
  • Culture is transmitted. ...
  • Culture is continuous. ...
  • Culture is accumulative. ...
  • Culture is integrated. ...
  • Culture is changing.


2. Culture » Definition, Meaning, Pronunciation, Origin, Synonyms, Thesaurus, and Example Sentences
(Super Video Dictionary)
3. Frans de Waal | Learning from Primates about ourselves: From Gender to Social Hierarchies
(The Origins Podcast)
4. Chapter 2 Culture Definition, Characteristics and Functions
(Psalm Mary Cabatino)
5. Meaning and Definition of Culture |For B.Ed (Sociological Foundations of Education)| Educationphile
6. The King
(Rhystic Studies)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Tuan Roob DDS

Last Updated: 12/13/2022

Views: 6812

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tuan Roob DDS

Birthday: 1999-11-20

Address: Suite 592 642 Pfannerstill Island, South Keila, LA 74970-3076

Phone: +9617721773649

Job: Marketing Producer

Hobby: Skydiving, Flag Football, Knitting, Running, Lego building, Hunting, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Tuan Roob DDS, I am a friendly, good, energetic, faithful, fantastic, gentle, enchanting person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.