What Is Culture?

Sep 6, 2021
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Culture is an everyday term that is also cause for numerous debates. People often declare that they are proud of their culture or that their culture defines them. However, there has also been some debate about whether certain aspects of history are truly part of culture. It appears that “culture” means different things for different people. But how do we really define culture? What is culture?

Culture is defined as the set of values, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, and material objects acquired by a group of people through generations. We can say then that culture is a way of life, a “cultivated behavior” that is transmitted through social learning (“Culture”). According to sociologists, culture is crucial in the production and stability of social order. Since culture is something that a group of people agree on, it paves the way for collective agreement about rules and norms (Cole; “Culture”). Social order is maintained when people cooperate, which in turn is achieved when rules and norms are aligned with a people’s culture. The shared beliefs and values bring people together through a shared sense of purpose and collective cultural identity, which differentiates one group from another (Cole). Based on these definitions, culture shapes individuals and societies and is crucial in maintaining social order.

My own idea of culture is not so different from the official definition of sociologists. Culture consists of religion, language, art, clothing, customs, and attitudes (“Culture”). These are things that a group of people follow and believe in, that shape not just how they see and interact with the world but also who they are as a person. People, especially those in diaspora, value and hold on to their cultural identity for this reason. In a globalized society, such as in the US, that embraces multiculturalism as the norm, it is comforting to have a culture that you can hold on to and remind you of your history and identity. Culture is complex and diverse. Different cultures have their own set of beliefs and symbolisms, which if we only took the time to learn have beauty in their own way. There is no one culture that is superior. Judging cultures would be like comparing apples and oranges. 

What is most interesting about sociologists’ definition of culture is that they do not mention that it is unchangeable. In fact, the definition seems to suggest that culture changes as society or people’s values evolve. While it is true that there is no superior or inferior culture, this does not mean that some aspects of culture cannot be modified or improved. Since culture has to be approved by a consensus, culture may evolve to suit the prevailing values and beliefs of the people. This is something that can be traced throughout the history of any culture. If a considerable number of people agree that a custom is unjust, then it would not be surprising to find that aspect to slowly change. One case in point is the custom of marrying off daughters for money or strategic alliances. As women started to demand equality, the custom of marriage shifted and most people now marry of their own accord. People choose their own partners and marry for love. 

Culture is a beautiful thing that brings together people in that it gives them a collective identity and a shared purpose. As the discussion in this college essay details, culture defines a group of people as much as the people define it. In sum, we can say that culture is the essence of a people—their core values. The material aspects of culture may change but the core values of a people is timeless and may be embodied even in new customs.


References

Cole, Nicki Lisa. “So, What Is Culture, Exactly?” ThoughtCo., 2 Aug. 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/culture-definition-4135409.

“Culture.” Texas A&M University, http://people.tamu.edu/~i-choudhury/culture.html.

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