Culture is the way of thinking and doing things that are passed on from one generation to another such as language, norms and values of society. It is the total pattern of human behavior which creates human beings and human societies. Culture is cumulative, by slow accumulation over many generations; culture is the product of human societies and of the individuals who compose them. Culture holds society together. It is the way of life that people in a society follow, which includes capabilities acquired by a human being as a member of society.
Every culture is shared by a group of people. Depending on the region they live in, the climatic conditions they thrive in and their historical heritage, they form a set of values and beliefs. This set of their principles of life shapes their culture. No culture belongs to an individual. It is rather shared among many people of a certain part of the world. The language, the literature and the art forms pass across generations.
The people and their pattern of life make up the culture of a region.
Cultures vary in the different parts of the world. They are different across the land boundaries and the diversity in cultures results in the diversity in people around the world. Culture also consists of the system of beliefs held by the people of the region, their principles of life and their moral values. Culture includes the customary ways of behaving in everyday life, religious beliefs, moral standards, the way family life is organized, the methods used to provide food and shelter, language, government and forms of artistic expressions.
For example European members of society consider it normal to look at another person directly in the eye; however, an n Asian visitor may see it as disrespectful. A Latin American may come closer to speak to a person than what an Islamic is normally used to. In some cultures “yes” means, “I hear you” whilst in others it means, “I agree with you”. The manner of how one is expected to dress varies from a culture to another. In an Islamic country, it is common for women to wear the burka since in public, many Muslim women have to cover most of their head and body, with only specific body parts such as hands and face allowed to show.
In Western Societies and in appropriate settings, such as while sun tanning, or breastfeeding, the exposure of women’s breasts is not, of itself, normally regarded as indecent exposure. In Japan, public baths are very common. Bathing nude with family members or friends of the same gender in public bath houses is popular. Different cultures also bring traditional food customs, such as eating cats in Hong Kong, rats in Thailand and snakes in Vietnam. In European countries these are seen as bizarre.
In Malta, snails and rabbits are considered as traditional food, whereas rabbits in the UK are considered as pets. The role of food in cultural practices and religious beliefs is complex and varies among individuals and communities. In Islam, pork and alcohol is prohibited and all other food has to be Halal, whilst people who practice the Hindu religion do not eat meat from animals or any food that has involved the taking of life. They also avoid foods that may have caused pain to animals during manufacture.
Buddhism proposes that violence or pain inflicted on others will rebound on you, hence the need for a vegetarian lifestyle. Some Buddhists believe that a contributing cause of human aggression is violence against animals. In Judaism, the consumption of certain foods, including dairy products and fish, is subject to restrictions; for example, there are rules forbidding the mixing and consumption of dairy products with meats. Christianity does not advocate any restrictions on food. Culture of a society provides behavioral pattern. It also provides norm to follow.
This explains why student will not come in class wearing her bathing suit. In Chile, women often greet both other women and men with a kiss on the cheek. In Russia women often walk arm in arm with their female friends. When speaking, Swedes speak softly and calmly. It is rare that you were witness a Swede demonstrating anger or strong emotion in public. In Polynesia you take your friend’s hands and use them to stroke your face. In Tibet it is very polite to stick your tongue out at someone. It shows you have no evil thoughts. The British often do no more than say “hello” when they see friends.
Even adults usually shake hands only when they meet for the first time. In the USA it is normal for men to shake hands when they meet but it is unusual for men to kiss when they greet each other. In Japan it is polite and normal for men and women to bow when they greet someone. These are all examples of cultural differences, of which together, they determine the culture of that particular society. Culture has been an important issue for many sociologists. Many of those who developed sociology such as Marx, Weber and Durkheim had theories of culture.
They recognised that there is a great diversity of things which make up culture and that all societies have things that count as culture such as language, beliefs and values, art, clothing, ways of cooking and so on. Most societies consist of different groups, each having its own culture. Multiculturalism exists in large countries such as in Australia and United States. In Australia, according to the 2006 census more than one fifth of the population was born overseas. Furthermore, almost 50% of the population was either born overseas, or had one or both parents born overseas.
The United States does not have a single culture, but instead has a blend of overlapping cultures as well. These include for example Hispanic culture, Jewish culture, Muslim culture and Midwestern culture. However, there are other societies which tend to vary in their complexity and tend to have less variety of culture than others, like the Maltese society. In Malta, being a small island, the Maltese society tend to stick to the same culture such as the Roman Catholicism being the dominant religion, the values and beliefs towards the concept of the family, one common language and so on.
This is what Durkheim meant with ‘mechanical solidarity’ and ‘organic solidarity’. In mechanical, there is likely to be one set of beliefs which people generally accept. In organic societies, there is likely to be plurality of cultures with no one culture able to remain dominant for long. This contrasts with Marx’s approach where one ideology is dominant and maintains its dominance through the mass media, education and suchlike. For Marx, the ruling class in a capitalist society maintains its control of ideas and culture.
He has also talked about how a society’s economic status determines their values and ideologies. Weber came up with the idea of a status group as a certain type of subculture. Status groups are based on things such as: race, ethnicity, religion, region, occupation, gender, sexual preference, etc. These groups live a certain lifestyle based on different values and norms. They are a culture within a culture, hence the label subculture. Culture is dynamic and is changing constantly as new ideas and new techniques are added in time modifying or changing the old ways.
The culture of society includes everything of human origin in the lives of its members. A society can exist because human beings have the capacity for creating culture and, what is equally important, for sharing it and transmitting it to succeeding generations. Culture provides individual with the meaning and direction of his existence. Paying attention to cultural differences and respecting them, can give someone outside that culture a better chance of assimilation or acceptance.