The word “culture” originates from the Latin colere (to cultivate) and tends to be seen as an action or process and as a state of what has been cultivated. In any case, the one and the other are interrelated.

And in this sense, by extension we speak of the ” cultivation” of human faculties . Culture as action is more or less similar to education, instruction, humanization, socialization, etc.

When it refers to the “cultivated”, it includes subjective states , such as knowledge, habits, lifestyles …, or objective states , such as artistic heritage, cultural heritage, etc.

Culture is a multi-faceted concept

The concept of culture is shown in principle multipurpose depending on the position that is occupied to define it. Even, depending on the language, the word “culture” is moving.

From the ethnographic point of view , culture is a vast domain of knowledge, beliefs, art, morals , law, customs and everything that is understood as capabilities and habits assimilated by individuals, members of a community.

If space is given to the symbolic perspective of culture, it should initially be understood as “patterns of meanings”. Or more broadly, as the symbolic-expressive dimension of all social practices and their subjective matrices, with all their institutionalized artifacts.

Culture is then the set of signs, symbols, representations, models, attitudes, values , among others, typical of social life.

In this way, it is observed that culture cannot be isolated as a separate dimension from the set of social phenomena, since it is present in all instances: in the form of language, in myths, in rites, in the dogma, forming part of the artifices, constituting the gestures and body posture of the subjects.

There is no single culture, but several that overlap

Moreover, from the theory of culture , the existence of multiple cultures is seen, understanding that humanity is a cultural entity.

Within this relativistic position , where the division between minor and major cultures is denied (typical of the ethnocentric perspective), the accent is placed on the particular development of each people or society, homogenizing cultures by placing them at the same level of complexity.

This position warns that the different stages of development of the myths, legends, beliefs, rites, etc. , that make up each culture, cannot be explained under a genetic or biological theory.

With a more expository rather than conclusive and biased interest, more or less materialistic , more or less idealistic positions of culture are observed .

Those that emphasize the adaptive processes of human groups with respect to the ecological environment , together with idealistic notions that emphasize cognitive, structural and symbolic systems, insisting on the abstract over the tangible.

Likewise, but –and this is important- without excluding material production as an adaptive response on the natural environment .

UNESCO considerations ON CULTURE

For UNESCO , culture has two lines of understanding. We detail them below:

  1. An anthropological vision , in which culture is not only a specific domain of life, but is “builder, constitutive and creative” of all its dimensions, adding to the economy and development
  2. decentralizing approach in which the world is made up of “cultures”, consubstantial to the notion of “archipelago of cultures”, in a world divided by borders and nations.

Therefore, this international organization sees culture as the integral action of human beings. In addition; not as something global, but rather particular and diverse. In this sense, cultural heterogeneity is valued and accepted 

Dimensions of culture: general characteristics

Culture can be understood from three articulated dimensions. These are the following:

  1. Culture as communication . It refers to the set of systems of symbols, signs, emblems and signals, among which are circumscribed, apart from language, habitat, food, clothing, among others, seen not for their functional aspect, but as semiotic systems.
  2. Culture as an inventory of knowledge . Seen as the sum of knowledge, which includes science, but also beliefs, intuition, contemplation and the practical knowledge of common sense.
  3. Culture as a vision of the world. This dimension includes cults, philosophies, ideologies and, in short, all concerns about totalizing perspectives, which entail a value system and, therefore, motivate action and allow the interpretation of the world.

As can be seen, these dimensions fulfill a useful operational function for the analysis of culture. For example, when mentioning religion it is obvious that it implies, at the same time and indivisibly, a perspective of the world, a form of knowledge and a particular way of communication.

When the specific “culture” of a people, community or country is mentioned, reference is being made to the summary of the three characteristic dimensions of culture .

That is, it refers to the sum of the creative and innovative faculty of the community. Likewise, their ability to adapt and their willingness to modify and intervene in their environment.

In short, culture is consubstantial to a community, since it shapes its memory, favors the union of its members and facilitates the justification of their actions. And it is that culture is, at the same time, socially determined and determining, as well as structured and structuring.

Manifestations and classification of culture

Culture manifests itself in two ways , viz. They are not easy to explain, but they are usually studied:

  1. In subjectified forms of action, thought and feeling schemes, linked to the subject’s social position (the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls these schemes “habitus”)
  2. In objectified forms represented by “cultural assets”, what is understood by artistic-monumental heritage, publications, paintings, theatrical works, among others; and the academic culture legitimized by titles, institutionalized ritual practices, among others.

Of course, a dialectical link between both forms of culture is appreciable . The objectified forms are based on the appropriation and permanent reactivation on the part of the individuals who possess the cultural solvency (the “habitus”) to value the objectified forms described above.

Records of cultural events

Culture has been the subject of multiple records. Each of these records not only testifies to the cultural, but also gives it particular overtones. Let’s see the most common cases below:

  1. Topical culture. It is the culture put in terms of categories, such as social organization, religious preference or type of economy.
  2. Symbolic culture.  It is the culture based on the meanings that structure abstract values, shared by a society , a people or a nation.
  3. Mental culture. Seen in these terms, culture is understood as a compendium of ideas or learned habits that shape social behavior and make each person a world, as they say.
  4. Structural culture. From the structural approach, culture is the articulation of ideas, symbols, behaviors, schemes and guidelines.
  5. Historical culture.   It is a concept that underlines the social heritage of peoples. People in society, as gregarious subjects, assimilate particular strategies of adaptation to the environment and forms of behavior in common life.

Culture has also been classified by its extension, development and direction . In this regard, we give an explanation to our readers.

Other classifications of culture

The subject of culture is complex, everyday but complex. In this case, it stands out for its extension and heterogeneity. Therefore, it turns out that there are other classifications of this phenomenon, among which we can mention those indicated in the following diagram:

  • By its extension:
  1. Universal culture . Defined in this way as it is seen as an abstraction, according to the characteristics that are shared by world societies (for example, the custom of saying goodbye to others, although it may vary in form, is universal).
  2. Total culture . It is so named because it is made up of a series of characteristics typical of the same society.
  3. Particular culture . It is the culture formed by the set of norms shared by a group that in turn is integrated into the general culture; but, in substance it differs as a “subculture”. Different cultures can subsist in a country.
  • For its development:

2.1) Primitive culture . It is the culture that preserves precarious characteristics of technical advance, compared to other cultures.

2.2) Civilized culture . It is that of high technical growth and complexity with respect to abstract and material productions of the people or society.

2.3) Illiterate or pre-literate culture . It is the culture that lacks writing, it only communicates through verbal language.

2.4) Literate culture . It is the culture that knows oral and written expression.

2.5) Sensist culture . It is the one that underlines its sensitive origin or its purely perceptual origin, which shapes it. Sensist culture is due to the sense organs.

2.6) Rational culture . It is defined by the imperative of reason, of its palpable products.

2.7) Ideal culture . It is a construction between the culture that comes from the senses and the rational culture, where reason and its material products prevail.

  1. By your address :

3.1) Post-figurative culture. It is a cultural aspect that consists of the resumption, without obvious changes, of old customs. Heredity plays an essential role here.

3.2) Configurative culture . Different from the previous one, it is based on the assimilation of the behavior of contemporary societies. People assume the behaviors of others, recreating their own. The result is a synthesis of both.

3.3) Pre-figurative culture . The construction of this type of culture occurs on the basis of new patterns and behaviors, appropriate to the new generation. The past is not important as a role model, but it is important as a (distant) reference so as not to repeat it.

Culture: a whole range of complexities

Culture is an attribute that goes beyond the subjective , it involves individuals as integral parts of groups. Shared cultural beliefs, principles, memories, expectations, tendencies of thought, ways of acting, etc., are above particularities and individualities.

Culture is symbolic . Symbolic thought is consubstantial with humans as it is also with culture. The symbol manifests itself verbally, gesturally, enthroned in a particular language or culture, in bodily gestures …

Furthermore, the symbols produced by human beings go beyond language . For example, holy water is a symbol of Roman Catholicism. Therefore, culture is not only the creation of material things, but also the insubstantial and material. Memory, for example, integrates culture.

The symbol fulfills the function of substituting something . In fact, culture is born when hominids acquired the ability to create and confer meanings to situations or things and, subsequently, they were able to absorb and value such meanings.

Human life, viewed retrospectively, has depended on culture , on what it implies: learning, symbolic thinking, language manipulation, use of utensils, cultural products …

The habits, perceptions and cultural inventions build human nature in many ways. Habits are part of cultural traditions that transform, for example, biological needs into cultural customs.

The French in particular do not feel shame when they urinate in public, regularly entering the poorly isolated urinals ( pissoirs ) on the streets of Paris. On the other hand, in Peru, the peasant women of the highlands urinate in the gutters of the streets, protected by their large skirts.

From the above it follows that culture and customs vary. In this case, it is the civilizations that seek to homogenize various cultures under their lap. However, this is not always fully achieved.

For example, under the mantle of ” Western civilization ” there appear cultures such as: North American, Latin American and European. These are very different manifestations, although under the same civilizational cataloging.

Final thoughts on culture

For anthropologists, culture is everything that exists between the dimensions of nature and the human. Culture, understood in this way, comprises traits that can be seen as unimportant (like popular culture), but that in no way can be underestimated.

For example, if you want to understand American culture, you should highlight the importance of hot dogs , like that of Michael Jackson and junk food.

And finally, cultures are integrated, not only by their financial actions and prevailing social models , but also by world themes, values, configurations, and perspectives, which persist over time.

It happens that a group of core values ​​make up each culture and help differentiate it from others. The individualism and work ethic are conditions that have characterized the US being through generations. Other cultures, such as the French, are conditioned by a different set of dominant values.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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