Culture: meaning and types

Meaning and Definition of Culture

The dictionary defines culture as ‘customs and civilization of a particular time or people’ and ‘intellectual and artistic achievement or expression’. Through time, various thinkers and philosophers have defined and explored the meaning of culture in their own ways. In the 1950s, A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn collected over a hundred definitions of culture.

Culture is spoken of as Sanskriti in Vedic terms, the word originating from Sanskara which is imbued with the sense of a process of enhancement and cleansing. Sanskriti could then be taken to mean a collection of techniques or a system that purifies and elevates Man’s existence by showing him how to coexist in harmony with others and teaches him the courtesies of living in human society and the practice of philanthropy. It also gathers into its ambit, those values and modes of conduct that bring about refinement and instills those sanskara which will take them on the road to enlightenment and will refine their talents.

Perhaps one of the very first comprehensive statements about culture in the Western world was offered by an anthropologist, Prof. Edward Burnett Tylor who said that culture was a multifaceted set of “knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. Another anthropologist, William A. Haviland, offered this modern view of culture: “Culture is a set of rules or standards that, when acted upon by the members of a society, produce behavior that falls within a range of variance the members consider proper and acceptable.”

Sri Rajgopalacharya said that culture was the collective expression of the thoughts, speeches, and deeds of the learned, talented, or creative members of a society or a nation.

Thus, we can see that the various definitions of culture do not lay stress on the outward behavior that can be observed but, on the ethics, and ideas from which attitudes and behavior originate.

Types of Culture

Sociologists typically categorize culture into several types, each serving different functions and characteristics within society. Here are some common classifications:

1.       Material Culture:

This includes tangible objects produced by human beings, such as tools, clothing, architecture, and artwork. Material culture often reflects the values, beliefs, and practices of a society.

2.       Non-material Culture:

Also known as symbolic culture, this refers to intangible aspects of culture, including language, beliefs, values, norms, rituals, customs, and ideologies. Non-material culture shapes how people perceive and interpret the world around them.

3.       Popular Culture:

This encompasses the cultural products and practices that are prevalent within mainstream society, often influenced by mass media and consumerism. Examples include music, movies, fashion trends, and social media.

4.       Subculture:

Subcultures are smaller cultural groups within a larger society that share distinct norms, values, beliefs, or practices that differentiate them from the dominant culture. Examples include punk rockers, goths, or skateboarders.

5.       Counterculture:

Countercultures emerge in opposition to the mainstream culture, rejecting its norms and values. Countercultural movements often challenge social norms and seek to bring about social change. Examples include the hippie movement of the 1960s or the punk movement of the 1970s.

6.       High Culture:

High culture refers to cultural products and practices that are considered sophisticated, refined, and exclusive, often associated with intellectual pursuits and the upper classes. Examples include classical music, opera, literature, and fine art.

7.       Folk Culture:

Folk culture encompasses the traditional customs, beliefs, and practices of smaller, localized communities passed down through generations. Folk culture is often closely tied to rural or indigenous societies and is characterized by its oral traditions, folk art, and folk music.

These categories are not mutually exclusive and often overlap, reflecting the complexity and diversity of human culture. Sociologists use these classifications to analyze and understand the various aspects of culture within societies.

Characteristics of Culture

Functions of Culture

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