Culture contains many aspects; it is more than just art, music, or food. In fact, it influences who we are and how we live. Here we will discuss 10 important elements in relation to culture.
What is culture? This question was probably the hardest one to answer in my undergrad’s Intro to Culture and Society class. Culture is not confined to what we read in books, magazines, or newspapers. It can include many elements, such as lifestyle, religion, literature or music, to name a few. The anthropologist E.B. Taylor defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Therefore, almost any aspect of our lives could be considered as being guided by culture or is a culture in itself. Through this article, I would like to introduce 10 elements of culture that I believe are important for each person to know.
- It is socially constructed – it did not come into existence on its own; it has been and continues to be constructed by individuals and the society.
- It is constantly evolving– As people change and as the world develops, culture also changes with them, and some new cultures may be born, while others may die out.
- It influences the way we live our lives– Customs are considered norms (rules) of morality. Social norms and customs are the informal rules that govern the behavior of people within society, and these rules, are directly influenced by culture. If these rules are broken, this may lead to social exclusion or other consequences.
- It is what makes us different but also what makes us the same – as humans need to live in social groups to survive, culture is needed to bring these people together. At the same time, culture sets people apart from groups belonging to a different culture.
- It is influenced by religion– Religion unifies people and gives them a set of values and beliefs, which then influences the culture that comes into existence in their society. Sometimes, it is difficult to identify which part of culture is religious or cultural because of how closely linked they become. For example, as Muslims and Arabs, we often discuss matters that are “Haraam” (prohibited in Islam) or “Ayb” (forbidden in the Arab culture). Interestingly, we may sometimes call “Haraam” behavior “Ayb” and vice versa.
- It is introduced to us through enculturation– which refers to the process in which a person learns their group’s culture and social practices. This is achieved through first-hand experience, observation, and instruction by parents or other adults. For example, males are often expected to be strong and not to cry, they learn this by observing the behavior of other males around them.
- Culture can be a source of conflict– where differences in culture may cause conflict. Conflict can range from wars to segregation, discrimination, or exclusion. For example, people of color often face discrimination in some societies because of the deeply embedded view that being white makes one superior. Tolerance and respect of difference are seen as key solutions in resolving such conflicts.
Other important elements in regard to culture include:
- Cultural glasses – each person sees the world from their own perspective and view, this may cause us to see people from other cultures and their norms as “wrong”, while in reality they are just different. This may also be called ethnocentrism.
- Cultural relativism – the principle or concept that suggests that the values, beliefs, knowledge, and behavior of a people should be judged within their own cultural context and not according to the standards of another culture.
- Agency – the ability of an individual to make his or her own choices. These choices may be influenced or limited by culture but that does not mean that individuals do not have the agency to conform or go against cultural norms and customs.
I am sure that while reading this article, you thought of examples from your lives or ones that you know of about these concepts. Culture is a vast field with many complexities, and it influences our worldview and the way in which we live. I hope that you found this article informative.