Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate,") generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. Different definitions of "culture" reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity. In some contexts, a frequent usage of the term culture is to indicate artifacts in music, literature, painting and sculpture, theater and film.Raymond Williams (1976) Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. Ed. (NewYork: Oxford UP, 1983), pp. 87-93 and 236-8. Although some people identify culture in terms of consumption and consumer goods (as in high culture, low culture, folk culture, or popular culture) John Befrger Ways of Seeing, anthropologists understand "culture" to refer not only to consumption goods, but to the general processes which produce such goods and give them meaning, and to the social relationships and practices in which such objects and processes become embedded. For the, culture thus includes technology, art, science, as well as moral systems.
Anthropologists most commonly use the term "culture" to refer to the universal human capacity to classify, codify and communicate their experiences symbolically. This capacity has long been taken as a defining feature of the humans. However, primatologists have identified aspects of culture among humankind's closest relatives in the animal kingdom. As a rule, archaeologists focus on material culture (the material remains of human activity), whereas social anthropologists focus on social interactions, statuses and institutions, and cultural anthropologists focus on norms and values. This division of labor reflects the different conditions under which different anthropologists have worked, and the practical need to focus research. It does not necessarily reflect a theory of culture that conceptually distinguishes between the material, the social, and the normative, nor does it reflect three competing theories of culture.
Ways of looking at culture
Culture as civilization
Many people today have an idea of "culture" that developed in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries. This notion of culture reflected inequalities within European societies, and between European powers and their colonies around the world. It identifies "culture" with "civilization" and contrasts it with "nature." According to this way of thinking, one can classify some countries as more civilized than others, and some people as more cultured than others. Some cultural theorists have thus tried to eliminate popular or mass culture from the definition of culture. Theorists such as Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) or the Leavisites regard culture as simply the result of "the best that has been thought and said in the world”Arnold, Matthew. 1869.  Culture and Anarchy.] Arnold contrasted mass/popular culture with social chaos or anarchy. On this account, culture links closely with social cultivation: the progressive refinement of human behavior. Arnold consistently uses the word this way: "... culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world".
In practice, culture referred to élite activities such as museum-caliber art and classical music, and the word cultured described people who knew about, and took part in, these activities. These are often called "high culture", namely the culture of the ruling social group, Bakhtin 1981, p.4 to distinguish them from mass culture or popular culture.
From the 19th century onwards, some social critics have accepted this contrast between the highest and lowest culture, but have stressed the refinement and of sophistication of high culture as corrupting and unnatural developments that obscure and distort people's essential nature. On this account, folk music (as produced by working-class people) honestly expresses a natural way of life, and classical music seems superficial and decadent. Equally, this view often portrays Indigenous peoples as 'noble savages' living authentic unblemished lives, uncomplicated and uncorrupted by the highly-stratified capitalist systems of the West.
Today most social scientists reject the monadic conception of culture, and the opposition of culture to nature. They recognize non-élites as just as cultured as élites (and non-Westerners as just as civilized) -- simply regarding them as just cultured in a different way. Thus social observers contrast the "high" culture of élites to "popular" or pop culture, meaning goods and activities produced for, and consumed by the masses. (Note that some classifications relegate both high and low cultures to the status of subcultures.)
Culture as worldview
During the Romantic era, scholars in Germany, especially those concerned with nationalist movements — such as the nationalist struggle to create a "Germany" out of diverse principalities, and the nationalist struggles by ethnic minorities against the Austro-Hungarian Empire — developed a more inclusive notion of culture as "worldview." In this mode of thought, a distinct and incommensurable world view characterizes each ethnic group. Although more inclusive than earlier views, this approach to culture still allowed for distinctions between "civilized" and "primitive" or "tribal" cultures.
By the late 19th century, anthropologists had adopted and adapted the term culture to a broader definition that they could apply to a wider variety of societies. Attentive to the theory of evolution, they assumed that all human beings evolved equally, and that the fact that all humans have cultures must in some way result from human evolution. They also showed some reluctance to use biological evolution to explain differences between specific cultures — an approach that either exemplified a form of, or segment of society vis a vis other segments and the society as a whole, they often reveal processes of domination and resistance.
In the 1950s, subcultures — groups with distinctive characteristics within a larger culture — began to be the subject of study by sociologists. The 20th century also saw the popularization of the idea of corporate culture — distinct and malleable within the context of an employing organization or a workplace.
Culture as symbols
The symbolic view of culture, the legacy of Clifford Geertz (1973) and Victor Turner (1967), holds symbols to be both the practices of social actors and the context that gives such practices meaning. Anthony P. Cohen (1985) writes of the "symbolic gloss" which allows social actors to use common symbols to communicate and understand each other while still imbuing these symbols with personal significance and meanings. Symbols provide the limits of cultured thought. Members of a culture rely on these symbols to frame their thoughts and expressions in intelligible terms. In short, symbols make culture possible, reproducible and readable. They are the "webs of significance" in Weber's sense that, to quote Pierre Bourdieu (1977), "give regularity, unity and systematicity to the practices of a group." Thus, for example:
- "Stop, in the name of the law!"—Stock phrase uttered to the antagonists by the sheriff or marshal in 20th century American Old Western movies
- Law and order—stock phrase in the United States
- Peace and order—stock phrase in the Philippines
Culture as a stabilizing mechanism
Modern cultural theory also considers the possibility that (a) culture itself is a product of stabilization tendencies inherent in evolutionary pressures toward self-similarity and self-cognition of societies as wholes, or tribalisms. See Stephen Wolfram's A new kind of science on iterated simple algorithms from genetic unfolding, from which the concept of culture as an operating mechanism can be developed, Wolfram, S., A New Kind of Science. and Richard Dawkins' The Extended Phenotype for discussion of genetic and memetic stability over time, through negative feedback mechanisms.Cite error: Closing
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Religion often codifies behavior, such as with the 10 Commandments of Christianity or the five precepts of Buddhism. Sometimes it is involved with government, as in a theocracy. It also influences arts.
Eurocentric custom to some extent divides humanity into Western and non-Western cultures, although this has some flaws.
Western culture tends to be more individualistic than non-Western cultures. It also sees man, god, and nature or the universe more separately than non-Western cultures. It is marked by economic wealth, literacy, and technological advancement, although these traits are not exclusive to it.
Judaism is one of the first, recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. The values and history of the Jewish people are a major part of the foundation of other Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam, as well as the Bahá'í Faith. However, while sharing a heritage from Abraham each has distinct arts (visual and performance arts and the like.) Of course some of these are regional influences among the nations the religions are present in, but there are some norms or forms of cultural expression distinctly emphasized by the religions.
Christianity was the dominant feature in shaping European and the New World cultures for at least the last 500 to 1700 years. Modern philosophical thought has very much been influenced by Christian philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Erasmus and Christian Cathedrals have been noted as architectural wonders like Notre Dame de Paris, Wells Cathedral and Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.
Islam's influence has dominated much of the North African, Middle and Far East regions for almost 1500 years, sometimes mixed with other religions. For example Islam's influence can be seen in diverse philosophies such as Ibn Bajjah, Ibn Tufail, Ibn Khaldun and Averroes as well as poetic stories and litariture like Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, The Madman of Layla, The Conference of the Birds and the Masnavi in addition to art and architecture such as the Umayyad Mosque, Dome of the Rock, Faisal Mosque, Hagia Sophia (which has been a Cathedral and a Mosque) and the many styles of Arabesque.
Judaism and the Baha'i faiths are usually minority religions among the nations but still have made distinctive contributions to the cultures of the nations and regions. Of Judaism, people of note include Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger and musicians/performers like Paula Abdul, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bob Dylan. Of the Bahá'í faith, consider the Bahá'í House of Worship as well as musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and thinkers like Alain LeRoy Locke, Frederick Mayer and Richard St. Barbe Baker.
Eastern religion and philosophy
Philosophy and religion are often closely interwoven in Eastern thought. Many Asian religious and philosophical traditions originated in India and China and spread across Asia through cultural diffusion and the migration of peoples. Hinduism is the wellspring of Buddhism, the Mahāyāna branch of which spread north and eastwards from India into Tibet, China, Mongolia, Japan and Korea and south from China into Vietnam. Theravāda Buddhism spread throughout Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka, parts of southwest China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.
Indian philosophy includes Hindu philosophy. They contain elements of nonmaterial pursuits, whereas another school of thought from India, Carvaka, preached the enjoyment of material world. Confucianism and Taoism, both of which originated in China have had pervasive influence on both religious and philosophical traditions, as well as statecraft and the arts throughout Asia.
During the 20th century, in the two most populous countries of Asia, two dramatically different political philosophies took shape. Gandhi gave a new meaning to Ahimsa, a core belief of both Hinduism and Jainism, and redefined the concepts of nonviolence and nonresistance far beyond the confines of India. During the same period, Mao Zedong’s communist philosophy became a powerful secular belief system in China.
Folk religions practiced by tribal groups are common in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Their influence can be considerable; may pervade the culture and even become the state religion, as with Shintoism. Like the other major religions, folk religion answers human needs for reassurance in times of trouble, healing, averting misfortune and providing rituals that address the major passages and transitions in human life.
The "American Dream"
The American Dream is a belief, held by many in the United States, that through hard work, courage, and self-determination, regardless of social class, a person can gain a better life. Boritt, Gabor S. Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, p. 1. This notion is rooted in the belief that the United States is a "city upon a hill, a light unto the nations," Ronald Reagan.  "Final Radio Address to the Nation"]. which were values held by many early European settlers and maintained by subsequent generations.
Most Christian churches give some form of blessing to a marriage; the wedding ceremony typically includes some sort of pledge by the community to support the relationship. In marriage, Christians draw a parallel with the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. The Roman Catholic Church believes it is morally wrong to divorce, and divorcées cannot remarry in a church marriage (without a formal annulment of the previous marriage).
Cultural studies developed in the late 20th century, in part through the re-introduction of Marxist thought into sociology, and in part through the articulation of sociology and other academic disciplines such as literary criticism. This movement aimed to focus on the analysis of subcultures in capitalist societies. Following the non-anthropological tradition, cultural studies generally focus on the study of consumption goods (such as fashion, art, and literature). Because the 18th- and 19th-century distinction between "high" and "low" culture seems inappropriate to apply to the mass-produced and mass-marketed consumption goods which cultural studies analyses, these scholars refer instead to "popular culture".
Today, some anthropologists have joined the project of cultural studies. Most, however, reject the identification of culture with consumption goods. Furthermore, many now reject the notion of culture as bounded, and consequently reject the notion of subculture. Instead, they see culture as a complex web of shifting patterns that link people in different locales and that link social formations of different scales. According to this view, any group can construct its own cultural identity.
Currently, a debate is underway regarding whether or not culture can actually change fundamental human cognition. Researchers are divided on the question.
Cultures, by predisposition, both embrace and resist change, depending on culture traits. For example, men and women have complementary roles in many cultures. One gender might desire changes that affect the other, as happened in the second half of the 20th century in western cultures. Thus there are both dynamic influences that encourage acceptance of new things, and conservative forces that resist change.
Three kinds of influence cause both change and resistance to it:
- forces at work within a society
- contact between societies
- changes in the natural environment.<ref>O'Neil, D. 2006. "Processes of Change".
Cultural change can come about due to the environment, to inventions (and other internal influences), and to contact with other cultures. For example, the end of the last ice age helped lead to the invention of agriculture, which in its turn brought about many cultural innovations.
In diffusion, the form of something (though not necessarily its meaning) moves from one culture to another. For example, hamburgers, mundane in the United States, seemed exotic when introduced into China. "Stimulus diffusion" refers to an element of one culture leading to an invention in another. Diffusion of innovations theory presents a research-based model of why and when individuals and cultures adopt new ideas, practices, and products.
"Acculturation" has different meanings, but in this context refers to replacement of the traits of one culture with those of another, such has happened to certain Native American tribes and to many indigenous peoples across the globe during the process of colonization. Related processes on an individual level include assimilation (adoption of a different culture by an individual) and transculturation.
Cultural invention has come to mean any innovation that is new and found to be useful to a group of people and expressed in their behavior but which does not exist as a physical object. Humanity is in a global "accelerating culture change period", driven by the expansion of international commerce, the mass media, and above all, the human population explosion, among other factors. The world's population now doubles in less than 40 years.<ref name = Overview>O'Neil, D. 2006. "Overview".
Culture change is complex and has far-ranging effects. Sociologists and anthropologists believe that a holistic approach to the study of cultures and their environments is needed to understand all of the various aspects of change. Human existence may best be looked at as a "multifaceted whole." Only from this vantage can one grasp the realities of culture change.
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