Characteristics and Types of Culture

What is Culture? What are the different Characteristics and Types of Culture?

A culture is defined as the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society; i.e. Afro-Caribbean culture, American culture, Sindhi Culture in Pakistan, Kashmiri culture, etc.

Edward B. Taylor, a famous English anthropologist, has defined culture as ‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

Characteristics of Culture

Following are some basic characteristics of culture:

  • Culture is Learned

A very basic characteristic of culture is that it is not inherited biologically; rather an individual learns it socially from the other individuals. Culture is often called ‘learned ways of behavior’. For example, shaking hands or saying ‘thanks’, shaving and dressing, are cultures of different societies.

Similarly, drinking from a glass, reading a newspaper, singing, worshipping, etc, are all ways of behavior that individuals learn culturally.

  • Culture is Social

The second characteristic of culture is that it is social. Culture neither exists in isolation nor is it an individual phenomenon. It is a product of society. It originates and develops through social interactions. No man can acquire culture without association with other human beings. Culture helps a man to develop human qualities in a human environment.

  • Culture is Shared

In a sociological sense, culture is something that the members of a specific community or society share. It creates a sense of bonding among the members of society.

  • Culture is Transmissive

Culture is transmitted from generation to generation. Children learn culture from parents. One generation transmits culture to another not through genes, but by means of language. Thus, language is the main vehicle of culture. Different forms of language, i.e. reading, writing, and speaking make it possible to transfer culture from one generation to another. Also, language itself is a part of the culture. Transmission of culture may take place by imitation, as well as by instruction.

  • Culture is Dynamic and Adaptive

Culture is subject to slow but constant changes. Change and growth are latent in culture. Culture is hence dynamic. Moreover, culture is responsive to the changing conditions of the physical world. Thus, it is adaptive.

  • Culture is Variable

The final characteristic of culture is that it is variable as it varies from society to society. Every society has a culture of its own. It differs from society to society. The culture of every society is unique to itself.

Cultures are not uniform. Cultural elements, such as customs, traditions, morals, ideals, values, ideologies, beliefs, practices, philosophies, institutions, etc. are not uniform everywhere.

Ways of eating, speaking, greeting, dressing, living, etc. of different societies differ significantly. Culture varies from time to time also. No culture remains constant, or changeless. 

Types of Culture

There are mainly two types of culture; i) Material Culture, and ii) Non-material Culture

  • Material Culture

Everything that is man-made in society constitutes a material culture, such as furniture, tools, automobiles, buildings, roads, bridges, etc.

Material culture is concerned with external, mechanical, and utilitarian objects.

It also includes technical and material equipment like a printing press, a telephone, a television, a tractor, a gun, etc.

Moreover, it also includes our banks, parliaments, insurance, schemes, currency systems, etc; also referred to as civilization.

  • Non-Material Culture

Non-material culture is something internal and intrinsically valuable that reflects the inward nature of man.

It consists of the words the people use, or the language they speak, the beliefs they hold, values and virtues they cherish, habits they follow, rituals and practices that they do, and the ceremonies they observe.

It also includes our customs and tastes, attitude and outlook, our ways of acting, feeling, and thinking.

NOTE: The content and information provided on the 'characteristics of culture' & 'types of culture' in this article have been taken from the book Sociology, Principles of Sociology with an Introduction to Social Thought by C.N. SHANKAR RAO.

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