Characteristics of Culture – Sociology

To understand what is a culture, we must learn about its different characteristics. In the write-up, we will discuss the six prominent characteristics of a 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.

Six Prominent Characteristics of Culture

Following are some basic characteristics of the culture.

1. Culture is Learned

A very basic characteristic of culture is that we do not inherit it biologically; rather an individual learns it socially from 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Culture is Transmissive

Culture is transmitted from generation to generation. Children learn culture from their 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

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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