Essay on the Characteristics of Culture

Culture is not inherited biologically, but learnt socially by man. It is not an inborn tendency. There is no cultural instinct as scull Culture is often called ‘learned ways of behaviour’.

Unlearned behaviour, such as closing the eyes while sleeping, the eye blinking reflex and so on, are purely physiological and not cultural. Shaking hands or saying ‘namaskar’ or ‘thanks’ and shaving and dressing, on the other hand, are cultural.

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Similarly, wearing clothes, combing the hair, wearing orna­ments, cooking the food, drinking from a glass, eating from a plate or a leaf, reading a newspaper, driving car, enacting a role in a drama, singing, worshipping, etc., are all ways of behaviour learnt by man culturally.

2. Culture is Social:

Culture does not etfist in isolation. Neither is it an individual phenomenon. It is a product of society. It originates and develops through social interactions. It is shared by the members of society.

No map can acquire culture without association with other human beings. Man becomes man only among men. It is the culture which helps man to, develop human qualities in a human environment. Deprivation of company or association of other individuals to an individual is nothing but depriva­tion of human qualities.

3. Culture is shared:

Culture in the sociological sense, is something shared. It is not something that a individual alone can possess. For example, customs, traditions, beliefs, ideas, values, morals, etc., are all shared by people of a group or society.

The inventions of Arya Bhatta or Albert Einstein, ‘Charaka’ or Charles Darwin; the literary works of Kalidasa or Keats, Dandi or Dante; the philosophical works of Confucius or Lao Tse, Shankaracharya or Swami Vivekananda; the artistic works of Ravi Verma or Raphael, etc., are all shared by a large number of people. ‘Culture is something adopted, used, believed, practiced, or possessed by more than one person. It depends upon group life for its exist­ence’. (Robert Bierstedt).

4. Culture is Transmissive:

Culture is capable of being transmitted from one generation to the next. Parents pass on culture traits to their children and they in turn to their children, and so on. Culture is transmitted not through genes but by means of language. Language is the main vehicle of culture.

Language in its different forms like reading, writing and speaking makes it possible for the present generation to understand the achievements of earlier generations. But language itself is a part of culture. Once language is acquired, it unfolds to the individual its wide field. Transmission of culture may take place by imita­tion as well as by instruction.

5. Culture is Continuous and Cumulative:

Culture exists as a continuous process. In its historical growth it tends to become cumulative. Culture is a ‘growing whole’ which includes in itself, the achievements of the past and the present and makes provision for the future achievements of mankind. “Culture may thus be conceived of as a kind of stream flowing down through the centuries from one generation to another”.

Hence some sociologists like Linton called culture ‘ the social heritage’ of man. As Robert Bierstedt writes, cul­ture is ‘the memory of the human race’. It becomes difficult for us to imagine what society would be like without this accumulation of culture, what our lives would be without it.

6. Culture is Consistent and Integrated:

Culture, in its development has revealed a tendency to be consistent. At the same time different parts of culture are interconnected. For example, the value system of a society is closely connected with its other aspects such as morality, religion, customs, traditions, beliefs, and so on.

7. Culture is dynamic and Adaptive:

Though culture is relatively stable it is not altogether static. It is subject to slow but constant changes. Change and growth are latent in culture. We find amazing growth in the present Indian culture when we compare it with the culture of the Vedic times. Culture is hence dynamic.

Culture is responsive to the changing conditions of the physical world. It is adaptive. It also intervenes in the natural environment and helps man in his process of adjustment. Just as our houses shelter us from the storm, so also does our culture help us from natural dangers and assist us to survive. Few of us, indeed, could survive without culture.

8. Culture is Gratifying:

Culture provides proper opportunities and prescribes means for the satisfaction of our needs and desires. These needs may be biological or social in nature. Our needs for food, shelter, and clothing on the one hand, and our desire for status, name, fame, money, mates, etc., are all, for example, fulfilled according to the cultural ways.

Culture determines and guides the varied activities of man. In fact, culture is defined as the process through which human beings satisfy their wants.

9. Culture Varies from Society to Society:

Every society has a culture of its own. It differs from society to society. 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, entertaining, living, etc., of different soci­eties differ significantly. Culture varies from time to time also. No culture ever remains constant or changeless. If Manu were to come back to see the Indian society today he would be bewildered to witness the vast changes that have taken place in our culture.

10. Culture is super organic and Ideational:

Culture is sometimes called ‘the superorganic’. By ‘superorganic’ Herbert Spencer meant that culture is neither organic nor inorganic in nature but above these two. The term implies the social meaning of physical objects and physiological acts. The social meaning may be independent of physiological and physical properties and characteristics.

For example, the social meaning of a na­tional flag is not just ‘a piece of coloured cloth’. The flag represents a nation. Similarly, priests and prisoners, professors and professionals, players, engineers and doctors, farmers and soldiers, and others are not just biological beings. They are viewed in their society differently. Their social status and role can be understood only through culture.

Further, every society considers its culture as an ideal. It is regarded as an end in itself. It is intrinsically valuable. The people are also aware of their culture as an ideal one. They are proud of their cultural heritage.

Culture and Society:

Culture and society are not one and the same. A culture is a system of behaviour shared by the members of a society. A society is a group of people who share a common culture. As Lalph Linton puts it, ‘A society is an organised group of individuals. A Culture is an organised group of learned responses characteristic of a particular society’.

A society is composed of people who are interacting on the basis of shared beliefs, customs, values, and activities. The common patterns which govern their interaction make up the culture of the society.

As Gillin and Gill in have pointed out, ‘culture is the cement binding together into a society its component individuals human society is people interacting; culture is the patterning of their behaviour.


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