What is culture? 

What is culture?


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boomer-sooner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Culture is a complex idea.  There is not a single definition of the term.  Culture is described as the social interaction and shared patterns of behavior, social structure, knowledge and learned behaviors that form an accepted matrix of actions.  In short, culture encompasses the past and present behaviors of group members into a defined set of acceptable actions.  Culture includes the gathered knowledge of the group, moral actions, social interactions and behaviors which govern the group through the social contract.

Culture is not confined to any particular group size or geographical area, although both can play a part in the development.  It is not a mutually exclusive idea and many people belong to several cultures at the same time.  Examples of cultures include ethnic cultures such as Hispanic or Native American cultures.  Culture can also develop in organizations, such as the culture of Apple, which was heavily influenced by former CEO Steve Jobs.  Many careers such as law enforcement or military also develop cultural norms.  One person can be a member of these cultures simultaneously or move in and out of them during their lifetime.

Although socialization is part of human development, culture is not a permanent part of a person's identity.  A person may voluntarily join or leave a culture through a conscious (or unconscious) decision.  Moving from New York City to rural America might be an example of rejecting one culture for another.  Some customs and courtesies may stay consistent from one to the other, but there are differences on when or how those customs are applied.  Expectations from group members will influence new members and help the education process.

Whether culture grows or not is a matter of some debate.  Culture can evolve to some extent, but some argue that at a certain point it morphs into a new culture entirely.  Others claim culture is an ever evolving idea shaped by new generations.  For example, the American culture changed after the industrial revolution, World War II and the accessibility of the computer.  Culture can be viewed as separate ideas that give birth to new cultures, or perhaps each is just a phase in the macro view of American culture.  Culture differs for everyone, yet it remains a universal constant that ties everyone to the culture of humanity.