What is Culture

What is Culture?
Part I – Read and Define (15 Minutes)
Introductory Video (1:16)
The word culture has many different meanings. For some it refers to an appreciation
of good literature, music, art, and food. For a biologist, it is likely to be a colony of
bacteria or other microorganisms growing in a laboratory Petri dish. However, for
anthropologists and other behavioral scientists, culture is the full range of learned
human behavior patterns.
The term was first introduced by English Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor in his
book Primitive Culture, published in 1871. Taylor said that culture includes
knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and other habits acquired by people as
members of society.
Taylor’s groundbreaking book became the foundation of a branch of the humanities
called, “Anthropology.” Anthropology is the study of human societies, cultures and
their development.
To develop a better understanding of what culture means, lets take a look at some
different ways in which culture is defined.
1. Resource Link – Webster’s Dictionary (A very trusted dictionary resource)
2. Resource Link – Live Science (A credible science website) *Read article
3. Resource Link – Texas A&M (American University) *Read the first section
How did they define culture?
Webster’s Dictionary (copy and paste the definition) –
Texas A&M (read and decide which definition you think fits best) –
Live Science (read the article and determine their definition) –
Layers of Culture
Part II – Read and respond with partner (10 Minutes)
Since the study of culture is a study of behavioral patterns, we need to be able to
classify each of the layers that exist in culture. Anthropologists have identified three
distinct layers within human culture.
Layer 1 – Values, Traditions, and Beliefs
These aspects are specific to your society. When people speak of Italian, Samoan, or
Japanese culture, they are referring to the shared language, traditions, and beliefs
that set each of these peoples apart from others. In most cases, those who share
your culture do so because they acquired it as parents and other family members
who have it raised them.
Layer 2 – Subculture
The second layer of culture that may be part of your identity is a subculture. In
complex, diverse societies in which people have come from many different parts of
the world, they often retain much of their original cultural traditions. As a result,
they are likely to be part of an identifiable subculture in their new society. The
shared cultural traits of subcultures set them apart from the rest of their society.
Examples of easily identifiable subcultures in the United States include ethnic
groups such as Vietnamese Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans.
Members of each of these subcultures share a common identity, food tradition, and a
language that comes from their ancestral background and experiences. As the
cultural differences between members of a subculture and the dominant national
culture blur and eventually disappear, the subculture ceases to exist except as a
group of people who claim a common ancestry. That is generally the case with
German Americans and Irish Americans in the United States today. Most of them
identify themselves as Americans first. They also see themselves as being part of the
cultural mainstream of the nation.
These Cuban American
women in Miami, Florida
have a shared subculture
identity that is reinforced
through their language,
food, and other traditions
Layer 3 – Cultural Universals
The third layer of culture consists of cultural universals. These are learned
behavior patterns that are shared by all of humanity collectivity. No matter
where people live in the world, they share these universal traits. Examples
of such “human cultural” traits include:
- communicating with a verbal language consisting of a limited set of
sounds and grammatical rules for constructing sentences
- using age and gender to classify people (e.g. teenager, woman, man)
- classifying people based on marriage and descent relationships (wife,
mother, uncle, cousin)
- raising children in some sort of family setting
- distinguishing between good and bad behavior
- having some sort of body ornamentation
- sense of humor and development of games
- art and music
- having some sort of leadership roles for implementation of community
While all cultures have these and possibly many other universal traits,
different cultures have developed their own specific ways of carrying out
or expressing them. For instance, people in deaf subcultures frequently
use their hands to communicate with sign language instead of verbal
language. However, sign languages have grammatical rules just as verbal
ones do.
Part 3 – Response
In a short (1 -2 paragraph) written response describe each of the levels of
culture with examples from your own culture (10 minutes).
Part I. (investigation) – You are to investigate a culture that has
influenced your identity. You may use credible Internet or library
resources to find information on the topics below. You need to describe
each of these elements and provide photographic evidence.
Part II. (presentation) – You need to bring in an item from home that
represents you or your parent’s culture in some way. Please do not bring
in an item that is very valuable, as we would like these items to stay in the
classroom during the second trimester. During tomorrow’s class you will
need to give a short presentation describing the item and why it is a good
representation of that culture.
Culture Investigation
Directions: Describe the different elements of a specific culture using
Internet or library resources. Give specific examples and photographic
evidence to support your research. You can organize your lists on another
word document or organizer if you wish. *You may also put the
information you gather into a Keynote presentation.
Investigating the Elements of Culture
clothing – food – language – religion – fashion – sports – jobs/economy
holidays – traditions