Definitions of Culture

Definitions of Culture
Based on Baldwin et al., 2006
Reviewing Time Capsule
A “Typical” Definition
Culture: “The deposit of knowledge,
experience, beliefs, values, attitudes,
meanings, hierarchies, religion,
notions of time, roles, spatial
relations, concepts of the universe,
and material objects and possessions
acquired by a group of people in the
course of generations through
individual and group striving”
(Samovar & Porter, 2003, p. 8)
New View(s) of Culture
Structure: pattern, way of life, system of
• Beliefs, attitudes, thoughts
• Symbols
• “Laundry list”: artifacts, concepts, behaviors
Function: purpose, in order to, end
Process: dynamic, ongoing
Critical: power relations, etc.
And others…
Structural Definition
“An historically transmitted pattern
of meaning embodied in symbols, a
system of inherited conceptions
expressed in symbolic forms”
(Geertz, 1973, p. 89)
“The term culture usually is reserved
to refer to the systems of knowledge
used by relatively large numbers of
people” [i.e., national groups]
(Gudykunst & Kim, 2003, p. 17)
Functional Definition
“Culture, apart from its primary
function of active adaptation to the
environment, has another,
derivative, but no less important,
function as an exact material and
spiritual environment which mediates
and reflects the human collecties and
among them.” (Tokarev, 1973, pp.
Process Definition
“Culture is to be studied not so much
as a system of kinship, or a
collection of artifacts, or as a corpus
of myths, but as sense-making, as a
reality constructed and displayed by
those whose existence is embedded
in a particular set of webs [of
meaning].” (Pacanowsky &
O’Donnell-Trujillo, 1982, p. 123)
“Power” (Critical) Definition
“Culture functions as an ideology
that produces or is based upon a
type of false consciousness and
works to oppress a group of people;
and there is generally an imperative
for change that is accomplished, to
one degree or another, through the
formation of a critical and/or class
consciousness.” (Allen, 1998, p. 100)
Postmodern Definition
“Culture, and our views of ‘it,’ are
produced historically, and re actively
contested. There is no whole picture
that can be ‘filled in,’ since the
perception and filling of a gap lead to
the awareness of other gaps. . .
Culture is contested, temporal, and
emergent” (Clifford, 1986, pp. 1819)
Other Definitions
Culture as product: “material
culture” or “popular culture” versus
“high” culture or “folk” culture
Culture as refinement: moral or
intellectual development, human
attainment of “perfection”
Culture as group: the people who
share whatever culture is.
Your turn!
Culture “begins with the way that
[religious beliefs, communal rituals,
or shared traditions] are produced
through systems of meaning,
through structures of power….It is
impossible to think of culture as a
finite and self-sufficient body of
contents, customs, and traditions”
(Donald & Rattansi, 1992, p. 4)
“Culture is the moral and social
passion for doing good. It is the
study and pursuit of perfection, and
this perfection is the growth and
predominance of humanity proper,
as distinguished from our animality”
(Harrison, 1971, p. 270).
“Culture is simply a way of talking
about collective identities” (Kuper,
1999, p. 3)
“Culture is synonymous with
civilization, and therefore only the
civilized have culture. . . Culture, as
a guidance system, leads us to
notice important differences between
humans and other phenomena that
get directed” (Freilich, 1989, pp. 3,
“Culture is . . . clearly derived from
what people do. . . It is this complex
of ongoing activity that establishes
and portrays structure of
organization” (Blumer, 1969, pp. 67)
“The culture of everyday life is a
culture of concrete practices which
embody and perform differences.
These embodied differences are a
site of struggle between the
measured individuals that constitute
social discipline, and the popularityproduced differences that fill and
extend the spaces and power of the
people” (Fiske, 1992, p. 162)
“The culture of a people consists not
only of its concrete creations—tools,
buildings, and so on are its “material
culture”—but of all the patterns of
interaction, all the formal and
informal rules of behavior which
have become traditional in the
relations between social groups”
(Martin, 1970, p. 15)
“The term culture is multi-discursive;
it can be mobilized in a number of
different discourses. This means you
cannot import a fixed definition into
any and every context and expect it
to make sense.” (O’Sullivan et al.,
1983, p. 57)
Other Important Terms
Group (in-group, out-group)
• “wannabes”
• Who defines?
Terms in the Study of ICC
“Cultural” communication
“Cross-cultural” communication
“Intercultural” communication
International communication
• Media
• Development