Definition of Culture Term Paper

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culture and the many ways culture is defined by various anthropologists. The researcher will critically evaluate the debate on the issue of culture and provide a synopsis of the readings. An attempt to define culture as something concrete and not ambiguous will be made by evaluating the various definitions of culture presented by several anthropologists.

According to Fox (1991) in Chapter 8, anthropologists have attempted to define culture for centuries. This definition has often relied on traditional groups that comprise certain characteristics that may include norms and "other" classifications that encompass a certain class of people. Does this really define accurately however, what culture is and is not? Historically anthropologists have attempted to uncover a concrete definition of culture, as it has been misunderstood and misinterpreted for centuries, or otherwise misused. At best one can attempt to explain culture. Culture may be defined for most as the way of life one person or a group of people follow, as expressed by the language they use to express communication, as the art and science used by a group or individual to express and communicate, as thought processes used to perceive and interpret the world around them, and as the value system a group uses that helps organize the inner being (Ortner, 2006). Language, art, spirituality, and science are all simply vehicles that individuals use separately, to define the self, and communally, as a "culture" to communicate and express then, and to perceive, interpret and process the environment and people around them. But is this all that culture is? Many would disagree and argue that culture is more exclusionist in nature. This is something that Fox (1991) successfully argues, at least when comparing feminist thought processes and perceptions, and those of immigrants and others that one might consider outcasts, at least with regard to what many perceive to be the "dominant" or more acceptable cultures.

According to the reading, many anthropologists' definition of culture in the past has excluded two groups, including feminists and "halfies" defined as individuals whose "national or cultural identity is mixed by virtue of migration, overseas education or parentage" (p. 137). True, culture must include these groups because they face many dilemmas that distinguish their sense of self from the people surrounding them, which anthropologists fail to recognize may redefine what culture is. Culture may be newly defined in fact, as the relationship of the self as oppressed by the "other" or the majority as one might define the "other." Using this concept, anthropologists may define a culture as the mechanism by which a group identifies itself as different from other; as the way in which the selves relate to one another or distinguish themselves as different from those surrounding them.

This may be how feminists distinguish themselves for example, from one another (Fox, 1991). This raises the question as to whether one can define culture as simply how one distinguishes themselves from "other" or from others in a crowd. And, who exactly determines whom becomes or comprises the "other." What is dominant and what is the minority? A culture may simply be a group of "distinguishing" characteristics. So what are the boundaries of one culture vs. another? And who comprises or defines these boundaries? The readings from Fox tend to suggest that adversarial relationships may exist within cultures.

This relationship does not have to be adversarial, although it can be, and often is. Culture as Fox (1991) points out has also been a study of the Western ideal of self compared with the "other" self meaning other cultures, which is not really at true definition of culture, because there is no standard or idealism that states that Western culture is any better than any other culture, although it is often held up as the ideal or the norm. This suggests however that individuals are programmed and must live with cultural "rules" by which people must endure and enjoy others as governed by certain standards, rather than by adhering to an internal set of standards that dictates what is right and what is wrong. There are many in foreign countries that may argue just the opposite of these theories, claiming that Western culture is far from the norm, but rather the exclusionary, the culture that is lacking when compared in the broader sense as it is the youngest of all cultures, and therefore the least experienced and having the least to offer (Ortner, 2006). This is something to consider as well.

The Canadian Commission for Unesco defines Culture as a "dynamic value system of learned elements with assumptions, conventions, beliefs and rules permitting members of a group to relate to each other and the world, to communicate and to develop their creative potential." This definition suggests that culture allows for certain creative potential within people, and that members of any culture would be able to express and develop their own self by identifying with their culture and fulfilling their own potential in a way they might not be able to outside of the network of their own culture (Unesco, p. 82). This concept goes further suggesting culture is not something that is innate, but rather something that is adaptive, and something that is learned. It is something that people grow into through tradition, heritage and teaching. This suggests that culture can change with time, and is something that can grow with activity, participation and learning. This also suggests that it can add positive value if it is looked at within a positive light, and with acceptance and gratitude. One might suggest that culture adds value when viewed in this manner.

According to Williams (1989) culture is something ordinary; it is a "way of life" associate with emotion and feeling. Culture forms the foundation for relationships, and the expression of ideas and language within communities. Williams states very valid points when he claims that human society expresses its culture in arts and learning; culture is the expression of common "meanings and directions" and it is the expression of contact and discovery among people and individual minds (p. 93). Culture is a tools that individuals can use to compare themselves to others, to discover whether they are the same as others, or different, and to decide whether they belong with others, or are different with others. Along these lines, according to Williams, culture is a means by which people can learn purpose, and test a way of life to determine whether it is suitable to them. Not every culture will suit every individual or community. In this way culture is also adaptable to various people.

Moore (2008) notes that in the "wildest sense" culture provides a scientific understanding for the differences among humanity, and explains the nature of humanity; anthropology tends to not necessarily however, focus on the science of culture, but rather the psychosocial characteristics of culture. Culture according to Moore (2008) has more to do with psychology and social inquiry than science, nothing that people are social creatures with various tastes that change dynamically with the wind. Ortner (2006) states that culture is based on the "interested action of social beings" and that there is more to culture than simply theory.


Can culture truly be something that one analyzes and defines? This is a question that anthropologists continue to pursue without concrete answers. Throughout history anthropologists have attempted to define culture. Culture has been viewed as something that is creative. It has been defined as a reflection of the self and characteristics of the people living within a region. Some anthropologists characterize culture as the relationships and characteristics of the people living within a certain region, as compared with "other" people or the majority people living within a region.

Culture may be viewed in a positive or negative light. It may be the distinguishing features…[continue]

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