Definition of Culture Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


Definition of "Culture"

Alfred Kroeber and Kluckhohn Clyde are the two leading anthropologists of America who considered the stock of definitions of culture, sorted out the common points and came up with a comprehensive definition of culture in 1952. Their aim was to find out how culture is used in anthropology and give a definition which comprises of all or at least majority of the definitions. Their definition of culture is one of the best and most widely used definitions of culture because it distinguished culture from the concepts of ordinary language, literature and history. However, some authors also criticize that this definition opens several questions than it answers and the assumptions on which this definition rests are also a problem. Despite all these issues, this definition is accepted and used in different fields.

Alfred Kroeber and Kluckhohn Clyde, defined culture as follows:

"Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other as conditioning elements of further action."

Kroeber and Kluckhohn came up with this comprehensive definition of culture after studying and going through around 164 different definitions of culture, under different headings; like normative, descriptive, historical, genetic, structural and psychological (Jackson, p.17). They did not want to give the 165th definition; therefore they come up with this definition, which was made by the combination of most of the definitions.

One important thing to note in this definition is that it is a mixture of elements, some of which are material things and others are mental entities, for example, ideas and values that are in the minds of humans. This paper explains that several elements of culture that are highlighted in this definition:

Culture as Explicit and Implicit Patterns

Although it seems that the key word in this definition is the "symbols" however, the importance is also given to the patterns of behavior which cannot be invented but are acquired, therefore every culture has its unique style patterns.

The first thing highlighted in this definition is that the culture consists of behaviour patterns, which means that a regular and repeated behaviour is shown. Explicit and implicit behaviors are actually a distinction between the written and taught behavioral patterns, and also the patterns that are copied from childhood and continue till the way of thinking and reacting changes. These behavioral patterns which are actually the values are transmitted from one person to another with the help of symbols (Schaller and Crandall, p.341).

Patterns of behaviour can be; how people of a particular group meet with each other; for example they bow or shake hands? How they carry the eating utensils, how they decorate their homes on special occasions and what special dishes they cook etc.

According to Kroeber, A.L., & Kluckhohn, the culture is always developed in its own unique "style patterns." They are of the view that that culture does not exist in groups them but it is actually present in the implicit and explicit patterns which are associated with the groups (Sperber, p.73). Cultural involvement is not a membership in a more or less recognized group but it is actually the engagement with the patterns. The commencement of culture in the form of patterns increases its ability to diffuse easily; however, the entity conception of any culture limits its influence only to a certain group of people. It further says that it is not necessary for a person to belong to some cultural group in order to get engaged in the cultural patterns.

Culture as Behavior Acquired and Transmitted by Symbols

Anthropologists have always fluctuated the definition of culture with material and non-material elements, however today most of them agree that culture is made of thoughts, ideas, languages, behaviors, customers, different things that are produced by the human groups and the methods that are used to produce them. Humans have the ability not only to create the culture but also to transmit it, which is its characteristic which distinguishes humans from the other animal world.

Kroeber and Kluckhohn also included this point in their definition that the cultural ideas are communicated, transmitted and expressed in symbols. Culture is transmitted from one generation to the next and it actually rests on the capacity of humans to think in a symbolic way. The most important symbolic form of communication is the language. A culture cannot be transmitted without language because culture is transmitted with the help of emotions, desires and ideas which are expressed in language. Language makes it possible for people to learn from the cumulative and shared experiences. People of one generation would not be able transmit and teach the next generation about their traditions, values and behaviors without using language and in result there will be no continuation in culture.

An important point to note here is that although culture is transmitted to next generation with the help of symbols whose meaning usually remains the same, but this does not mean at all that the cultures are stationary and do not change at all. In fact cultures are never static in a true sense and keep changing. It is often seen that the old aged people compare their teenage life with the life today. The changes that have taken place during their life time are actually the change in the behaviors, values, way of doing things and using language, which all combine to constitute the culture.

Symbols, including the art work remind people about the culture of their communities believe and values. Symbols also play a role in keeping people aligned and informed about their culture. Sometimes symbols are also used to indicate the status within a culture. For instance, if you travel to some eastern countries and observe the dressing of people, especially of women; you will find out that they try to adopt the western dressing style. Similarly some western women have also molded themselves in the eastern style of covering head, due to several reasons. This change in culture is taking place in different parts of the world due to the internet which has made this world a global village.

Culture as Distinctive Achievements of Human Groups

Different human groups have different distinctive achievements. Indeed huge differences as well as similarities are observed when cultures of two human groups are compared. Although people in all parts of the globe have same necessities and are also same in their necessary humanities, for instance they all communicate with each other, need food, need sleep and all dream as well but they speak different languages, eat different kinds of foods and interpret dreams differently. These all are the cultural differences or the distinctive achievements of human groups which are different in different groups and also include out "embodiment in artifacts" (Kroeber and Kluckhohn).

Cultural artifact is actually a sociology term and is used for such things which are made by humans and which give information about the culture of its users and the people who created them. Cultural artifacts can provide information about the new technology, economy, and social issues and about many other subjects.

When teachers want to show their students about the old civilizations and teach them their culture, they often take them to museums. This is because objects and things used in old times are always kept in museums, which actually represent the cultures of those times. For example, we can find old dresses and shoes, utensils, pens, weapons, vehicles used for transportations, scientific instruments and several other things which were used in a particular country or place in old times. These all objects are actually the distinctive achievements of human groups, which portray how they lived in the past. What clothes they wore, what utensils they used, how they travelled and how they cooked.

As mentioned above that culture is not static and keeps changing, this is because human achievements also keep changing. For instance, with the passage of time, new ways of traveling, i.e. automobiles have been invented. Similarly modes of cooking, cleaning and wearing have also changed. Moreover, new technology has changed the way of working and communicating. These all are the achievements of humans which have molded the culture. There was a time when letters were sent from one city to another in months and today people can communicate from one corner of the world to the other within seconds. This all shows that culture is also changed by the distinctive achievements of the human groups.

Culture as Traditional Ideas and Attached Values

Another element pointed out by Kroeber and Kluckhohn in definition of culture is that culture applies to the human groups and these groups are bound by the traditional ideas and values. Values are the most important and distinctive properties of…

Cite This Essay:

"Definition Of Culture" (2011, October 02) Retrieved August 21, 2017, from

"Definition Of Culture" 02 October 2011. Web.21 August. 2017. <>

"Definition Of Culture", 02 October 2011, Accessed.21 August. 2017,