E. B. Taylor, an English anthropologist was the first to coin the term 'culture' in the eighteenth century. The study of society becomes incomplete without proper understanding of culture of that society because culture and society go together. Culture is a unique possession of man. Man is born and brought up in a cultural environment. Culture is the unique qualify of man which separates him from the lower animals. Culture includes all that man acquires in his social life.
Definitions of Culture:
E.B. Taylor defined culture as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morale, laws, custom and any other capabilities and habits as acquired by man as a member of society."
B. Malinowski defined it as "the handwork of man and the medium through which he achieves his ends.”
R. Redfield defined culture as "an organised body of conventional understandings manifest in art which persisting through tradition, characterises a human group."
V. de Robert viewed: "Culture is the body of thought and knowledge, both theoretical and practical, which only man can possess."
Characteristics of Culture:
(1) Culture is social:
Culture does not exist in isolation. It is a product of society. It develops through social interaction. No man can acquire culture without association with others. Man becomes a man only among men.
(2) Culture is shared:
Culture is not something that an individual alone can possess. Culture in sociological sense is shared. For example, customs, traditions, beliefs, ideas, values, morale etc. are all shared by people of a group or society.
(3) Culture is learnt:
Culture is not inborn. It is learnt. Culture is often called "learned ways of behaviour". Unlearned behaviour is not culture. But shaking hands, saying thanks' or 'namaskar', dressing etc. are cultural behaviour.
(4) Culture is transmissive:
Culture is transmissive as it is transmitted from one generation to another. Language is the main vehicle of culture. Language in different form makes it possible for the present generation to understand the achievement of earlier generations. Transmission of culture may take place by imitation as well as by instruction.
(5) Culture is continuous and cumulative:
Culture exists as a continuous process. In its historical growth it tends to become cumulative. Sociologist Linton called culture 'the social heritage' of man. It becomes difficult for us to imagine what society would be like without culture.
(6) Culture varies from society to society:
Every society has a culture of its own. It differs from society to society. Culture of every society is unique to itself. Cultures are not uniform. Cultural elements like customs, traditions, morale, values, beliefs are not uniform everywhere. Culture varies from time to time also.
(7) Culture is dynamic:
No culture ever remains constant or changeless. It is subject to slow but constant change. Culture is responsive to the changing conditions of the physical world. Hence culture is dynamic.
(8) Culture is gratifying:
Culture provides proper opportunities for the satisfaction of our needs and desires. Our needs both biological and social are fulfilled in the cultural ways. Culture determines and guides various activities of man. Thus, culture is defined as the process through which human beings satisfy their wants.
From the above discussion we are clear that each and every society has a culture of its own. Culture is not only diverse but also unequal, but is found in societies throughout the world.