Culture is one of the most important and basic concepts of sociology. In sociology culture has a specific meaning. The anthropologists believe that the behaviour which is meant is called culture. In other words the behavior which is transmitted to us by some one is called culture.
The way of living, eating, wearing, singing, dancing and talking are all parts of a culture. In common parlance, the word culture, is understood to mean beautiful, refined or interesting.
In sociology we use the word culture to denote acquired behavior which are shared by and transmitted among the members of the society. In other words, culture is a system of learned behaviour shared by and transmitted among the members of a group.
Definitions of culture
Culture has been defined in various ways by sociologists and anthropologists. Following are the important definitions of culture.
E.B. Tylor defines “Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, Jaw, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”.
Edward Sapir says that “Culture is any socially inherited element of the life of man, material and spiritual”.
Malinowski defines "Culture the handwork of man and conventional understanding manifest in art and artifact which persisting through which he achieves his ends".
Redfield remarks that “Culture is an organised body of conventional understanding manifest in art and artifact which persisting through, characterizes a human group”.
Mac Iver is of the view that “Culture is the expression of our nature in our modes of living, and our thinking, intercourses in our literature, in religion, in recreation and enjoyment.
According to E.S. Bogardus “Culture is all the ways of doing and thinking of a group”.
Characteristics of Culture
For a clear understanding of the concept of culture it is necessary for us to know its main characteristics. Culture has several characteristics. Following are the main characteristics of culture.
1. Culture is Learnt
Culture is not inherited biologically, but learnt socially by man. It is not an inborn tendency. There is no culture instinct as such culture is often called learned ways of behaviour.
Unlearned behaviour such as closing the eyes while sleeping, the eye blinking reflex and so on are purely physiological and culture sharing hands or saying namaskar or thanks and shaving and dressing on the other hand are culture.
Similarly wearing clothes, combing the hair, wearing ornaments, cooking the food, drinking from a glass, eating from a plate or leaf, reading a newspaper, driving a car, enacting a role in drama, singing, worship etc. are always of behaviour learnt by man culturally.
2. Cultural is social
Culture does not exist in isolation. Neither it is an individual phenomenon. It is a product of society. It originates and develops through social interaction. It is shared by the members of society. No man can acquire culture without association with other human beings.
Man becomes man only among men. It is the culture which helps man to develop human qualities in a human environment. Deprivation is nothing but deprivation of human qualities.
3. Culture is shared
Culture in the sociological sense, is something shared. It is not something that an individual alone can possess. For example customs, tradition, beliefs, ideas, values, morals, etc. are shared by people of a group or society.
The invention of Arya Bhatta or Albert Einstein, Charaka or Charles Darwin, the literary, works of Kalidas or Keats, Dandi or Dante, the philosophical works of Confucius or Lao Tse, Shankaracharya or Swami Vivekananda, the artistic work of Kavi Verma or Raphael etc. are all shared by a large number of people.
Culture is something adopted, used, believed practised or possessed by more than one person. It depends upon group life for its existence. (Robert Brerstedt)
4. Culture is transmissive
Culture is capable of being transmitted from one generation to the next. Parents pass on culture traits to their children and they in turn to their children and so on. Culture is transmitted not through genes but by means of language. Language is the main vehicle of culture.
Language in its different forms like reading, writing and speaking makes it possible for the present generation to understand the achievements of earlier generations.
But language itself is a part of culture. Once language is acquired it unfolds to the individual in wide field. Transmission of culture may take place by intuition as well as by interaction.
5. Culture is continuous and cumulative
Culture exists, as a continuous process. In its historical growth it tends to become cumulative. Culture is growing whole which includes in itself, the achievements of the past and present and makes provision for the future achievements of mankind.
Culture may thus be conceived of as a kind of stream flowing down through the centuries from one generation to another. Hence some sociologists like Lotion called culture the social heritage of man.
As Robert Bierstadt writes culture or the money of human race. It becomes difficult for us to imagine what society would be like without this accumulation of culture what lives would be without it.
6. Culture is consistent and interconnected
Culture, in its development has revealed tendency to be consistent. At the same time different parts of culture are interconnected.
For example the value system of a society, a society is closely connected with its other aspects such as morality, religion, customs, traditions, beliefs and so on.
7. Culture is dynamic and adaptive
Though culture is relatively stable it is not altogether static. It is subject to slow but constant change. Change and growth are latent in culture.
We find amazing growth in the present Indian culture when we compare it with the culture of the Vedic time. Hence culture is dynamic.
Culture is responsive to the changing conditions of the physical world. It is adaptive. It also intervenes in the natural environment and helps man in his process of adjustment.
Just as our house shelters us from the storm, so also does our culture help us from natural dangers and assist us to survive. Few of us indeed could survive without culture.
8. Culture is gratifying
Culture provides proper opportunities and prescribes means for the satisfaction of our needs and desires. These needs may be biological or social in nature.
Our need for food, shelter and clothing and our desire for status, name, fame and money etc. are all, for example, fulfilled according to the cultural ways.
Culture determines and guides the varied activities of man. In fact culture is defined as the process through which human beings satisfy their wants.
9. Culture varies from society to society
Every society has a culture of its own. It differs from society to society. Culture of every society in unique to itself. Cultures are not uniform.
Cultural elements such as customs, traditions, morals, ideals, values, ideologies, beliefs in practices, philosophies institutions, etc. are not uniform everywhere.
Ways of eating, speaking, greeting, dressing, entertaining, living etc. of different sects differ significantly. Culture varies from time to time also.
No culture ever remains constant or changeless. If Manu were to come back to see the Indian society today he would be bewildered to witness the vast changes that have taken place in our culture.
10. Culture is super organic and ideational
Culture is sometimes called the super organic. By super organic Herbert Spencer meant that culture is neither organic nor inorganic in nature but above these two. The term implies the social meaning of physical objectives and physiological acts.
The social meaning may be independent of physiological and physical, properties and characteristics. For example, the social meaning of a national flag is not just a piece of coloured cloth.
The flag represents a nation. Similarly, priests and prisoners, professors and profanation, players, engineers and doctors, farmers and soldiers and others are not just biological beings. They are viewed in their society differently.Their social status and role can be understood only through culture.