The term culture refers to the ‘finer things in life’, good taste, refinement, achievement in and appreciation of the fine arts, music and literature. Thus, in everyday English we speak of a person who eats the proper food at proper places with the proper manner as a cultured individual.
In Sociological usage, the term culture is much more inclusive. It refers to anything that human beings do that does not have a biological basis, and are not the products of biological inheritance.
In other words, culture includes any piece or pattern of behaviour, any attitude, value or belief, any skill that human beings learn as members of a human group, plus the manufacture or use of any material item that is derived from these human abilities.
The sociological interpretation of the concept of culture treats all human products and learned abilities equally. No distinctions are made between them on the basis of taste and refinement, nor are judgments made about their quality. Sociology places all such phenomena in the same general category, the category of culture.
The best definition of culture was propounded by Sir. E.B. Tylor in his book Primitive Culture (1871): ‘That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society’. One more frequently cited definition is that offered by Kluckhohn, who sees culture as all ‘historically created designs for living, explicit and implicit, rational, irrational, and non-rational, which may exist at any given time as potential guides for the behaviour of man.’
Culture is an entity composed of many different parts. These parts are integrated, put together in such a way that each part is related to all the other parts. A change in one part of the system will alter the relationships between parts and cause reverberations in the system as a whole. Consequently, viewing only one, or a few, of the parts of a cultural system in isolation will be an inadequate approach to an understanding of the system as a whole.
Culture consists of abstract patterns of living and dying. Such abstract patterns are cultural to the extent that they are learned directly or indirectly in social interaction and part of the common orientation of two or more people.
Sociologists often make a distinction between ‘material culture’ and ‘non-material’ cultures. They consider material culture as tangible things, that have been shaped to some extent by man; these things are often called ‘artifacts’ or ‘culture objects’ such as houses, house furnishings, tools and works of art. Like behaviour, artifacts are indeed cultural, but as concrete objects they are not a part of culture.
And though artifacts can be socially transmitted as by gifts, exchange or seizure, they cannot be transmitted without loss to the original possessor artifacts cannot be shared without being divided but culture, when transmitted, is not lost to the original possessor, and all its possessors share it without having to divide it.