Oneof the most comprehensive study topics in anthropology is culture.Nonetheless, there are numerous definitions of culture. Generally,culture refers to the literature of a particular community, the musicthey sing and dance to, the different forms of art that characterizea human society or their food. Behavioral scientists such asanthropologists have a different perspective of what describes aculture, although it encompasses the general definition of culture.Anthropologists view human culture as the learned human behaviors andinteraction patterns (Serena & Richard, 2013). Culture is complexand all inclusive which includes learned skills, beliefs and customs,morals and laws and other characteristics acquired by individuals ormembers of a particular society. As a result, culture is the centralfocus of all behavioral studies, including anthropology. The learnedbehaviors that characterize a culture are an essential survival toolfor all members of a society (Adam, 2009). This is because anindividual who does not have the characteristics that defines acultural society finds it difficult to interact and live in harmonywith other members of that particular society. It is howeverimportant to note that culture is a very fragile and sensitivephenomenon. It is evident that cultures changes constantly and can belost easily. Behavioral scientific studies indicate that cultureeasily changes because it only exists in the minds of individuals.The physical characteristics such as language, art, food and musicare products of culture. This explains why artifacts excavated byarchaeologists do not indicate the culture of the ancientcivilizations but a reflection of the cultural patterns of theparticular human society. Through the cultural knowledge, individualsin the ancient societies were able to make things that define thecultural patterns (Adam, 2009).
Behavioralscientists have identified three main layers of culture as part ofthe social patterns. The most important layer or level of culture isthe cultural tradition. Social traditions are the aspects of culturethat distinguish different human societies. For example, when onedescribes a Japanese or Indian culture, he or she refers to theshared characteristics such as language or believes that characterizethe particular group of people. These cultural characteristics areacquired through family and the immediate society. For example, beingFrench, American or Scottish forms the first layer of culture (Adam,2009).
Thesubculture to which someone subscribes to forms the second layer ofculture. The modern societies are both complex and diverse.Nonetheless, today, people from different cultures live, work andinteract freely in different parts of the world. Majority of themodern societies are composed of individuals of diverse cultures fromdifferent parts of the worlds. Although these people retain some oftheir original cultural characteristics, they are likely to acquirecharacteristics that identify them with a particular subculture. As aresult, majority of people in the modern society can be identifiedwith their culture as well as subcultures. Individuals from aparticular subculture have characteristics that set them apart fromother members of the culture. A very good example of subcultures inthe modern society includes the African-American subculture,Mexican-Americans subculture or Japanese-American subculture. Thesesubcultures have cultural patterns such as language, music, identityand cultural traits that are associated with the common culturalbackground. However, they are very distinct compared to theirancestral cultural groups. It is also important to note that thecultural difference between the subculture and dominant culture blursand in the long run varnishes and the subculture cease to exist. Forexample, in the United States, the Irish Americans subculture hasover the years disappeared although there are some people who claimcommon Irish ancestry but with insignificant cultural characteristic.As a result, Irish Americans are identified as mainstream Americans(Adam, 2009). There is however some emerging subcultures in themodern society not linked to any cultural traditions. This includesyouth subcultures associated with certain types of music such as thehip hop subculture and jazz subculture (Gelder, 2007).
Thethird layer of culture is what can be described as culturaluniversals. This consists of human behaviors and patterns that areshared by all human societies throughout the world. People from allover the world share these universal cultural traits. There arenumerous cultural patterns that characterize all human societies.People through out the world, despite using different dialects, arerestricted to a universal set of sounds and grammar rules. In allsocieties, people are classified based on their sex (male or female)and age (children, youth, adult, elders). Other universal culturalpatterns includes family structures, relationships and kinships,gender based division of labor, regulation of sexual behaviors,children upbringing, privacy and social as well as culturalleadership. Although the universal cultural patterns are countless,specific cultures have their own ways of expressing these traitswhich makes the cultures different (Adam, 2009).
Learningand transmission of culture from one generation to another is one ofthe most notable features of any culture. This characteristic isfounded in the capacity of human beings to think and interpretsymbols. Language is the most important symbolic feature of acultural group, which provides a means of communication. Culturalpatterns and characteristics are transmitted through language. Forexample, to cultures that use English as their main dialect, a treerepresents not any other symbol but a tree. If there is no language,it would be impossible for members of the young generation to learnthe cultural values and patterns from the older generation. Thiswould kill culture continuity and eventually the culture woulddisappear. It is also important to note that while the symbols andlanguage that characterize a cultural culture remains the same,cultural patterns constantly change with time (Chris, 2013). Forexample, in any given society, the cultural values andcharacteristics exhibited twenty years ago are very different fromthe cultural patterns today. There are numerous factors that leads tochanges in the cultural patterns, the most important being influencefrom other cultures. Cultural diffusion is the main stimulation ofcultural changes in the modern societies. For example, the diffusionof Christian traditions in different parts of the world hastransformed majority of the world cultures. As are result, there arenumerous cultures in the world whose cultural patterns have beeninfluenced by Christianity. Technological developments andinnovations have also caused massive cultural changes. For example,the advent of mobile phones, internet and online social networkinghas massively transformed the modern cultures creating subcultures(Chris, 2013).
Althoughthey are much related, culture and society are very distinct. This isdespite the two worlds being used interchangeably in some literature.A society describes a group of individuals who interact togetherwhile culture includes complex human behavior patterns which arelearned, mastered and transmitted from one generation to another.Nonetheless, a society may have distinct characteristics such asshared traditions and cultures, although it describes a group thatdirectly or indirectly interact with each other. Also cultures andsocieties within the human race are connected. The societynecessitates the development of the society while culture provides alink or means through which individuals within a society caninteract. For example, the transmission of cultural practices andtraditions occurs within a society. On the other hand, language andart, which are parts of a culture, provides means through whichindividuals within a society can interact. Cultural patterns andtraditions such as religion and language will not exist if people areunable to interact within a society (Chris, 2013).
Inconclusion, behavioral scientists have developed differentdefinitions of culture. Nonetheless, culture controls all aspects ofhuman life. Although some people are unaware of the influence ofculture on all aspects of their life, culture defines arts, music,language, architecture, mode of dressing and the food we eat. Cultureis learned and transmitted from one person to another (Barbara,2012). All individuals belong to a particular culture or subcultureintrinsically. The increased interaction between members of differentcultural groups through the world has resulted into massive changesin the cultural patterns of social groups. Also, in the globalenvironment, there are numerous universal characteristics that areobserved in all cultures. The massive technological advancements havealso increased social interactions that have had an influence oncultural patterns. This has also led to emergence of subcultureswhich have no physical interactions. For example, the hip-hopsubculture was inspired by hip-hop music and spread without physicalinteractions (Gelder, 2007).
Adam,K. (2009). Culture:The Anthropologists` Account,Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Barbara,M. (2012). CulturalAnthropology,ISBN 0205933815, Pearson Education.
Gelder,K. (2007). Subcultures:Cultural Histories and Social Practice,ISBN 0-415-37952-0, Routledge.
Chris,B. (2013). Culturalstudies: theory and practice,London: SAGE Publ.
SerenaN. & Richard W. (2013). Culturalanthropology.Belmont, Calif: Thomson Wadsworth.