To talk about culture is to talk about identity, basically. It is not just on an individual or personal level, but something that encompasses us as a whole. Culture is all about who and what we are all about, and what our impact is – individually and collectively – to ourselves, to others, and to the world at large.
An exact meaning and definition of culture can seem difficult to pin down because of all-encompassing nature. The result of attempting to define the word might result in diverse answers, which could be quite interesting. It could very well depend on who is going to be asked – an anthropologists and behavioral scientists might give one answer while biologists might give another.
Perhaps the best definition of the word culture is this – that it is the whole range of learned behavior patterns of human beings. This is actually a more modern incarnation of a concept that has its origin in ancient times – the term “cultura animi” or the cultivation of the soul by the renowned Roman orator Cicero.
The more modern usage according to the concept of culture that we are familiar with today came around at about the 17th century. During this time, the word was used to refer to individual or personal refinement or improvement, particularly through educational means.
In succeeding centuries, the term culture was used more to describe ideas that pertain to entire peoples, not just individuals. Its complexity is acknowledged by the fact that is quite inclusive of not just knowledge, but also the following – art, beliefs, customs, laws, morals, and other tendencies and abilities that human beings have achieved as active and functioning members of the society to which they belong.
One of the defining characteristics of culture is change, and in the context of culture it happens constantly. However, culture can also be easily lost because it is not tangible, but is really more of a concept that has been conceived to help describe what our minds are able to conceive and then put into effect.
Most of the things that we are familiar with, such as art, our forms of communication and entertainment and even our systems of government are all there because of culture. They were produced largely because of the skills and knowledge that have been cultivated in man because of culture, and thus are by-products of culture.
Since culture is so integral to how a person is able to live his life, it would be beneficial for him to familiarize himself with the basic elements of culture. While those elements are common enough and encountered each and every day, a better grasp can help an individual take full advantage of what culture offers and enrich himself through it.
The Seven Elements of Culture
Arts and Literature
The arts can be considered as one of the widest of the elements of culture. Its sheer scope and areas covered include all creative disciplines and pursuits. The best way to describe this specific element of culture is this – it includes all of the products of man’s fertile imagination. It includes the visual, literary, and performing arts. This element of culture enables us to convey, relate, and pass on the basic beliefs and ideas that are prevailing at that particular time and helps preserve it for all time.
Social organization is the creation of a social structure through forming and organizing all of its members into much smaller units to help in meeting their basic needs and requirements. In social organization, the family is always the most basic unit. It is in the family that individuals learn – as children – how they should act and the things that they need to believe in.
The typical family is made up of the following members: husband, wife, and children. This set-up is typical in modern society. There is also what’s known as the extended family, where there are other family members from different generations living in the same household. Those family members could be: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. Social organization also refers to the presence of social classes, where people are ranked according to their status in society. The basis for this could be profession, money, education, lineage, etc.
Customs and Traditions
Customs and traditions could aptly be described as the rules that govern behavior of people within the frameworks of society. It is the rules that are followed with respect to distinguishing right from wrong and are based on ideas that pertain to morality. It could be represented by written and unwritten laws, customs, rules, and traditions.
There can be no doubt about the importance of language in culture, in fact it is considered to be one of its main foundations. Being the primary or at least one of the foremost, means of communication by human beings means that language will always be at the forefront of any culture related development. A significant characteristic of language is that every known culture has it even though that culture might not have developed its own form of writing. It is also common for people who happen to share the same language to share the very same culture. There could also be many various languages within a society.
Religion is an important element of culture, although it could admittedly be a very divisive and polarizing subject for many. Its importance lies in the fact that it helps people with their questions about their spirituality and the true meaning of their existence. Religion is also the source or the foundation of many of the moral values that are in effect in society, as well as those that people feel are quite useful in their lives. However, despite the importance that people place on religion, or maybe because of it, countless individuals, groups, and even nations, have gone into conflict. And the resulting suffering that’s due to that, can only be described as the ultimate irony.
Among the most important elements of culture are the economic systems that have been developed to make proper use of resources to meet specific demands and needs. An economic system helps answer some very important questions: what should be produced, how should it be produced, and to whom it has to be produced. The different types of economic systems are: traditional economy, command economy, market economy, and mixed economy.
In a traditional economy, people produce most of their basic necessities for survival. With command economy, the individual has little to no economic power because it is the government which has power about the kinds of goods that are produced as well as what their cost should be. In a market economy, there is robust trades (buying and selling) of products and services. And with a mixed type of an economy, the government makes some of the economic decisions while the people make the others.
Forms of Government
People need to form governments so that there would be order and protection for their society, as well as provide whatever it is that they require. A government is formed by individuals that possess the power to govern society and strictly enforce its laws. Political institutions play major parts in governments although it can have varying effect or influence on it.
The basic types of government are as follows: democracy, republic, and dictatorship. A democracy is where the people have all the power; it is their will that sets into motion whatever the government is going to do. A republic is where the people freely choose the people who would lead and govern them. And a dictatorship is a form of government where a single individual or a group holds all the power and is in power by use of force.
These were basic elements of culture.