Culture is one of the most important concepts in social science. The study of human society immediately and necessarily leads us to the study of its culture.

Definition of Culture

Culture is used in a specific sense in sociology. Mainly we use the word culture to denote acquired behaviour which is shared by and transmitted among the members of society.

According to Roberty, “Culture is the body of thought and knowledge both theoretical and practical, which only man can possess.”

According to E.B. Tylor, “Culture is knowledge, belief, morality, rules and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” 

According to B. Malinowski, “Culture is the cumulative creation of man.”

Characteristics of Culture

There are some characteristics of culture which are given below-

  1. Culture is shared: Culture, in a sociological sense, is something shared. It is not something that an individual alone can possess.
  2. Culture is social: Culture does not exist in isolation. Neither is it a unique phenomenon. It is a product of society. It originated and developed through social institutions. The members of society share it.
  3. Culture is learnt: Culture is not inherited biologically but learnt socially by man. It is not an inborn tendency.
  4. Culture is transmissive: Culture can be transmitted from one generation to the next. Parents pass on cultural traits to their children, and them, in turn to their children. Culture is transmitted not through genes but by utilizing language. Language is the main vehicle of culture.
  5. Culture is continuous: Culture exists as a continuous process. In its historical growth, it tends to become cumulative. Culture is a ‘growing whole’ which includes itself.
  6. Culture is consistent and integrated: Culture, in its development, has revealed a tendency to be consistent. At the same time, different parts of culture are interconnected.
  7. Culture varies from society to society: Every society has a culture of its own. It differs from society to society. The culture of every society is unique to itself.

Elements of Culture

According to H.M. Johnson, the five elements of culture are stated below-

  1. Cognitive element: Cultures of all societies, whether pre-literate or literate, include vast knowledge about the physical and social world. The possession of this knowledge is referred to as the cognitive element. Such knowledge is carefully taught to each generation. In modern advanced societies, knowledge is so vast, deep and complex that no single person can hope to master it. 
  2. Beliefs: Beliefs constitute another element of culture. Beliefs, in practical terms, are neither true nor false. Tested empirical knowledge and untestable beliefs are ‘elements’ of culture because they are often mixed in the same concrete acts.
  3. Values and norms: It is difficult to enlist them, for they are numerous and diverse. Values may be defined as measures of goodness or desirability. They are the group conceptions of the relative desirability of things. 
    Norms are closely associated with values. They are group-shared standards of behaviour. Values and norms both are vital elements of culture.
  4. Sign: Sign include signals, and symbols are slightly different. A placard bearing ‘No parking’ is a signal. It indicated the presence of a place where one is not supposed to park one’s vehicle. However, the words on the placard represent symbols. Like a signal, a symbol means something to the interpretant. 
    Signals are involved in all our practical activities, and symbols are involved in many kinds of communication and expression, including religion and art.
  5. Nonnormative ways of behaving: Certain behaviours are not compulsory and are often unconscious. The such pattern does exist. Nonnormative behaviour shades over into normative behaviour and symbolic behaviour. This type is also an essential element of culture.