Saturday, March 3, 2012

Definitions of culture in sociology and anthropology

Culture is all around us, an inherit part of our social life as well as our personality and sense of subjectivity. However, culture, as cultural studies researcher Raymond Williams noted, is one of the most complex words in the English language. Culture is popularly used to denote as narrow sense that is usually related to the arts and humanities. In a broader sense, culture denotes the practices, beliefs and perceptions of a given society. Culture is additionally often opposed with "savagery", relating to something which is "cultured" as a product of a certain evolvement from a natural state. In the theoretical sense culture is often related as a system of structures with power relations running through them.

In social sciences, sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, there is hardly a consensus regarding the meaning of the term culture and various definitions of culture are in circulation. Researchers Kroeber and Kluckhohn (Culture: A Critical Review of Literature", 1952) gathered an array of various definitions of culture is sociology and anthropology and have divided them into six primary categories: 1. Descriptive definitions of culture which view culture as a total system of customs, beliefs, knowledge, laws, means of expression as so forth. 2. Historical definitions of culture which view culture as the continuation of generations. 3. Normative definitions of culture which related to value systems which construct social and personal behavior. 4. Psychological definitions of culture which stress culture's role in interpersonal relations. 5. Structural definitions of culture that focus on relational aspects of cultural components through abstraction. 6. socio-genetic definitions of culture which focus on the genesis and continued existence of a culture.

A different, more contemporary, way to distinguish definitions of culture is to note the way in which culture is theoretically perceived as either something which is opposed to materiality, technology and social structures from which culture is something different, or as a space of non-material ideas which are also, obviously, abstract. Other definitions of culture focus on its autonomy from social and economical structures.

This leads us to propose two fundamental understanding regarding definitions of culture: A. culture is an ensemble of practices, values and meanings common to a collective entity; B. culture is the totality of activities and objects through which meaning is generated and circulated in a given collective entity.