What 'culture' is and how does it work
The notion of culture is diverse. It cannot be defined in two or three phrases. Besides, it is difficult to find any other such word which would have such set of semantic shades. In a survey of definitions of culture carried out in 1952 by anthropologists A. L. Kroeber and C. Kluckhohn they identified 164 distinct meanings, including among others those based on the concept of traditions, habits, learning, ideas and symbols. One that I’ve found the most unusual is: “. . . culture is human energy organized in patterns of repetitive behaviour”. (A. L. Kroeber, C. Kluckhohn 2001 p.141)
So what is the reason of such a variety of interpretations?
First of all, reason is that culture expresses depth and immeasurability of human life. As each person is unique, the culture also is multidimensional. It has been studied not only by anthropologists, but also by philosophers, sociologists, historians and each researcher pays attention to one of its parties.
The culture has arisen from comprehension by the person of his life, and is defined as his attitude to this life. People do not respond the world as it really is, but as they perceive it to be. The given statement is reflected in the concept of ‘Selective perception’. In my opinion, the consciousness - is the perfect tool allowing the person to transform environment at his own discretion. However our consciousness does not contain any instructions of how to use it, there is nothing obligatory. Instead of knowledge – what is actually real, the person has only possibility to estimate– it seems to me that our reality is constructed as follows.
The culture represents attempt to bring the uniform semantic basis under perception of the world. And this basis was developed in group of society by means of language. So called concept of ‘Linguistic relativism’ according to which concepts and values of one society or cultural area can not be interpreted or perceived to the full in other languages. It means that universal concepts and values are not accessible because the language of one community predisposes certain choices of interpretation.
So how does culture work?
Culture is created by people and for people. It is a dynamic process. From the moment of a birth the person absorb the knowledge about culture that surrounds him, like the flower absorbs water, becoming a part of certain social environment and carries this knowledge through all his life – concept of ‘Social construction’. From my point of view, the most exact description of this process was given by Geert Hofstede: “Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one category of people from another”. (ACCA Study Text 2005 p.48) Of course, all over the world people do have different opinions, but most of us are tend to accept existing values as their own values.
However, the fact of distinguishing not always has a positive interpretation. Distinguishing comes with an opposition of various groups in a society and that is frequently reflected in formation of an inequality, feeling of the superiority of one group over others. This idea is reflected in concept of ‘Ethnocentrism’.
I have read about a very interesting explanation of how to cope with such opposition. It is so called ‘MAR’ concept (mistake, awareness, repair). (Michael H. 2002 p. 242-247) Each social-cultural group has created its own frames. And when some people act in the way that does not match with the known expectations of members of the group, happens so called ‘mistake’. Michael believes that “As you repair your frames, your mind and heart and soul became more complicated, because you have new ways of seeing and doing. You build bridge between the two ways so you can get back and forth. The bridge keeps changing as you make new repairs”. (Michael H. 2002 p. 243) The given idea has inspired English poet Rudyard Kipling to write the remarkable poem ‘We and They’, part of which I would like to cite:
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