Culture is a collection of beliefs, values, practices, and norms that shape the worldviews and lifeways of people. It is learned and shared, symbolic, holistic, dynamic, integrated, adaptive, and enduring.
The word “culture” was first used in 1903 by German anthropologist Ferdinand Boas to describe the way human societies developed and evolved over time. He drew on the German word kultur to define culture, which he believed was an integrated system of symbols, ideas and values that should be studied as a working system rather than a static set of individual items.
Since the inception of the human species, humans have been shaped by the environment they lived in and the cultures they created. The environment that influenced their lives and their choices was determined by social institutions, such as laws, customs, and traditions; religious beliefs; family structures; economic systems; and the knowledge, tools, and beliefs they accumulated.
This environment also helped to provide them with the means and resources they needed to survive and prosper. The basic elements that make up a culture are language, rituals, and symbols.
Symbols are words, gestures, pictures or objects that carry a particular meaning that is only recognized by those who share the same culture. Those symbols change over time as new members of the community learn to recognize them and as others from outside the group subsequently pick up on them.
Heroes are real or fictitious persons who have characteristics that are highly prized by members of the group and serve as models for behavior. They also help to evoke emotions in members of the group, such as fear, pride, and courage.
Rituals are collective activities that may be carried out for their own sake (ways of greeting, paying respect to others, religious and social ceremonies) or as part of a larger plan that benefits all. They are often regarded as superfluous, but they serve a purpose in bringing people together, building trust and promoting mutual understanding.
As such, they have the power to influence the lives of people in ways that are difficult for them to achieve without them. For example, the way a group greets or pays respect to a friend may have the effect of changing the way that person interacts with that group for the rest of his or her life.
In the case of symbols, this is especially true, as they can influence people for long periods of time. They are also able to alter a person’s perception of himself or herself, helping to create an idealized image that helps the member of the culture to become the kind of person he or she wants to be.
While many defenders of this view argue that it is important to protect and safeguard cultural elements, they also suggest that it is not always possible to do so in a way that does not interfere with the natural process by which a society develops. In addition, the contestation that a culture experiences among its members is not necessarily a bad thing; it is an opportunity for members to negotiate their own understanding of culture’s main elements.