Defining Culture Essay, Research Paper
Some definitions of culture emphasize its basis in meaning. All human activity involves meaning, and this is what distinguishes it from the activity of non-human animal species. Culture, then, arises exclusively from human activity and excludes other species. Meaning presupposes language; in other words language, which is a unique characteristic of humans, at the same time characterizes culture.
Culture as Norms and Values
A more restricted definition of culture defines it as the values held by a group and the norms governing behavior. Values are ideal standards, which are held up as ‘good’,
to most analysts of culture, this approach is far too narrow to give a full account of culture. The broadest definitions are therefore those, which highlight human activity and meaning. Cultural activity is the means by which people makes sense of their world. It gives them as sense of identity.
A Few Examples
Canada: Canada faces a severe problem in defining its national identity, increasingly divided between English-speakers and French-speakers. Quebec nationalism, based on the French language, is in conflict with the concept that the nation-state should be based on the existence of a community all speaking and using a common language.
China: Chinese national identity is based not on language but on common descent; it transcends the extreme diversity of religious practices, family structures, spoken languages and regional cultures of population groups that all define themselves as Chinese. “Chinese ness” is primarily defined as a matter of blood and descent. As the Chinese see it, one does not become Chinese in the same way as one becomes Swiss or Dutch
Germany: The German language through which the awareness of a common history and a common ancestry was transmitted was the principal unifying force from the time of Napoleon’s 1806 invasion of Germany and later throughout the 19th century as a united Germany was created.
Nigeria: A post-colonial country, which faces many problems in creating any sense of national identity or unity of nation and state. There are very many languages, many important tribes, and a diverse set of religions with major territorial differences in culture. It has a relatively short history as a separate state.
United States: Historically, given the dominance of English, language has not been a major theme in American political life. Recently concern about the growth in the use of other languages, notably Spanish, has led to 20 states or more prescribing English as their official language. Traditionally American national feeling has not been ethnic but based on a sense of shared belonging and social identity which has meant that at least in theory anybody could become an American citizen but this required a commitment to English as the common language.
Living comfortably in a multicultural society means getting to know a little about other groups. No one culture has all the answers or the best ways of doing things.