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What Is Culture – The 11 Most Common Traits And How To Compare

Every day you hear a new term concerning culture like cancel culture, culture appropriation, multiculturalism, cultural diversity, and cultural awareness. What is going on? The bottom line is that there is a culture change going on. Indeed, our culture is changing to include our national culture, organizations and businesses, and our social circles. In this article I’ll explain what is culture: the characteristics of any culture, ways to measure differences between cultures, and universal traits of any culture.

“Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.”  

ref: Live Science

What Is Culture And Its Manifestations?

What is Culture?
What is Culture?

You can identify a culture by four basic manifestations that make it different from another. Specifically, this includes a culture’s symbols, heroes, rituals, and values.

  • Symbols. You can distinguish a culture by its symbols. In particular, a culture’s symbols include words, gestures, pictures, or objects. Also, we see these objects as representing a particular meaning for a given culture and affiliated with a particular culture.
  • Heroes. We see a culture’s heroes as representing and personifying a given culture. In particular, cultures see their heroes as persons, past or present, real or fictitious, who possess characteristics that are highly prized. Heroes also serve as models for behavior.
  • Rituals. Cultures also have unique rituals that are part of their social fabric. Specifically, rituals are collective activities, sometimes superfluous in reaching a desired objective, but are considered as socially essential.
  • Values. Though not always the most visual, values are the core of any culture. To enumerate, the essence of any culture is what a culture values and prefers such as good-evil, right-wrong, etc.

11 Universal Traits Of What Is Culture

Further, there are learned behavior patterns that are shared by all of humanity collectively.  Indeed, no matter where people live in the world, they share these universal traits.  Below is a detail list of traits found in a culture:

1. Language.

First, a culture communicates by a set of limited set sounds and grammatical rules that they use for constructing sentences.

2. Fashion.

Also, fashion is traditional or contemporary clothing that we associate with a culture.

3. Food.

These are dishes, ingredients, and culinary traditions that we find as unique for a given culture.

4. Knowledge.

This can include a body of knowledge such as a traditional dance, folklore that preserves the culture, or specific religious beliefs. 

5. Social Roles.

Roles can include what roles different family members have based on such things as age, gender, marriage and relationships.

6. Shared Experiences / Rites of Passage.

This can be a ritual or event that marks a new stage in a person’s life. Additionally, this can include how children are raised. Also,this can include a shared experience from a shared past.

7. Economy / Division of Labor.

This includes how a culture produces and distributes goods and services. Also, how labor is divided such as men’s work versus women’s work.

8. Social Norms.

These are shared patterns of behavior such as keeping your voice to a reasonable level in a particular office or what are norms in terms of sexual behavior.

9. Holidays / Pastimes.

This can be rituals that are performed, annual festival or certain games that are unique to a given culture

10. Art.

Also, art consists of creative works that are unique to a given culture.

11. Community.

Lastly, community is how people interact and contribute in social settings, leadership roles and how community decisions are made. Also, this can include how a culture respects privacy.

 See Palomar College’s What is Culture? and Simplicable’s 24 Examples of Culture for more on what is culture.

How Do You Measure Cultural Differences?

In the ’70s, social psychologist Gerard Hofstede developed a Cultural Dimensions Theory that provides us a way to measure the difference among different societies and cultures. In particular, this is helpful for anyone in understanding and being sensitive to different cultures. To list, these cultural indicators or indexes include:

  1. Power Distance Index. First, this index measures the degree of inequality that exists in a society.
  2. Uncertainty Avoidance Index. Second, this index measures the extent to which a society feels threatened by internal or external factors.
  3. Individualism Index. Third, this index measures the extent to which a society is individualistic. Here the measurement can scale from a culture that values the individual and the immediate family to a culture that values collectivism and the larger organization orsociety.
  4. Masculinity Index (Achievement vs. Relationship). Lastly, this index measures the extent to which the dominant values are assertiveness, money and things (achievement), not caring for others or for quality of life. Where the other end of the spectrum would be femininity (relationship).

See Texas A&M University’s Open Access Lab’s  Culture for more on culture measurements and manifestations.

For more information from Unvarnished Facts, see articles on bias and culture.

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