What is Culture?

What Is Culture?


This Learning Topic proposes to explore the conceptof human culture. Culture is not easily defined, nor is there a consensusamong scholars, philosophers and polititicians (nor, probably, among therest of us) as to what exactly the concept should include. We hope, here,to outline some of the broad-ranging debates which have gone on about theconcept of culture during the past century. Furthermore, we hope to offersome insight into what the culture debate means in our own lives and toprovide some examples of how cultural meanings are formed, maintained, andchanged.

Please recognize that, at present, these pages focus on the concept of cultureas it has been articulated in Western scientific and philosophical traditions.The English word "culture" is similar to words in other Romancelanguages, and indeed the concept has a similar history in many Westerncountries. In other parts of the world, however, the elements of learnedbehaviors and meanings systems which we identify as representing somethingcalled "culture" might not be grouped together the same way. Consequently,the definitions and discussions of culture which we've collected here areall from Western sources. In contrast, the Western concept of culture canbe applied to or exemplified by any human society, and therefore many ofour examples and illustrations focus on non-Western peoples.

The hypertextual layout of these pages offers you, the reader, an opportunityto explore them in any order you choose -- and we encourage you to takeadvantage of the medium. Nevertheless, a brief conceptual orientation tothe layout might be helpful: First, our "baselinedefinition of culture" suggests a possible definition of culture;remember, how we define culture has both political and social consequences,so read our definition carefully and consider whether or not you agree withus. The "important definitions/discussions of culture" which followexplore the culture debate in more detail, developing some of the debate'shistorically significant perspectives. Next, the "Galleriesof Student Hypertexts: Interpretations of Culture" section providesa space for WSU students to contribute their own hypertextual explorationsand interpretations of culture; in addition to student-authored hypertexts,you'll find an array of hypertextual models which demonstrate strategiesfor analyzing the play of cultural meanings in the real world -- for example,the way in which different manners of kissing are elements of a larger systemof cultural meaning. Throughout these pages, you'll find links to a glossaryof important terms. You'll also come across varioius linksto other culture-related sites on the Web; if your get lost exploringan external link, use your browser's "back" or "history"function to get you back here again. And before you leave, be sure to checkout the "pithy'quotations on culture,'" a section which lightheartedly suggeststhe jangling discord that marks the culture debate.

At the bottom of this and every page in the site, you'll find a link tothe authors' email address which allows you to givefeedback, point out typographical errors, and/or make suggestions to theauthors and custodians of this learning topic. Read on and enjoy!

What is Culture?Go back to the top of this page
Authors:
Eric Miraglia, Dept. of English/StudentAdvising and Learning Center
Dr. Richard Law, Director, General Education
Peg Collins, Information Technology, Learning Systems Group

Last Updated: 11/1/97