Thought Food (aka Comments Please)

Query No. 3 What does culture mean? What does it include or exclude?

First, thank you everyone who either read last week’s query or commented upon it. 

The query for this week is what does the term culture include?  Where does culture stop? Where does culture begin?

Is culture a shorthand for nationality plus ethnicity?  Less?  More? Could gender be a component of culture?  

What about profession?  Do engineers have a distinct culture as opposed to oil rig workers as opposed to nurses?  

Does the US have an all-encompassing culture or would we talk of regional cultures–north, south, west, east, or the heartland? Wouldn’t this be the same in other countries?  

If this was true, if you can talk meaningfully about a regional culture AND a national culture, is culture fractal? What I mean is, is culture present on different scales? So can you have cultures at small levels (such as women nurse/missionaries, and at higher scales nurses or nuns or missionaries, and at higher levels, westerners, women, or proselytizers?

At what level of abstraction is cultural a useful concept?  Would humans have a human culture vis a vis elephants.  Probably not.  If a race of aliens touched down in large numbers though, and interacted with us as two bodies, us and them, might there be a cultural difference?

What comprises culture, and why it be important to know it?  I will add SMALL snippets over the course of the week to see if that encourages more feedback.  Again, as always, if you have a topic that you would like to see, toss it into the future food thought pile.  We have two now that we will explore in the coming weeks.

Cheers, Chris


10 Comments so far
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Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning “to cultivate”) generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. Cultures can be “understood as systems of symbols and meanings that even their creators contest, that lack fixed boundaries, that are constantly in flux, and that interact and compete with one another”

Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called “the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the art.

Cultural anthropologists most commonly use the term “culture” to refer to the universal human capacity and activities to classify, codify and communicate their experiences materially and symbolically. Scholars have long viewed this capacity as a defining feature of humans (although some primatologists have identified aspects of culture such as learned tool making and use among humankind’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom).

Go wikipedia!!

Comment by portraitxpress

on a more personal note, I believe culture is WITHIN us as if you take someone from one culture and plop them into another culture, they can have ‘culture shock’?
It is not who we are, but it helps to form our beliefs/ideas etc, i guess its a kind of template??

Comment by portraitxpress

Thanks Portraitxpress.

I see culture as fractal and extending up down and levels of generalization and scales of population.

I think that its smallest level is the individual, although I suppose a bipolar individual with utterly distinct personality manifestations would be the white crow to break my assumption.

Anyways, at the personal level I see culture as being the framework upon which our ideas and values are hung.

Many ideas and values are accepted unthinkingly by us. They relate to the what we have grown up with, and how things have always been done, or valued or interpreted around us.

This is why there could be a regional, national, ethnic manifestations of culture. This is why I think there could be “professional” or “vocational” manifestations also, and even gender specific manifestations.

This framework that I posit is a lens that adjusts how we view, and therefore interpret, data that comes to us.

From my model, our cultural lens is what helps us transform data into information, albeit highly personal information.

The more that data to information transforming algorithms, or shared interpretation results, are shared amongst people, the more those people share a culture, in my view.

I’ll stop that snippet right there, to avoid my talking too long as I might have done in query one.

Hopefully someone else will jump in on this or on a different feature.

Comment by sepiru

Well, it’s tough to “jump in” when you answer your own question so thoroughly! 🙂
I would just add a few thoughts: culture is fluid but foundational. I don’t see it mathematically, as you do, but sure, it is a kind of lens. Though that might be answering more to the function of culture, rather than the definition, per se.

Comment by evenshine

The more I think about it I feel that human “culture” [as opposed to a bacterial culture ;-)] is just a way to identify differences that happen to be convenient at any given time.

I feel I belong to several cultures, all distinct from each other but also overlapping. For instance I’m: a Westerner, European, British, Welsh, islander [the island I come from as opposed to Britain], Atheist [plus, probably, a few more I can’t think of at the moment].

I feel that despite individual nationalities and upbringing the world culture is basically European because overidingly politics, commerce, and communications are dominated by the former Imperialism, mindset “culture” and languages of Europe.

Comment by Emyr

my view of culture is more ephemeral than those postulated so far. As a 100% european descendent having grown up on native reserves I find myself culturally aboriginal (spedtlum, smudges, actions and perceptions) with no recourse for acceptance of that cultural persuasion in a world that associates culture only with those that have legitimate linkages.

I live in small town Canada surrounded by many that have never ventured further than 100km’s from this town. Culture seems not to be defined locally, regionally or professionally. “Culture” seems to be derived from the American TV programs that all consume ravenously though their experiences do not correlate with the culture they acquire from the tube.

Comment by Goodie

Evenshine, I suppose we could have a side discussion on whether form follows function, or whether function follows form. And, I get your point.

I have a question regarding your fluid foundation, and I do not disagree. But I a wondering if you conceive of it as a true foundation, or as a learned and acquired foundation. A potentially very malleable foundation, even if it is not that malleable for many.

Is that also what you went by fluidity? Or did you mean that a persons culture can change at edges, or slowly, like glass dripping in a window pane over large chunks of time, so that the core foundation is less movable.

I suspect we could argue for either perspective, and others ones too, but I wonder if you would be willing to flesh that out and go off onto any related tangents which you think are worthwhile.

Comment by Chris


I would not agree that culture is universally Western. Based on previously living in the Orient for a few years, and this stint now, I could not agree with the positing of a universal Western culture.

Are you really telling me that you thought your senior director stint in what I will call the Middle East demonstrated that the overriding “world culture” laid down and over, in an overbearing and overpowering fashion, was Western European culture? Which is a pretty big definition of culture, I have to say. I shy away from national or ethnic cultures, and you are going all the way to the hegemonic economic block which has only just come about…. Hmmm…

If so, I would like to hear more about what you saw that made you think that, and have you expand on that thesis.

I think a lot of people would agree with you. And I also think that a lot of people would disagree with you.

See Goodie’s post directly beneath yours.


How would you respond to Emyr? Or to Evenshine? How fluid is your conception of culture, and what aspects are fluid, to you?

Comment by Chris

well, on an aside, I think culture starts in the country rather than the city. Whenever I have travelled, I have only really understood countries and their people after being with them in the villages for a few weeks. Its easy to try to compare one capital city vs another, but really once can’t understand people’s behaviour in the city until you understand the behaviour of people in the country, and what they have to live through, as most people have migrated to the cities from the country, so that helps explain their behaviour in the cities.
Sorry i know this is rather random but im saying I guess there is an element of rural life/surroundings to people’s culture…
anyway I sure dont think culture is particularily mathematical…

Comment by portraitxpress

Thiss is my first time visit at here andd i am genuinely pleassant to read all at alone

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