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What is Culture?

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temple(Bali, Indonesian temple)

In philosophy, the word culture means what is different from nature, that is to say what is acquired and not innate. Culture has long been considered a hallmark of humanity that distinguished from animals. However, recent work in ethology and primatology have shown the existence of animal cultures.

In sociology, culture is defined more narrowly as “what is common to a group of individuals” and as “what link them.” Thus, for an international institution like UNESCO: “In its broadest sense, culture may now be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of a society or social group. It includes arts, humanities and sciences, lifestyles, fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.” This “common pool” evolves in time and in the form of exchange. This results in distinct ways of being, thinking, acting and communicating.

By abuse of language, we often use the word “culture” to refer almost exclusively practices and cultural services supply in modern societies, especially in the field of arts and letters.

Plurality of definitions

Different definitions of the word culture reflect different theories to understand or evaluate human activity. In 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn drafted a list of over 150 different definitions of culture in their book Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions.

The definition of governments when setting its mission to the Ministry of Culture is different from what it is given in the humanities or the one corresponding to the general culture of all of us.

There are powerful political and economic issues to define and support the culture. When entrepreneurs are trying to validate the concept of “corporate culture” or engineers that of “technological culture”, they help to extend the range of meanings, but at the cost of diluting some specific features, as the opposition between more traditional more spontaneous, artistic, religious styles, based, as Hegel said, on “feeling”, and the types of actions based more on the calculation, cognition, rules. Although frequently the two worlds intersect, should we therefore confound them, so contributing to favor a totalizing conception of culture?

The word culture is sometimes used in a restricted sense to refer industry of “cultural properties”, that is to say, businesses and production, distribution and management of operating rights of shows, and audio-visual reproducible content. This sector, as a result of the development of information and communication technologies, is changing, and the future is subject of tense political controversy.

According to Geert Hofstede: culture is a collective mental programming specific for a group of individuals.

More specifically, in ethology, animal culture is any behavior, habit, knowledge, meaning system (in anthropology) learned from a biological individual, socially transmitted rather than by genetic inheritance of the species to which the individual belongs. Culture is defined this way as a set of knowledge transmitted by belief systems, by reasoning or experimentation, which develop within human behavior in relation to the nature and the surrounding world. It thus includes everything that is considered acquisition of the species, regardless of his instinctive heritage, considered as natural and innate. This word receives different definitions depending on the context in which it refers.

But culture is not reducible to its scientific meaning, because, as stated in the UNESCO definition, it concerns the values through which we also choose our relationship to science. In this sense, it is more a matter of the political community of human beings than the “species” as object of science.

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