Modern people pay much attention to cultures and cultural peculiarities of different groups trying to learn more about each other in order to interact with others effectively. Globalization is one of the major phenomena making people consider cultural aspects as the flow of individuals and ideas has become massive. Culture can be defined as “the entire way of life of a group of people… that acts as a lens through which one views the world and that is passed from one generation to the next” (Ferris & Stein, 2018, p. 75). Cultures include language, nonverbal cues, values, standards of beauty or dress codes, music and literary works, customs, symbols, sports, technology, child-rearing conventions, rituals, and many other elements. All these components form and, at the same time, illustrate certain groups’ worldviews, attitudes, and behavioral patterns. It is possible to note that culture is what unites and divides individuals and can serve as the basis for the development of the global society where people address major issues and develop sound solutions.
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Culture plays an important role in humans’ lives as it ensures the survival of societies. Ferris and Stein (2018) note that culture can be regarded as something similar to an instinct in animals. People use the acquired cues to live in the society and occupy a specific place to satisfy their needs. When people encounter different customs, norms, or other components of culture, they tend to react based on the perspectives deeply rooted in their own culture. However, cultural relativism is the most appropriate and effective approach to looking at other cultures. Cultural relativism consists in perceiving other cultures as different without judging (Ferris & Stein, 2018). There can be no right or wrong cultures as they are simply different.
Clearly, this way of looking at other societies can be difficult to implement. For instance, the custom of dropping babies from a high wall to make the children healthier and stronger seems a cruel custom to a person born and living outside India (Cctvupload, 2009). At the same time, they are absolutely clear and normal for Hindu people who want to help their children survive in this world. The ritual helps parents to gain confidence that their child will be more prepared to address the upcoming challenges. Some Christian practices may seem incomprehensible or ridiculous to people practicing other religions.
Researchers have identified a set of elements of cultures including material and symbolic components. The former can be referred to as “any physical object to which we give social meaning” (Ferris & Stein, 2018, p. 78). These components include arts, tools, clothing, architecture, technology, toys, and many other objects. For example, a toy in a child’s hand can point at the cultural background of the baby and the family. A person wearing certain clothes or accessories displays their views and attitudes towards some aspects of social life. For example, wearing leather jackets and driving motorcycles is likely to be a sign of being a part of a subculture (such as a motorbike gang). Having a beard for men, and wearing dark clothes with a specific hat for women is a sign of being a part of the Amish community (MyEarbot, n.d.). All these components of culture are usually formed during an extensive period of time and depend on many factors.
It is also possible to differentiate between different cultural types. For example, culture can material and ideational where the former is manifested through objects and products and the latter consists of ideas, general knowledge, and behavioral guidelines. People’s clothes, objects they use in their daily life, and inventions are elements of material culture. Material culture is seen as a product of the ideational culture as people create objects based on their knowledge and set of values. General knowledge is a set of facts and information statements that shape people’s worldview and their understanding of their place in the society and universe. Guidelines for behavior are specific norms and values that are the basis of the behavioral patterns accepted or rejected (and prohibited) in a society.
As far as these guidelines are concerned, they are divided into mores and folkways. Mores are usually strict or formal rules that are written and followed. Some of the illustrations of these written norms are laws, regulations, policies that are agreed upon and accepted by a group of people (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Disobedience leads to certain sanctions that are also described in detail. Folkways are not as strict and do not lead to such severe consequences compared to mores. These include manners and family traditions, the way people behave in public places, the way they interact on different occasions. At that, disobedience can also lead to exclusion depending on the degree of a person’s nonconformity.
When considering types of cultures, it is also possible to mention popular and high culture. A limited group of people (usually elites) have access to the latter while the masses have access to the former. There also some cultural universals and diverse national cultures. As for the universals, these are the values and patterns that are accepted in different groups across the globe. Religions often serves as the primary platforms of such universals’ diffusion. National cultures are confined to a certain ethnic group and have various peculiarities. Depending on the status of the culture, it is possible to name sub-, counter-, and dominant cultures. Countercultures can often be associated with dangerous views and practices that can lead to harm or death as the story about Peoples Temple shows (FirelightMedia, n.d.). These practices can be prohibited if certain unacceptable events occur.
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The American culture is an example of a national culture. Some may say that there can be no American culture as the country was created and is inhabited by people of diverse cultural backgrounds. The American culture can be defined as the material and ideational culture that has formed in the United States based on the interaction of diverse cultures, geographic peculiarities, historical influences. This nation is now characterized by individualism, freedom, education, consumerism, the focus on family values, religion, empathy, American Dream, the value of hard work, and so on. Importantly, American culture has had a profound effect on the development and empowerment of the global culture. Technological advances foster the flow of people and ideas, which is one of the major premises of the birth of the global culture. It can be referred to as a set of ideas and products widely accepted on the global scale. Some illustrations of the global culture include the spread of English, consumerism, the focus on technology, the value of the exchange of ideas, goods, and information.
In conclusion, it is possible to state that culture is what makes people different from the rest of the animal world as humans create the universe of things and ideas that shape their behaviors and views. Cultures can be shared by a limited group of people or the entire population of a country. Global culture is now being formed and is gaining more power over large territories. The chances are high that soon the entire planet will have one dominant cultures with some national peculiarities and existence of some subcultures.
Cctvupload. (2009). Baby dropping ritual in India – CCTV 080109 [Video]. Youtube. Web.
Ferris, K., & Stein, J. (2018). The real world (6th ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.
FirelightMedia. (n.d.). Jonestown: The life and death of Peoples Temple [Video]. Youtube. Web.
MyEarbot. (n.d.). Explaining the Amish way of life – VOA story [Video]. Youtube. Web.