Because of the nature of mushrooms, no two experts describe them in precisely the same way, which creates a problem for the rest of us when we are trying to decide whether the specimen in our hands is edible.” ‘Cultural studies are magnetic’. There is no agreement on a single definition of the term.
There are about 200 definitions of culture given by anthropologists alone. “Farmers might speak of the culture of the soil and how to improve it; biologists might think of culture as a way to generate a new strain of micro-organisms; sociologists might describe culture as the habits of group life that are passed down from one generation to the next; and still others might view culture as evidence of higher education or training.” At one level, culture refers to a shared commonly held body of general beliefs and values which define as to what is right for one group.
At another level culture refers to an elitist concept, which includes refinement of mind, tastes, and manners based on superior education or upbringing. Culture is also often used to refer to an artistic output that is a characteristic of a particular ethnic or regional group. Culture is further used to describe a medium for growing biological specimen and particular bacteria for growing a product (yoghurt culture).
The word culture has originated from the Latin word cultura, which is related to cultus, which can be translated as “cult” or “worship”. Members of a cult believe in specific ways of doing things and hence develop a culture that enshrines those beliefs.
Triandis has defined culture as,
“Collectivity of people who share a common language, historical period, and geographic location, as well as possessing beliefs, norms, roles, values, and attitudes.”
Culture is acquired, learned, shared and transmitted from one generation to the next. Parents pass it on to their children and also by social institutions, schools, governments, and religious organisations. Common ways of thinking and behaving are developed and reinforced.
Hofstede has, thus, defined culture as,
“Collective programming of mind”
The simplest definition has been given as to “How things are done around here,” (because we all have an intuition of what it is). It is a “total way of life” of a people. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner defined culture as “the way in which people solve problems and recognize dilemmas.” A similar definition is given as,
“Culture is everything that people have, think, and do as members of their society.”
The definition identifies three components of culture – to have something (some material objects must be present), to think (leading to ideas, values, attitudes, and beliefs), and to do (behaving in certain socially prescribed ways). There is one more quite simple way to think about culture: Culture is simply which is not nature.
Proponents of the growing field of “cultural studies” have defined it this way:
“Culture is understood both as a way of life – encompassing ideas, attitudes, languages, practices, institutions, and structure of power – and a whole range of cultural practices; artistic forms, texts, canons, architecture, mass produced commodities, and so forth.”
People, who are part of the same culture, derive the same meaning from the signs they read, symbols they interpret, words they listen, or behaviors they observe. However, a person from a particular culture, when he enters a different culture the same wavelength is not assured. An international business manager should go below the surface level of behavior to understand WHY one acts as he or she does. The why of cultural iceberg is less visible and below the cultural waterline (see Figure 4.1: Culture: what you see doesn’t tell you why)
In brief, Culture
i. Is the opposite of nature (it is what makes humans human);
ii. Is always related to a group of people who associate with one another for some purpose (There is absolutely no culture of an individual. Culture is what the individual members of a group have in common and those who do not share the commonalities are outside the boundaries of that society);
iii. Is the actual patterns and differentiations of a people (culture, a way of life, tells us that there is a distinctive way of doing things which persist through generations and will hold without discussion or question);
iv. Is the process by which patterns developed (“culture” making “culture” – culture is everywhere, multi-cultured US, Brazil are not nation-states but multi-nation states as their cultural diversity derives presence of three major constellations of groups: natives, forced to come and chose to come);
v. comprises of many layers within, like an onion (the outer layer, i.e., explicit culture, is the products of culture, like language, food, or dress ; next level comprises of the norms and values of a particular group; and the last level reflects the core of the individuals, i.e., religion, gods, or idols which are the source of their values. Another interpretation of the term layers is that culture is defined on the basis of gender, age, class, ethnicity, sport, nation, etc); vi. Is not bound by geographical or political boundaries (less than 10% of the world’s nation- states can be considered homogeneous, in only half of these nation-states is there a single ethnic group that makes up 75% of the population- multiculturalism is surely the norm and cultural homogeneity the exception);
vii. Refers to societies who face similar problems and resolve them with similar mechanisms or habitual acting (it does not include instincts and idiosyncratic behavior occurring as one time solution to a unique problem);
viii. Is a tendency across disciplines, rather than a discipline itself;
ix. Provides the rules, the morals, the methods, the values, and the ethics of the group which bind people together (culture is the glue that binds groups together);
x. Has elements which are interrelated and some of which are objective (tools) and some are subjective (like beliefs, attitudes) (everything is meaningful and experienced through rational, emotional, sensate and aesthetic processes);
xi. Is relative (while perceiving people of other cultures, we do so from the perspective of our own culture, but mind it no culture is right or wrong, superior or inferior);
xii. Includes the entire acquisitions of a society in all forms of thinking, doing, and making from materialism to spiritualism (man’s medium);
xiii. Is learned (not innate), shared, and transmitted (man’s mental map) inter-generationally (seniors educating juniors in a college) (culture is learned, rather than inherited from one’s genes, since it is shared and passed on; everyone has the ability to learn about multiple cultures. Each culture has a history and everything that happens becomes a part of cumulative history of a culture – it provides a framework to understand complex variables. Learning
aspect of culture enables greater acceptance of cultural differences, to learn other cultures as we learnt ours, and that others can also learn provided they are exposed to our culture.);
xiv. Is highly dynamic rather than static and non-adaptive (just as human experiences change overtime, so too our ways of thinking, imagining and making meaning, i.e., culture is always transitional, open and non-static as a response to external forces – a good case is of East Germany and West Germany);
xv. Is inherently conservative, resisting change and fostering continuity, but also adaptive (the dilemma of how cultures reflect both stability and change has kept scholars occupied for many years – conflict scholars such as Marx, Mills, Dahrendorf, and others perceived all social systems to be in continual conflict, hence, change is continual on the other hand functionalists like Parson and Merton described change as an adjustment process, and focused on the natural capacity of social systems to adapt to strains and stresses and to find a new stability);
xvi. Both affects and describes behavior;
xvii. Is the sense of belonging or identity?
xviii. Contains two paradoxical values within and between cultures (a dilemma between desirable and desired in life);
xix. Every country looks at culture and values differently (Americans value independence, competition, and individual achievement; Arabs value family security, compromise, and personal reputation; and Indians come in between the two);
xx. Culture is invisible because it is not only about things (to have), but also about meanings – which are not very visible and hence many aspects of culture need to be inferred;
xxi. One can understand a culture better by becoming member of another culture;
xxii A systemic or universal whole, and should not be broken down into high or low culture;
xxiii. Is the source of inspiration and orientation; and
xxiv. Is the filter through which we all perceive reality.
From the above characteristics, it is clear that one can learn about other cultures and that the culture is basic reason as well as an indicator of how and why people behave the way they do. To understand similarities and differences with other cultures, one must first understand his own culture. But we find it difficult, because we do not know as to what influences our own values and behaviors. To work in and with other culture one should follow the process of acculturation (adapting and adjusting to other culture).