definition of culture

definition of culture

Definition of Culture

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The term culture holds several, different meanings to different people. For some individuals it might mean an appreciation if good music, literature, food or art. For others like biological scientists it might mean a colony of microorganisms growing in some nutrient medium in the lab. However, for behavioral scientists, especially anthropologists, culture can be defined as the whole range of pattern of human behavior that is learned. Edward Tylor, the pioneer English anthropologist in his book, first used the word to define such patterns. The anthropologist defined culture as that complex whole that includes belief, knowledge, law, art, custom, morals and any other habits and capabilities acquired by human beings as members of a community (Tylor, 1871). This is one of the most traditional definitions of culture that has since become the key focus of anthropology.

While culture is a strong and powerful tool for human survival, it is a fragile and complicated phenomenon, it is easily lost and it is constantly changing because in the minds of the people. The written languages, building, governments and other things made by humans are just the products of the phenomenon, but in themselves, they are not culture. It is for this reason that we cannot say that archeologists dig up pieces of culture when they do their excavations, the artifacts they find during their excavations of ancient people are only things and materials that reflect the cultural patterns of the ancient people or the things that were created through the cultural skills and knowledge of these people. The APA dictionary of Psychology defines culture differently, as the distinctive values, customs, knowledge, beliefs, language and art of a community or society (APA dictionary of Psychology, 2007).

One can identify culture in urban plans and works of architecture. In today’s world, these two are excellent examples of culture and heritage in many cities. It takes people years to design and build buildings like these. People can tell what a society’s culture is or looks like by looking at different works of architecture and urban planning. For instance, it is easy to identify the work from the Renaissance period because the culture of the people from this period was marred with architectures adorned with magnificent oil paintings and glasses with different colors. Another example is the design of buildings in Washington DC. The buildings are short and uncomplicated but with clear design and structures. The skies are visible from the sidewalks, as exceedingly tall buildings do not harbor them.

The building’s height is limited to the road’s width so that the clouds can be seen from different angles and places all over the city. It is only culture that can result to such distinctive building styles, as the culture in Washington DC has played an essential role in coming up with such detail in design and architecture. People walking around the city have the sense of openness and freedom, as a result, of such design and detail in designing buildings. This design and architectural technique is also mostly unique to Washington. There might be numerous reasons for this, but mostly the culture of the people living in the city contributes to the outcome of the way the city is build and the way it looks.

The term culture means different things to different people. This is because culture is set and formed by people with similar techniques, skills, ethnicity, interests, place of stay and so forth, and these are varied.


Tylor, E. (1871). Primitive culture. New York: J.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Vanden Bos, G. R. (Ed.) (2007). APA Dictionary of Psychology Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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