Culture refers to the shared values and practices of a particular society.
It is an umbrella term that encompasses a vast range of things, such as tradition, language, religions, political systems, arts, etc. Culture is “all that in human society which is socially rather than biologically transmitted” (Scott, 2014).
Edward Taylor’s definition serves as the foundation for most anthropological ideas about culture: “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” (1871).
Taylor’s definition emphasizes the cumulative nature of culture and that it is “acquired”, which is done through a process called socialization. Socialization involves internalizing the values & norms of society while also learning to perform social roles (friend, employee, citizen, etc.).
Culture is not static but constantly evolves in response to historical, sociopolitical, and economic changes. In today’s world, globalization has brought about a tremendous increase in the intermingling of cultures but has also raised concerns about cultural homogenization.
Types of Culture
1. Material Culture
Material culture refers to the physical aspect—objects, material goods, artworks, etc.—of a particular culture.
Ian Hodder defined it as “the objects, structures, and spaces that people make and use in their social lives”. (2012) Besides playing a functional role, such objects reflect as well as shape the values & practices of a culture, giving us insights into people’s lives.
Material culture also captures the technological and artistic achievements of a particular society. Examples include household items, clothing, paintings, etc.
2. Non-material Culture
Non-material culture refers to the abstract aspect—ideas, norms, values, etc.—of a particular culture.
Clifford Geertz defined it as the “symbols, meanings, beliefs, and values that form the basis for social behavior.” (1973) His definition emphasizes the meaning-based nature of these intangible elements, and their centrality in shaping social behavior.
Non-material culture is transmitted from one generation to another through socialization, and it is foundational to an individual’s sense of identity. Examples include religious beliefs, attitudes towards gender, institutions like family, etc.
3. Corporate culture
Corporate culture refers to the values & practices of a particular organization.
Using an apt popular phrase, Terrence Deal defined it as “the way things are done around here.” (1982). Corporate culture is shaped by the organization’s structure, history, and leadership, along with the industry in which it operates.
By influencing employee motivation & productivity, corporate culture plays a huge role in an organization’s success. It also impacts how the organization is perceived by outsiders, such as customers, investors, and the general public.
4. Popular culture
Popular culture refers to values, practices, and artistic products that are prevalent in a society at a time.
Bennett defined it as “the forms of culture that are widely produced and consumed in a society” (1999). Since it is characterized by mass appeal, popular culture is also called mass culture.
In modern times, popular culture relies heavily on mass media. It permeates the everyday lives of people and plays a key role in influencing attitudes. It includes films, sports, music, etc.
5. Folk culture
Folk culture refers to the local traditions and practices of a small community.
George Revill defines it as “the products and practices of relatively homogeneous and isolated small-scale social groups living in rural locations” (2014). He adds that it is associated with “tradition, historical continuity, sense of place, and belonging”.
Unlike popular culture—which is widely produced and consumed—folk culture is rooted in a small community and is often transmitted orally. It includes mythology, farming practices, songs, etc.
6. Global culture
Global culture refers to the values, practices, and cultural products that transcend local boundaries and are shared across the world.
Globalization—the increasing interconnectedness of the world—has led to such a world culture; it has largely been shaped by international travel, popular media, and modern technology (like the internet).
Global culture is linked with the history of colonialism and reflects its power relations. While it has increased the intermingling of people, it has also led to cultural homogenization & the erasure of local cultures.
Subculture is a group within a larger culture; it has values & practices different from the parent culture, although it may borrow (and often distort) some of its foundations.
Scott argues that subcultures often arise as a solution to “problems arising from the blocked aspirations of members, or their ambiguous position in the wider society.” (2014).
They provide a sense of community to individuals who feel excluded from the parent culture and also challenge the latter’s values. Examples include hip-hoppers, punks, skinheads, etc.
Counterculture is a type of subculture that is in direct opposition to the parent culture.
It rejects the foundational values of the parent culture and endorses their opposites. The term “counter-culture” or “contra culture” was originally applied to the student & hippie groups that were associated with the worldwide protests of 1968.
They often bring about significant sociopolitical changes but also face opposition from the parent culture & its institutions like the police. Examples include Bohemianism, the Beat Generation, etc.
9. Youth culture
Youth culture refers to the values & practices of children, adolescents, and young adults.
Whether youth culture—as distinct from that of adults—exists is a matter of scholarly debate. Those who believe in its existence argue that an emphasis on clothing, popular music, vocabulary, and dating sets it apart from older groups (Fasick, 1984)
Youth culture focuses on individuality and self-expression. It is also characterized by an embrace of new technology and a desire to challenge the establishment. Examples include gaming groups, music subcultures, etc.
10. High culture
High culture refers to cultural products & practices that are considered to be of the highest value, and are usually associated with the upper class of society.
The concept of high culture was introduced by Matthew Arnold who defined culture as “the disinterested endeavor after man’s perfection”, which is obtained by the effort to “know the best that has been said and thought in the world” (1869).
It includes various forms of cultural expressions like literature, fine arts, and classical music, which are usually appreciated by a small number of educated people.
11. Low culture
Low culture refers to cultural products & practices that have mass appeal.
Herbert Gans argues that low culture “stress[es] substance, form being totally subservient, and there is no explicit concern with abstract ideas or even with fictional forms of contemporary social problems and issues”. (1958)
Low culture, as opposed to high culture, is widespread and accessible to everyone. Examples include commercial television, blockbuster films, popular music, etc.
12. National culture
National culture refers to the values & practices shared across a country.
It is shaped by the country’s history, language, sociopolitical systems, etc. National culture is usually seen as the collective expression of a nation’s identity. It includes a vast range of things, such as cuisine, religion, daily life practices, etc.
An example of national culture is Japan: its culture is shaped by traditional architecture, martial arts, tea ceremonies, etc. In daily life practices also, there is an emphasis on respecting elders, being modest, and so on.
Cyberculture refers to the sociocultural phenomena caused by the widespread use of computers and the internet.
Digital technology has revolutionized the way we communicate, do business, and entertain ourselves. Cyberculture involves the attitudes, behaviors, and practices that have arisen as a response to these changes.
It is rapidly evolving as new forms of technology emerge. Gaming cultures, social media, and e-commerce are some of the key elements of cyberculture.
14. Consumer culture
Consumer culture refers to a society where spending money on material goods is a central aspect.
Consumption of goods and services is a vital part of one’s identity and self-fulfillment. It is also seen as the key indicator of status and success. People are encouraged to think of themselves as consumers, and advertising plays a huge role in shaping their behavior.
The capitalist economy of the US is a prime example of consumer culture. Consumerism is criticized for promoting materialism, environmental degradation, and social inequalities.
15. Dominant culture
Dominant culture refers to cultural values & practices that are predominant in a given society.
Modern societies are usually a mix of various cultures, and the most influential culture is called the dominant culture. These are often associated with the majority and are so widespread that they almost appear ‘natural’.
The dominant culture is largely shaped by the ruling class and exists alongside various subcultures.
16. Ideal Culture
Ideal culture refers to values & practices that a culture aims to achieve.
It paints the best version of a particular society, usually implying a place where there are equal opportunities for people to work together & live harmoniously.
Ideal culture serves as the benchmark against which the actual values/practices of a society are judged. It, therefore, allows a society to direct its efforts in the right direction.
17. Real Culture
Real culture refers to the actual values and practices existing in a society.
It portrays society as it exists in reality. This includes the elements of oppression and inequalities—which ideal culture does not consider—present in society. If ideal culture talks about democracy, real culture points out how politics is biased toward privileged people.
Real culture allows a given society to see how far its aspirations lie from its achievements, allowing it to take redressal steps.
Culture refers to the norms, values, and practices of a particular society.
It can be studied through various classifications, and power relationships are a key component across all of them. In our times, technology has been the biggest influencer of cultural values & practices.
Arnold, Matthew (1869). Culture and Anarchy. The Cornhill Magazine.
Bennett, A. (1999). Popular Music and Popular Culture. Macmillan.
Deal, T. E., & Kennedy, A. A. (1982). Corporate cultures: The rites and rituals of corporate life. Addison-Wesley.
Fasick, Frank A. (1984). “Parents, Peers, Youth Culture and Autonomy in Adolescence.”, Adolescence. Eric Institute of Education Sciences.
Gans, Herbert (1999) . Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste. Basic Books.
Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. Basic Books.
Hodder, I. (2012). Entangled: An archaeology of the relationships between humans and things. John Wiley & Sons.
Revill, George (2014). Folk Culture and Geography. Oxford
Scott, John (2014). A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford. Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive culture: Researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art, and custom. J. Murray.