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Concept of Society and Culture

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By: Mohammad Hanief

Though the term society and culture is used today as a scientific concept by most of the social sciences, its most comprehensive definition has been provided in anthropology. Humans are social beings. That is why we live together in societies.

Day-to-day we interact with each other and develop social relationships. Every society has a culture, no matter how simple that culture may be. Culture is shared. The members of every society share a common culture which they have to learn.

Culture is not inherited it is transmitted from one generation to the other through the vehicle of language. Like societies, cultures differ all over the world. The two concepts society and culture are closely related and sometimes can be used interchangeably.

In common parlance the word society is usually used to designate the members of specific in-group, persons rather than the social relationships of those persons. Sometimes the word society is used to designate institutions. Society is a word used in routine life with a particular meaning. Everyone often defines society as an aggregation or collection of individuals. But in sociology and anthropology, the term is used in a different sense.

The term “society” refers not just to a group of people but to a complex pattern of norms of interaction that exist among them. In terms of common sense, society is understood as a tangible object, where as in sociology and anthropology it refers to an intangible entity. It is a mental construct, which we realise in everyday life but cannot see it. The important aspect of society is the system of relationships, the pattern of the norms of interaction by which the members of the society maintain themselves. Some anthropologists say that society exists only when the members know each other and possess common interests or objects.

The roots of the term society can be traced to the Latin word socius which means companionship or friendship. George Simmel an eminent sociologists has stated that it is the element of sociability or companionship which defines the true essence of society. As Aristotle stated centuries ago man is a social animal, it brings into focus that man always lives in the company of other people. Society has become an essential condition for human life to continue. Herein, we will discuss some of the views of the social thinkers who had on society and how they have perceived the same.

Culture consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. Through culture, people and groups define themselves, conform to society’s shared values, and contribute to society. Thus, culture includes many societal aspects: language, customs, values, norms, mores, rules, tools, technologies, products, organizations, and institutions. This latter term institution refers to clusters of rules and cultural meanings associated with specific social activities. Common institutions are the family, education, religion, work, and health care.

Popularly speaking, being cultured means being well‐educated, knowledgeable of the arts, stylish, and well‐mannered. High culture—generally pursued by the upper class—refers to classical music, theater, fine arts, and other sophisticated pursuits.

Members of the upper class can pursue high art because they have cultural capital, which means the professional credentials, education, knowledge, and verbal and social skills necessary to attain the “property, power, and prestige” to “get ahead” socially. Low culture, or popular culture—generally pursued by the working and middle classes—refers to sports, movies, television sitcoms and soaps, and rock music. Remember that sociologists define culture differently than they do cultured, high culture, low culture, and popular culture.

Sociologists define society as the people who interact in such a way as to share a common culture. The cultural bond may be ethnic or racial, based on gender, or due to shared beliefs, values, and activities. The term society can also have a geographic meaning and refer to people who share a common culture in a particular location. For example, people living in arctic climates developed different cultures from those living in desert cultures. In time, a large variety of human cultures arose around the world.

Today, sociologists generally endorse social learning theory to explain the emergence of culture. That is, they believe that specific behaviors result from social factors that activate physiological predispositions, rather than from heredity and instincts, which are biologically fixed patterns of behavior. Because humans are social beings, they learn their behaviors (and beliefs, attitudes, preferences, and the like) within a particular culture. Sociologists find evidence for this social learning position when studying cultural universals, or features common to all cultures.

Although most societies do share some common elements, sociologists have failed to identify a universal human nature that should theoretically produce identical cultures everywhere. Among other things, language, preference for certain types of food, division of labor, methods of socialization, rules of governance, and a system of religion represent typical cultural features across societies. Yet all these are general rather than specific features of culture. For example, all people consume food of one type or another. But some groups eat insects, while others do not. What one culture accepts as “normal” may vary considerably from what another culture accepts.

Society also implies difference but this sense of likeness does not exclude diversity or variation. Society also implies difference and it depends on the latter as much as on likeness. A society based exclusively on likeness and uniformity is bound to be loose in socialites. All our social systems involve relationships in which differences complement one another, for e.g., family rests upon the biological difference between sexes. It has been argued that likeness is necessarily prior to the differentiation of social organisation.

Early notion of culture was popularised among Anthropologist in order to understand homogeneous societies. In the modern world the relationship between culture and society is a complex one.

Culture is produced and reproduced within the society and society acts in certain way in a culture. But how does culture work in the complex societies? Early Anthropologists used culture as the set of practical and contingent significations, while postmodernists use it to mark the domain of signifying practices.

(The author can be mailed at [email protected])


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