Search This Blog

Friday, March 4, 2011

Purpose and Meaning of Culture

Adventure Travel
The phrase “CULTURE” these days is used in so many marginal contexts that its original meaning has been submerged. For instance, we have an “accepted culture”, by which is meant the collective human intellectual achievements. There is a “consumerist culture”, which is taken by some as a determinant of the status of a person along with his enlightening success and/or financial force. To be an integral part of this culture, one has to have a higher spending power, which yields a greater availability of materialistic pleasures and facilities. We also hear of an “emerging culture”, which reflects the attitudes and the behavioral characteristics of a particular social group. An emerging drug or pub culture among the youngsters of today is an example. Modern colleges and universities take pride in their “competitive culture” that helps to bring out the best in students and aid their intellectual development. However, none of these descriptions highlight the essential features of the true meaning of “culture”. 

The concept of culture:
Intellectuals and thinkers of the world have defined and analysed “culture” in their own way. Prof. Edward Burnett Tylor, a famous 19th century English anthropologist, gave one of the first clear definitions of culture in the West. He defined culture as a complex collection of “knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”.1 According to Matthew Arnold, a poet of the Victorian era, culture means “contact with the best which has been thought and said in the world”.2 He considered culture as a “study of perfection”. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, described culture as the outcome and basis of training, establishment and development of physical and mental potentials. Sri Rajgopalacharya, the first Governor General of British India, defined it as the collective expression of the thoughts, speeches and deeds of the learned, talented or creative members of a society or a nation. In the 1950s, A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn collected over a hundred definitions of culture.
A modern definition of culture is given by anthropologist William A. Haviland in Cultural Anthropology as follows: “Culture is a set of rules or standards that, when acted upon by the members of a society, produce behaviour that falls within a range of variance the members consider proper and acceptable.”3 In other words, culture does not refer to the behaviour that is observed but to values and beliefs which generate behaviour. Some modern definitions of culture tend to be inclusive of the “emerging culture” of society. For instance, in Culture and Modernity, Roop Rekha Verma defines culture as “a system of the patterns and the modes of expectations, expressions, values, institutionalisation and enjoyment habits of people in general.”4 Note the inclusion of the term “enjoyment habits”
What is the Vedic vision on the concept of culture? Pritibhushan Chatterji in Knowledge, Culture and Man says that culture “means something cultivated or ripened… ‘Culture’ also refers to some kind of refinement which is born of education and enlightenment.”5 This seems to be largely in agreement with the Vedic interpretation of culture. The Vedic term for culture is sanskrati, which originates from the word samskara.6 Samskara in a linguistic sense implies the process of refinement and purification. Thus, sanskrati means the assimilated treasure of the methods that: (1) purify and uplift the human life; (2) teach us the art of living happily with others, the etiquettes of civilization and the ethics of social benevolence; or (3) encompass those values and practices which effectuate refinement and happy progress of the internal and external aspects of people’s life and instil sanskaras in their conduct along with natural enlightenment and strengthening of their mental and physical talents.
There are thus many viewpoints on culture and so it is difficult to find a universal definition. Actually, the meaning and purpose of culture is vast – they incorporate the genesis and expansion of the philosophy, values, goals and modes of life in any society or nation. In short, culture is the traditional yet evolving basis and nature of life of a social or national system that provides support and atmosphere for civilised, liberal and illuminating progress of people. Indeed, culture is an ensemble of immeasurable trends and attempts that have gradually evolved and excelled since the ancient times and have contributed to the overall development and progress of humans. It represents those lines of thoughts and systems of the human society that aim to cultivate samskaras in every realm of human life. Cultural values and trends of a nation are therefore the foundational elements of its development and strength. The culture of a nation is its true wealth.
My View of Culture:
The word culture is the enduring behaviours, ideas, attitudes, and traditions shared by a large group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next. While this is a workable explanation of culture, in that it captures the fact that culture is enduring (rather than transitory), shared by a large group and passed down through enculturation, all it states regarding the makeup of culture is that it consists of behaviours, idea, attitudes and traditions.   This may seem like an all-encompassing collection of traits, but some (such as technology) are markedly absent, while others (like language and arts) are poorly encompassed by those listed.   There is also some controversy regarding whether culture exists solely
Notes and References:
1. Tylor, Edward B. (1874). Primitive Culture. Estes & Lauriat, London. p.1. 2. See 3. Haviland, William A. (1990). Cultural Anthropology, Sixth edition. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, Orlando, Florida. p.30. 4. Verma, Roop Rekha (1994). In the essay entitled The Concept of Progress and Cultural Identity in Culture and Modernity. Edited by Eliot Deutsch. Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. p.530. 5. Chatterji, Pritibhushan (1976). In chapter entitled Language, Culture and Man In Knowledge, Culture and Value. Editors R. C. Pandeya & S. R. Bhatt. Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. p.118. 6. Here sanskara refers to noble tendencies and habits, positive attitude and psychologically uplifting notions. 7. See the book cited in Ref. 3 above

No comments: