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Q. Culture is an important site for understanding society: Discuss?


Human elements are defined by its culture for instance, the norms and values, learned or acquired behaviours, religious beliefs, art and fashion and so on. Any group in a society is differentiated by its culture. Different societies have different culture and the idea of culture and society are also different. Neither culture nor society can exist without each other.

” Culture… taken in its wide ethnographic sense is 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. The condition of culture among the various societies of mankind, in so far as it is capable of being investigated on general principles, is a subject apt for the study of laws of human thought and action” (Tylor 187:1)

Culture refers to the learned, socially acquired traditions of thought and behaviour found in human societies. It is socially acquired lifestyle that includes patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling and acting. The definition of culture consists of patterns of behaviours as well as pattern of thoughts which forms a society.

The term society refers to an organized group of people living in common territory, interaction and culture. All societies contain groups of people who have lifestyles that are not shared by the rest of the society, such groups are known as subculture. Every small societies have subcultures


A society comprises of different patterns of culture, this culture has evolved over thousands of years and can be identified in five broad categories of components: beliefs, values, language, norms and technology. The content of each category varies from culture to culture and from society to society.


A belief is an assumption and convictions that is considered as true by an individual or a group regarding any concepts, events, people and things which is based on past experiences, scientific evidences, religious faith or public opinion. For instance, in India people believe having sweet curd before exams will bring good luck, if the boy’s and the girl’s horoscopes matches before the marriage then their marriage will be successful, which is considered to be good signs whereas there are beliefs which are considered as bad such as while leaving the home sighting a widow or a barren women is considered as unlucky, after the husband’s death his widow is not allowed wear colourful sarees and bindis or eat good food, kept away from auspicious occasions, ostracized from villages and are made to stay on outskirts of  villages in inhuman conditions.

Beliefs are therefore plays an important role in constructing the mind-set of the people living in a society and these societal beliefs exercises the means of rewarding and punishing the one who violates or follows it.


In a social life, the shared agreements which are considered as desirable or undesirable by the members of the society are known as values. Values are generalized standards which define what is important worthwhile and worth striving for. Individual values are strongly influenced by their specific culture. Hierarchy in the society has evolved from traditional values for instance Brahmins occupy the highest position as it is believed that they are emerged from the mouth of the creator whereas Sudras are considered from the lower caste as they are believed to be emerged from the feet of the God. This is how the system of superiority and inferiority comes into the society which has led to other social problems such as untouchability.

Values have evolved through ages and they have their importance in all societies but on the main tasks of the contemporary Indian society are to bring synthesis between the traditional social values and the modern social values.


Language is a medium of sharing ideas, thoughts, interventions and memories to individuals and to generations. It helps in maintaining social traditions and activities within individuals and across generations and also facilitates social change. Every society follows different linguistic styles and it is common for certain linguistic dialects to be considered as superior to others. Members of the elite strata often consider as their dialect as superior as compare to the dialect of those who belong to lower strata.

For instance, in India it is seen that the people who can speak in English fluently are considered superior to the one who can only speak their regional language. In universities and even in government jobs require fluency in English as mandated by the ruling elite and therefore the socioeconomic status of the person is judged by his or her fluency in the language. Language is marked as a social identity and as a result carries importance in defining culture in any society.


The established standards of social behaviour which every members of the society are expected to follow are known as social norms. These norms depend on societal sanctions which can be positive or negative. In case of positive sanctions the person is rewarded whereas in negative sanction, the violator of norms suffers from penalties. For instance, in some communities in Haryana, India inter-caste marriage is not allowed as they believe that a girl should get married to her caste only and this norm has been followed by the people since ages. If any man or woman violates this particular norm the consequences are really severe that is it reaches to a level that this community can even kill the girl and the boy in order to protect their honour and tradition.

Norms are something which are rooted in institutions and are mainly informally enforced on the individual. The choice of individual for striving towards the cultural goal is regulated and guided by norm.


There is a cyclic relationship between technology and culture. Culture develops technology based on the needs or desires of the people and the technology affects the lives of the people, their culture and living standards. This change in lifestyle emerges when the technology developed outside the culture is introduced to the culture providing an external influence.

For instance, nowadays we often hide the messages send electronically rather than discussing the issues in person. If one discusses any issue in person, the feelings and thoughts are opened up and are exposed to share and therefore it is convenient for a person to communicate electronically. The culture is as such that we are not building relationships with each other but building relationships with technology and it plays a major role in developing a new form of culture in the society.


Ethnocentrism is a belief that one own culture is superior to any other culture. People of that particular culture are in the influence that their culture is best in the world as culture preserves their social heritage, instils pride and fosters loyalty.

For instance, terrorism and other hate crimes occurs when one particular community or religion believes that their religion or community is better and superior that others. It generally tends to blind people from looking things from another perspective only because they do things differently which impacts the society in a large way. Ethnocentrism can make people feel as if other community or religion is bad or wrong and provoke them to indulge into terrorist attacks or hate crimes.


“The belief that cultures must be judged on their own terms rather than by the standards of another culture is called cultural relativism.” (Eshleman and Cashion, 1983).

This gives a perception that an act, idea, form of dress and other cultural manifestation is not right or wrong but it does mean that appropriate behaviour at one place may not be considered as appropriate in other places. It denies the existence of truth independent and different from itself. For instance, in India the practice of polygamy may not be accepted in Hindu culture but in Muslim culture this practice is legal and also prevailing in some parts of the country. Therefore, according to cultural relativism the practice of polygamy is considered right when viewed in cultural context.


Culture highly differs from society to society. The Indian way of behaving and living is very different from Western/Arabic/Chinese societies. For instance, in the West a boy or a girl has the freedom to choose their own partner for the marriage whereas in India, till today, leaving few cases aside, the system of finding a suitable match for boy and girl is done by the parents. These diversities make a society or a community unique or different as compare to others.





All societies attempt to provide basic human needs that are food, clothing and shelter despite having difference in culture. Cultures are shared and learned behaviour known as cultural universals. Apart from having diverse cultural patterns, there is a fundamental uniformity in these universals. Such universals are marriage, family, food habits, language, housing, religion and other cultural practices.


“Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbour is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.”

                                                                                                                             -Paulo CoelhoCulture has great importance and also an identity for the nation, without culture existence of a society is not possible. The components of culture play a vital role in defining the society and the concepts of ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, cultural diversity, universality of culture helps in understanding the society better. Thus, culture is an important site for understanding society.












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