2 cents on "culture"

carter pate (CPATE@UTCVM.BITNET)
Wed, 2 Feb 1994 10:34:10 EST

Comming from a sociological perspective, I have long sought for an "operational
definition" of culture. In response to D Read's recent post and much that has
gone before, I venture to offer it.

Culture refers to patterns of human behavior which are:
I) learned; 2) shared; 3) transmitted; and 4?) symbolic.

The first three are usually fairly readily observable. Including all three mit
igates the problem of identifying culture merely with learned behavior. Presum
ably a hearing impaired person might learn lip-reading on one's own. Even if
two impaired persons learn on their own (shared), lip reading may not become
"culture" until they become aware of what they share, communicate about it, and
perhaps begin transmitting it to others.

The (?) on 4) is important. This relation to symbolic behavior is vital, but I
can't find the rhetoric to satisfy my searching. Is ALL culture symbolic in t
he same sense? Certainly the symbolic aspects are not an exclusively human
dimension, but the nature of human culture is so heavily dependent on symbolic
processes, and language is such a prime illustration of culture!

This doesn't alter or change most traditional definitions, such as that of Tylo
r; it remains consistent with Bidney's emphasis that the locus of culture in
in human minds. But does it help define the domain(s)? I stress that hiccups
are biological, not cultural, but every culture has a variety of remedies for h
hiccups--and some of these may work quite effectively.

Is this a starting point for anything worthwhile?