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What Is Culture


Culture is the behavioral patterns of a specific group determined by beliefs, thoughts and institutions of a society. Research Papers report that a cultured individual is someone well rounded and comfortable in his or her cultural identity and respectful of other cultures around them.

In answer to the question "What is culture", one must note in research that culture is a very relative term. For example, today's culture includes computers; computers in the 1970's were thought of as only a business tool or a tool for scientists. Therefore, culture is relative to the time and the individuals that are the subject of study. When doing a research paper on what culture is, a student cannot examine culture without knowing whose culture they are studying or the timeframe in which that culture is concerned with.

Ethnicity is often part of the definition of culture. Ethnicity involves much more than a simple definition of a sociological term. The sociologist Steven Steinberg gives this simple explanation of ethnicity, "By its very nature, ethnicity involves ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that constitute the essence of culture". This "simple" definition can be dissected uniquely for each culture, but an in depth look at ethnicity itself involves understanding the following:

  1. Historical roots
  2. The influences and social hierarchy involved in the success or lack of success society
  3. Ethnic groups have had in dealing with ethnocentrism and cultural relativity

A paradox lies between beneficial assimilation into cultural relativity and ethnocentrism manipulation which sociologists Nathan Glazer, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Steinberg agree can be used an instrument to a political voice. Whether used defensively to thwart the ambitions of others or offensively to achieve an end of one's own, ethnocentrism is primarily a label or set of symbolic ties that is used for political advantage - much like interest group membership or political party affiliation. Given the existing structure of states, and the geographic concentration of individuals with common social or economic backgrounds within these entities, ethnocentrism may be a powerful and frequently used political tool, but according to instrumentalists this does not distinguish ethnicity fundamentally from other political affiliations. It follows from the instrumentalist approach that the lessons drawn from ethnic conflicts can often-perhaps always-be applied to other sorts of conflicts. If politicized ethnicity is not inherently different than other forms of political manipulation, ethnic conflict should not necessarily be different than other conflicts based on interest or ideology. In this view, ethnic conflict, however prevalent, is part of the larger conflict process.

The success of an ethnic group lies in their ability to function outside of the social constraints that their own history and the history of our country has placed upon them. Thus ethnocentrism would not foster a healthy foundation of a cultural group or be proper assimilation into society. They must not see ethnicity as a haven from the problems of those in their culture but rather a line that ties them to their roots. This is closer to the theory of cultural relativity. The refuge that the ethnic community can provide is comfort from persecution that exists because of their heritage.

The paradox of culture is that, as we learn to accept our own cultural beliefs and values, we unconsciously learn to reject those of other peoples. At birth, we are capable of absorbing any culture and language. We are predisposed to cultural learning, but we are not preprogrammed to adopt a particular culture. As we grow, our parents, our schools, and our society teach us what is right and wrong, good and evil, acceptable and unacceptable. At the subconscious level, we learn the symbolic meanings of behavior and through them interpret the meanings of actions. Beliefs, values, and symbols must be understood within the context of a particular culture. This is the principle of cultural relativity and is part of natural, human assimilation into society.

In contrast, human nature also encompasses ethnocentrism, which is a term that has been used since its introduction, to refer to the tendency to view one's in-group more positively than others, and to view other groups as inferior. This ethnocentric tendency for in-group favoritism has been identified in many societies, leading LeVine and Campbell (1972) to claim that it is a universal feature of intergroup relations. Berry and Kalin found ethnocentrism in the intergroup attitudes of the five groups examined: each group rated itself more positively than the other four groups.

American culture tends to be very casual. This laissez faire attitude easily finds its way into the business arena. Unfortunately this is a direct contrast to workplace atmosphere of other countries, which maintain a more formal business culture. For instance the CEO of an American firm may find it difficult to conduct business with a Japanese firm because of the tendency for Japanese firms to adhere to specific cultural formalities. Negations between the two firms may be flawed due to the CEO's impression that the workplace, regardless of nationality, sustains a universal uniformity, which is not the case with the Japanese.

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