What Is Culture?

This Learning Topic proposes to explore the concept of human culture. Culture is not easily defined, nor is there a consensus among scholars, philosophers and polititicians (nor, probably, among the rest of us) as to what exactly the concept should include. We hope, here, to outline some of the broad-ranging debates which have gone on about the concept of culture during the past century. Furthermore, we hope to offer some insight into what the culture debate means in our own lives and to provide some examples of how cultural meanings are formed, maintained, and changed.

Please recognize that, at present, these pages focus on the concept of culture as it has been articulated in Western scientific and philosophical traditions. The English word "culture" is similar to words in other Romance languages, and indeed the concept has a similar history in many Western countries. In other parts of the world, however, the elements of learned behaviors and meanings systems which we identify as representing something called "culture" might not be grouped together the same way. Consequently, the definitions and discussions of culture which we've collected here are all from Western sources. In contrast, the Western concept of culture can be applied to or exemplified by any human society, and therefore many of our examples and illustrations focus on non-Western peoples.

The hypertextual layout of these pages offers you, the reader, an opportunity to explore them in any order you choose -- and we encourage you to take advantage of the medium. Nevertheless, a brief conceptual orientation to the layout might be helpful: First, our "baseline definition of culture" suggests a possible definition of culture; remember, how we define culture has both political and social consequences, so read our definition carefully and consider whether or not you agree with us. The "important definitions/discussions of culture" which follow explore the culture debate in more detail, developing some of the debate's historically significant perspectives. Next, the "Galleries of Student Hypertexts: Interpretations of Culture" section provides a space for WSU students to contribute their own hypertextual explorations and interpretations of culture; in addition to student-authored hypertexts, you'll find an array of hypertextual models which demonstrate strategies for analyzing the play of cultural meanings in the real world -- for example, the way in which different manners of kissing are elements of a larger system of cultural meaning. Throughout these pages, you'll find links to a glossary of important terms. You'll also come across varioius links to other culture-related sites on the Web; if you get lost exploring an external link, use your browser's "back" or "history" function to get you back here again. And before you leave, be sure to check out the "pithy 'quotations on culture,'" a section which lightheartedly suggests the jangling discord that marks the culture debate.

At the bottom of this and every page in the site, you'll find a link to the authors' email address which allows you to give feedback, point out typographical errors, and/or make suggestions to the authors and custodians of this learning topic. Read on and enjoy!

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Eric Miraglia, Dept. of English/Student Advising and Learning Center
Dr. Richard Law, Director, General Education
Peg Collins, Information Technology, Learning Systems Group

For information on this website: Richard K. Hines

Last Updated: 5/26/99
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