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Cultural Catwalk: What is Culture?

The simplistic definitions of culture are:

  • “The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. ‘20th century popular culture.’” Synonyms: the arts, the humanities, intellectual achievement.[1]
  • “A refined understanding or appreciation of this. ‘a man of culture’” Synonyms: intellectual/artistic awareness, education, cultivation, enlightenment, discernment, discrimination, good taste, taste, refinement, polish, sophistication.[2]
  • “The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. ‘Caribbean culture.’” Synonyms: civilization, society, way of life, lifestyle; the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.[3]

Although, all of the above examples of culture are correct, they fail to encompass the true depth of the word, because our culture contains diverse layers and is multifaceted. Furthermore, the aforementioned explanations may cause us to believe that culture is static, when in fact; the word has evolved from its beginnings of cultivating the land (agriculture), attaining social status (human intellectual achievement), and/or developing discernment, polish, and sophistication in order to conform to society.

The truth is that we humans make our cultural models from what we have available, whether it be from a biblical, social, political, racial, global, or worldly perspective.

For example, in ancient African civilizations where people lived without a clock and had only the natural resources from which to grow food, they lived and cultivated their crops according to sunrise, sunset, and changing weather patterns, which explains the foundation of their culture.

Looking at cultural models that define themselves from sound, we see that composers use sounds coming from different musical instruments to create a beautiful opera. Another type of musician might do the same thing to write heavy metal, country western, or blues music. Each of these forms of music has devotees or fans—a particular group of people—a culture. On the other hand, many people like several kinds of music. In this scenario, the crossing over of various cultural models based on music, allow one person to embrace them all.

Based on these observations, we conclude there is a particular sub-foundation that supports every culture. Nevertheless, the infrastructure of these cultures expand, develop, and mature—or vice-versa—through time, context, technology, and global events. The human factor contributes organically to the evolution of culture also. How could it not?

Regardless, as we strive to live in tune with the variables that accompany our cultural catwalk (think about the scary elevated construction catwalks), we have one common thread we must come to terms with: that beneath all of our cultural nuances, we all have one clearly defined fixed foundation for belief and action in our lives; the nuts and bolts that hold us together.

Examples of our fixed foundation are:

Financial success ~ materialism ~ faith ~ political leanings ~ morality ~ desire to do good ~ selfishness ~ addictions ~ sex ~ food. I could go on and on. Nevertheless, whatever our fixed foundation represents and in spite of it, we can experiment and interchange our choices within the framework (fixed foundation) of what defines us and what is most important to us.


Adam and Eve were the first people to make culture.

What do you think? Leave a comment in the box below and we can start a conversation concerning what culture really is.

Next week we will look at some different views of culture.




[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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