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This blogpost is written by our German volunteer

Since I often address the “Indian” and the “German” culture in means of cultural exchange, I wanted to address culture itself today. Therefore, I want to elaborate the topic of culture alongside a few questions.

What is culture ? – Main elements

It seems difficult to state one definition of culture. I will conclude all the gathered information in the end of this blog-post, approach a definition and I will take a look at some already popular/known definitions of it.

Nevertheless, main aspects that we gradually think of, if it comes to the topic of culture, are: habits, traditions, food, language, clothing. In addition to that, values, modes of thinking and institutional, behavioral and social standards are also closely linked to our cultural background or ethnical group.

Why do we need culture?

If culture is so hard to define and oftentimes the origin of discrimination, racism, critic about cultural appropriation, (etc.), why do we need it? The question is closely linked to the “development” of culture. Why did we begin to categorize humans systematically?

There are several conclusions to that question.

The first reason is (1.) to distance our self from other ethnologic backgrounds, (2.) identification of ourselves as a part of something, (3.) Awareness of differences in for example moral, value.

Another reason of why cultures exist could be concluded through the French philosopher Sartre theory: We need a social system to limit our freedom. Sounds complicated? - Actually it isn't and I will shortly explain it to you: He once argued that every human being is (theoretically) free and humanity is even determined to the freedom. Since we are determined to be free, we are also determined to take responsibility for our actions.

As a result, the humanity is overwhelmed and we learned to set boundaries, - rules, we develop a social and political system along with rights, morals, rules and sentences. These boundaries and value systems help us elaborating our behavior.

Sartre also criticizes es the institution of church as another human-constructed institution which exists only to enables rules to create something, which humans can believe in. The institution of church tells us, that there is a meaning of life.

To conclude culture into Sartre’s theory: Culture is just another construct that humans need to find their place in society. In the wide (again theoretically) free world that we live in we need groups, categories to fit in.

Definitions of culture

Ideas, symbolisms, language, objects and practice have a symbiotic influence on higher political, economic and religious connections that result in our cultural life worldwide. These connections are often no longer visible because cultures are complex and developing all the time. Therefore its hard (if not impossible) to define a culture. But why not start approaches?

Popular definitions of culture:

- “Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior, institutions, and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups.”, “Culture is often originated from or attributed to a specific region or location.” (by Tylor, Edward. (1871). Primitive Culture. Vol. New York: J. P. Putnasm’s Son).

- The Cambridge English Dictionary states that culture is "the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time."

The science of culture and ethnology

Actually there is a whole science behind the term culture : culture science, closely linked to ethnology. By surprise, I am not just slightly interested in cultures, I eventually want to study ethnology when I return to Germany.

Ethnology engages with the dynamic cultural and social processes, the understanding of certain actions and the context and background of it. Culture is treated as a tool to analyze the psychological background of humans actions specifically due the actors cultural influence.

Indeed we are confronted with imaginary cultures their complex systems as critic of our own value system social structures discrimination, development of the world economy in many books (“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley or “Divergent” by Veronica Roth).

As I mentioned before, the topic of culture is huge and there is so much to write about it. This is just a brief in view in the topic and it can be continued to talk about it!

Similarly to todays topic, there are wider topics to discuss about cultural appropriation, -appreciation and racism which go hand in hand with the topic of culture.

Yours Zoe

Sources: ; “Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions“ by Anne L. C. Runehov, Lluis Oviedo

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