The word, “culture,” covers a broad spectrum. Sometimes it’s easier to understand what falls under the umbrella of culture by drawing more definitive lines.
When you talk about culture, what can you expect this word and the discussion to encompass?
These 10 cultural universals will guide you.
10 Cultural Universals
- Geography – Location, location, location. Location defines so many aspects of a culture – from the clothing worn to the food prepared and eaten – that it would be remiss not to include geography when discussing culture. Consider the landscape of the region, the natural resources it offers, and of course the rich history generated from the region.
- Language – Language is significantly important to culture and can afford those studying culture some insight into what’s important to any given group (think: polite language, masculine/feminine use, slang, etc.). When discussing language, you should also consider the written language, body language, sign language, and numbers systems of the culture.
- Family – Family dynamics are a key part of cultural studies, from the roles of each family member, child to grandparent, to the rites of passage that members go through. Labor division across genders are also part of this cultural universal.
- FCTS (food, clothing, transport, shelter) – The basics of survival are arguably the very foundation of culture. Think architectural styles, building materials, modes of transport, traditional and everyday cuisine, traditional and everyday clothing, etc.
- VBR (values, beliefs, rituals) – We’ve talked extensively about values in this blog. That’s because they are the roots of every cultural baobab. This category also includes the rituals, beliefs, and religious practices of a culture, such as myths and legends, ceremonial rituals and holidays, and stances on contemporary science versus traditional beliefs.
- Economics – Jobs, the market, money, goods and services, production, consumption, and distribution are paramount to a culture’s development and quality of life, making a group’s economic circumstances a cultural universal.
- Education – This category includes not only formal education, but societal education – i.e. passing cultural values, survival skills, and various types of training onto the youth.
- Politics – The type of government and the organization of a society impacts all parts of culture, from rule of law to enforcement of these laws. The politics of a nation can also determine whether that nation is prone to war or peace.
- Technology – The degree of technology available to a culture – whether that technology be tools, weapons, digital advancement, etc. – contributes to all aspects of everyday life, as well as to the bigger picture, the way society runs.
- Cultural Expression – This is often the category one might first think of when they hear the word, “culture.” It includes art, music, literature, sport, etc. Every expressive aspect of a culture that brings it to life.
Now that you know what constitutes “culture,” we’ll put each of these universals under the microscope in the coming weeks.