Does a society always have a culture?

  • March 27, 2014 · 7:00 PM

What is a culture (societal)?  Does it exist?  Why did it develop?  What is the relationship between a culture and members of society?  Is it needed/wanted, or does it create its role in society?

Alternate Terms

The literature seems to view culture as a diverse, ethereal phenomena that is impossible to characterize in any meaningful terms.  As such the theories pertaining to culture generally avoid the idea of developing an ontology and fall to developing theories of approaches for studying culture.

Culture -- That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. (Tylor, E.B., Primitive Culture: Researches in the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom, 1871) (SEP)

Institution (not just buildings and human organizations) -- Broadly defined, institutions are the prescriptions that humans use to organize all forms of repetitive and structured interactions including those within families, neighborhoods,  markets, firms, sports leagues, churches, private associations, and governments at all scales. Individuals interacting within rule-structured situations face choices regarding the actions and strategies they take, leading to consequences for themselves and for others. (E. Ostrom, Understanding Institutional Diversity, 2005, Chapter 1)

Social Structure - Social structure is the organized pattern of social relationships and social institutions that together compose society. Social structures are not immediately visible…, however they are present and affect all dimensions of human experience in society.  The focus of this approach is a social system concept with nodes (humans/groups) and the relationships among the nodes.  (Christian Smith, What Is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up, 2010).  Review.

Meme (not the Internet version) -- a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition and replication in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes. (Wikipedia)

The Ontology

I probably should read my own opening comments…

1.  The Objects -- observable or non-observable

..  a.  individuals, groups (family, tribe, …, sectors; functional); society

..  b.  physical (within the usual perception/cognitive illusion frameworks); abstract; illusionary

..  c.  attitudes (intentional stances); values

..  d.  actions; behaviors; patterns; rules; choices, decisions; effects/impacts; consequences

..  e.  relationships; transactions

..  f.  tools; books/recordings/speeches (non-fiction/fiction)

2.  Kinds – sectoral, spatial, temporal; locational, survival, economic/resources, social, political, governance/legal; ethnic, gender, age, intellectual, reasoning

3.  Traits/attributes

..  a.  See kinds, objects and tropes in terms of whether the entity listed is instantiated in the culture in question, or should be.

..  b.  language

4.  Tropes (context)

..  a.  extant local conditions -- spatial, temporal, sectoral, environmental; stability/pace of change of these conditions

..  b.  risks -- natural (seasons, geophysical/climate - random and cyclical events); human threats

..  c.  resources available

..  d.  language(s)

..  e.  cultural history; continuity and pace of cultural change

..  f.  variances in cultural representation in relationships/transaction; frequency of inter-cultural contact

..  g.  action situations

The Epistemology

1.  The Knowledge

..  a.  Ends (individual/group) -- What to do?  Why do it?  Under what conditions is it needed/wanted?  “Oughts” and “ought nots”?

..  b.  Means -- How to do things?  How to do things the group’s way?  Tools available and how to use?  Who can help?

..  c.  Source of normativity – Who says I need to do this (this way)?  For what/whose end?

..  d.  Risks and threats?

2.  How Knowledge Acquired

..  a.  direct observation, improvisation, experimentation, innovation

..  b.  observing other members of own or other cultures and how they practice their culture.

..  b.  verbal and written communication with members of own and other cultures; instruction/education

..  c.  extrapolation from analogous phenomena

..  d.  institutions (organizations) – parents/family/friends; schools;  churches; media; law enforcement presentations; flyers and compilations of laws

..  e.  reading non-fiction and fiction books/materials


How do cultures change -- spatially, sectorally, temporally?  What precipitates change?  Role of interaction and effect of frequency?  How fast can it change?  What features of the change affect the pace?

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