Elements of culture  

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1872 photograph of the western face of the Greek Parthenon
1872 photograph of the western face of the Greek Parthenon

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Elements of a given culture consist of:

Government - Economy - Language - Social class - Traditions - Arts - Cuisine - Geography - Sport



A government is the organization, or agency through which a political unit exercises its authority, controls and administers public policy, and directs and controls the actions of its members or subjects.

Typically, the term "government" refers to the civil government of a sovereign state which can be either local, national, or international. However, commercial, academic, religious, or other formal organizations are also governed by internal bodies. Such bodies may be called boards of directors, managers, or governors or they may be known as the administration (as in schools) or councils of elders (as in forest). The size of governments can vary by region or purpose.

Growth of an organization advances the complexity of its government, therefore small towns or small-to-medium privately operated enterprises will have fewer officials than typically larger organizations such as multinational corporations which tend to have multiple interlocking, hierarchical layers of administration and governance. As complexity increases and the nature of governance becomes more complicated, so does the need for formal policies and procedures.

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Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Greek for oikos (house) and nomos (custom or law), hence "rules of the house(hold)."

One of the uses of economics is to explain how economies work and what the relations are between economic players (agents) in the larger society. Methods of economic analysis have been increasingly applied to fields that involve people (officials included) making choices in a social context, such as crime, education, the family, health, law, politics, religion , social institutions, and war.

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Language is a term most commonly used to refer to so called "natural languages" — the forms of communication considered peculiar to humankind. By extension the term also refers to the type of human thought process which creates and uses language. Essential to both meanings is the systematic creation, maintenance and use of systems of symbols, which dynamically reference concepts and assemble according to structured patterns to communicate meaning. The scientific study of language is called linguistics.

A language is a system of signs (symbols, indices, icons) for encoding and decoding information. Since language and languages became an object of study by ancient grammarians, the term has had many and different definitions. The English word derives from Latin lingua, "language, tongue," "tongue," a metaphor based on the use of the physical organ in speech. The ability to use speech originated in remote prehistoric times, as did the language families in use at the beginning of writing. The processes by which they were acquired were for the most part unconscious.

In modern times, a large number of artificial languages have been devised, requiring a distinction between their consciously innovated type and natural language. The latter are forms of communication considered peculiar to humankind. Although some other animals make use of quite sophisticated communicative systems, and these are sometimes casually referred to as animal language, none of these are known to make use of all the properties that linguists use to define language.

The term “language” has branched by analogy into several meanings. The most obvious manifestations are spoken languages such as English or Spoken Chinese. However, there are also written languages and other systems of visual symbols such as sign languages. In cognitive science the term is also sometimes extended to refer to the human cognitive facility of creating and using language. Essential to both meanings is the systematic creation and usage of systems of symbols, each pairing a specific sign with an intended meaning, established through social conventions.

In the late 19th century Charles Sanders Peirce called this pairing process semiosis and the study of it semiotics. According to another founder of semiotics, Roman Jakobson, the latter portrays language as code in which sounds (signantia) signify concepts (signata). Language is the process of encoding signata in the sounds forming the signantia and decoding from signantia to signata.

Concepts themselves are signantia for the objective reality being conceived. When discussed as a general phenomenon then, "language" may imply a particular type of human thought that can be present even when communication is not the result, and this way of thinking is also sometimes treated as indistinguishable from language itself. In Western philosophy, language has long been closely associated with reason, which is also a uniquely human way of using symbols. In Ancient Greek philosophical terminology, the same word, logos, was a term for both language or speech and reason, and the philosopher Thomas Hobbes used the English word "speech" so that it similarly could refer to reason, as presented below.

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Social class

Social class refers to the hierarchical distinctions between individuals or groups in societies or cultures. Anthropologists, historians and sociologists identify class as universal, although what determines class varies widely from one society to another. Even within a society, different people or groups may have very different ideas about what makes one "high" or "low" in the hierarchy.

The most basic class distinction between the two groups is between the powerful and the powerless. Social classes with more power usually subordinate classes with less power, while attempting to cement their own power positions in society. Social classes with a great deal of power are usually viewed as elites, at least within their own societies.

In the simplest societies, power is closely linked to the ability to assert one's status through physical strength; thus age, gender, and physical health are often common delineators of class in rudimentary tribes. However, spiritual charisma and religious vision can be at least as important. Also, because different livelihoods are so closely intertwined in simple societies, morality often ensures that the old, the young, the weak, and the sick maintain a relatively equal standard of living despite low class status.

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1872 photograph of the western face of the Greek Parthenon
1872 photograph of the western face of the Greek Parthenon

The word tradition comes from the Latin word traditio which means "to hand down" or "to hand over." It is used in a number of ways in the English language:

  1. A meme; beliefs or customs taught by one generation to the next, often orally. For example, we can speak of the tradition of sending birth announcements.
  2. A set of customs or practices. For example, we can speak of Christmas traditions.
  3. A broad religious movement made up of religious denominations or church bodies that have a common history, customs, culture, and, to some extent, body of teachings. For example, one can speak of Islam's Sufi tradition or Christianity's Lutheran tradition.

However, on a more basic theoretical level, tradition(s) can be seen as information or composed of information. For that which is brought into the present from the past, in a particular societal context, is information. This is even more fundamental than particular acts or practices even if repeated over a long sequence of time. For such acts or practices, once performed, disappear unless they have been transformed into some manner of communicable information.

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elements of culture, La culture, c’est la règle, et l’art, c’est l’exception

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, photography, sculpture, and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.

Traditionally, the term art was used to refer to any skill or mastery. This conception changed during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as "a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science". (Gombrich) Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions.

The definition and evaluation of art has become especially problematic since the early 20th century. An object may be characterized by the intentions, or lack thereof, of its creator, regardless of its apparent purpose. A cup, which ostensibly can be used as a container, may be considered art if intended solely as an ornament, while a painting may be deemed craft if mass-produced.

Traditionally, the term art was used to refer to any skill or mastery. This conception changed during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as "a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science". Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions.

The nature of art is an unsolved problem in philosophy.

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table manners, elements of culture

Cuisine (from French cuisine, "cooking; culinary art; kitchen"; ultimately from Latin coquere, "to cook") is a specific set of cooking traditions and practices, often associated with a specific culture. Religious food laws can also exercise a strong influence on cuisine. A cuisine is primarily influenced by the ingredients that are available locally or through trade. For example, the American-Chinese dish chop suey clearly reflected the adaptation of Chinese cuisine to the ingredients available in North America.


Cultural region is a term used mainly in the study of geography. Distinct cultures often do not limit their geographic coverage inside the borders of a nation state, or to smaller subdivisions of a state. To 'map' a culture, we often have to identify an actual 'cultural region', and when we do this we find that it bears little relationship to the legal borders drawn up by custom, treaties, charters or wars.

There are different kinds of cultural regions that can be delineated. A map of culture that maps 'religion & folklore' may have slightly different shape to one which, in the same region, maps 'dress and architecture'.


Dempsey and Firpo (1924) by George Bellows
Dempsey and Firpo (1924) by George Bellows

A sport is commonly defined as an organized, competitive, and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play. It is governed by a set of rules or customs. In a sport the key factors are the physical capabilities and skills of the competitor when determining the outcome (winning or losing). The physical activity involves the movement of people, animals and/or a variety of objects such as balls and machines. In contrast, games such as card games and board games, though these could be called mind sports and some are recognized as Olympic sports, require only mental skills. Non-competitive activities such as jogging and rock-climbing, are usually classified as recreations.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Elements of culture" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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