Culture has been defined as a skill; "a luxury; an elite's prestige
commodity; a simple aesthetic appreciation; (or) solely a folkloric epiphenomenon."
The definition of culture I use in Geography 330 includes "every aspect of life: know-how, technical knowledge, customs of food and dress, religion, mentality, values, language, symbols, socio-political and economic behavior, indigenous methods of taking decisions and exercising power, methods of production and economic relations, and so on." (Verhelst, T 1990 No Life Without Roots London: Zed Books p.17)
Culture permeates and influences every aspect of life, but it is not static however, rather it is a process in a constant state of flux and adaptation to new contexts, demands, and needs. Culture is not a deterministic force but rather a subtle and often subliminal pattern of thinking which describes the "organization of values, norms, and symbols which guide the choices made by actors and which limit the types of interaction which may occur between individuals" (-Parsons, Talcott & Shils, Edward 1990 "Values and social systems" ed. Alexander, Jeffrey & Seidman, Steven Culture and Society, Contemporary Debates Cambridge Univ Press, New York pp.39-40).
According to Spradley and McCurdy (1987) culture is "learned, and shared. In addition, culture is adaptive. Human beings cope with their natural and social environment by means of their traditional knowledge" (p.4). In other words, as something inherited, 'traditional' cultural knowledge developed within a particular spatial and temporal 'context' or 'environment'. But as a dynamic process culture continues to change as people cope with new challenges and adapt to changing conditions.
Underlying values and expectations are arbitrary conceptions "of what is desirable in human experience, . . . (and) these concepts of what is desirable combine cognitive and affective meanings . . . they provide security and contribute to a sense of personal and social identity. For this reason, individuals in every society cling tenaciously to the values they have acquired and feel threatened when confronted with others who live according to different conceptions of what is desirable" Thus culture is like a "security blanket" which "has great meaning to its owner"
(Spradley, P. & David W. McCurdy 1987 Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology Boston: Little Brown and Company pp.5-6).
"Culture is at once socially constituted (it is a product of present and past activity) and socially constitutive (it is part of the meaningful context in which activity takes place)" (Roseberry, W. 1989 Anthropologies and Histories Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick p.42).