Cultural characteristics that help understand evolutionary identity

This article explains various cultural characteristics which give a better understanding of culture and evolution. They help us understand that culture is learned, shared, dynamic, social, adaptive, cumulative and is a complex whole of a society.


The word 'culture' was first coined by E.B.Taylor, an English anthropologist in 18th century. Culture and society goes hand in hand. Culture is complex whole of a society. This is the reason that culture includes values, customs, beliefs, languages spoken, laws and orders implicated, cuisines and all those things which give society its identity. It is the culture itself which separates man from lower animals and thus it forms our significant possession and quality. Only we can possess it because it is we who are born and brought up in it. It is actually expression of our nature in the way we live and think. Everything we think, everything we perform and everything we possess together comprise our culture. It is a system of learned behavior and gets transmitted or shared by communication and tradition.

Characteristics of culture

Culture possesses many characteristics. These characteristics itself give better understanding of culture. Each and every culture, irrespective of its location have certain characteristics in common. Cultures which are extinct and cultures which still flourish share certain basic characteristics. Different cultures existing and flourishing in different locations, scattered throughout the world share these basic common characteristics or qualities.

Following are the characteristics of culture-

Culture adapts

For human beings, culture has worked as an adaptive mechanism. This has given our species an upper hand in the battle of survival against other life forms. Our cultural skills have allowed us to stay alive and it is only because of culture, global population has increased in leaps and bounds. It has given us enormous power, so big that we have become superior to other living beings on this planet, but regardless of such power, we still depend on it as in its absence survival is not possible. After evolution took place, humans occupied almost all the significant geographic areas of the earth. Despite of that, our bodies still remain those of warm climate animals. Even today we find it difficult to adapt to those areas of earth which are not warm, especially in absence of modern technology and cultural knowledge. However, our ancestors did survive even in those regions of earth which were not warmer and this is because of invention of hunting skills, discovery of fire, commerce, trading, agricultural practices, warm clothing, shelter etc. All these inventions and evolutionary qualities helped them and thus we can say that culture acted as an adaptive mechanism.

Culture is shared

Culture involves everything from values, beliefs, laws to languages spoken, cuisine etc. To learn all these, interaction becomes essential and in absence of interaction, these traits cannot be learned and thus culture is shared. Culture cannot be confined to an individual or a group of people. Though it can be said that some part of a culture can be shared unequally and sometimes, different aspects of culture get shared, but when spoken generally, culture seems to get shared and not confined. A thought or an action if considered to be appropriate, gets shared and thereby becomes culture and it only becomes cultural when most of us consider it to be appropriate.

Culture is learned

At birth, we lack cultural knowledge but then we are exposed to learning so many things. Families in which we are born and brought up have a great impact on us. This is because we get exposed to same cultural knowledge which they belong to. We do not inherit culture form our previous lives and do not know all the values, languages, customs, traditions etc right at birth itself. We learn it through our family, neighborhood, schools, teachers, friends, media etc. Also, there are many things about culture which are not taught anywhere but still we learn them subconsciously by observing others and being around others. Behavior which cannot be learned is not culture. We get to learn and adapt cultures of others only if those cultures influence and inspire us in some way and thus it is said that culture is learned.

Culture is cumulative

Culture is cumulative because new skills and knowledge keep adding to the previous one. This gives rise to cultural evolution. Culture is more of a continuous process and goes through unending change. Some cultures seem to us as not changing and continuing same traditions and values form ancient times. However, this is not true. They are changing but the change is so small that it is almost impossible to see it from outside and also when we compare such societies with others where change or evolution is taking place at a rapid rate then we feel that no change is taking place at all. Culture is stored and then passed on to next generation where something new is added to the already existing one and the process continues.

Culture changes

Knowledge of culture does not get accumulated and remain same. New knowledge does get added to the old one and in the process sometimes old one is lost, especially if old knowledge is of no use anymore. When new traits are added and old traits are removed then culture is subjected to change and this change varies form one community or society to other. Ratio at which change is taking place is totally dependent on members of that society. What aspect of culture gets changed too depend on them cause they are the ones who are bringing the change. Culture changes when new inventions and discoveries take place in the society. It also changes when diffusion of cultural traits take place between the societies.

Culture is social

Culture no longer exist or remain in isolation. It requires people who gives birth to it and as it is a product of society, it can only flourish and develop where society exists through social interactions. It cannot be confined to a single person i.e., one person cannot acquire it and let it flourish if he does not interacts with others. Earlier some societies did stay away from world in an isolation and were unaware of the outside world until were explored in one way or the other. However, today there exists no society in total isolation. In some or the other way, they are integrated into world.

Language is the main vehicle of culture: Culture gets transmitted

Culture can be shared form one person to other and transmitted form one generation to another, but to share or transmit it a medium is required. Language fulfills this role and is the main vehicle of culture. It is the primary mode of transmitting culture. We not only tend to live in present but also in the past as well as in the future and all this is made possible because we possess languages. Past is transmitted to us through languages and we can transmit the same to future generations through this media. Languages bind societies and help an individual to understand culture. Apart from language, symbols do play an important role to transmit culture.

Culture varies

There exists uncountable number of societies in the world. Though they have basic characteristics which are similar but each society has its own culture i.e., in some way or other, culture of one society is different from others. Culture varies in terms of practices, traditions, languages, cuisines, law and orders, values, ethics, cuisines, beliefs and also varies from time to time. No one can expect a uniformity in it cause each culture brings something new to the table and that is what makes its unique and different from others. Also, subcultures can be seen within a culture. This is because culture varies form one group to another existing within the same society.

Culture is dynamic and gratifying

Culture does not remain constant. This is because it changes. Change may be quick, abrupt or very slow but still change does take place and one entity that is responsible behind the changing process is culture itself and hence culture is described as dynamic. This characteristic develops because of its cumulative characteristic. We as members of society have many needs and these needs of ours are fulfilled by culture itself as it makes available to us number of opportunities. Thus, culture is described as gratifying because it is the one who determines our needs and at the same time provides opportunities to us to satisfy our wants.

Culture is a pattern of learned behavior

Culture rules our behavior but in a flexible manner. It guides us to perform various activities and allows ways in which men can be men and women can be women. For example, it guides us to dress on the basis of our gender, but at the same time allows us to dress differently in different situations.


Culture is diverse, dynamic as well as gratifying product of human society. Learning its characteristics will give us a detailed idea of what culture actually is. It is a way of life which is not inborn, but which can be learned, transmitted, shared from society to society and generation to generation. It adapts, changes and exists only in presence of people or society. Each and every society has its own culture which varies in some way or the other, but still contain basic characteristics which do remain same.

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Author: Reena Upadhya27 Aug 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

I would like to add on the following to the main article-

Culture is idealistic, ideal and integrated-
Culture embodies all the ideas and norms of a society. It comprises of all the ideals like social, intellectual, artistic etc. It is the sum total of the ideal pattern. It also consists of institutions. It is an ideal pattern of behavior and thus group or society is expected to follow the same. Various parts of culture are integrated i.e., it acquires an order and follows the system. Any new addition too gets integrated with each other.

Culture is a human product as well as a way of life-
Culture is creation of society. It cannot operate by itself. Its existence is purely dependent on continuance of society. It cannot act independently and force an individual to perform or behave in a particular way. In fact, it is the will of that individual who is free to continue, adopt or adapt culture or just discard and leave it. It is more of a pattern or design made for living.

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