Harrison (2002) defines culture as a set of basic characteristics that makes a certain group of people distinct from another. For example, we may be able to distinguish the way in which Indians act as compared to the Chinese through their cultural differences. We therefore take the differences and categorize them under a particular umbrella (Snow 1996). However, there are those characteristics that can be said to be trans-cultural, meaning that different groups of people follow similar cultural concepts. For instance, children all over the world are brought up to love and obey their parents. The manner in which they express their love and show respect to their parents may differ depending on the culture that they are brought up in but the loving feelings are all similar.
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Family, on the other hand, can be said to be a group of people joined together by something common, mainly the ancestry, affinity or co-existence (Smith 2004). The concept of family is much more than genetic relationships. The major function of the family is to enhance continued existence of the society, both socially and biologically. Smith (2004) argues that the experience an individual has in the family changes with time and when family is looked at from the perspective of the children, it can be said to be a family of orientation. This is because it is at this stage that the family is working towards placing or locating children socially and enables their socialization and getting the real ideas of the culture. When it is looked at from the perspective of the parents, it can be said to be a family of procreation. The parents produce children and make them aware of their cultural aspects.
Hence, culture can be said to be incorporated into the family and the two must go hand in hand to bring meaning to life (Wang 2001). This study focuses on the various ways in which culture and family operate together. The aim of the study is to show the relationship between the two and how culture is distinct from the different groups of families.
Cultural items that may have persisted for a long time
A culture normally defines the manner in which an abstract principle may be transformed into the day to day behavior. This implies that there are a number of “default” characteristics or behaviors that have been instilled into us from the stage of infancy and which represent the accepted norms in the society (Harrison 2002). We may choose act against these norms especially in exceptional circumstances and still justify ourselves. The way we do things in our day to day life may seem “natural” to us and we are sometimes subconscious of our culture because we are always incorporated into it and we know every aspect of it. According to Harrison (2002), most people learn their behavior through inheriting it from their parents and the older generation and it is only when they interact with people from other communities that they realize their patterns of behavior are not with everyone else.
Some cultural items have been in existence for a long period of time that they no longer satisfy human desires and the society still does not intend to drop them. The Muslim community has, for instance, always emphasized that women cover their entire body to prevent men from looking at them. Despite the fact that this may not be taken positively by some people, the norms are still strictly followed. The conservative Muslim societies especially in Afghanistan ensure that their women are not seen by men and they must be accompanied by their male relatives wherever they are going out to the public. Such a cultural norm may not fully accomplish its intended desires but the community still values it and will hardly drop it (Wang 2001).
There are also those communities that strongly support polygamy. Despite the fact that polygamous families normally result into major conflicting issues like over-population and under-development, most cultures feel it is the only way to ensure perpetuity in the society. According to Snow (1996), several European cultures condemn polygamy while majority of the African communities have become rigid and feel that their cultural values should not be influenced by western cultures.
Characteristics of culture
According to Schneider (1993), culture normally manifests itself through various forms which include art, language, religion, literature and customs. Different parts of the world have different cultural values and these can be viewed in respect to the following characteristics:
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- Culture is shared: This implies that there is no single culture that operates on its own or belongs to one person. Culture is shared by a group of people who are normally living in one environment. A group of people living in one region normally for a set of values and norms depending on their existing environment and historical heritage and they use these to enhance their community.
- Culture is learned: Culture is passed on from one generation to the next (Harrison 2002). This means that the people who are living in today’s society may not have been the ones who developed the culture they follow. Rather, they learnt it from their older generations and they go on to teach the younger and upcoming generation.
- Culture is an adaptive behavior: Culture gives us the ability to live in the situations that we find ourselves in. It is through culture that we are able to develop new techniques of survival and hence enhance our living standards. For instance, over the centuries, people have been able to move from the warm regions to the cold regions and develop skills of inventing fire, agriculture, and clothing, among others all from the impact of culture (Harrison 2002).
- Culture is subject to change: Shapiro (2001) argues that, cultural behaviors change from one generation to the next. New cultural traits are added while old ones are lost when they prove to be of less significance and this is what brings about development.
Aspects of behavior which may and which may not be attributed to culture
Culture is made up of a system of beliefs that are used by people in a particular region, their moral aspects as well as their given principles regarding life. Different patterns of behavior in a particular region also form culture. There are therefore those behaviors or characteristics that may be attributed to culture and there are those that may not, depending on the different communities. Some of the characteristics in behavior that are attributed to culture include (Shapiro 2001):
- The mode of dressing: Our society allows for the modern and decent way of dressing, which is also based on gender. The mode of dressing is clearly distinct from that of other communities like the Muslims or the Indians, among other communities.
- Moral behaviors: These are also based on culture and they are learnt from one generation to the next. For instance, as children grow, they are taught the proper way to behave in the presence of their elders and this is enhanced by the prevailing cultural values that people hold.
- Social responsibilities: The culture allows that the male and the female have different social responsibilities. The domestic chores have been taken to be taken up by girls and women while the more technical jobs like construction are taken up by men. However, with more women dominating the corporate world, cultural changes in social responsibilities have been significant with both men and women carrying out the household duties.
The use of technology in development is however, not a cultural attribute. Many people in the world today have taken up the technology that is continuously advancing to improve their living standards. This cannot be taken to be a cultural behavior because it has been invented to be used by people all over the world and it has nothing to do with values or beliefs (Shapiro 2001).
How basic values affect cultural variation
According to Harrison (2002), the abstract values in a culture are normally directly related to people’s day to day life and these values sometimes result in variations among the different communities. For instance, the military in the government agency normally have a well defined set of values which result in their culture and which are put into daily use with a lot of consistency. Values therefore have a strong impact on culture and culture changes as values change. The culture in the 1960s was characterized by distrust for the existing authority and these values had a powerful impact on the behavior of people.
The strength of a culture therefore depends on the degree to which the values of that culture are set and translated to people. The effect that staying outside the cultural norms has on people also affects the nature of the culture prevailing in a society. The key values of a particular community are mainly what determine whether the culture is strong or weak (Wang 2001).
How geography affects cultural variation
People in different geographical regions adopt different cultures (Snow 1996). The early man in the history of evolution lived in the tropical regions of Africa and as he continued evolving and procreating, he moved to other different regions. The tropical regions were warm and had plenty of food. Man’s culture consisted of gathering wild fruits and interacting with other communities. As he later moved to other colder climates, he was able to develop new cultures which enabled him adapt to this new environment and these include hunting, making fires, change in the mode of dressing, among others.
Hence, depending on the geographical conditions of people, cultures differ significantly. In our today’s world, western cultures are different from those of African cultures and even as Africans try to copy the western culture, it cannot fully supplement the African culture (Shapiro 2001).
How isolation affects cultural variations
Harrison (2002) argues that isolation of a particular society normally affects the way people perceive other people’s cultures. An isolated society can be said to be ethnocentric about other people’s cultures and they see their culture as good and other people’s as wrong. Isolation does not allow culture integration and it normally leads to a rigid culture that does not change for a long time. Change occurs when the society modifies their own beliefs, values and practices and not when they integrate with other cultures.
An existing ethnocentric behavior
Unlike some communities in the world, my country advocates for a society that is dominated by men. Women’s position is in the homes and they are not supposed to rule or even venture into the corporate and political systems. Those countries that allow women to take up the high positions in the society are considered to disrespect the authority of man. In my country, women must be in second position and man rules without having to compete for the high positions with women. The women have not for a long time had a say in the society and their decisions must be made by their male counterparts. Those societies that advocate for equal rights are taken as lacking a foundation and having been overpowered by the western cultures.
This ethnocentric behavior has negatively affected the development of the country and has resulted in a society that is greatly affected by male chauvinism. It is clear that women are as capable of being productive as men but they have not been given the chance to do so and their potential has therefore not been put into use.
Problems that would be faced by a Muslim girl living in my country
Since my country does not value the rights of women as much as those of men, a Muslim girl is likely to face major challenges trying to ensure she is respected. On the other hand, since most of the communities are Christians, a Muslim girl is likely to be rejected by the community. The community would like people who follow the norms, which a Muslim may not adjust to. Most men in the community would prefer women who are attractive and who clearly show their beauty to the public. According to our beliefs, women cultivate love from their male counterparts from the manner in which they present themselves and their physical beauty must be seen through their dressing. This would imply that men will not develop any love from the Muslim girl and she is likely to live miserably with nobody to interact with.
Difference between an extended and polygamous family
There are various types of families, depending on the members making it up. A conjugal family, also commonly known as the nuclear family is one that is made up of the husband, wife and children, who are still young and not yet married. It is composed of only one wife and is therefore known as a monogamous family (Smith 2004).
An extended family is also known as the consanguineal family and it consists of a father, mother and their children, together with other members of the family like the parents of either the mother or the father (Smith 2004). It is mainly common where property is inherited and families live as one and share the property. An extended family can in other words be said to consist of the nuclear family plus other family members of the husband’s or wife’s family.
A polygamous family is a family consisting of the husband, several wives and children. It is distinct from the nuclear family because the nuclear consists of only one wife. Both the extended and polygamous families go beyond just having the husband wife and children. However, the main difference between an extended family and a polygamous family is that, while an extended family consists of other family members above the nuclear family, a polygamous family is one where there is one husband with more than one wife (Smith 2004).
The most important function of the family
According to Schneider (1993), the family plays an important role in bringing up a proper generation that will enhance the values of the succeeding generations and therefore sustain the culture of the community. The family procreates and ensures that the children brought up know their values and follow them the right way. They ensure that generations value the aspect of socialization because this is what leads to proper development of the cultural norms. In all this, it implies that culture is a key aspect in the development of the family and the society in general. The family must promote and enhance enculturation for the society to grow.
Enculturation and socialization enable the society and especially children to learn all the requirements of culture in which they are surrounded. They also enable them to acquire the appropriate values and behaviors and hence be shaped into a morally and socially upright individual. When it has been successfully implemented, it leads to competent social structure in respect to language, values and the norms of the society. Without the family, therefore, the society would not be able to establish itself in its culture and there would most probably not be any existence of a society (Wang 2001).
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In conclusion, it can be argued that one of the most important aspects of the society is culture and every culture has a set of beliefs, practices and values, which are modified from generation to generation. Different communities all over the world have different cultures but with the advancement of technology, cultures have been slowly integrated among the different groups of people. It is also important to note that the family forms the core to enhance culture in the society and it is important that cultural values are emphasized upon by the family to ensure that generations coming up benefit from them.
Harrison, L, 2002. Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress: Basic Books, USA.
Schneider, B, 1993. Children’s Social Competence in Context: The Contributions of Family, School and Culture: Routledge, UK.
Shapiro, M, 2001. For Moral Ambiguity: National Culture and the Politics of the Family: University of Minnesota Press, USA.
Smith, J, 2004. Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960: Columbia University Press.
Snow, N, 1996. In The Company of Others: Perspectives on Community, Family, and Culture: Rowman & Littlefield, New York.
Wang, M and Taylor, R, 2000. Resilience across Contexts: Family, Work, Culture, and Community: Routledge, UK.