The History and Development of Culture Essay

The History and Development of Culture

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The word culture comes from the Latin cultus which means to care or to cultivate (The American Heritage Dictionary). The Latin cultus is the past participle of colere, which means to till. Many have found the link between tilling and agriculture and culture to be obscure and have thus kept silent on the topic. However, culture need not apply merely to the cultivating of the soil. Cultivate may come to refer to the act of forming and refining, as by education. In 1510, “cultivation through education” was innovated thus transforming the meaning of culture in that very sense. Meaning took another turn as education came to be attached to a select group of society, most usually the elite and the wealthy. Thus in 1805 culture came to refer to the intellectual side of civilization. In 1867, as the term culture became associated more and more to the manners and behaviors of a specific group it came to be understood as the shared accomplishments and customs of a people. Through this retracing it becomes clearer how culture has arrived at our current understanding of it. Culture is, simply stated, the shared approach through which a group of people understand the world (Kneebone 2).

Culture is the body of practices, beliefs, behaviors, and customs of a particular group of people. As culture is grounded on groups of people who live in proximity to each other, whether for short or extended periods, there are as many variant cultures as there are groups. As long as a group of persons have a shared understanding and practice then they are members of a cultural group. This results to the diversity of cultures observed in different localities. There is then a changing composition of the term culture. With such different components in terms of beliefs and practices, there arises a question as to whether there should be a use of different standards when judging the ethics behind particular customs of a given group or place. Renteln posits that it is important to understand differences in culture and not to look at one culture as being superior or inferior to another (57). Culture then, when considering the mass of differing cultures, is not a scale with one end higher and the other lower. Each component culture is equivalent to another and the practices of each due respect from outside observers.

An ongoing discussion as to the nature of culture is whether or not it is universal as well as relative. Many scholars have worked on finding universal aspects of cultures. Although there is yet a lack of concurrence in specific aspects that may be considered universal, it has been posited that culture is homogenous (Ulin 815). Thus culture is taken to be basically the same although differing in expression. To put it simply, culture develops along the same lines and outsiders may enter into a foreign culture and understand it by contrasting it with their own. In this way culture retains its divergent quality while attaining a universal framework. Culture may thus be seen as something like a Venn Diagram. Whether or not the shapes converge in a shared center, the totality of all cultures is united by a broader boundary encompassing the totality of separate cultures while leaving each distinct culture to specificities.

Works Cited

“Culture.” Accessed on October 30, 2007 from

“Culture.” Accessed on October 30, 2007 from

“Culture.” Accessed on October 30, 2007 from

“Cultivate.” Accessed on October 30, 2007 from

Kneebone, Theresa. “Developing Cross-cultural Awareness and Understanding.” Independent School 67 (1) (2007).

Rachels, James. 2003. The Elements of Moral Philosophy 4th Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Renteln, Allison Dundes. “Relativism and the Search for Human Rights.” American Anthropologist 90 (1) (1988): 56-72.

Ulin, Robert C. “Revisiting Cultural Relativism: Old Prospects for a New Cultural Critique.” Anthropological Quarterly : 803-820.

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