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What is Culture?

Culture and Shared Experiences
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

We can say that culture is based on shared significant experiences.  These shared significant experiences are the basis of an ethnic community or society.

Each society has a collection (formal or informal) of social institutions and practices correlating and expressing a common perspective of a group of people sharing an identifiable set of common or shared experiences.

Social Institutions
These shared significant experiences lead to a somewhat common perspective on reality, with associated moral and social values, which are the basis of certain assumptions which are entailed in the common social institutions.

Language Experience
A culture group also usually shares a common language, which is a strong identifying and unifying factor, both as an expression of the common perspective and as a factor in the development or changing of that common perspective.

We often use the term worldview for the shared perspective of such a culture group, or the set of assumptions arising from their shared experiences.  This set of shared experiences, leading to a shared worldview, gives an identity to the members and draws the line that separates insiders from outsiders.

The outsider entering the society or culture must learn and assimilate the major features of the worldview, that is, to take on the identity of the insider, in order to communicate and gain acceptance (credibility) with insiders.

Cultural Entry
One term for this process in some circles is Entry Orientation.  This includes language learning, a more obvious characteristic of the society.  The language provides a vehicle for the worldview.  The basic goal of Entry Orientation is not just language, but the social culture, learned through the experience of social interactions using language, and the worldview behind it.

In addition, Entry Orientation should involve the most important of those shared significant experiences in the society.  The outsider has not shared the same set of experiences that the insiders have.

Sharing Experiences
In order to communicate effectively, to operate from within the society or culture, it seems obvious that the outsider needs to share some of these experiences with them, so that the outsider's worldview will grow to entail more of the insider's worldview.

Read the related file in my series on Worldview Perspectives.

See also:
[TXT] Accents - Developing and Changing Them
[TXT] Ethnicity and Nationality in Mixed Genetics
[TXT] How Words Develop Multiple Meanings: How Word Meanings are Negotiated
[blog] Shared Significant Experiences
[TXT] Socialization and Self-Identity


Originally published in the "What is Culture?" series in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, June 1992
This version written and posted on OJTR 03 December 2004
Last edited 28 May 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD

Copyright 1992, 2004 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.
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