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The Concept of Culture Culture is a complex notion which has an impact on practically every aspect of our lives.

1.The Concept of Culture

Culture is a complex notion which has an impact on practically every aspect of our lives. Due to its multifaceted nature, culture has a myriad of individual meanings and expressions. The most respected definitions describe culture as a system of values and beliefs which is shared with others and which is an essential building block of our identity. Culture is comprised of elements such as history, values, language, traditions, religion, beliefs and customs. Scholars from different fields have developed numerous approaches to explain the concept of culture. The following definitions represent some of the most commonly used explanations of culture:

"Culture is a dynamic process of solving human problems and dilemmas in areas of human relationships, time, and nature." - Fons Trompenaars

"Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values." -- Geert Hofstede

"Culture means the whole complex of traditional behaviour which has been developed by the human race and is successively learned by each generation. " - Margaret Mead

"Culture may be defined as the totality of the mental and physical reactions and activities that characterize the behaviour of individuals composing a social group collectively and individually in relations to their natural environment, to other groups, to members of the group itself and of each individual to himself. It also includes the products of these activities and their role in the life of the groups. - Franz Boas

"Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic 'taken for granted' fashion an organization's view of its self and its environment." - Edgar Schein

The Concept of Culture

"Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiment in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historical derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action." - Kroeber and Kluckhohn

As complex as the notion of culture is as important it is to understand the underlying norms and values of culture in order to successfully live with or deal with different cultures.

2.Onion & Iceberg models of the Culture

The Onion Model

The image of an onion is often used to describe the different layers of culture. Culture can be broken down into layers: The outer layers are composed of the artefacts and products as well as patterns of behaviour. The next layer encompasses the beliefs, norms and attitudes of that culture. The middle of the onion represents the underlying cultural assumptions and values. As the most hidden layer, these aspects of culture are much harder to recognise and understand, but all of the other layers are built upon the centre of the culture onion. Therefore, careful analysis and a better understanding of the different layers as well as how they interact and influence each other is necessary. Intercultural training can help to understand the different layers of culture and their significance.

The Iceberg Model

The so-called iceberg model of culture is often used by scholars, trainers and managers in order to elucidate the concept of culture. The image of the iceberg with its small visible part on the surface of the water and the much bigger invisible part below the surface illuminates the different layers of culture. Elements of culture which we can easily notice such as clothing, language, gestures, food, music or rituals are represented by the upper portion of the iceberg. The portion below the surface stands for those elements which are not as obvious such as values, beliefs and attitudes. It is difficult to make sense of the 'visible' aspects of a culture without understanding the 'invisible', underlying elements from which they originate. The behaviour of different cultures may appear less foreign and possibly less threatening with an understanding of their particular worldviews, motivations, religious beliefs, attitudes to rules, and other cultural orientations.

Question #1

The article provides several definitions of culture. Choose one and paraphrase the definition.

Question #2

In the article, what is the "onion" metaphor of culture? What is the "iceberg" metaphor of culture?

Question #3

(Summary & Response WILL be collected in class. Please PRINT your summary & response and bring it to class!)

Please write a short summary of the article (150-200 words). Please provide a short response (150-200 words) to the article. (TOTAL = 300-400 words). In your response:

1.     Summarize the article (100-150 words)

2.     Respond to the article (100-150 words):

a.     Choose one quote that you think is interesting.

b.     Paraphrase the quote in YOUR OWN WORDS.

c.      Respond: From the reading, choose ONE quote that is interesting? Please explain why drawing from your personal experiences and life knowledge (e.g. something you read recently in the newspaper, saw on the internet or watched on TV/movie/internet). 

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