Culture is made up of all the shared values, customs, and beliefs that give a society a common identity. It includes the LANGUAGE a society uses, along with its rituals, fashions, arts, food, stories, and lifestyles.
Traditional societies usually share a common culture. People who live in larger, more diverse societies share a mainstream culture, with which most people can identify. Societies may also have SUBCULTURES, alongside their normal cultures, often based on shared values or interests, especially among immigrants and young people.
Cultures spread and influence one another as a result of increased trade and communication, and modern technology has brought the world’s cultures closer than ever. Some cultural events, such as a Hollywood movie, are shared across the world—but local aspects of culture, such as language or myth, remain the most powerful cultural influences in most people’s lives.
Cultures emerge from the growing history and experiences of a society, or its TRADITION. Rapid social change and revolution can cause changes in culture. Cultures also change as people make contact with other cultures. Greater global communications and opportunities to travel allow people across the world to study and learn from other cultures.
Most people grow up immersed in their culture. They absorb it from their family, through rituals and customs, through language, through the arts, through social habits, and through a shared history. People also learn about culture through school, friends, television, and books.
Tradition generally refers to patterns of customs and beliefs that reflect a group’s common identity. Tradition is passed down from one generation to the next through teaching and practice.
Traditions often come from deep-rooted beliefs, or are simply “invented” at a certain point in history. Special events, such as royal pageants in the UK, Thanksgiving Day in the US, and Bastille Day in France, help people to remember certain times and traditions, giving them a sense of a shared cultural history.
Each culture communicates through language—a set of words and grammar, signs and symbols. There are some 5,000 different languages in the world.
Languages evolve in the same way as cultures—through interaction with other languages. Languages adopt new words and lose old words all the time. Sometimes, old words take on new meanings. Local variations of the same language are known as dialects. These may occur when a group of speakers moves away from their homeland, such as the Spanish settlers in South America, or when they become isolated from other speakers of the same language.
Many complex societies encourage diversity by allowing smaller groups to form their own subcultures, with their own distinct behavior, beliefs, and attitudes. Through fashion, music, and art, subcultures often influence mainstream culture.
People looking for excitement, a strong identity, and a code to live by may choose to join a gang, such as the Hell’s Angels or Japanese Yakuza. Gangs usually create their own subculture, complete with dress codes, tattoos, slang, and music. These highly visible signs show the members’ loyalty and pride in belonging to the gang. Mainstream music, such as “gangsta rap,” is often influenced by gang culture.
Many people, especially younger people, choose to join a subculture to express their interests and identity. Teenagers and young adults often feel a lack of identification with the values or interests of mainstream society, so they seek out groups of like-minded people—with similar musical, sporting, or political interests—to give them a sense of belonging. Subcultures can even be based around hobbies such as folk dancing or pigeon racing.