Understanding Culture As Concept

The purpose of the outline below is to review the main themes embedded in the concept. I have included, questions,  statements, bullet points and additional text. These will help you post your reflection on the comment box below.

In your posting you can answer specific questions or create your own reflective perspective. In either case, include the readings, class activities, and a connection to personal or professional experiences. The latter is important, since it allows us to apply the information to our practices.

Interpret and explain the meaning of the premise and reflection columns. How do they relate to concept and example columns?

Premise

  • We are all culture beings deeply influenced by consciously and unconsciously acquired patterns of thought & behavior.

Theory/Concept

  • Shared conscious and unconscious knowledge
  • Habits of the heart
  • Software of the mind
  • Culture as communication
  • Culture as adaptation
  • Objective culture: formally and consciously learned
  • Subjective culture: informally and unconsciously learned

Example:  Objective Culture

  • Formal education
  • Explicit rules
  • Observable codified knowledge
  • Artifacts

Example: Subjective Culture

  • Assumptions
  • Stereotypes
  • Attitudes
  • Habits
  • Value
  • Use of Space
  • Non-Verbal

Objective Culture   (Upper Case Culture, big C)

Every culture must create a system of shared knowledge if it is to survive as a group and foster communication among its members. These shared patterns of information are both objective and subjective (obvious and hidden). The sharing of these patterns encourages communication and a relatively high degree of coherent functioning among its members. (Jaime S. Wurzel, Towards Multiculturalism, IRC 2004) “Today we are going to the Opera,” said the lady with the red hat. “Oh an evening of culture,” responded her boyfriend, piercingly staring into her eyes, hoping she will change her mind.” When people anticipate doing something cultural, their thoughts turn to an evening of art, literature, drama, classical music, or dance. In other words they plan to participate in one of the institutions of culture-behavior that has become routinized into a particular form. I refer to this aspect of culture as “culture writ large,” with a capital “c.” (Milton J. Bennett, Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication, Intercultural Press, 1998) Objective culture is what human beings make, and what they consciously transmit from generation to generation. It ranges from formal systems of information, music and art, to less complex objects, such as the lady’s red hat. By the same token, the content or outcome produced by a group of interacting team members attempting to solve a problem is also part of objective culture or “big c” Big c or objective culture is formally learned and it is consciously shared. It emphasizes the information produced by institutions to functionally organize their societies. The study of this information constitutes the curriculum in most schools and universities. Examples of big c information are: economic, political, linguistic, historical, geographical systems. A person may be very knowledgeable about a particular group, but unable to communicate with its members. When people study the geography or history of a particular culture they are learning objective or big c culture.

Subjective Culture (Lower case culture, little c)

Every culture must create a system of shared knowledge if it is to survive as a group and foster communication among its members. These shared patterns of information are both objective and subjective (obvious and hidden). The sharing of these patterns encourages communication and a relatively high degree of coherent functioning among its members. (Jaime S. Wurzel, Towards Multiculturalism, IRC, 2004) “Today we are going to the Opera,” said the lady with the red hat. “Oh an evening of culture,” responded her boyfriend, piercingly staring into her eyes, hoping she will change her mind” We already know what aspects of “big c” are reflected in the above exchange.Now what do you think are the components of “little c”? The less obvious aspect of culture is its subjective side. What we can call little c. It refers to psychological features, assumptions, values and needs, often expressed non-verbally or implicitly. "Little c" constitutes the processes that define a group of people, while "big C" constitutes the content. In the exchange about the opera, the boyfriend expressed his wishes non-verbally. He was most likely understood by the lady in the red hat, because theyunconsciously shared the meaning of his stare. The same stare, in a different cultural context, may create problems in interaction. People who share similar basic life experiences develop similar cognitive and emotional structures. This causes the cultural group to perceive the environments in certain and consistent way. These subjective elements surface spontaneously in human interaction. It causes problems when people assume that everyone shares the same assumptions about work, the same modes of communication and the same styles of approaching a task or solving a problem. This is not always so. Consequently competence is not about learning only explicit content, but also understanding the unconscious hidden messages exchanged between people in the same culture. Understanding subjective cultures-ones own and others’-is fundamental to achieving intercultural competence. Subjective culture or “little c” is informally learned and unconsciously shared. It is a given group’s characteristic way of perceiving its social environment. Consequently it is the process, rather than the content, produced by a group of interacting team members attempting to solve a problem.

Reflection

  • Culture is hidden from ourselves - it is our job to uncover it.
  • Meaningful change must take place at the subjective culture level.
  • It is easier to focus on the artifacts we create than to celebrate the beauty that hides below the surface.

Questions

  • Festivals, food and dress are often used to celebrate cultures. What are the pros and cons of such an approach?
  • What are the assumptions about research and the nature of knowledge that make understanding subjective culture difficult?
  • What is the role of cultural conflict in understanding subjective culture?
  • Explain how the distinction between objective and subjective culture may be relevant to your personal or professional life.
  • Give some examples of objective and subjective culture as described by Briggs and Lee.

Question from "Toward Multiculturalism.

  1. How does the Parable of the Prince and the Magician relate to the idea that we are all cultural beings?
  2. How does the Parable of the Prince and the Magician relate to the concepts of objective and subjective culture?