Culture and Education – Basic Concepts

What is culture?

Systems of agreed-upon meanings

Symbolic meaning is bestowed by users

People share cultural knowledge

(suspended webs of significance he himself has spun – Geertz, 1973:5)

Culture is shaped, constructed through language

Guidelines for conduct (groups live according to these meanings)

Acquired through learning (life-long process, early experiences important)

Patterned and social phenomena

Patterns of behavior, customs, beliefs acquired as members of society

Excludes individual actions and idiosyncrasies

Socialization/ Enculturation

Process by which cultural patterns are acquired; begins at birth

Children have no choice in the matter of enculturation

We all inherit ancient ways (methods refined in the past by thousands of minds)

Cultural transmission

Implicit, ongoing socialization process, especially for adults

Symbols in art, myth, ritual, story, media, public performances, conferences

Imitation of others; "cues" from others provided


We are receptors of "a constant flow of impalpable signals from…various sources, all of which combine to form attitudes, values, and conceptions about the surrounding world." (Barrett 1991: 67)

Cultural Code

A mental map of how the world works

Involves knowledge of norms, rules - Specifies conduct under specific conditions

Results in predictability (traffic rules, harvest time, courtship expectations)


Consequences of Culture

Moral dimension

Beliefs about what is "natural"


Differences are often disruptive, disturbing

We exclude those who are culturally different

Supports adaptation to various environments (makes rapid change possible)

Cultural persistence, stability over time

Individual variations are inevitable

Variations in socialization process (role models, expectations, resources, SES/class

Socialization process is imprecise

Humans have agency, capacity for "resistance"

Last update: 10/12/01
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