Culture Definition

1. Culture is the cumulative set of knowledge represented in a material (books, architecture) or immaterial (dance, culinary) form by a group or people.

2. Characteristic behavior (beliefs, customs, style) replicated by a group, institution or activity that reflects a certain pattern. Examples: A) ‘Casual fashion exposes youth culture well.’ B) ‘Consumer culture is polluting the planet’.

3. Artistic expressions -theater, cinema, musicals, exhibitions, etc.- of an intellectual nature transmitted as a form of entertainment.

4. Agriculture/livestock. Planting/creation of a plant/animal species. Examples: corn culture; pig culture.

5. biology. Laboratory technique used to create microorganisms or biological components in a controlled artificial environment.

Etymology: by latin cultureregarding the adjective form cultusaccompanied by the suffix -ūraassociated with the verb cholewhich is interpreted as ‘cultivate’.

Grammatical category: noun fem.
in syllables: culture.


lilen gomez
Professor in Philosophy

Culture combines the knowledge, artistic manifestations and customs of a social group in a given historical period. The etymological origin in Latin links culture with the cultivation of the fields, extending in the dynamics of the language to transmit the development of the spirit, through the education of man in the improvement of his intellectual and moral faculties.

The origin of the term

The term “culture” is born in opposition to “nature”: the cultural world is man’s own world, as opposed to the natural world. Culture originates as a result of man’s activity on nature, by transforming his environment. This would consist of the set of ways of living and thinking that are the product of the way in which man organizes work on nature.

In a general sense, such forms include language, technique, artistic manifestations, science, politics, law, morality, religion, philosophy, leisure, as forms adopted by relationships between men and in the which cultural relations materialize. It would not only be about abstract aspects, but rather objects (such as buildings, instruments, works of art, etc.) reflect the culture of the social group that produces them.

Culture in the Middle Ages and in Modernity

The Middle Ages retained the general features of the classical concept of culture, but gave it a religious character: culture is the cultivation of man in the sense of his preparation for the fulfillment of religious duties, which lead him to the afterlife in the beyond. Thus, culture in the Middle Ages preserves the characteristics of the classical ideal, but accentuating the contemplative aspect of cultural practices as a preparation and anticipation of the heavenly contemplation of the soul towards God. Culture is identified, more than with practical knowledge and technique, with encyclopedic and religious knowledge.

Towards the Modern Age, a movement of secularization of thought took place, the first secular universities emerged and culture in general turned towards a critical scientific approach, as a counterpart to the repudiation of ecclesiastical authority that had occurred in the context of a crisis of religious institutions. Culture acquires features, on the one hand, humanistic, on the other hand, naturalistic.

The concept of culture in the social sciences

Generally, in the Social Sciences the concept of culture has been associated with the study of symbolic forms. Cultural phenomena are interpreted as part of a meaningful framework. This conception has led to a series of discussions within the fields of sociology and anthropology, broadly speaking, between a descriptive conception (referring to the set of values, beliefs, customs, conceptions, habits or practices that characterize a society in a given historical moment) and the symbolic conception to which we refer (focused on the interpretation of cultural phenomena as symbolic actions).

The gap between nature and culture

However, such a conception of culture, founded on the opposition to nature, has been criticized since the mid-20th century by various thinkers. In this way, it can be seen that, by opposing culture as a properly human trait to the natural, stripped of all “intellective” character, the result consists in a conception of nature as a sort of essentially homogeneous and passive entity.

In practical terms, this gives rise to an excessive exploitation of natural “resources”, justified in a conception of nature as a fund available to satisfy the needs of humanity, above those of any other form of existence. For this reason, different schools of thought have suggested unraveling the opposition between nature and culture as a strategy for a “resuscitation” of nature. If, then, an agency proper to nature is considered, the sphere of nature ceases to be a simple reserve available for exploitation by human beings and the possibility of other forms of relationship with what surrounds us opens up.



Altieri Megale, A. (2001) What is culture? Diogenes’ lamp, 2, 4. BUAP, Mexico, pp. 15-20.

Thompson, John B. (1990): The concept of culture. In Ideology and Modern Culture. Social critical theory in the era of mass communication. Mexico: UAM Xochimilco. pp. 183-240.