What is Culture?

UNESCO defines culture as “the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, that encompasses, not only art and literature but lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs” (UNESCO, 2001).

Culture is often defined by the objective aspects, those we can see, feel, touch and taste. This includes art, food, festivals, and political and educational structures. When we talk about intercultural awareness we look at the subjective aspects of culture. “Subjective culture refers to the experience of the social reality formed by a society’s institutions – in other words, the worldview of a society’s people.” (Kleinman & Benson) Intercultural understanding involves the ability to recognize different worldviews and how they influence everyday communication, behavior, and interactions.

As we further our intercultural skills we need to continually remember not only how multifaceted and complex culture is, but also how much it is ingrained in our identity and sense of self. 

Talking about Culture:
Cultural Generalizations vs. Stereotypes: Good Cultural Generalizations are based on systematic cross-cultural research. They refer to predominant tendencies among groups of people, so they are not labels for individuals. A given individual may exhibit the predominant group tendency a lot, a little, or not at all. 

Stereotypes are not descriptive, but judgemental. Rather than being a broad generalization that is flexible, stereotypes are narrow and limiting, unable and not intended to invite an additional perspective or growth in knowledge.

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