Is there such a thing as ‘culture’?



Hofstede defines culture as the collective programming of the mind. So, culture reflects the dominant and shared meanings and values that distinguish people of a specific group from others. However, it is important to acknowledge that culture is an abstract, complex and fluid concept. There are no defined boundries to what to include in or exclude from culture. Boundries could be geographical physical, relational, biolegical, functional, to name a few, but these are over lapped, layered and ever changing.

Despite all this complexity, culture is still an acknowledged concept in our every day conversation, and in academic work. This is simply because culure provide a lense to understand and interact with a large group of people (could be thousands or millions) all at once. 

A counter debate against culture argues that acknowledging the existance of cultures entials adopting essentialist sterotyping attitude towards individuals. In that sense, culture hinders understanding the specificity of individuals and the different sitiuations in time-space. 

I would argue that we could still acknwledge the concept of culture without being essentialist or adopting a ‘negative’ stereotyping attitude. First, because culture, just like individual personalities, does exisit as a group identity which is something we can realize (congnitively) experience (emotionally) every day in different places (in different cultures). As such, neglecting the existence of culture entails neglecting the group/collective identities which have been developed throughout the human history. Second, essentialsim entails a static and postive conceptualizing of culture, whereas culture is dynamic and fluid. Thus essentialism in and of itself is contrary to the notion of culture. Third, there is a negative conotation to stereotyoing as a concept linked to racisim and discrimination in different aspects. I see steretyping as a neutral attitude towards treating ‘individuals’ identities MERELY based on their ‘collective’ identity (=cultrue). This means, culture is not meant to be representing one individual but rather the collective group as a whole, whereas one member of this group would be different in some way from the collective.

To conclude, culture is a benefitial concept for our understanding of the world and the different realities around us. It is meant to represent collectives not individuals. Thus, when dealing with people from different cultures, we should not consider culture as the only factor explaining their identity but rather it is only one factor and in any case it is should not be taken from a static or postivist point of view.

How do you understand culture? How would you use that understanding?


I am Tag. A global citizen, lifelong learner and a free thinker. As a PhD student in HCI , my main interests fall in the intersection of cross cultural design and social change. Thus, my blog is focused on -but not limited to- this area. I have been writing in blogs, social media and newspapers for a while but that was in Arabic (my native language). However, being in the UK now and doing my PhD in English, made me consider starting to write and blog in English.

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