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2.6: Levels of Culture

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    56362
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    Anthropologists recognize three levels of culture: international, national, and subculture. Keep in mind that while anthropologists have classified these three general patterns, it is acknowledged that there is variation within any given culture. Even at the individual level, there may be differences from the dominant culture. While most people don’t think about their culture at the most general levels, these levels do impact us even if we’re not aware of it. One of the criticisms of the culture concept is that it generalizes and stereotypes groups of people. Indeed as you read about the levels of culture you may agree with this criticism. However, these generalizations can be used to develop a starting point in understanding a culture.

    INTERNATIONAL CULTURE

    International culture refers to cultural traits that extend beyond national boundaries. These cultural traits and patterns spread through diffusion, migration, colonization, and globalization (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Once again, an obvious example would be Canada, the United States, Australia, and Great Britain. These countries share common traits because they have a common language and ancestral cultural heritage. Other examples are evident in the adoption and use of technology and social media across continents. For example, computers and mobile devices allow people to live and operate across national boundaries enabling them to create and sustain an international culture around a common interest or purpose (i.e., Olympics, United Nations, World Cup, etc.).

    Definition: international culture

    Cultural traits that extend beyond national boundaries.

    NATIONAL CULTURE

    In contrast, national culture is the beliefs, behavior patterns, values, cultural traits, and institutions shared within a country. National culture is most easily recognizable in the form of symbols such as flags, logos, and colors as well as sound including national anthems and musical styles. Although it is a mistake to automatically assume that everyone in a large multicultural country like the United States shares a common culture, generally most people could agree on some core values on some level. Core values are "the key, basic, or central values that integrate culture and help distinguish it from others" (Kottak 2012, p. 21). Gary Althen (2003), in the essay “American Values and Assumptions”, identifies some American core values such as individualism, freedom, equality, competitiveness, privacy, achievement, and work. Japanese culture, on the other hand, stresses different core values such as belonging, harmony, group orientation (interdependence over independence), politeness, modesty, gentleness, patience, and formality (Evason 2016). Again, it is important to remember, when speaking of national culture that all members within that society may not agree with all of the core values.

    Definition: national culture

    The beliefs, behavior patterns, values, cultural traits, and institutions shared within a country.

    Definition: core values

    The key, basic, or central values that integrate culture and help distinguish it from others.

    Within the national culture, there is also popular culture. The term popular culture refers to the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in mainstream society. Popular culture events might include a parade, a baseball game, or the season finale of a television show. Rock and pop music—“pop” is short for “popular”—are part of popular culture. Popular culture is often expressed and spread via commercial media such as radio, television, movies, the music industry, publishers, and corporate-run websites.

    Definition: popular culture

    The pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in mainstream society.

    512px-Social_Media_Marketing_Strategy.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): A keyboard showcasing social media platforms that have contributed to popular culture, 2018, by Today Testing under CC BY-SA 4.0.

    SUBCULTURES

    Subcultures, another level of culture, are smaller groups of people who share cultural traits and patterns within the same country. Subcultures have shared experiences and common cultural distinctions, but they are a part of the larger society or cultural system. Subcultures have their own set of symbols, meanings, and behavioral norms, which develop by interacting with one another. Subcultures develop their own self-culture, or idioculture, that has significant meaning to members of the group and creates social boundaries for membership and social acceptance (Griswold 2013).

    Definition: subculture

    Smaller groups of people who share cultural traits and patterns within the same country.

    Thousands of subcultures exist within the United States. Ethnic, racial groups, and geographic regions share the language or dialect, food, and customs of their heritage. Other subcultures are united by shared experiences. Biker culture revolves around a dedication to motorcycles. Some subcultures are formed by members who possess traits or preferences that differ from the majority of a society’s population. The body modification community embraces aesthetical additions to the human body, such as tattoos, piercings, and certain forms of plastic surgery. In the United States, adolescents often form subcultures to develop a shared youth identity. Alcoholics Anonymous offers support to those suffering from alcoholism. But even as members of a subculture band together, they still identify with and participate in the larger society.

    subcultures_Jodieinblack_Flicker.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Subcultures. Derived from Subcultures by jodieinblack under CC BY.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY

    Althen, G. American ways: A guide for foreigners in the United States. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 2003.

    Evason, Nina. Japanese Culture, 2016. Retrieved from https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/jap...ure-references

    Kottak, Conrad P. Mirror for Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. New York, N.Y: McGraw-Hill, 2012.

    Kottak, Conrad P. and Kathryn A. Kozaitis. On Being Different: Diversity and Multiculturalism in the North American Mainstream. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2012.



    2.6: Levels of Culture is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.