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What Meaningful Role Can Culture Play In A Global Society? – Akasha

16 December 2003 No Comment

Culture plays an essential role in any society. It ensures the survival of any cluster of people by providing significance and greater understanding of their role within that society. When culture is the means by which humans adapt in an ever-changing world the question that needs to be asked is this; what meaningful role can culture play in a global society.

Culture is defined as a set of shared beliefs, abstract values and perceptions that shape any individual’s behavior [** footnote]. It is a set of learnt behavioral patterns that result in predictive behavior. Only when a certain degree of predictive behavior exists can any society function. The creation of cultural institutions such as marriage, religion, political and economic organizations all serve to generate positive sanctions that will engender a greater degree of compliance. This compliance in turn creates predictive behavior. 

Organized religion is one of the most effective cultural institutions. It serves many purposes both psychological and social. In many instances it has served as the unifying element in a rather diverse and stratified communities. It creates (for many) meaning and orderliness in a chaotic universe. This is achieved by the belief in beings of a supernatural nature. Also it establishes certain codes of acceptable behavior by sanctioning what is considered right and what is thought to be wrong. However, it also removes a great deal of responsibility from the individual or group. This is of crucial importance in a society where the rights of people are traded and sold to the highest bidder. When culture shapes the manner in which people think and behave another question needs to be asked…how has culture served humanity?

A culture is in effect man made. Its purpose is to ensure mans survival. It does this by meeting various needs. The needs that are to be met are biological, instrumental and integrative (*footnote). The biological needs are that of procreation and food, the instrumental needs are the need for law and education and the integrative needs are religion and art. Culture cannot be dismissed all together. It provides so many mechanisms through which our understanding of the world around us is rendered comprehensible. Funerary rituals, for example, provide a context in which we are allowed to mourn the loss of a beloved one. Rights of Intensification help a society deal with any crisis. People act collectively in order to create solidarity in order to deal positively with the crises they are facing. This is achieved through mass ceremonies.

Clearly when any tradition was first conceived the environment within which it first came to light was vastly different from ours today. That means in effect that in order for humanity to survive a certain amount of cultural adaptation must have occurred.
Cultural adaptation occurs in response to many events both of internal and external factors. An environmental crisis will result in adaptive behavior of humans if their survival is threatened. The same would apply if an intrusion were to arise. The success of any change or adaptation is determined when a careful balance is achieved between the needs of society en bloc are and the need and rights of the individual. When the demand of any society take precedence over the needs and rights of the individual cultural breakdown occurs. The result of such a breakdown can be seen in the rise of the number of suicide related deaths, violence, drug addiction, depression etc. Could the answer to more predictive and therefore a more stable society be the creation of One Culture?

The idea of a World Culture is a possibility when one considers that communication, transport and trade are effortless between continents. Still the question is who will benefit from such a culture. Could it be the multi nation corporations whose purpose it is to ensure that every Third World country has its products in their shops? Multi national corporations often act in opposition or parallel to the state? They ensure that any indigenous population and its cultural attributes are rendered obsolete when the there is money to be made. The people themselves are not given the opportunity to adapt. It is assumed that they cannot.

Another option is that of a Pluralistic culture where many dissimilar cultures exist simultaneously. However, the issue of ethnocentricity always is a factor. Ethnocentricity has created unrest in some countries. South Africa was such an example. In other countries the ardent belief in the superiority of a particular ethnic group has resulted in genocide .All one needs to do is look at Rwanda. When the momentum of capitalist driven policies threatens the existence of any culture a resurgence of ethnicity is the result. What this means is that cultural grouping will seek the right of self- determination.

This can be clearly illustrated when one looks at the demands of the far right Afrikaners in South Africa and their desire to have a “homeland”. This resurgence of ethnicity can create discord in any society.

History, it seems, has taught Man nothing. Still wars continue to threaten our collective survival. Cultural variations and diversity could be the answer. If the process of enculturalization (the manner in which culture is passed to the new generation) were improved upon, better decisions would be made. . Erroneous ideas are also transmitted culturally be it via our language or our religion. What we learn from our culture is just as important as how we learn it. The end result of biased cultural education is that the potential for successful living is limited if not sabotaged from the start. 

Maurice Godelier wrote, “human beings, in contrast to other social animals, do not just live in society, they produce society in order to live”. In order to create a better society the choices we make in the future have to be more informed. A culture that engenders hate and intolerance towards others in any form is dangerous. Therefore it is imperative that we evaluate our cultures, see what works and discard what does not. . We need to finds a way of productively living together because the only alternative to co -existence is co- destruction.

Written by Akasha for AfricasGateway.com


Haviland, William A. Cultural Anthropology. Eighth Edition. Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996.

Carrithers, Michael. Why Human Have Culture. Oxford University Press: New York.1992

Godelier, M., The Mental and the Material. London, 1986

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