Teaching The Enduring Understandings About Culture in Primary Social Studies, pp. 2 of 7

The Nature Of The Concept

Culture is a complex concept and it has been described as an “elaborate, ever-changing phenomenon” (Wintergeist and McVeigh, 2011, p. 3) as well as a dynamic process (Hidalgo, 1993, p. 100). According to the dictionary of Sociology (Marshall, 1998), social scientists use the term to describe “a less restrictive concept than that implied in everyday speech. In social science, culture is all that in human society which is socially rather than biologically transmitted, whereas the commonsense usage tends to point only to the arts. Culture is thus a general term for the symbolic and learned aspects of human society…” (p. 137).  

Hidalgo (1993, pp. 99-101) describes culture as existing on “at least three levels”. On one level, we see the “the products of culture” or “cultural artifacts” like technology, music, foods as well as artistic expressions and materials. This is described as the concrete and visible level of culture. The next level, the behavioural level “refers to how we define our social roles, the language we speak, the rituals we practice and the form taken by our nonverbal communication” (p. 99). Our behaviour and language reflects our values which is found in the third level of culture, the symbolic level. This level also includes our beliefs. The symbolic level, which is implicit and abstract, is crucial to how people interpret their experiences. We often hear of culture described as an iceberg with much of it invisible. Hidalgo’s description divides culture into elements that are visible and concrete and those that are less so. The invisible elements are key to understanding the visible aspects of culture.

Another view of culture describes it as being made up of “big C culture” and “little c culture”. Big C culture refers to “classic or grand themes” and little c culture refers to “minor or common themes” (Peterson, 2004 as cited in Wintergeist & McVeigh, 2011, p. 9). (See Table 1)

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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