What is Culture?
The term worldview is used to refer to the common concept of reality shared by a particular group of people, usually referred to as a culture, or an ethnic group. Worldview is an individual as well as a group phenomenon.
Worldview is a way of talking about what is called Cognitive Culture. This is the mental organization in each individual's mind of how the world works.
Expressions of commonality in individual worldviews make up the cultural worldview of the group. This is the social culture, the way people relate to one another in daily activities, and how they cooperate together for the good of the group as a whole, called the society.
This means that every person has a culture in their head. This is what we call their worldview. Thus there is a bit of difference with each individual. The culture in their head, however, includes the areas allowed to be different and those required to be the same or similar.
The rigidness or flexibility of the social culture will be a part of that worldview in each member's head and part of the general worldview.
Cognitive and Social
Where do we get this cognitive culture? How does it relate to the social culture? How do we learn it? It appears that the human brain has inate powers of observation, analysis, and generalization. The human mind tries to make sense out of what it observes.
Patterns are generalized from the experiences and the bits of information and observations a child gathers in the early years. This is inductive learning and is largely subconscious.
There is some commonality in our basic experience of the world, of other people and of life-events we share in common.
There is also that variation of individual experience, of interpretation of that experience and of behavior based on knowledge gained from that experience.
An Ordered Sense of Reality
Human beings view the world from the inside out — from within ourselves, viewed through the organizational "grid" of our own minds. That grid is made up of the points of contact and particular experiences we have with other components — human and non-human — of the world of which we are a part.
The attempt to develop an ordered sense of reality is determined, or at least guided, by our earliest experiences and then altered by conscious and unconscious processes as we broaden our range of experiences.
The earliest and most significant experiences of life appear to shape our basic concepts of reality. This process leads to what we call the worldview.
Because this sense of reality determines how an individual relates to other individuals, the way they express themselves in behavior and language enable us to learn about the cognitive worldview. The language can give insights into the cultural world-view of the host culture.
Each culture's world-view is self-contained and adequate in the sense that it provides a coherent view of reality as perceived and experienced by the cultural group under consideration.
Worldview denotes the complex of beliefs, concepts, sense of order and social constructs, role-models and moral precepts which are unique and peculiar in comparison to other such complexes of other such socio-cultural groupings.
Thus — allowing for the principles of modification in each culture, and varying degrees of openness to change — each culture's world-view is "adequate" for that culture and thus valid in its own terms.
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This article originally published in the "What is Culture?" series in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, a cross-cultural communication newsletter, Nairobi, Kenya, May 1993
Posted June 2001
Last updated 30 December 2007
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 1993, 2001 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.