Worldview Perspectives
What is Worldview? | Culture and Experience | How Do You Know?| Cognitive and Social Culture | Worldview Noise in Communication
Worldview in Language:  Language and Thought | Worldview in Language:  Identity and Relationship

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Cognitive and Social Culture

How do you define culture? What do we mean when we say someone is "cultured"? What about "He ain't got no culture"? How is an individual's culture related to a group's culture?

Some have written of a Cognitive Culture, referring to the idea in our heads of culture and social relationships. Some who use culture this way even say there is no such thing as cultures and sub-cultures as a group. This is an insufficient definition.  Yes, there is a Cognitive Culture, but it is not the total picture.

There is also a Social Culture. Humans are social creatures.  The term culture rightly applies also to the ordering of social relationships between human beings. And definitely, there are definable sub-groups in social relations.

There is a Social Culture, but it is not the total picture either. Social Culture is related to the Cognitive Culture in the head of each individual. There is a Social Culture, but it is not just external.

The Individual and Society

Each social group has an idea of proper social relations between members and of the reality these represent. But these ideas vary. For instance the concept of the individual and the society. Which is primary? It depends on the culture. In most Eastern and African cultures, society exists, thus the individual exists.

But in the West, individuals exist, thus society is created.  You may have heard of the concept of the Social Contract. This is a Western logical construct.  But even in the Western worldview, there is a sense in which society exists as an entity apart from the individuals involved.

Culture is the Context

What is the frame of reference, or context, for the communicative events we engage in through language? What is the common base that enables us to make sense in our encounters? Culture provides the frame of reference, or context, of these communicative events. This context has two aspects, the external and the internal, meaning the social or individual frame of reference.

The internal, or individual, cultural frame of reference is called the Cognitive Culture.  This is the individual's cultural understanding, self-concept, concept of relationships, roles and procedures. The external or Social Culture is created by relationships between the component individuals in their social interaction. How stable, rigid or flexible this social system is depends on many complicated factors.


The general agreement of the members of a particular society in their cognitive culture may be referred to as worldview. The commonality of their social relations, their social culture, reflects the worldview (cognitve culture) but also affects it, as external forces in the world cause changes in ideas or beliefs, needs or technologies.

Language is a part of the culture. What does that mean? When we speak to others, we express our Cognitive Culture (who we think we are, who we think they are, how we view our relationship).

How language is used, which language is used, the attitudes and intentions expressed, are part of the Social Culture. This involves what is allowed and what is not, what is considered good or bad, acceptable or abusive. Further, accent and vocabulary are social markers.

Exchange of Culture

When humans meet, they experience communicative events. These communicative events involve the exchange of culture. My Cognitive Culture is developed continually from my encounter with others. The Social Culture occurs when we engage in interpersonal encounters.

The encounters in turn clarify, affirm or modify, the Cognitive Culture. The term Social Culture refers to the full range of informal and formal structures in these encounters and relationships, including group identification and social infrastructure.

Shared Experiences

In summary, culture seems to be summed up in shared experiences, concepts and values. Thus an ethnic group -- a society or culture group -- have sufficient significant experiences in common to have a similar mental concept (worldview) of their common life and relationships.

These experiences seem to form the link between the Cognitive (personal, individual) Culture and the Social (external or group) Culture.

Also related:
[TXT] Cognitive and Social Culture (What is Culture)
[review] How Do You Know?
[TXT] Cultural Insights in World Migration
[review] Progressive Foundations for Postmodern Christianity
[TXT] Self and the World, Knowing Reality
Culture By Generation
Gas-Pumping and Finger-Pointing Fiasco – Cross-Cultural Adaptation Needed:  Haitian and African in America
[TXT] Culture and Shared Experiences
[TXT] Ethnicity and Nationality in Mixed Genetics
[TXT] How Words Develop Multiple Meanings: How Word Meanings are Negotiated
Self and the World, Knowing Reality
[blog] Shared Significant Experiences


First written in 1999
Last edited 21 January 2014

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 1999 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Worldview Perspectives:
What is Worldview?| Culture and Experience | How Do You Know? | Cognitive and Social Culture | Worldview Noise in Communication
Worldview in Language:  Language and Thought | Worldview in Language:  Identity and Relationship

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