(Sample Material) IAS Mains GS Online Coaching : Paper 1 - "Culture introduction"

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Subject: General Studies (Paper 1 - Indian Heritage and Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society)

Topic: Culture Introduction


Culture has been called “the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behaviour and systems of belief. Various definitions of culture reflect differing theories for understanding — or criteria for evaluating— human activity. Sir Edward B.Tylor writing from the perspective of social anthropology in the UK in 1871 described culture in the following way: “Culture or civilisation, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that whole complex which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by “man as a member of society.”

Key Components of Culture

A common way of understanding culture sees it as consisting of four elements that are “passed on from generation to generation by learning alone”:

1. values;
2. norms;
3. institutions;
4. artifacts.

Culture as Civilisation

Many people today have an idea of “culture” that developed in Europe during the 8th and early 19th centuries. This notion of culture reflected inequalities within European societies and between European powers and their colonies around the world. It identifies “culture” with “civilisation” and contrasts it with “nature.” According to this way of thinking, one can classify some countries as more civilised than others and some people as more cultured than others. Some cultural theorists have thus tried to eliminate popular or mass culture from the definition of culture. Theorists such as Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) or the Leavises regard culture as simply the result of “the best that has been thought and said in the world” Arnold contrasted culture with social chaos or anarchy. On this account, culture links closely with social cultivation: the progressive refinement of human behaviour. Arnold consistently uses the word this way: “... culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, oh all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world”.

Culture as Worldview 

During the Romantic era, scholars in Germany, especially those concerned with nationalist movements

— such.as the nationalist struggle to create a “Germany” out of diverse principalities and the nationalist struggles by ethnic minorities against the Austro-Hungarian Empire

— developed a more inclusive notion of culture as “worldview.” In this mode of thought, a distinct and incommensurable worldview characterises each ethnic group. Although more inclusive than earlier views, this approach to culture still allowed for distinctions between “civilised’ and “primitive” or “tribal” cultures.

By the late 19th century, anthropologists had adopted and adapted the term culture to a broader definition that they could apply to a wider variety of societies. Attentive to the theory of evolution, they assumed that all human beings evolved equally and that the fact that all humans have cultures must in some way result from human evolution. They also showed some reluctance to use biological evolution to explain differences between specific cultures — an approach that either exemplified a form of or segment of society vis-a-vis other segments and the society as a whole, they often reveal processes of domination and resistance.

In the 1950s, subcultures — groups with distinctive characteristics within a larger culturei— began to be the subject of study by sociologists. The 20th century also saw the popularisation of the idea of corporate culture — distinct and malleable within the context of an employing organisation or a workplace.

Culture as Symbols

The symbolic view of culture, the legacy of Clifford Geertz (1973) and Victor Turner (1967), holds symbols’to be both the practices of social actors and the context that gives such practices meaning. Anthony P. Cohen (1985) writes of the “symbolic gloss” which allows social actors to use common symbols to communicate and understand each other while still imbuing these symbols with personal significance and meanings. Symbols provide the limits of cultured thought. Members of a culture rely on these symbols to frame their thoughts and expressions in intelligible terms. In short, symbols make culture possible, reproducible and readable.
They are the “webs of significance” in Weber’s sense that, to quote Pierre Bourdieu (1977), “give regularity, unity and systematicity to the practices of a group.”

Culture as a Stabilising Mechanism

Modern cultural theory also considers the possibility that (a) culture itself is a product of stabilisation tendencies inherent in evolutionary pressures toward self-similarity and self-cognition of societies as a whole or tribalisms. Steven Wolfram’s A new kind of science iterated simple algorithms from genetic unfolding, from which the concept of culture as an operating mechanism can be developed and Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype for discussion of genetic and memetic stability over time, through negative feedback mechanisms.

Cultures within a Society

Large societies often have subcultures or groups of people with distinct sets of behaviour and beliefs that differentiate them from a larger culture of which they are a part. The subculture may be distinctive because of the age of its members or by their race, ethnicity, class or gender. The qualities that determine a subculture as distinct may be aesthetic, religious, occupational, political, sexual or a combination of these factors.


The culture of India was moulded throughout various eras of history, all the while absorbing customs, traditions and ideas from both invaders and immigrants. Many cultural practices, languages, customs and monuments are examples of this co-mingling over centuries.

In modern India, there is remarkable cultural and religious diversity throughout the country. This has been influenced by the various regions of India, namely South, North and North-East, have their own distinct identities and almost every state has carved out its own cultural niche. In spite of this unique cultural diversity, the whole country is bound as a civilisation due to its common history, thereby preserving the national identity.


Regions; Indian culture can be classified into many varied form which are existent in their totality throughout the territory of India. The culture of India has been influenced by various religions and customs of the world, which resulted in the mingling of religious values, folk idioms and art forms. While the religious influence is quite evident in the “classical” Indian culture mostly found in smaller towns and villages, the urban India is now widely influenced by globalisation.

Indian society

India is a fascinating country where people of different communities and religions live together in unity. Indian Population is polygenetic and is an amazing amalgamation of various races and cultures.

It is impossible to find out the exact origin of Indian People. The species known as Ramapithecus was found in the Siwalik foothills of north western Himalayas. The species believed to be the first in the line of hominids. (Human Family) lived some 14 million years ago. Researchers have found that a species resembling the Austrapithecus lived in.

India some 2 million years ago. Even this discovery leaves an evolutionary gap of as much as 12 million years since Ramapithecus.

There are diverse ethnic groups among the people of India. The 6 main ethnic groups are as follows:

1. Negritos
2. Proto-Australoids or Austrics
3. Mongoloids
4. Mediterraneans or Dravidians
5. Western Brachycephals
6. Nordic Aryans

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