What Makes a Culture? - Vocabulary

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  • 0:34 Customs & Traits
  • 2:54 Culture Hearth
  • 4:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When you think of culture, you probably get a mix of images in your head, which might include things like ceremonies, dress, and food. But what really makes a culture? Watch this lesson to find out more about culture traits, complexes, and hearths.


Reed is getting married to his fiancée Cyn, and he's very excited. They have some decisions to make about the wedding, though. Reed's family traditions are very different from Cyn's, and they have to decide how they'll incorporate both of their cultures in the wedding.

Culture is made up of the traditions and beliefs of a group of people. For example, in some cultures, it's traditional for a bride to wear white. In others, the bride generally wears red.

Let's look closer at what makes a culture and how culture develops.

Customs and Traits

Reed and Cyn are trying to figure out how to combine their cultures to make the ceremony reflective of both of their families.

A custom is a frequently repeated act that becomes characteristic of the culture of the people performing the act. A wedding ceremony is an example of a custom. After all, in some cultures, people don't go through a wedding ceremony; they just fall in love and have babies.

Customs vary widely from culture to culture and can include anything from food preparation to religious ceremonies or how people get up or go to bed. As long as it is a commonly repeated act that represents the culture, it is a custom.

Customs can sometimes overlap with a culture trait, which is a characteristic of a group of people. For example, in Cyn's culture, arranged marriages are common. In other words, it's common for parents and other older family members to decide who a person will marry. This is a characteristic of her culture, so it is a culture trait.

So what's the difference between a custom and a culture trait? As we mentioned, they can overlap somewhat. But a custom always includes some kind of act, whereas a culture trait may be an act, or it may be an idea or concept, or it may be a material object, like an item of clothing.

In Cyn's culture, as we've seen, arranged marriages are a culture trait. But there are other marriage-related culture traits in her culture, too. For example, it's considered normal for people to get married in their early 20s. It's also normal for married couples to have children, and it's very rare for people to get divorced.

A collection of culture traits is called a culture complex. Together, arranged marriages, marriage in the early 20s, having babies, and avoiding divorce are part of the culture complex of Cyn's culture.

A culture complex is often related to religion, since religious culture traits are often grouped together into a whole. For example, someone who is Christian might engage in confession, communion, worship services or Mass, and other culture traits associated with Christianity. Together, these make up the culture complex of Christianity.

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