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Culture and its diversity

Culture is a complex, multifaceted concept. It is a term used to cover the social structure, languages, belief systems, institutions, technology, art, foods, and traditions of particular groups of people. The term is used to define a group’s way of life and its own view of itself and of other groups, as well as to define the material goods it creates and uses, the skills it has developed, and the behaviors it transmits to each successive generation.

Each cultural group has its own distinctive way of life that is reflected in land-use practices, economic activities, organization and layout of settlements, attitudes toward the role of women in society, education system, and observance of traditional customs and holidays. These ways of life result in landscapes and regions with a distinctive appearance.

Given the complexity of culture it is important to have an understanding of its nature and spatial distribution. It is useful—from a geographic point of view—to focus on the languages, beliefs, institutions, and technologies that are characteristics of a culture.

Cultural Characteristics

Language both represents and reflects many aspects of a culture. It stands as an important symbol of culture.

Beliefs include religion, customs, values, attitudes, ideals, and world views. A person’s point of view on issues is influenced by cultural beliefs, which in turn influence decisions about resources, land use, settlement patterns, and a host of other geographically important concerns. 

Institutions shape the ways in which people organize the world around them; for example, sets of laws, educational systems, political arrangements, and the structure of a family. 

Technology includes the tools and skills that people use to satisfy their needs and wants. Levels of technology range from the simplest tools used by hunters and gatherers to the most complex machines and information systems used in modern industrial societies. Technologies are either hardware—the tools themselves—or software—the skilled ways in which a society uses tools.

Cultural characteristics are not static.

Culture changes as a result of a variety of human processes, migration and the spread (diffusion) of new cultural traits—language, music, and technology—to existing culture groups. The processes of cultural change accelerate with improvements in transportation and communication.

Exposure to the richness of culture enables an understanding of the role culture plays in the organization of modern society.

Cultural mapping

is presented as a technique for building communities and as a tool for mainstreaming cultural diversity for social and economic development. Cultural mapping can be used to identify records and use cultural resources, activities, as well as current and historical community cultural practices.

Cultural infrastructure can be mapped and used in the social and economic development process to encourage and preserve cultural diversity.