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What is culture?

Culture is a unique human survival mechanism, created by early man to compensate for his physical inability to survive in the environment. Beryl MarhamCulture takes two forms, non-material -knowledge, beliefs, values and rules or customs; and material -architecture, visual, literary, musical and performing arts, inventions or artifacts, clothing, and foods. And those two forms, material and non-material, interact over and over,with the non-material (ideas) giving rise to the material (objects) and the utilization (usage) of the material, over time and subtly, changing human ideas.

Human Needs & Cultural  Adaptations

What is the function of culture?

Culture meets the requirements for individual and group survival. Sociologists generally identify eleven human needs met by culture, and like all other natural systems, human needs have ebbs and flow. Successful cultures apply themselves to meeting real needs, in balance with their environment. Dysfunctional cultures, to various degrees, continue to work to meet needs that no longer exist, often at the expense of needs that have re-surfaced and have once again become very real. For example, in the United States, our culture no longer meets our need for knowledge as a function of the environment which our culture has created, and we have become terribly dysfunctional in the area of education, with the net result being our young people's inability to get meaningful work and our corporations needing to hire professionals overseas to satisfy their labor demands.

How does culture change?

Cultures change constantly, at varying rates, with its non-material (knowledge, beliefs, values and rules or customs) and material (architecture, visual, literary, musical and performing arts, inventions or artifacts, clothing, and foods) components equally subject to external and internal pressures to change. Beyond the naturally occurring change cycles in which the relationships between material and non-material cultural elements remain in balance, there exist various forms of "unnatural cultural changes", in which such relationships are not preserved. These unnatural cultural changes occur when cultural elements from a powerful society are incorporated into another weaker society under extreme external pressure.

In extreme cases, even if some cultural elements of the weaker society survive, the result is invariably a more or less dysfunctional society in which the members adopt beliefs and values that they either cannot instantiate materially or that conflict with other pre-existing beliefs and values; or in which the indiscriminant adoption and usage of artifacts is inconsistent with the existing beliefs and value systems. Historically, this process of "acculturation" was caused by conquest or colonization and through the use of force. Today in Africa, various humanitarian programs, although well-intended and using persuasion instead of force, still represent forms of extreme external pressure, and can create conditions under which acculturation is accelerated to the weaker societys detriment.


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