In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Culture

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Historical Background
  • Civilization
  • The State
  • Aesthetics

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Anthropology Culture
Hai Ren
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0039


Culture is a term that describes and characterizes various ways in which human differences and similarities are recognized and marked. It is inseparable from many important ideas such as cultural tradition, cultural relativism, cultural imperialism, popular culture, mass culture, etc. Moreover, culture is often used as a recognizable genre that marks a division of labor among anthropologists (and other scholars). Cultural anthropology itself is built on the conceptualization of culture’s meanings, its changes, and its problems, all of which are interdisciplinary. The questions of culture, its conceptualization, and its embedded meanings of civilization, the nation-state, aesthetics, economy, and everyday life are tied to the entire history of anthropology as an academic discipline, not just in Western countries such as the United States, Britain, France, and Germany but also in many other countries. As a foundational concept of anthropology, culture has been continuously shaped to adapt to changes both inside and outside the discipline.

Reference Works

Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other introductory references are useful tools for students of culture. The concept of culture has many meanings. Kluckhohn and Kroeber 1952 and Williams 1983 offer useful and critical reviews. While Birx 2006 describes culture broadly, Barfield 1997 and Levinson and Ember 1996 examine it within social and cultural anthropology. In addition to guides to the culture concept, Levinson 1991–1996 documents cultural groups around the world; Layton 1997 offers a useful introduction to anthropological theory. Finally, Filmed Interviews with Leading Thinkers offers an opportunity to see anthropologists who describe their careers.

  • Barfield, Thomas, ed. 1997. The Dictionary of Anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A useful and practical guide to concepts, theories, and methodologies in social and cultural anthropology.

  • Birx, H. James, ed. 2006. Encyclopedia of Anthropology. 5 vols. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    A unique collection of over one thousand entries that focuses on topics in physical/ biological anthropology, archaeology, cultural/social anthropology, linguistics, and applied anthropology. Also included are relevant articles on geology, paleontology, biology, evolution, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology.

  • Filmed Interviews With Leading Thinkers.

    A collection of interviews with many influential scholars in the fields of anthropology and sociology, videotaped by Alan Macfarlane and made available online.

  • Kluckhohn, Clyde, and A. E. Kroeber. 1952. Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Cambridge, MA: The Museum.

    This book listed 162 definitions of culture. The authors favored a definition limited to cognitive (symbolic, meaningful) culture.

  • Layton, Robert. 1997. Introduction to theory in anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Useful introduction text.

  • Levinson, David, ed. 1991–1996. Encyclopedia of world cultures. 10 vols. Boston: G. K. Hall.

    Comprehensive descriptions of cultures in each region of the world.

  • Levinson, David, and Melvin Ember, eds. 1996. Encyclopedia of cultural anthropology. 4 vols. New York: Henry Holt.

    A compendium of knowledge relevant to cultural anthropology with some coverage of linguistics, biological anthropology, and archaeology.

  • Williams, Raymond. 1983. Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Offers a comprehensive review of the many uses of “culture” in the English-speaking world. Originally published in 1976.

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