Historically Culture comes from the Latin cultura originated from colere, meaning "to cultivate", which could be translated as ‘to build’, ‘to care for’, ‘to plant’.
Thus, ‘culture’ usually referred to something that is derived from, or created by the intervention of humans – ‘culture’ is cultivated. With this definition in mind, the word ‘culture’ is often used to describe something refined, especially ‘high culture’, or describing the concept of selected, valuable and cultivated artifacts of a society. In addition, different definitions of "culture" reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity. (www.wikipedea.com). The word ‘culture’ is often used in everyday language to describe a number of concepts; like ‘organizational culture’ or ‘arts and culture’. What all of these concepts have in common is the implication that culture is an abstract entity which involves a number of usually man-made, collective and shared artifacts, behavioral patterns, values or other concepts which taken together from the culture as a whole.
Culture is not a static phenomenon, due to globalization there is an increasing contact between societies, with a dramatic effect on many areas in the society such as attitudes to gender, the environment, race, sex, family life, and religion (Robertson 1992). Culture as such provides a context for interpreting events and assigning meaning to a unique pattern of shared assumptions, values, and norms that shape the socialization, symbols, language, narratives and practices of a group of people (Rafaeli and Worline, 2000; Trice and Beyer, 1993; Denison, 1996). Rosman & Rubel, (1995), describe ‘culture' as those habits, actions, and assumptions that members of a group or society have in common and have set as values. This concept of shared values resulting in shared behavior and artifacts is supported by Trompenaars (1998) and Schein (1992) who consider culture to be that aspect of a society that provides implicit structures and rules about the way people get along, work together, and solve problems as they deal with issues of change, either through the integration of new elements into existing social structures or by adapting social structures.
Kroeber & Kluckhohn definition implies the existence of a larger ‘culture’ (or meta-culture) of the different cultures that make up one’s society’s culture. They define culture as patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiment in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other, as conditional elements of future action.’(Kroeber & Kluckhohn 1952: 181; cited by Adler 1997: 14)
When talking about, the ‘Dutch culture’ it implies talking about the values, behavior and artifacts that represent The Netherlands, the Dutch society as well as the Dutch person at a high level of abstraction. Based on this concept of culture one can distinguish between the (Dutch) culture of the society of which one forms part and the (Malaysian) culture of another society, of which one does not form part. In this sense the ‘Dutch culture’ can easily be distinguished from other ‘cultures’, such as the ‘Chinese culture’ or the ‘Korean culture’. The idea of a shared, yet distinctive, set of values held by one society with resulting behavior and artifacts is also fundamental to the basic idea of ‘culture’ within the realm of intercultural communication.
Hofstede (1994) defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the member of one group or category of people from another” (p.5). Hofstede expands the concept of ‘collective programming’ by suggesting that culture could therefore be situated between human nature, which is neither programmed, nor programmable on the one side and the individual’s personality on the other side. This idea of the culture in the individual is particularly useful for explaining the concept of culture on the one side as well as allowing for the diversity of individual personalities within any one culture.
Hall's (1983) describes culture, as an invisible control mechanism operating in our thoughts. In his view, we become only aware of this control mechanism when it is severely challenged, for example by exposure to a different culture. He believes that members of a given society, internalize the cultural components of that society, and act within the limits as set out by what is ‘culturally acceptable: “Culture has always dictated where to draw the line separating one thing from another.
Spencer-Oatey (2000) definition of culture includes an interpretive element as far as this explains not only what culture is, but also the function which culture performs in everyday life. She describes culture as “a fuzzy set of attitudes, beliefs, behavioral norms, and basic assumptions and values that are shared by a group of people, and that influence each member’s behavior and his/her interpretations of the “meaning” of other people’s behavior.”(Spencer-Oatey, 2000, p.4) Spencer –Oatey's definition has expanded and clarified the role of culture as both an influence factor for behavior as well as an interpretation factor of behavior. The interpretative role of culture is especially important when considering cross-cultural interaction or reaction towards products created in a different cultural context.
Behavioral concepts can be used to distinguish between cultures, they include: the differences in body movements, space organization, eye movement, touching behavior as well as paralinguistic concepts, such as accents, intonation, speed of talking etc. Each of these concepts plays an important role in intercultural communication, especially in communication where the context plays an important role. Other behavioral concepts like "Thought patterns” …being logical or pre-logic, inductive or deductive, abstract or concrete and alphabetic or analphabetic (Maletzke, 1996) are more complex concepts to distinguish between cultures. However all of the above-mentioned behavioral concepts are limited to only one aspect and do not allow a broad analysis or classification of cultures to any great extent or depth. As indicated above, culture consists of two levels: a level of values, or an invisible level, and a visible level of resultant behavior or artifacts of some form. The multilevel nature of culture is important because it identifies a visible area as well as an area that is not immediately visible, but that can be derived by careful attention to the visible elements of the cultural system as we understand it. Hofstede (1991) proposes a set of four layers, each of which encompasses the lower level, as it depends on the lower level, or is a result of the lower level. In his view, ‘culture’ is like an onion: a system that can be peeled, layer by layer, in order to reveal the content. At the core of Hofstede’s model of culture are values, or in his words: “broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others” (Hofstede, 1994). These values form the most hidden layer of culture. Values as such represent the ideas that people have about how things “ought to be”. As such, Hofstede also emphasizes the assumption that values are strongly influencing behavior.
Beside values, Hofstede (1991) describes three levels of culture that are more clearly observable: - Rituals, such as ways of greeting and paying respect - Heroes, such as admired persons who serve as an example for behavior - Symbols, such as words, color or other artifacts that carry a special meaning
Hofstede’s model represents an extension of the previously discussed two-layered model of culture, where the outer layer has been extended to allow for a more refined analysis of the visible results of cultural values. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) present a similar onion-like model of culture. However, their model expands the core level of the very basic two-layered model, rather than the outer level. In their view, culture is made up of basic assumptions at the core level. These basic assumptions are somewhat similar to ‘values’ in the Hofstede model, a lower level of values, i.e. basic assumptions are the absolute core values that influence the more visible values in the layer above. Spencer-Oatey (2000) model combines both basic assumptions and values in one ‘segment’ of the ‘culture onion'. In her view, basic assumptions and values in combination form the inner core of culture. This inner core is encircled by a more elementary level of ‘beliefs, attitudes and conventions’. This distinction is useful, as it makes it possible to account for changes in beliefs, for example, without a more dramatic shift in values.
In her model, ‘beliefs, attitudes and conventions’ influence another layer, consisting of ‘systems and institutions’, which in turn are encircled by a split outer layer of culture. In the split outer layer of culture, Spencer-Oatey locates ‘artifacts & products’ on the one side and ‘rituals & behavior’ on the other side. Spencer-Oatey therefore distinguishes between the manifestation of culture in human behavioral pattern (rituals and behavior) on the one hand, and non-behavioral items on the other (artifacts and products). Spencer-Oatey’s model has a number of advantages over the previously discussed two models, from which it is derived: It clarifies the concept that there are two levels of core values that are distinct yet have a fuzzy boundary. These two core values (or values and basic assumptions) are accounted for in the model.
The model also allows for another ‘mental’ level of culture which is more ‘practical’: The introduction of a level containing ‘attitudes, beliefs and behavioral conventions’ makes a useful distinction between values on the one hand, and their expression in a more precise, but at a non-implemented level on the other.
To conclude, managers should consider “culture” as a shared set of basic assumptions and values, with resultant behavioral norms, attitudes and beliefs that manifest themselves in systems and institutions as well as behavioral patterns and non-behavioral items. Further more, there are various levels to culture, ranging from the easily observable outer layers (such as behavioral conventions) to the increasingly more difficult to grasp inner layers (such as assumptions and values). Culture is shared among members of one group or society, and has an interpretative function for the members of that group. Culture is situated between the human nature on the one hand and the individual personality on the other. Culture is not inheritable or genetic, but culture is learned. Although all members of a group or society share their culture, expressions of culture-resultant behavior are modified by the individuals’ personality.
At the same time, it is important to point out that culture is not the only factor influencing human behavior, i.e. that an individual belonging to a certain culture will be shaped by the culture, but is not a ‘slave to the culture’. Although general ‘dimensions’ of culture can be established at a culture-level, these may not necessarily be reflected in the behavior of each individual from that culture.