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How can you define culture?

In this step, we are going to consider several different definitions of culture and try to bring them together so that you can form your own.

Kroeber and Kluckhohn’s definition of culture

In 1952, Kroeber and Kluckhohn critically reviewed definitions of culture. They compiled a semantic history of the word ‘culture’ and listed more than 160 different definitions. In their fundamental and classic study, they interpreted culture in the following way:

Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour 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 (ie 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 & Kluckhohnp, 1952, p. 181)

These two anthologists argued that many concepts of culture exist but still no proper and universal theory of culture. Later, researchers in psychology labelled ‘culture’ from different viewpoints.

Hofstede’s definition of culture

In psychology, which is one of the mainstreams of cultural research, Hofstede defined culture as:

The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another […] Culture, in this sense, includes systems of values; and values are among the building blocks of culture.

(Hofstede, 1984, p. 21)

Brislin on culture

Later, in the book Applied cross-cultural psychology, Brislin presented an argument that culture does not change over time:

Consider people who have travelled to many parts of the world. They will have observed: (a) recurring patterns of behavior that, (b) differ from place to place but that (c) within those places are observable generation after generation. Indeed, (d) adults have the responsibility of ensuring that members of new generations adopt those recurring patterns of behavior that mark people as well-socialized individuals. The term that best summarizes the recurring pattern of behaviors is culture.

(Brislin, 1990, p. 10)

Now we are going to turn our attention to thinking about cultural dimensions in a business environment. Looking at how cultural considerations play a major role in different business disciplines, such as marketing, organisational behaviour, leadership and international business.

The key question that business practitioners and researchers would like to be able to answer is: How does culture impact business practices?

Your task

Do you agree with the definitions cited above?

If you do, explain why. If not, what is your definition of culture?

Share your thoughts with your fellow learners in the comments area.

Further reading

Hofstede, G. (2003). What is culture? A reply to Baskerville. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 28(7–8), 811–813. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0361-3682(03)00018-7


Brislin, R. W. (Ed.). (1990). Applied cross-cultural psychology (vol. 14). Sage

Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values (vol. 5). Sage

Kroeber, A. L., & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Papers, 47(1). Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University

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This article is from the free online course:

Business Management: National and Organisational Cultures

Coventry University