Culture/Tradition/Social Practice

Culture is the symbolization of human deliberate reasoning in response to the immediate environment. It is not created by any individuals, but an integrated system of learnt behavior generated subconsciously by a group when collective interactions and interests are shared. The manifestation of culture is an evolving abstraction that is open for interpretation, for any member in a group has the power to reshape and reinterpret it.

Tradition is the continual presence and principle of spirit in a culture that ensures the continuity and identity of the moral attitude through successive generations. The manifestation of tradition roots in the preservation of memory and knowledge that are communicated, gathered, and formulated throughout the history from the conscience of collectives. It implies spontaneous assimilations of the past in understanding the present without breaking the continuous progression of a society’s life.

Social Practice:
Social practice is the conceptual content of personal attitudes towards social norms. It is manifested when reciprocal influences between individuals are constructed through sharing and exchange of information. Individual’s social practice is not necessarily changeable, for it depends on the individual’s willingness and ability to adapt according to the immediate social pattern of behavior.

Allan, Kenneth. The Meaning of Culture: Moving the Postmodern Critique Forward. Westport, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.

Eliot, T.S. Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. London, UK: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1962.

Congar, Yves. The meaning of tradition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.

Shils, Edward. Tradition. Pbk. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Bronner, Simon J. Western Folklore. California: Western States Folklore Society, 2000.

Castellani, Brian. Sociology and Complexity Science: A New Field of Inquiry. Berlin, Germany: Springer, 2009.

See Attached pdf file below 
Definition of Culture, Tradition, and Social Practice
Work done by Kelly Wang & Simon Tse

Yu Jung Wang


  1. I think it is interesting you mentioned culture as something that is generated subconsciously since cultural ties shape many people’s beliefs and can reflect their actions without even realizing it. Daniel Kaufmann, economist and previous Director at the World Bank, stated governance as “the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised.” Often a knowledge of and the breaking of tradition is what leads to changes in social practice and governance. At a grand scale, I would say the American Revolution would be one example of a rejection of tradition. In this case, society was reformulated into a democracy and new traditions were instated.

    There’s also the idea of what used to be the “traditional” family in America, with a husband that works a 9-5 job and a wife that stays at home to take care of their house surrounded by a white picket fence. WWI and II helped to make space for women in the workforce, which led to a more quiet revolution for women in America, but still resulted in the depletion of traditional views towards them, earning them suffrage and more jobs. Not to say a certain inequality doesn’t still exist between men and women in America, but the further distance from the old traditional viewpoint there is, the more glass ceilings that are broken.

    So my question would be is knowledge of tradition the key to changing or tweaking a society? In the “Doing Good” article it was mentioned there should be more systematic analyses on the power relationships with in groups and “forms and channels of participation that affect the power relationships,” which I would argue is all simply the tradition of that society.

  2. I wonder if we might complicate this notion of culture by highlighting the multiplicity of, and interaction between, cultures. As is noted above, “culture is an evolving abstraction…open for interpretation.” Indeed, “culture” is always in flux and subject to shifts in taste, opinion, values, etc. I would question, however, the assertion that “any member” of the group can reshape culture. There are complicated relations of power and influence at play here. This is where I think it would be worthwhile to introduce an idea of subcultures or countercultures. Though a subculture might be understood as but one element of some sort of umbrella “culture,” it might also be read as a product of a specific group’s feeling that they are denied access to the workings of “mainstream”/dominant culture. Rather than fighting to reshape the whole, they choose to define their own “culture.” Our understanding of the place of and relationship among cultures (high culture, low culture, counterculture, youth culture, etc.) within Culture speaks to the multivalent and complicated nature of “culture” and should also lead us to question our sense of who has access to Culture, and whose voice is relegated to some form of subculture.

  3. I think that three terms you have defined are very integrated with one another. Culture as you defined it, or at least to my understanding, is the learned behavioral norms that evolve over time. How do these evolve? Through social practices. The individual practices are accepted or rejected by others, creating a defined norm or set of practices and are ever-changing because of this. For example, one generation may choose to accept or reject the cultural norms of their parents or the elder generation. This does not only happen generationally, but can cross over into other social practices, such as religious beliefs. The social practices, in turn, change or define the culture. However, often times, the deep set traditions of a culture remain the backbone of the group, allowing the group to be solidified so that the ever-changing culture does not become unstable.

  4. I am slightly confused why the incorporation of collective ancestral heritage is characterized as a spontaneous assimilation. I would fully agree that Tradition implies an element of thoughtless perpetuation, to the extent that rituals, passed down from one generation to the next are accepted and practiced unquestioned. But I wouldn’t agree that there is any element of spontaneity involved. Quite the opposite, tradition doesn’t emerge out of thin air, on the contrary it develops from a sense of history, ancestry and heritage. This is precisely the danger, in my opinion of tradition spearheading any political campaign, as it is thoughtless, unquestioned, and possibly unproven, perpetuated from one generation to the next.

  5. The definitions of the three terms seem to work in conjunction with each other and also essentially rely on one another to some extent. It is interesting to see that culture is defined as “the symbolization of human deliberate reasoning in response to the immediate environment”, where ‘culture’ is how one’s approach or mindset is representative of a collective group. Is it however, really possible for, “any member in this group to reshape and reinterpret it”? Does the individual have the agency to do so? I do think, that the individual i.e. any member is entitled to an opinion as to how things in their cultural group may change however, in my opinion it is typically a collective decision as to whether a change or reinterpretation may be implemented. We use culture to absorb and integrate it into traditions through generations and therefore we tend to generate our personal attitudes in order to behave in a specific way in society. Does that mean that in order to develop this ‘attitude’ or ‘social practice’ one must be a part of culture or understand traditions through culture?

  6. In response to the definition of “culture,” I would like to suggest that culture, though often unconsciously and uncritically followed, is also at times deliberately constructed. It is usually those with authority and power that get to legislate what is part of culture and what isn’t. What is considered “normal” usually benefits a select group of individuals to the detriment of less powerful members, and authorities set the norms in order to maintain their power. Anything that is not part of the norms that the authority sets is considered “barbarity,” and so not everyone gets to participate in “culture.” Language is a good example of how the members of the elite often get to set the terms of culture and so quietly coerce less powerful members into adopting their point of view and position of submissiveness or marginality. For example, the term “homeless” specifically construes a person in terms of their lack of ownership of private property. Seeing people as “homeless” rather than as humans with needs, maintains them in a position of marginality and sub-humanness.

    • Even more interesting is the term “homefull,” which actually takes a presumed lack (in this case lack of ownership) and turns it into an abundance (fullness of home, everywhere.) This shift in rhetoric from “homeless” to “homefull” is an ingenious deconstruction of the term “homeless,” in that it defamiliarizes what it means to be from a particular place and to have a home. The term “homefull” means that you do not need to own a piece of property or live in a permanent residence in order to have a home and belong to a community.

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