Definition of Culture: Characteristics, Functions, Types and Elements


Definition of Culture  – Reader, have you ever heard of the term culture? Of course often isn’t it? Especially as an Indonesian citizen who is famous for having a diverse culture from Sabang to Merauke.

In general, culture or culture is a way of life that develops and is shared and passed down from generation to generation. For example, there is a custom of ‘ngunduh mantu’ in Java that will be implemented when someone gets married.

Well, then what are the elements of that culture and does culture have different types? This article will briefly discuss the meaning, types and elements of culture. Read to the end of the article!

Meaning of Culture

Etymologically, the word culture or culture comes from the Latin language that is colere which means to cultivate or work. The word culture in English can also be interpreted as culture in Indonesian and means culture.

In addition to etymology, some experts also expressed their opinions on the meaning of culture. Here are the experts’ opinions on the meaning of culture.

1. EB Taylor 

According to Taylor, culture is a complex thing that includes several things in it such as belief, art, law, morality, customs and abilities that can be acquired by humans as part of the community group.

2. Selo Seomardjan and Soelaeman Somardi 

According to Selo and Soelaeman, culture is all the work, taste, and creation of society.

3. Ki Hajar Dewantara

According to Ki Hajar Dewantara, culture is the fruit of human nature that emerges due to the existence of nature and the nature of society. Culture according to Ki Hajar Dewantara is also a form of success from a society that is able to overcome difficulties and be the beginning of the emergence of order in society.

4. Koentjaraningrat 

Culture is the whole of the behavior of creatures such as humans and the results that can be obtained by these creatures through various learning processes and systematically organized in social life.

5. Parsudi Suparlan 

Culture is defined as human knowledge as a characteristic of social beings that can be used to understand and interpret various things in the environment, thus creating an experience. According to Parsudi Suparlan, culture is also a foundation and a template for a person’s behavior.

6. Harjoso

Harjoso defines culture in seven important points, as follows.

  1. The culture owned by each is different from other regions.
  2. Culture has been present since time immemorial, and is maintained by being taught from generation to generation to the next generation.
  3. Culture has several components in it which consist of sociological, biological and psychological aspects of human existence in various regions.
  4. Culture can be referred to as culture through certain methods and provisions.
  5. Culture has several biological aspects in it.
  6. Culture is dynamic.
  7. In addition to being dynamic, culture is also relative and different from one society to another.

That is the understanding of culture from the six experts, from the understanding of culture according to the six experts, it can be concluded that culture is the behavior possessed by humans as a characteristic of being a social being that can be used as a reference in behaving.

Cultural Characteristics

Culture can be recognized through its characteristics as follows.

  1. The culture that is present in society will be learned by the next generation.
  2. Culture can be conveyed by each individual to other individuals and groups, as well as passed down from generation to generation.
  3. Culture has a dynamic nature, meaning culture can change all the time.
  4. Culture has a selective nature that can reflect patterns of behavior and limited human experience.
  5. Although the culture of each region is different, culture has interrelated elements.
  6. The society that owns the culture will consider it ethnocentric or consider that its culture is the best culture and evaluate the society’s culture as only a standard culture.
  7. Culture has an element of belief in it that is believed by members of the society that owns the culture.
  8. In culture there is a language and special characteristics of each region that has that culture.
  9. Culture is a product created by humans or a group of humans.
  10. Culture includes material objects created through technology, as well as attitudes, values ​​and knowledge.
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Cultural Functions 

Culture has several functions that are present and can be felt by the community. The main function of culture itself is to learn the heritage from the ancestors, then the next generation needs to review, whether the heritage needs to be renewed or continued and if it is abandoned then the culture can be destroyed.

Culture and the elements in it are bound by time and not a static quantity. Culture will continue to change both slowly and quickly.

Here are some of the functions of culture,

  1. Culture can increase the sense of nationalism of the people who own the culture.
  2. Culture can create a sense of tolerance and empathy from the community.
  3. People who have this culture will respect one another.
  4. Culture can be used as a means to establish socialization.
  5. Culture also functions as a learning medium.
  6. Culture functions as a boundary setter, meaning that culture can create differences that make each community group unique and distinguish it from other social groups.
  7. Culture serves to provide a sense of identity to group members.
  8. Culture functions to facilitate the emergence of a commitment to something that is bigger than the interests of the individual members of the community group.
  9. Culture functions to increase the stability of the social system in society.
  10. Culture acts as a mechanism as a maker of meaning and control that can guide and shape individual attitudes and behavior.

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Elements of Culture

Culture has elements that make up that culture, starting from elements of language, religion, tools of life, knowledge, society, technology, arts and livelihoods. The following is a further explanation of the elements of culture.

1. Cultural Elements of the Religious System

The first cultural element is the religious or belief system. This religious system concerns and is related to the beliefs of an individual. Cultural elements, religious systems are considered as one of the most important cultural elements in social life.

The religious system also functions to regulate life between humans and their creators. Culture can be present in society, because there are elements of religious systems or different beliefs in each region.


For example, the Balinese community has a belief in holding funerals for people who have died by burning them. The belief then formed a culture that is ngaben present in Bali.

2. Cultural Elements of the Language System

Language is a tool created by humans, to make it easier for each individual to interact. The language system is also an element that can shape the culture. According to Koentjaraningrat, the language system is a symbol of humans that is used for oral and written communication.

The language system as an element of culture can be seen through the knowledge of the language used by each different community group and has its own variations and uniqueness.

3. Elements of Knowledge System Culture

Culture can emerge, because of the existence of science that functions as ideas and ideas from each of the initiators of the culture. The knowledge system in culture is universally also related to the system of living equipment and technology. This is because the knowledge system has an abstract nature and is embodied in the ideas of every human being.

4. Cultural Elements of the Economic System

The economic element can shape culture through the economic system, the community becomes a mutual cooperation to meet the needs of life. Livelihoods and economic systems are also an important focus of study in ethnography.

5. Elements of Art Culture 

Culture and artistic elements are indeed intertwined with each other. Art made by the community can form a culture within the community. For example, such as dance that has a special meaning and is only danced in certain rituals and ceremonies.

6. Cultural Elements of Technology Systems or Living Equipment

Technological elements can play a role in the formation of a culture in a certain area, this can also be seen through the efforts of anthropologists to understand human culture through the technological elements used by a group of people.

The technology element in question is something that can be used as a living tool with a simple form and use. The technological elements present in this culture are related to the physicality of the culture itself.

7. Cultural Elements of Kinship System and Social Organization

Culture is formed through various social groups. According to Koentjaraningrat, every life in a community group is governed by customs and rules that have been agreed upon by members of the community. The close and basic social unity of an individual is his relatives, that is the core family of the individual and other relatives.

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8. Cultural Elements of the Social System

The social system in the element of culture is a group of people whose members feel that they are one with each other. This social system is one of the important elements of cultural inheritance in the social structure. The social system also plays a role in calculating the lineage from the marriage relationship as well as the blood relationship of an individual.

Types of Culture

Culture is divided into several types according to its nature, existence, and scope of distribution. Here is an explanation of the types of culture.

1. Types of Culture Based on Its Nature

a. Subjective Culture

Subjective culture is a factor of values, feelings, idealism which when summed up can be called an inner factor in the culture.

b. Objective Culture

Objective culture is an external factor that is present in a culture and is in the form of techniques, social institutions, teaching, voice art, fine art, literary art and ceremonies that use courtesy.

2. Types of Culture Based on Its Existence

a. Material Culture

This material culture refers to all human creations that are real and concrete. It includes finds produced by archeological excavations such as weapons, jewelry and clay bowls.

Material culture also includes other items apart from archaeological finds, such as airplanes, clothes, televisions, skyscrapers, sports stadiums and washing machines.

b. Immaterial Culture

The type of immaterial culture is in the form of an abstract creation and is inherited by its predecessors to the next generation. Examples include songs, traditional dances, fairy tales, and folk tales.

3. Types of Culture Based on the Scope of Its Spread

a. District Culture

Culture can be in the form of a way of behaving, a pattern of thought to a way of acting from members of a community that owns that culture. Regional culture can be limited by the administrative region of the region or its demographics.

The demographic region became a local cultural boundary, but along with the development of the regional cultural boundary, this region became unlimited as a result of the uneven distribution of the population.

b. Local Culture

Local culture depends on spatial aspects. This can be seen through the space in the city that is present as the local culture of the city, or certain areas in the city that are influenced by the culture brought by immigrants.

In local culture, there is also a dominant culture that develops which is the original local culture in the city or region. Koentjaraningrat believes that local culture is related to the group of people who are bound by their awareness and identity of the original cultural unity in their place. In this case, what is referred to as local culture is language as its characteristic.

c. National Culture

National culture is the culture of the accumulation of the cultures present in the regions. There are various forms of national culture and can be seen in general when observed carefully, then it can be known that there is a large spread that occurs between cultures in one region and another region. However, the cultural diversity is what makes a nation have its own identity.

On the national culture, there are several spreads. Here is the explanation.

  1. Rumah Adat , is a house that has special characteristics and is generally found in each region. Each region has traditional houses with different characteristics and different meanings.
  2. Traditional Ceremony , is a tradition that is carried out from generation to generation in an orderly and orderly manner in accordance with the customs of the local community. In the form of a series of activities as an expression of gratitude for something, in accordance with the community’s belief system. Traditional ceremonies have universal, sacred, sacred religious value and are carried out from generation to generation.
  3. Dance , in each region has a different traditional dance and will be danced in special ceremonies or commemorations only. An example of dance as the spread of national culture is the Ranup Lampuan dance in Aceh.
  4. Songs , Indonesia has many regional songs in their respective regional languages. Each regional song has its own meaning and message. In addition, each nation also has a national anthem that serves to increase national unity.
  5. Music , traditional music is generally in the form of instruments using specific musical instruments in the area. For example, angklung in West Java or gamelan in Central Java.
  6. Traditional clothing , the same as the spread of other national cultures. Traditional clothing also has special characteristics in the region that has the traditional clothing and is only worn in special ceremonies. Traditional clothing is also influenced by religious factors in each region. Examples are kebaya in Java, ulos in North Sumatra, ulee balang in Aceh, kain cual in Bangka Belitung.


That is a brief explanation of culture starting from the meaning of culture, its elements, functions and types of culture.

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