Difference between Culture and Society

January 14, 2017 by Editorial Team

Often, when we study anthropology, we see the words “culture” and “society.” People think that these words are interchangeable and have the same definitions, but this is not true. Let’s examine the differences between culture and society as we define them in official anthropological terms.

Definitions

Culture vs Society

Culture is the term used to describe people’s way of life. It is a set of beliefs and behaviors learned by a group of people. When people have a common set of beliefs, ideals, and attitudes, they belong to the same cultural people group. Culture can also be seen in the way people write, dress, cook, and act. It’s what makes countries unique. For instance, Japanese people take off their shoes when they get inside homes and they prefer wearing socks. That way of life is rarely seen with Americans. Culture, therefore, is the religion, values, norms and traditions that a group of people share.

In an anthropologist’s view, people are defined by their culture. Different countries practice different cultures. Americans offer a handshake when they greet while Indians say ‘Namaste’ and fold their hands together.

Society, on the other hand, pertains to the civilization or the group a person interacts with. It is a community or a large group of people who share common traditions, customs, values and other characteristics. In other words, society is a group of people who live in a territory – a city, a region, or a country – and who share a culture.

Culture vs Society

So then, what is the difference between culture and society? Here is an easy way to think about the difference between the two:

Culture is what a society looks like from the inside.
Society is what a culture looks like from the outside.

This statement clearly stresses that culture makes up a society. Culture is the sum of all the values, practices, and beliefs that were passed down from generation to generation. Products of culture are language, art, music, government and cuisine that are seen in a society. For a society to exist, there must be a set of cultures. Society, on the other hand, is the sum of all social groups within a territory, and their interactions with each other. It is more abstract than culture. Simply put, culture is a collective body of knowledge, such as in values and norms, while society is the resultant behavior of the individuals who practice that body of knowledge.

Comparison Chart

CultureSociety
the sum of values, beliefs, and practices common to a societya group of individuals who share a common culture, territory, and behavioral patterns.
can be seen in art, music, religion, food, language, etc.has to do with family, constitutions, government structures, social interaction
more tangiblemore abstract
different cultures make up a societyfor society to exist, there must be a set of cultures